Building the future of war affected children in Sierra Leone

Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is diamond-rich but one of the poorest countries in the world. It was like that country never exists until the a decade-long civil war brought it to world attention. Thousands of Sierra Leoneans were victims of the horrific war.

Adults and children suffered mutilations, amputations and thousands many of them children were abducted by warring factions and forced to become child soldiers, porters and child slaves. The country and its victims are still struggling to come to terms with their recent past.

The United Nations Secretary-General's special envoy for Children and Armed conflict, Mr. Olara Otunnu, who visited Sierra Leone said that "Without prospect of jobs and education, Sierra Leonean children could be a source of instability in a country which is yet to recover from a decade of war.

During his week-long visit to Sierra Leone last year, Mr. Otunnu launched "The Voice of the Children," a radio station run by the youths in the capital Freetown. Otunnu was delighted to see the effort of people trying to rebuild the schools which are in deplorable conditions.

He said, "It is better for children to be at school than mining diamonds. He was shocked to see many children forced as slaves in the diamond mines at Kono district, yet wallowing in poverty and not attending school. Because they don't have adequate facilities.

He was delighted when the children told him that they prefer to be in school to working at the mines. To rehabilitate the country's war-ravaged health and educational sectors, the world bank approved 40 million dollars in grants to Sierra Leone. Part of the money will be used to restore what the bank called "The most essential functions of the health delivery system."

On February 25, 2003, president Tedjan Kabbah formally inaugurated a National Commission for the War Affected, calling it "One of the most far-reaching decisions we have made for the future of this nation." War crime tribunal has been set up investigating those who committed serious offences and violated the international humanitarian laws.

In the heat of the war and after it subsided many great musicians, such as Lucky Dube and Joseph Hill of Culture (Jamaica) were in the country to play "Peace Concerts" in their efforts to unite the people for a lasting peace.

The American-born film actor and producer, Michael Douglas was also in Sierra Leone on a five-day tour to view the remains of the weapons surrendered to the United Nations and talked to some of the victims. Mr. Michael Douglas was named United Nations "Messenger of Peace" in 1998.