During the country's 10-year civil war, thousands of children were used and abused as combatants.
In one of Africa's poorest countries, the socioeconomic situation remains rather challenging. Against this background, SOS Children's Villages has played a vital role in helping the country's most vulnerable segments of population: children and young adults.
At present there are three SOS Children's Villages in Sierra Leone, two SOS Youth Facilities, three SOS Kindergartens, three SOS Hermann Gmeiner Schools and five SOS Social Centres.
SOS Children's Villages in Sierra Leone
In the 1970s, SOS Children's Villages initiated its activities in Sierra Leone. Our organisation received a plot of land just outside of Freetown where we first started working.
The SOS Children's Village and an adjoining SOS Kindergarten went into operation in 1974, creating a home for the first 45 children. Due to the very poor educational facilities in Sierra Leone, SOS Children's Villages has also built a primary and a secondary school in Freetown.
During the civil war, the SOS Children's Village in Bo had to be evacuated. The SOS Children's Village in Freetown was also closed temporarily. It served as a refugee camp for more than 2,000 Sierra Leoneans who were looking for a safe shelter to escape the atrocities of war.
In 1999, an SOS Emergency Relief Programme was initiated for some of the 30,000 children who had fled the streets of Freetown.
At present, there are three SOS Children's Villages in Sierra Leone. Children and young people are provided with loving homes, day-care, education, vocational training and medical services. An SOS Family Strengthening Programme has also been implemented in order to prevent family break-ups.
Some facts about Sierra Leone
The Republic of Sierra Leone is a country located in Western Africa. Since gaining independence from former colonial power Great Britain in 1961, the country's history has been rather turbulent.
A cruel civil war that lasted from 1991 until 2002 cost thousands of lives and resulted in the displacement of more than 2 million people - about one third of the country's population.
Although Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in Africa, its soil is home to ample resources.
The country is extremely rich in diamonds, gold, cocoa, coffee and bauxite. Although Sierra Leone has recently seen political stability and an economic uptrend, the country is still facing the challenge of reconstruction.
One of the richest countries in Africa remains one of the poorest
Despite significant natural wealth, Sierra Leone remains one of the poorest countries in the world: around 80 per cent of its population live in crippling poverty. Semi-arid rural areas tend to be more affected than the urban centres of the country. Economic recovery has been going fairly slowly and a major part of the country's GDP is coming from international donors.
The average Sierra Leonean can expect to live to 48 years, one of the lowest life expectancy figures in the entire world.
Nearly half the population is severely undernourished as regular access to food and drinking water remains scarce.
HIV/AIDS remains a persisting public health issue in Sierra Leone, a country that is home to 49,000 people who suffer from the disease. Although noticeable progress has been made over recent years, HIV continues to be a significant problem in rural areas which are generally more affected than urban centres.
Situation of the children in Sierra Leone
The psychological effects on children that were exposed to the atrocities that occurred during the country's civil war go deep. According to estimates, 320,000 children in Sierra Leone grow up without their parents, many of them as a result of the war. 15,000 of them have been orphaned due to AIDS. Orphaned children often face the challenge of being the breadwinner for an entire family at a very early age.
Thousands of Sierra Leonean children work in the country's mines in order to make a living. They have to carry out physically challenging tasks like digging in soil and gravel or shifting heavy masses of mud.
Access to food remains a challenge for the majority of Sierra Leonean families. One in four children is either moderately or severely underweight.
A shortage of schools and teaching personnel heavily affects the education of Sierra Leonean children. During the war, thousands of schools were partially or completely destroyed. In spite of recent efforts to make education more accessible, many children still don't go to school.
Less than half the school-aged population of Sierra Leone is enrolled in the country's education system. The country continues to have one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world: only 35 per cent of Sierra Leoneans aged 15 and over know how to read and write.
At 123 per 1,000 live births, Sierra Leone also has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world.
Child-trafficking has become just another growing problem in Sierra Leone. Poor families, predominantly coming from rural areas, are often lured to give away their children under promises that later turn out to be false. In some cases, these children end up as domestic slaves or they are forced into prostitution by their "benefactors".