Life in Sierra Leone today is so much different than the situation twenty years ago when the country emerged from a savage and brutal civil war. Today, Sierra Leone is a fledgling democracy and the war years are fading, for some at least, into an horrific memory. Yet, even now, many of the factors that led to the decade long civil war in a small country with a population of just 7.977 million people (2020), remain just as real with Sierra Leone languishing in 182nd place out of 189 countries and territories as measured by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and the World Bank based upon the life expectancy, literacy, access to knowledge and living standards of a country pushing it far short of even sub-Saharan standards and well below the benchmark for low human development.
The concerns speak for themselves: Sierra Leone's under-5 child mortality rate (122 per 1000 livebirths) and maternal mortality ratio (1120 per 100,000 live births) are among the highest in the world, nearly half a million children under the age of five are stunted while 30,000 are suffering from malnutrition. Life expectancy is just 55.07 years (2020) and the adult literacy rate is 43.2% (though improving year on year.) All of these factors are widely attributed to government corruption, a lack of an established education system, an absence of meaningful civil rights and poor infrastructure.
About one half of the working population are engaged in subsistence farming and, apart from light industry for internal markets, the country is dependent on foreign aid to meet the needs of its people, supplemented to some extent by its largest export of diamonds. Recent oil discoveries off the coast may help in the longer term, but probably not for many years ahead. Most young people are unemployed, or unemployable having been traumatised by the war, a chilling reminder that the activating agents for the war are still very evident. Poverty in Sierra Leone affects 53% of the population and is most evident in the north, south and east, the areas most affected by the war where, in some areas, over 80% of the population live on less than 60p a day. This financial poverty is compounded by poor access to adequate healthcare, education and nutritious food. One of the effects of poverty in Sierra Leone is an inability to prevent the spread of malaria, as nets and insect repellents are an unaffordable luxury. Catching and probably dying of malaria is an accepted fact of life in Sierra Leone with the latest WHO data published in 2018 reporting that malaria deaths in the country represent 8.93% of all fatalities, ranking Sierra Leone #2 in the world.
There are sixteen main ethnic groups and the Krio language is spoken by 90% of the population despite English being the official country language and Sierra Leoneans are 60% Muslim, 10% Christian, while around 30% are 'indigenous believers'. Outside major conurbations, life in Sierra Leone means living in a clay and earth structure made from blocks dried in the sun, together with a thatch roof (above, top) although increasingly zinc sheets for roofs and cement to cover floors and walls are becoming more commonsplace as they require less maintenance. The houses are typically round or rectangular and have three internal rooms and a central parlour area. Cooking is traditionally undertaken outside not least to provide ventilation from the open stick fire used to cook with and the diet is primarily rice based and supplemented by cassava leaves, peppers, beans, onions etc and, for those with a larger budget or on special occasions, eaten with fish, beef or chicken.
The cooking area is where children will usually congregate after eating to hear stories and receive instruction from their elders in a society that is noted for its politeness and good manners. There are no streets as such in Sierra Leonean villages, just clusters of houses constructed as and where their anacestors owned land, however each village has its own shops and market places as well as a chuch/mosque, village school and latrines and often a cemetary on the borders of the village.
Life in Sierra Leone is fairly typically for that in Africa with women subordinate to the men they marry with those men undertaking most physically intense work such as clearing fields and seeing to the swamps, known as 'Bolilands', with 'boli' a Temne word for lands that are flooded in the rainy season and dry and hard in the dry season, most prevelant along coastal areas. Planting, harvesting, weeding, gathering wood, cooking, cleaning, marketing, and child care are duties normally the preserve of women, assisted by the younger children, especially girls. The youngsters rarely see this as a burden, rather a mark of pride in their ability to contribute to the welfare of the household.
For more about life for children in Sierra Leone check out the article below whilst the video provides some insights into daily village life in the country.
Life in Sierra Leone: Volunteer in Sierra Leone
Life in Sierra Leone: Sierra Leone Children
Life in Sierra Leone: Child Sponsor Sierra Leone
Life in Sierra Leone: Sierra Leone Country Profile
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