Education in Sierra Leone: The Key to Ending Child Poverty
Last night Dean Weaver, the lead pastor of Memorial Park Evangelical Presbyterian Church in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, spoke to my Modern Civilization class at Grove City College about an educational ministry in Sierra Leone in West Africa. Weaver, a 1986 graduate of GCC, joined with an accountant, an attorney, a school psychologist, and a businessman to found EduNations in 2004 to provide a Christian-based education to children in impoverished villages in the northern part of the country, which is populated primarily by Muslims. Weaver told the inspiring story of how EduNations has grown to today sponsor 12 schools in six villages that have more than 2,000 students in nursery school through ninth grade. This NGO has also started six churches in these villages, all of which have native Sierra Leone pastors.
In 2002 Weaver and four laymen living in Buffalo, New York, felt led by God to respond to the tragic circumstances in Sierra Leone. The country, long ranked as one of the poorest nations in the world, had been ravaged by an eleven-year civil war largely provoked by conflict over “blood diamonds,” which ended that year. The war produced social chaos, grinding poverty, malnutrition, human trafficking, countless AIDS victims, and thousands of orphans. Many of the residents of Sierra Leone are subsistence farmers who live on about $1 U.S. a day. Weaver and his wife adopted two children from Sierra Leone, and three other founders and several members of Weaver’s congregation also adopted abandoned children. However, Weaver and other Christians in Buffalo also wanted to help the thousands of impoverished children still living in Sierra Leone.
Believing that education was the key to improving their lives, they decided to establish schools to teach destitute children basic academic subjects from a biblical perspective. To achieve its goals, EduNations partnered with groups that were already established and trusted in Sierra Leone, most notably World Hope International, Jericho Road Health Clinics, and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Sierra Leone. Today its schools also serve as centers for community development. They supply clean water (taken from wells the organization drilled in these villages), health education, and information about preventing AIDS. In addition, EduNations works to educate adults, furnish vocational training, and empower villagers to better provide for their own needs. The NGO plans to build a high school in a central village next year.
Weaver explained that when EduNations began in 2005, fewer than 20% of girls in Sierra Leone were attending school because their families needed them to procure water, many girls married at very young ages, social customs discouraged sending girls to school, and parents feared their daughters would learn ideas and values that clashed with their tribal culture and Muslim faith. EduNations leaders promised that girls who came to their schools would be able to bring home twice as much water each day (which would be clean, not contaminated as was the water they obtained from nearby rivers, streams, and ponds), could avoid the rape that threatened on trips to procure water, and would become literate and thus better able to help their families with farming and other activities. Many parents accepted these arguments, and today more than 50% of the students in EduNations' schools are female.
Financing for the schools comes from five funding streams, all of which are based in the U.S.. Americans who believe in EduNations' mission pay $28 a month to sponsor the educational expenses of a student; when half the students in a school have a sponsor, the school’s entire budget is covered. Congregations (especially Evangelical Presbyterian ones), foundation grants, and corporate gifts are also major sources of funds. Individual contributions obtained mainly through social media and fund-raising events in Pittsburgh and Buffalo (a concert by Christian musician Laura Story in Pittsburgh in 2016 raised $70,000) provide the remainder of the organization’s budget. By 2022, EduNations hopes to raise one-third of its revenue in Sierra Leone in part through such business ventures as growing pineapples.
EduNations is a wonderful example of how concerned individuals can make a difference in the lives of destitute children in the developing world.