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.”