I have been in love with Sierra Leone since I first set foot there in 2005. Back then, things were pretty rough. It was just 3 years after the end of the civil war, which was one of the nastiest conflict of the bloody 20th century. But despite the trauma, the complete lack of infrastructure and social services, the rampant corruption, Sierra Leoneans were the most resilient, generous and hopeful people I ever met. Their smiles, their pride and sense of community really struck and inspired me.

It should come to no surprise then, that more than 10 years later, I'm still working with my colleague John Donald Sandy from Freetown, on projects to help children in Sierra Leone access basic services. The We Are the Future center was created about 10 years ago and John has miraculously managed to keep it going for all this time, with virtually no external support. The We Are the Future school now cares for 230 children from nursery to 5th grade. During the week-end, it is a youth centre that provides professional training and a platform for youth activism.

A couple of years ago, in an ironic twist of fate, I was "called" back to work with John on this very project I helped found over a decade ago. With YaLa Africa, a Facebook platform for youth activists across Africa, we have established a community garden at the We Are the Future Center and in 2 other Freetown schools. Since then, I've been working with Bread and Water for Africa UK to make sure the Kid's Kitchen Garden continues to transform lives and improve nutrition in Freetown and beyond.

Things were barely starting to get better when Ebola hit in early 2014. The consequences of the Ebola outbreak, and the measures put in place to contain it, were the total devastation of the country's economy. We've basically gone 10 years backwards.

The quarantine zone in Freetown, Sierra Leone in 2015

Think about the full-blown panic that took over NYC when a guy decided to go bowling before he was tested positive for Ebola back in 2015. Now think of Freetown, a city of over a million inhabitants, with new cases popping up week after week, a completely inadequate health system, a poor communication campaign that made the population suspicious of the very government and international agencies supposed to help them, a state of emergency declared for a year and a half, schools and markets closed, quarantined areas that are provided with little to no basic supplies such as food and water... This sounds like the premise of a post-apocalyptic movie we've all seen. Yet, Sierra Leoneans got organized. They pulled together to find the resources to go through this new struggle and they showed even more generosity toward each other.

Now, a few years onward, Ebola is gone but its scars are ugly and painful. Most people still don't have access to the minimum basic needs. Families struggle to put food on the table. Children go to school hungry or have to drop out.

The success of the Kids Kitchen at the We Are the Future school is resounding: after just one year, the students are showing better health, better attendance, better grades, better behaviors... This is what a nutritious meal per day can do. 

Now, we want to expand this project to more schools, to give more students a warm meal per day and the opportunity to fulfill their potential. I'm counting on Sierra Leone's friends (and mine) to show some love.


Boy at the WAF school eats his lunch in Freetown Sierra Leone

Sylvia Costantini is the CEO of Bread and Water for Africa UK.

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