SIERRA LEONE: After gaining an education with the support of Don Bosco Fambul graduate goes on to help other street children
(MissionNewswire) Joe Conteh was once a young man receiving services from Don Bosco Fambul, but today, he is the coordinator of the organization’s Child Care Center. Located in Sierra Leone’s capital city, Freetown, Don Bosco Fambul has become one of the country’s leading child welfare organizations—offering food, clothing, crisis intervention services, shelter, educational opportunities, long-term counseling and family reunification.
Recently, students attending a Salesian school were invited to write letters to the youth at Don Bosco Fambul. Conteh is one of the staff that will ensure the children receive the letters. He has become like a father to the 50 children who enter Don Bosco Fambul’s Child Care Center every nine months to receive help or be reunited with their families.
As it is for many boys in Africa, Conteh’s family was very poor. He says, “There was not enough money at home to support us all, because we were many.” While suffering from poverty, his friends convinced him he would be better off without his parents. He took their advice and ran away.
Once he was already living on the street, Conteh realized that life was not as good as he expected. He says, “Every day we had to fight to survive.” Conteh and his friends would eke out an existence by getting a few small jobs, begging or stealing. They risked violence, disease and being sent to prison with adult felons.
“One day a person came from Don Bosco Fambul. He asked me if I wanted to stay on the street or go home. I didn’t know who to trust because people from many organizations came to talk to us, but in the end, they would only take a few pictures and then they left,” explains Conteh.
Salesian missionaries visited him twice more and it was then he decided to visit Don Bosco Fambul. When he saw the center, he decided to stay. Conteh says. There were 72 other boys with him at the center at the time.
“We spent ten months there and then we were asked if we wanted to continue studying at school or go to vocational training,” says Conteh. “Whatever we chose, they would help us for another two years so I opted for vocational training. I studied for 18 months at the end of which they gave me the tools necessary to start working. I graduated on June 22, 2002.”
Conteh adds, “I had a dream of helping other street children to have a better future. Living in this country is not easy. But I tell you that being here is a great opportunity and that we need to work together to become free citizens, responsible and friends of God. Every day I pray for them.”
Don Bosco Fambul, which has a 120-person staff that includes mostly social workers, reaches out to thousands of street children in the region each year. The organization has implemented several interventions for children who have been abandoned, experienced violence and abuse and/or have found themselves in situations of prostitution.
The UN World Food Program reports that over half of the population in Sierra Leone lives under the national poverty line of approximately $2 per day. According to the 2016 Global Hunger Index, Sierra Leone also faces an alarming level of hunger with nearly 38 percent of children younger than 5 years of age suffering from chronic malnutrition.
Young people face significant challenges in accessing education. With too few teachers and school buildings destroyed in the war, resources are thin and persistently high illiteracy rates mean that an estimated 70 percent of Sierra Leone’s youth are un- or under-employed.
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UNICEF – Sierra Leone
UN World Food Program – Sierra Leone