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in Freetown Toybox in Sierra Leone

Street life  |  Issue 9

How it all began

In a country where only 66% of children finish primary school, lack of access to education is one of the major issues affecting street children in Sierra Leone. Many caregivers rely on their children for financial and family support, either from paid work or through caring for their siblings and undertaking domestic chores.

These responsibilities, placed on children at such a young age, and a lack of awareness among families about the importance of education, means that many children are denied the opportunity to go to school.

For those children who are able attend school, their education has been significantly disrupted in recent years. The devastating Ebola crisis of 2015 and the recent coronavirus pandemic both resulted in the widespread closure of schools, causing significant gaps in children’s learning for many months.

In brief Sierra Leone

Regional response map
  • Over half the population in Sierra Leone live on less than $1.25 per day
  • From the late 1980s internal conflict crippled the country and culminated in a brutal civil war, lasting 11 years
  • A head count in 2012 highlighted that the country was home to nearly 50,000 street children - this figure is now expected to be much higher
  • In March 2020 the country over turned a five-year law which had forbidden pregnant girls from going to school

In the country’s capital, Freetown, street children represent a disproportionate number of those who are not in school. They can often be found desperately trying to make a living through informal and unregulated work, from working on building sites to washing dishes in restaurants, unloading cargo from small boats, and sifting through vast mounds of rubbish and waste on the city’s dumpsites in search of materials to resell. In the worst cases, they can end up involved in commercial sexual exploitation.

Following in-depth research into the issues faced by street children in Sierra Leone, in 2019 Toybox began working with an experienced local organisation, St George Foundation Sierra Leone, to deliver an education project based in Freetown. This project focuses on tackling street children’s access to education as, for a street child, access to education is key not only to combating poverty and social exclusion, but also to supporting them on the first steps of their journey away from the streets.

Distributing essentials

Freetown, Sierra Leone

A year on

As well as supporting children to enrol and stay in school, the project also works with parents and caregivers to raise awareness on the importance of sending their children to school and the benefits of education.

Financial considerations are often the main reason why a child cannot go to school, so the project is championing the creation of community led savings groups. The aim of these groups is so that caregivers can pool their resources to ensure that collectively they have the financial means to send their children to school. Group members can also use these savings to set up small business ventures and can draw on their savings if they or their children become ill and need to access medical support quickly.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, it was necessary for our partner to quickly adapt the way they worked. During the Spring of 2020, the team began delivering new activities centred around combatting misinformation about the virus and ensuring communities knew how to keep themselves safe. They distributed soap, water buckets, hand sanitiser and face masks to the street children, and for the children most at risk, they have been providing mental health support through telephone counselling.

Emily Malcolm

Emily Malcolm

Programme Manager

Toybox’s Programme Manager for Africa reflects on her recent experience of working closely alongside St George Foundation Sierra Leone during the coronavirus pandemic: "I have continued to work with the team remotely, receiving regular project updates and providing support and advice on new ways to adapt their approach in light of the pandemic.

The most challenging aspect for the project has been the school closures, yet throughout this period the team remained undeterred from their overall mission. In my opinion, the biggest achievement they made during this time was enrolling 100 children from new communities into school once they reopened. This meant they had to increase their engagement with these children on the streets during the period schools were closed.

In addition to this, of the 100 children that we supported last year to go to school, 98 went back to school once they reopened, with the others planning to undertake vocational training in catering. This high level of engagement in education is certainly encouraging, especially at this time when there has been disruption to schooling and increased financial pressure on families, often resulting in children needing to work more.”

Introducing Faith

10-year old Faith lives with her aunt in a small dwelling made from corrugated iron in one of Freetown’s congested slum settlements. It is an area that is particularly prone to flooding. Here, the lack of access to clean water and sanitation mean that the incidence of disease and epidemics are high. There are also high levels of crime within the community and Faith comments that she often feels unsafe when she “sees gang members moving around the area.”

Distributing essentials


Faith’s aunt works as a trader selling pillows, but the current restrictions have made life even more challenging for her and she has been unable to sell much. On a typical day when she is not at school, Faith spends her time helping her aunt with household chores.

Faith has been involved with the education project for around a year, where she has been receiving psychosocial support and has also been involved in training sessions held by the project. With the support of our partner, Faith was enrolled in school in September and was able to start attending classes when the government declared that all schools could re-open in early October. In the future Faith has dreams of becoming a doctor and her continued involvement in the project and enrolment in school is the first exciting step towards making this dream a reality.

Meet Aruna

Aruna has worked as a social worker for St George Foundation for over five years. A key part of his role involves visiting places like the city’s rubbish dumps and markets where street children congregate and spend most of their time. At these places, he identifies street children who are out of school with a view to exploring their interest in becoming involved in project activities. “I build friendships with the children, giving them food and discuss activities that catch their interest.”

Distributing essentials


This outreach work is the foundation of the education project, providing the opportunity for Aruna and the team to begin the process of building trust with the children. This approach really works - and it ensures that the children feel safe, secure and understood from the outset. This in turn increases the likelihood of them taking that first positive step to register their interest in becoming further involved in other project activities and enrolling into school.

Outreach sessions cover a number of different themes such as learning about children’s rights (and violations of those rights) and are focused on developing the children’s life skills. They are delivered in engaging and innovative ways, including drama and sports. This element of the project requires significant commitment - it is labour intensive and the results are not always straightforward. Once Aruna has made initial contact with a child, he explains that his biggest challenge is physically locating them again, “The children move from community to community, based on the activities that interest them so finding them is challenging. It requires a lot of time and patience.”

Despite the challenges he encounters within his work, Aruna says he has enormous passion for the job and has a clear vision for the future, “My hopes are to see the government of Sierra Leone and other child protection partners develop a strategy that will help street children access their basic rights.”

When asked about his greatest achievement Aruna answered, “Helping children to make a choice in terms of behaviour change and living a life of positive value. Once one of the children was totally out of school and living in marketplaces. This project has changed his behaviour. Since his enrolment at school, he has been committed to his schooling activities. His teacher confirmed this during our visit to the school. He is now one of the child ambassadors who raises awareness amongst their peers through community and radio outreach activities.”

Inevitably, the coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on the way Aruna and the team are able to undertake outreach work. As a result of the government restrictions in Freetown, it has been necessary to change the team’s working hours to fit within the citywide evening curfews imposed. In addition, Aruna says that more recently he has been unable to make as many follow up visits to the communities in person as he normally would, so contact has been maintained through regular phone calls with the children. He explains how the situation for the children he works alongside has changed, “Their situation became very bad as a result of the outbreak. Many of them became stranded without food. This is very common during major lockdowns. Their chances of going to the market areas to find money and food became limited.”

Lynne Morris

Lynne Morris


I want to take this opportunity to express my sincerest thanks to you, our incredible supporters, for your continued commitment to Toybox. You have been a shining light in what was undoubtedly an incredibly challenging year.

Despite the last financial year being one of our toughest ever, we continued to work with eight partners in seven countries and our projects reached nearly 45,000 young people and their families. This simply wouldn’t be possible without support like yours.

Globally, the pandemic continues to cause pain and disruption to lives and livelihoods.

Over the past 10 months, we have seen how life has changed monumentally for the street children we work alongside and despite the promising news of the roll out of the vaccine in the UK, we know that developing countries are likely to be the last to get the vaccine and street children may likely not get it at all.

Although at Toybox we continue to face many challenges, we are steadfast in our commitment to the street children we are here to help. Please be assured that your generous support continues to make a huge difference to children around the world’s lives.

Once again, thank you so much for everything you do to support our work, you really do bring so much joy to Toybox and to street children around the world.

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