SIERRA LEONE: New Child Hotline Offers Hope to Children Affected by Civil War
(MissionNewswire) The potential to help nearly 4,000 children made homeless due to the aftermath of Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war is behind the launch of a new, 24-hour telephone counseling hotline.
The Child Hotline 116 is an around-the-clock counseling hotline staffed by social workers—along with other trained professionals—offering hope and prospects for the future for children suffering from the ravages of war. Many of the children live on the streets of Sierra Leone’s largest cities and unable to read or write, they struggle to survive. Sierra Leone‘s brutal civil war has resulted in 500,000 displaced families, 60,000 orphans and thousands of street children. Two-thirds of the population is impoverished and unemployment rates are at crisis levels.
The counseling hotline was launched by Don Bosco Fambul, in partnership with Sierra Leone’s telecommunications providers, Airtel, Africell, and Comium, who have guaranteed that every call will be free of charge. With cell phone use surging in Sierra Leone, the hotline is a perfect vehicle for connecting children to the many vital services provided by Don Bosco Fambul. It is the outgrowth of an initial pilot known as the Basics Mobil, initiated after it was found that many street children, especially girls in the slums, were unable to reach the Don Bosco Fambul or family home in Freetown.
Don Bosco Fambul, a Salesian-run center in Freetown, is committed to providing street children prospects for a better future, along with helping to strengthen families and enable youth to become responsible citizens.
“By means of all our projects, we want to be there for children and youths facing personal crisis,” says Brother Lothar Wager, director of Don Bosco Fambul. “We devote our time to them. and we do so without exception—24 hours a day, weekdays and weekends, working days and holidays, day and night.”
The hotline creates an essential link in connecting children in need to the variety of life-changing programs offered by Don Bosco Fambul. All of the programming directly addresses issues facing street children—including emotional trauma from the war and lost family. With the goal of reuniting with their families, youth participate in a 10-month program which includes counseling, medical care and education.
The brutal civil war in Sierra Leone not only caused death and destruction, it destroyed the economic fabric and infrastructure of the country and made rebuilding difficult. Families were torn apart, with many children recruited as soldiers and worse, as slaves. Nearly a decade after the war’s end, Sierra Leone is still struggling to rebuild schools, train teachers and reach children who have never seen the inside of a classroom. Coupled with the aftermath resulting in harsh child labor, rape, child trafficking and sexual abuse, the Child Hotline 116 is working to resolve many resulting issues. Other agencies, like UNICEF and its partners are working to improve education and bring opportunities for schooling to all the country’s children.
“We want to prevent children from ending up on the streets,” Bro. Wagner adds. “We want to strengthen them and provide possible solutions to enable them to regain control of their lives within a short period of time.”
Don Bosco Fambul has been helping street children and unemployed youth as well as their families in Freetown for more than 10 years. Apart from working with street children, the organization offers a 10-month rehabilitation program for 70 street children and 1,500 former street boys and girls—supported by the Family Tracing Department, whose goal is the reunification of families separated by conflict and war.
Additionally, scholarships and training programs are available and a youth center is open daily, offering support for families. This center and a number of shelters provide food and drinks, showers and laundry, a place to retreat and sleep, and the opportunity to connect with other children in similar circumstances.
Don Bosco Fambul is a member of the Child Helpline International, an organization whose work is grounded in a firm belief in the rights of children—as explicitly laid out in such internationally recognized and binding documents as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.