Sierra Leone’s History

A land of abundant resources… and abject poverty
Pristine beaches… and poor sanitation
Joyful people… with little eternal hope 

Sierra Leone lies along the west coast of Africa, nestled between Liberia on the south and Guinea on the north. The country has a population of approximately 5.5 million people. Nearly 40% of those people live in urban areas. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) most recently ranked 180th out of 187 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index. Here are some statistics that give you a snapshot of the life of an average woman in Sierra Leone:

• 70% of the people live below the poverty line

• 57% of the people live on less than $1 per day (can you live on $30 per month??)

• The life expectancy for the average woman is 59 years

• The average woman gives birth to 5 children – on average 2 will die before 5 years of age

• The average woman only goes to school for 6 years – if at all

• 51% are undernourished

• Average annual income is $340

• While the average literacy rate overall is 35%, for women it is only 24%

While all of that seems a bit bleak, there are signs of progress and there are reasons for hope. These statistics are all improvements over the statistics from the 1990’s. Sierra Leone is a country full of natural resources – diamonds, gold, bauxite, coffee, cocoa, and oil to name a few. Since the devastating decade-long civil war from 1991 – 2002, the world has become aware of the existence and the plight of Sierra Leone. Measures are now being taken to stem corruption, thus enabling the resources to be tapped more effectively, for the benefit of the whole nation.

The civil war in Sierra Leone, which stemmed from a wide variety of causes, not the least of which was a struggle to control the diamond resources by wicked dictators in other countries of the world, resulted in a devastating loss of life, limb and infrastructure, effectively changing the nation forever. No longer the idyllic tropical paradise it had been, Sierra Leone had become a representative horror scene. One-third of the population was permanently displaced. Hundreds of thousands (a number which will never be counted) lost their lives in horrific manners. One-third of the female population were brutally raped and assaulted. Thousands survived the traumatic loss of limbs and body parts by rebel machetes and axes.

A decade later, while much progress has been made, the country is still working to recover from the effects of this atrocious war. Some of the effects will be permanent, but it is not without hope. The resilience and persevering nature of the people of Sierra Leone is inspiring. Despite tragic loss and inadequate resources, most have picked up their lives and rebuilt them. For those who suffered traumas too deep for words, or loss mobility and function, rebuilding is difficult. While poor infrastructure, lack of resources, poverty, lack of education and societal attitudes make life difficult for any woman in Sierra Leone, women with disabilities have an even more difficult situation.