In Sierra Leone, the sexual exploitation of girls as well as young women oftentimes ensures the families’ existence. Fathers send their daughters away as prostitutes in order to secure the family’s livelihood. On account of the disastrous medical care, young women annually die from the consequences of their own child’s birth (UN: worldwide highest rate). It is not only that the young women lack preventive health information and education but also that they are borne down by the immense social pressure that they have to be at men’s disposal for their sexual satisfaction anytime.
The extreme material poverty in Sierra Leone (proved by diverse investigations by UNICEF) causes a wide range of physical and psychological consequences. It is particularly young people that suffer from these, among which girls and women are affected most.
Due to the fact that the majority of the girls and young women we address are in difficult life situations, i.e. they are homeless, mostly consume drugs, have been experiencing violence or abuse, the Girls Shelter was designed as a retreat and protection area. Around the clock the Girls Shelter offers basic supply and care, like food and drink, showers and laundry facilities, a place to retreat and sleep, and above all opportunities for talking and getting into contact with others. Every day, every hour, time after time – without fear and humiliation. Advice and support: whenever you need it and want it. Target is the reunification with the family of origin including support measures by Don Bosco Fambul or the introduction in a foster family who has been trained and accompanied by Don Bosco Fambul.
The Girls Shelter is made up of four fundamental components or activities:
- Rest and safety (rest area/sleeping room)
- Communication and advice (café)
- Hygiene and health (examination room/showers/washing room)
- Clearing and the coordination of the support planning/family work (office)
Girls whose life situations have stabilised to some extent continue to be accompanied by professional female social workers. Also the café continues to be open to them any time after the crisis intervention. The management and the staff of the projects keep complaining about the great need for professional help for girls living on the streets. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs as well as organisations like UNICEF encourage Don Bosco Fambul to stay active in this field.
RELEVANCE AND OBJECTIVES OF THE PROJECT
Despite all the government’s efforts the country continues to depend on help from the International Community and aid organisations. Don Bosco Fambul provides it’s more than ten-year experience in the fields of crisis help and street social work for the necessary development of a social infrastructure.
The project is oriented towards the present child and youth misery, the existing offer of support by Don Bosco Fambul and the resources of families, society and politics. In doing so, it attempts to offer adequate, efficient and sustainable help for the reconstruction of the country.
In its projects Don Bosco Fambul in Freetown/Sierra Leone educates young people to become responsible citizens and good believers. The Salesians of Don Bosco and their staff pursue these goals by emergency and rehabilitation aid given to girls, by the reintegration of girls into their (extended) families or foster families respectively.
Target of the project
The staff of the project “Girls Os” identifies girls, who have experienced violence in Freetown, open up new perspectives for them and offer them, apart from crisis intervention, first aid and systemic support in close cooperation with the families. As individually required, they make advice and assistance available to all the female children in Freetown. Primary target is the girls reunification with their family of origin, the extended family or the foster family respectively. Aftercare in the families is to ensure the sustainability of the help in the long run and is guaranteed by follow-up support.
The management as well as the staff in the projects continue to observe a considerable need for professional community work and open youth work. The Ministry for Child Protection and Family and organisations like UNICEF have been encouraging Don Bosco Fambul to continue their active work in the fields of child protection, community work, first aid and phone counselling in crisis situation through this project.
1. Rest and safety
(Sexual) Exploitation and violence are part of the daily lives of many girls in Freetown (particularly at the location of the Girls Shelter in the city centre of Freetown). Violence is a taboo subject in Sierra Leone. A lot is endured and suffered. In Freetown violence against girls has many faces: from a black eye or a broken nose to the severest injuries in the genital area. Injuries caused by words, the expulsion by one’s own family and isolation represent gravest internal mental traumata.
- Around the clock the Girls Shelter is open to girls with violent experience: Girls are welcomed cordially and empathetically at the entrance. A priority is the safety and protection of the girl. The girl’s potential persecutors are denied access to the Girls Shelter. No men stay in the house (Exception: Management Don Bosco Fambul and authorised visitors).
- The police and the City Council ensure security: Good relations with the police and the City Council are essential for the project to continue. Regular meetings with the head of the police and police officers contribute to the building of confidence and mutual respect. Adequate safety standards are to be ensured and checked regularly during the whole duration of the project.
- Creation and maintenance of a rest area and a sleeping room: Girls are internally destroyed and demoralised, externally abused and tainted. They need holistic care, rest and convalescence. To this, a rest area is established and maintained over the duration of the project. The girls are able to stay a maximum of seven days at the institution.
Communication and advice
Oftentimes the girls are oblivious of the severity of the human rights violations exerted against themselves. They believe that men have a right to educate women by exerting violence. They accept violence without criticism. Oftentimes they perceive their situations as hopeless and not worth mentioning. Female social workers communicate verbally and nonverbally with the girls in order to create communication and a relationship. Empathy and consideration are a social worker’s key qualifications when communicating and giving advice at the Girls Shelter.
- Around the clock female contact persons are available: The Girls Shelter is always staffed; whether at day or at night. Female social workers expect girls in the gravest crisis situations at any time.
- First aid: In accordance with the girl’s situation the social workers provide first aid in the form of basic medical care and temporary acceptance at the house including food and shelter. What is important is that the social workers emotionally accept the child. Unbiased, the female staff help to raise the child’s morale again and open up new prospects.
Hygiene and health
Girls have experienced the severest forms of mental and physical violence. Apart from communication and advice body care is of extraordinary importance. In addition to medical treatment showers and washing rooms are provided.
- Around the clock nurses and, in case of emergency, doctors are ready to help: Quick aid is guaranteed by adequate staffing in the medical field.
- Clean and functioning examination rooms and shower and washing facilities: An “around the clock assistance” requires good structuring and organisation. Procedures have to be synchronised. Various professions regarding security, social work and medicine have to cooperate. Particularly at the interfaces between hygiene and health, between preventive and interventive work, a smooth procedure is required. The maintenance officer cares for optimal working conditions and compliance with the hygiene regulations.
Clearing and help plan coordination
Effective and efficient social work operates systemic. In order to achieve the highest possible sustainability an individual analysis of the situation (clearing) is required before help measures can be agreed upon and coordinated.
- Family work: Apart from ensuring the basic needs of the girl with violent experience it is –if possible –attempted to get into contact with the family of origin. Don Bosco Fambul consistently conceives its children and youth work as family work. Resources and potentials of the families including the extended families are to be elicited and used. For this purpose, the department uses diagnostic methods in order to be able to act or react in accordance with the girl’s biography and situation.
- Aid planning: In addition to the diagnosis an aid plan including arrangements is formulated and documented. The aid plan is constantly checked and, if need be, updated.
- Workshops concerning the topics hygiene, health and human rights: Regarding the holistic development of the child information events concerning the rights and duties of the child, preventive health tips and the significance of hygiene are to take place.