Tag Archives: sierra leone

What’s Up Alum? – Mirielle Eaton

22 Jul
Mirielle Eaton - UHP Alum, 2009

Mirielle Eaton - UHP Alum, 2009

Yesterday marks one month that I have been in Sierra Leone.

Our embassy is very understaffed which makes things hard on everyone but I have been extremely fortunate in the fact that my bosses have made a big effort to make it possible for me to get out and about. I have visited the college in Freetown, met several ministers and foreign ambassadors, had an interview with Valentine Strausser (ex head of state of Sierra Leone during the civil war), been to a private diplomatic dinner, been to an event in another district regarding FGM, visited IMATT (an international military organization) for a lecture, and represented the American embassy at the French embassy’s Bastille day event.

Sometimes I go across the street to the neighbors house (a big unfinished cement structure with relatively few walls and no plumbing or electricity). There are several families living in the structure (a total of about 10 or 15 kids) and other frequent visitors. I seem to have been accepted by the people there, and I spend long periods of time sitting around, chatting with the adults (mostly women) and playing with the children. On several occasions they have braided my hair and tried to teach me to dance. I am also starting to learn how to carry a bucket on my head, tie a baby to my back with a cloth and have tasted some local cooking.

I’m taking weekly Krio classes at the embassy. It’s a funny language because it’s a lot like English… but its not the same! The official language of Sierra Leone is English but the lengua franca is Krio, also supplemented by various tribal languages. It is lots of fun learning to speak and great practicing with the neighbors and the local staff at the embassy.

A little bit of insight on the situation in the country: The population is about 5 million. Sierra Leone is ranked last out of 177 countries by the United Nations in the Human Development Index. An 11 year civil war ravaged the country until 2002, during this war rebels frequently amputated civilians arms and hands. The country has many direct links to the North American slave trade (most slaves taken from Africa did not go to North America). The fertility rate is 5.1 children per woman. Life expectancy is 41.8 years. The median age for a woman to have her first child is 19 years. 37% of married women are in polygamous relationships. One in seven children dies before the age of 5. 75% of births are delivered outside of a health facility and less than half are delivered with the help of a health professional. 21% of children are underweight. 43% of households include foster and or orphan children. 91% of women have undergone FGM (female genital mutilation also known as female circumcision). Less then 25% of women are literate (about 45% of men are illiterate). Per capita GDP is $806, more than half the population lives on less than one dollar a day. About 68% of the population cannot find enough food to eat. The average household will have only one meal a day (around 3 or 4pm). 12% of homes have access to electricity for lighting. 31% of children are involved in child labor. Corruption is one of the most significant obstacles in Sierra Leone.