SIERRA LEONE: Girls Shelter Provides Second Chance, Hope for the Future for Suntia
(MissionNewswire) Don Bosco Fambul, one of Sierra Leone’s leading child-welfare organizations, has been operating the Girls Shelter for the last five years. Salesian missionaries, professional social workers and pastoral workers provide crisis intervention and follow-up care for girls and young women who have been victims of sexual assault. Girls that access the shelter services are also able to attend educational programs that are a part of the broader Don Bosco Fambul network of programs. These educational programs give young women the skills necessary to find and retain employment.
Close to 200,000 young girls and older women were sexually assaulted during Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war, according to UNICEF. And although the war has stopped, the sexual violence against women continues. Young women are at risk for sexual violence, trafficking and forced pregnancy, among other atrocities. Today, one third of girls are forced into marriage and often sexually assaulted by their husbands before their 15th birthdays. In addition, 90 percent of girls are subjected to female genital mutilation.
The Girls Shelter was developed in response to this crisis. For Suntia, the shelter has been a refuge and a place to heal from sexual and physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. She notes that the abuse was daily and when she came home in the evening after selling items to earn money for food and rent, if she did not sell enough, her father would be physically and verbally abusive to her. She had no time to rest and no family that could help her.
“I became disgusted, sad and helpless,” says Suntia. “One day when I went out to sell a thought came into my mind that this abuse had to stop. I had no alternative but to report the matter to the Calaba Town Police station. In the police station, they took my statement, and I was referred to Don Bosco Fambul for shelter and protection.”
Suntia came to the Girls Shelter heartbroken and traumatized but while there her life became tranquil. She found the peace of mind she had been missing. She explains that she had time to play and rest and felt protected for the first time in her life. Suntia was able to access medical care and was provided new clothes. She was able to go to counseling with social workers who were supportive and listened to her. In addition, Suntia notes she was also able to take part in recreational and educational outings that provided her new experiences. She was also able to read books from writers that were new to her, which helped her develop intellectually.
Suntia spent more than year at the Girls Shelter. Salesian missionaries attempted reunification with her mother to no avail. Instead, Suntia was fostered with the principal of Saint Joseph Secondary School where she continued her studies. She also enrolled in the Hope+ Program, which provided a scholarship to cover her school fees, as well as uniforms, a bag, exercise books, textbooks, shoes, lunch and transportation on weekly basis.
With the help of staff at Don Bosco Fambul, Suntia was able to take her final examination and graduate from secondary school with excellent grades. She is currently pursuing a social work degree from Fourah Bay College at the University of Sierra Leone.
“My desire is to come back to Don Bosco Fambul for a second time as a role model and social worker in order to save other girls who have experienced violence just like me,” explains Suntia. “Don Bosco Fambul changed my life, helped me to overcome my trauma and above all, gave me an opportunity to study and bring out all my potential. I am thankful, and I hope one day I will become part of the organization to work in their mission.”
UNICEF – Sierra Leone