Hawa Koroma is the project coordinator of the Sierra Leone Teachers Union, SLTU. She spoke to EI about the impact of the war on education and the efforts being made to restore a sense of normality in a country that has been devastated by conflict.
1. To what extent are the effects of the decade-long war still visible in schools in Sierra Leone?
The war officially ended in 2002, but the effects of the war are still felt daily in the classrooms in my country. We have three constant reminders in the classrooms. Firstly children with amputations are found in classrooms. Secondly, the over-aged children - those who did not go to school due to the war - particularly in primary schools. And thirdly we see that the already overcrowded classes have an additional number of pupils because so many schools were destroyed.
2. What has been the impact of the war on teachers and their unions?
More than half a million persons (out of a population of 5 million) were displaced. Many teachers were amongst them. Most moved from the rural areas to the cities. Many are reluctant to go back, despite efforts of the union to convince them. The war never destroyed the union. The leadership always stayed with its members. The union and the teachers always kept in touch, whatever happened. It shows the strength of the union at all levels, but most of all the confidence of the grassroots membership, a membership of over 30,000 dues paying members!
3. Five years after the end of the war, you may ask yourself ‘what now?’
The Government has built many new schools but still more needs to be achieved. Nowadays the teachers usually get paid on time. Still, a tremendous lot needs to be done on trauma healing and peace education. This is largely left to the NGOs. SLTU has also contributed to this, for instance through cooperation with the Canadian Teachers Federation (CTF) for a number of years now.