Monday, October 5, 2009

Maso and Makamray school opening - September 18

I have been meaning to post the post below for some time – it was written a while ago, but I forgot to post it. The school openings took place September 18, so a few weeks ago now. More to come tomorrow on today’s World Teachers Day celebration in Mapaki.

Yesterday I attended the opening of two new schools, primary schools in the communities of Maso and Makamray (both in the Paki Masabong Chiefdom) - photos are at The schools were built by Plan (formerly Foster Parents Plan) Sierra Leone with funds from Plan Japan. I went with the Chief, who was speaking at both events.

Each school is a building with six classrooms (for classes 1 - 6) and an administrative area. Along with the school building, Plan also builds a latrine and a well for use by students. This is important because schools must have these facilities in order to get approved by government for support. In addition to the buildings, Plan also provided some basic educational materials (e.g. text books) as it is difficult for schools to get these. Plan also provides some scholarships for students, to help with fees and costs (although there are no school fees at the primary level, the required books and uniforms cost money), and for teacher training. PSI and cdpeace provide similar scholarships, and these two schools were involved last year in our school twinning project as well.

Both openings were similar – the communities, students and teachers were waiting to greet us with song when we arrived. The first opening began about an hour late, and the second one was then late as well. The late starting time is fairly typical here. Each opening included speeches by the Chairman of the Teacher’s Council, the Paramount Chief of Paki Masabong, representatives from the district council, the national government, and the school management committee, and by Plan staff.

At both openings, the children from the school performed a few short skits and songs. The skits were cute. In Makamray the skit was focused on allowing all children to attend school. The kids in Makamray also sang a song, directed at the government officials present that included a request to approve the school. Both Maso and Makamray are community schools, so they currently get no support from government. Now that they have school buildings, latrines and wells, they can apply to become a government-supported school. This would give them some support for teacher salaries (for those who are certified teachers) and some support in terms of books and learning materials.

In Maso, the skit the kids did was about HIV/AIDS prevention. They talked about safe sex, about ensuring that any needles and razors used are clean or sterilized, and about getting tested for HIV. They also sang a song about protecting yourself from HIV using the “ABC” method: abstinence, be faithful and use a condom. While AIDS is not as big of a problem here in Sierra Leone as it is in other parts of Africa, the song and skit was a reminder that it is present here too.

A few stats on HIV in Sierra Leone from UNAIDS ( In 2008. an estimated 55,000 people were living with HIV in the country, a prevalence rate of 1.7%. There were approximately 3,300 deaths due to AIDS, and 16,000 children orphaned due to AIDS. Of course, data collection is a challenge here, so it’s a bit hard to say how reliable these statistics are (for example, the estimate on AIDS orphans ranges between 6,400 and 26,000).

Some colleagues who work in hospitals in Makeni have told me that they think that the official prevalence rate is an underestimate based on their own experiences. Given how prevalence data is collected, this could definitely be the case. From what I understand, prevalence of HIV is usually estimated primarily by testing pregnant women who present at clinics for prenatal care and extrapolating that data to the population at large. There are a few problems with this approach in Sierra Leone:
1. Many pregnant women here never go to a clinic for a variety of reasons.
2. Taking a quick look at the map of testing sites in Sierra Leone shows that they are highly concentrated in Freetown, with a few in the south and east of the country. There are none near Makeni or anywhere in Northern Province, except one in Kambia District.

If you are interested in learning more about HIV/AIDS in Sierra Leone, take a further look at the UNAIDS website link above.

No comments: