Educating the Future


 

After an overnight stay in Vrede, a town in the Free State province of South Africa, we head off to the province of Mpumanlanga. We are quite surprised by the cold 4-degree-Celsius temperature in the morning. The air is filled with fog and mist as we embark onto our vehicles, set out for an hour and a half long drive to Ermelo. The trip takes us through a sparsely populated countryside which resembles the English moors.

The beautiful landscape of Mpumalanga outside Vrede on this misty, chilly morning. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

The beautiful landscape of Mpumalanga outside Vrede on this misty, chilly morning. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

The drive towards Umfudlana school changes as we shift from driving on a tar road to a gravel road with plenty of dust to follow. Upon our arrival at the school, we are greeted by several school teachers, as well as officials from the Department of Education. This school is fairly new, having opened in 2009, and consists of six buildings that are set on a large field, with no neighbouring houses or buildings, a contrast to yesterday’s township schools.

Entrance to Umfudlana Combined School, Mpumalanga. Photographer: Mike Creevy.

Entrance to Umfudlana Combined School, Mpumalanga. Photographer: Mike Creevy.

Umfudlana is a combined school, which means that students range from 5-18 years, with many of the children coming from families working for the farmers around. Some farmers refuse to let anyone cross their fields, which means the children sometimes need to walk up to three kilometres around big fields to get to their bus stop. With road safety being poor, it can be a dangerous walk. In South Africa, school transport is provided if the learner lives more than 10 km away. At Umfudlana, several large school buses are parked up in the school yard; they are used for collecting the students who live up to 20 km away.

School buses lined up in the school yard at Umfudlana Combined School, Mpumalanga. Photographer: Mike Creevy

School buses lined up in the school yard at Umfudlana Combined School, Mpumalanga. Photographer: Mike Creevy

The school currently has 447 students with 15 teachers. As we digest this information, we start to calculate; this means a teacher to student ratio of 30 to 1, and anyone who has attended any school knows it is not easy keeping 30 children focused, especially if their ages range from 8 to 14. The teachers explain how they have adapted to working with these group sizes; the classes are shared, so a typical classroom may have several grades studying in them at the same time. This is known as multi-grade teaching. The lack of educated teachers contributes to this issue. The school also has a classroom with 23 computers; however, due to the lack of a computer science teacher, they have still not been able to install or use them.

In the schoolyard, listening to teachers and other educational professionals talking about their progress and challenges. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

In the schoolyard, listening to teachers and other educational professionals talking about their progress and challenges. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

South Africa has 400,000 teachers; however, most of them had their education during the Apartheid regime (before 1994), which means they received a low competence level and a very different approach to education from the younger teachers educated during the democracy. The newer-educated teachers tend to go into the private sector, the curriculum of which is considered one of the best in the world. UNICEF is currently working with the government on a huge project aiming to re-educate about 180,000 teachers to ensure an improved level of education. This has been made possible partly thanks to IKEA’s Soft Toys for Education campaign contributions.

In addition, the IKEA Foundation also contributed towards the implementation of the safe and caring child-friendly school initiative. The aim of project is to address barriers to teaching and learning. This project has been rolled out to 151 schools in Mpumalanga Province, and the intention is that once the project has been successfully tested in these schools the Mpumalanga Education Department will then roll it out to the remaining schools in the province. A safe and caring child-friendly school regards education as every child’s right and helps ensure the rights and wellbeing of every child in the community. A child-friendly school acts in the interests of the “whole” child, which includes his or her health, nutrition and overall wellbeing. It is also concerned with what happens to the child at home and within the community before he or she enters school and once his or her school career is completed.

During our visit to one of the multi-grade classrooms, we discover a class with more than 50 learners. When we walk in they are studying social sciences, which is similar to Personal, Social and Health Education in the UK, a very important part of the curriculum. The energy in the room is uplifting, and the students engage us in a talk about their dreams for the future—the class is full of aspiring soccer players, along with doctors and engineers! Talking with the students, we found they have big appetites for learning and chasing their dreams. An 11-year-old learner, Ngkwabi, who impresses us with her mathematical skills, tells us, “I want to become a teacher so I can inspire other children. I want to be like my teacher.” It is apparent that, no matter what corner of the world you are in, we all share commonalities, one being the magic of education that can give us a vision and a platform to be our best.

One of the multi-grade classes at Umfudlana Combined School. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

One of the multi-grade classes at Umfudlana Combined School. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

We then visit the early childhood Ddvelopment class, also referred to as the Grade R class (‘R’ for Reception). The young children, age 5 and 6, sit at their tables, colouring in. They are all working with Department of Basic Education workbooks.

Basic Education Workbooks. Photographer: Mike Creevy

Basic Education Workbooks. Photographer: Mike Creevy

The classroom is colourful and filled with the children’s creative activities, whether it’s learning the alphabet, the days of the week, counting or drawing. The teacher calls a little boy to the blackboard and asks him to write out numbers on the board. Bonginkosi, a 6-year-old learner, starts to write and illustrates how his numeric skills have been well developed thanks to the Early Childhood Development programme, which is another programme UNICEF helps the South African government support.

The Grade R classroom full of creativity at Umfudlana Combined School. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

The Grade R classroom full of creativity at Umfudlana Combined School. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

Bonginkosi, 6 years old, showing his skills at Umfudlana School, Mpumalanga. Photographer: Ben Smith

Bonginkosi, 6 years old, showing his skills at Umfudlana School, Mpumalanga. Photographer: Ben Smith

Then it’s time for the children to be physically active, and we all go outside in the nice weather. They start several nursery games, which are very similar to what we find at home. The IKEA team didn’t take long to jump in, playing tag. Even though we don’t speak their language, Zulu, play is play! We all had loads of fun and some healthy competition.

The Grade R children playing Tag at Umfudlana Combined School. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

The Grade R children playing Tag at Umfudlana Combined School. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

The teachers tell us that, although they are faced with several challenges, the aim of their school is to provide a safe place for learners, where students are encouraged to reach their potential and are provided with a daily nutritious meal, which is for some of them the only meal of the day. We say our goodbyes and thanks to the children and educators. They have given us lots of motivation to tell their stories and lift our energies in fundraising for our Soft Toys for Education campaign, which will soon again be in our stores.

 

 

About Michael Creevy

Hello there, my name is Mike; I am 24 and work as a PR co-ordinator in the UK service office. I have been with IKEA for almost 7 years (I can’t believe it’s been that long) and I have loved it. I feel proud to work for a company that does so much for their local communities as well as globally and I’m looking forward to seeing this firsthand. Being passionate about traveling I am fortunate to have been to some amazing places and had some great experiences but I know that my trip to South Africa with UNICEF will be something that will stay with me for a long time. I can’t wait to play my part in sharing this with you.

Wamukelekile!


 

“Wamukelekile”—Zulu for welcome—to our first blog…

After a very long journey direct into the southern Hemisphere, we spent our first few hours in South Africa looking forward to bedtime. Our journey from O.R. Tambo International airport near Johannesburg showed a very European looking city we would easily recognise, but the South Africa we will be visiting is a world away from our first impressions and a land of huge contrasts!

The IWitness team arriving at O.R. Tambo airport. Photograph taken by Laura Zabel

The IWitness team arriving at O.R. Tambo airport. Photograph taken by Laura Zabel

Some of the hard-to digest-facts are that South Africa has over 15% of the population living with HIV; every 30 seconds a female is raped; and alcohol, drug abuse and domestic violence are an everyday occurrence for lots of people.

Day one of the IWitness programme started with a talk by Nadi Albino, who is The Chief of Education for UNICEF in South Africa. Nadi explained the different programmes in place in SA, covering education, social policy, child protection, and health and nutrition.

Education in South Africa is compulsory from the ages of 7 to 15, with an equal mix of boys and girls going. Children are keen to be educated, and 99.6% attend primary school. A majority of the schools are tuition-free, and a big incentive for the children to attend is the hot meal served.

After a couple of hours’ drive east, we found our surroundings changing dramatically from developed compounds and shopping centres to wide-open spaces dotted with townships filled with small homes constructed from corrugated metal. We arrived in the town of our first school visit, Standerton. The settlement was very much the same as what we had seen on the road, just on a bigger scale.

: View from the car of the roadside townships, photograph taken by Johanna Heuren

View from the car of the roadside townships, photograph taken by Johanna Heuren

Driving into Janrell Secondary School, we were overwhelmed from being greeted by very excited pupils and teachers who had gone to great efforts to welcome us with open arms, with the pupils dancing and singing on our arrival. We were first taken to the school courtyard, where the children hung over the stairwells to get a better view of the celebration.

Our warm welcome to Janrell Secondary School, photograph taken by Johanna Heuren

Our warm welcome to Janrell Secondary School, photograph taken by Johanna Heuren

The principal called herself the Queen and considered the school and the students her castle, which she seemed to care for more than anything. We were amazed by her strong leadership and dreams of making this school the absolute most successful school in the country. After introductions and speeches, we got to see a performance from the school choir. The quality, energy and professionalism of the choir impressed us all, as we were treated to the voices of provincial champions who compete on a national level.

The ‘Queen’ Nhlapo, showing the schools plan for the future. Photograph taken by Johanna Heuren

The ‘Queen’ Nhlapo, showing the schools plan for the future. Photograph taken by Johanna Heuren

Here UNICEF have focused on sports programmes, including constructing sports facilities and collaborating with local sports authorities to ensure that the children get even more from the curriculum. So, after the celebrations and display of the school’s achievements, we were rushed off to a primary school nearby to join in on a physical education (P.E.) session before the school finished at 2pm.

Johanna joining in with the children’s P.E lesson, photograph taken by Paula Cade

Johanna joining in with the children’s P.E lesson, photograph taken by Paula Cade

We watched the children for a few seconds and then eagerly joined in, jumping traffic cones, jumping rope, balancing on a thin bar with a sand sack on our heads, and jumping hula hoop rings. The kids and us were having a great time, and we must admit we had a hard time keeping up with this very energised bunch. Their trainer, Miss Reneilwe, does this for free with great passion. Her dream is to work with administration at FIFA, but in the meanwhile, apart from having the afternoon at the primary school, she passionately coaches the football team.

School football teams pose with UNICEF and IKEA representatives, photograph taken by Lyle Jacobs

School football teams pose with UNICEF and IKEA representatives, photograph taken by Lyle Jacobs

 

About Johanna Heuren

Hej, I am a Store Manager and have been working in IKEA since 2007. I started in Sweden, where I’m from, and as I love experiencing new cultures and meeting new people I was happy to go to Italy for 3 years in 2009. Since 2012 I am in the UK. My passion is people and IKEA’s belief that you grow business through people fits right with mine. Seeing people develop and grow is amazing on any level and can make the world around us a little bit better. I feel very proud, fortunate and excited to be given the possibility to go and see how we as a company have contributed to a little bit better every day in South Africa.

Welcome back to South Africa


 

One year has passed since our IWitnesses from IKEA Norway visited our Soft Toys for Education-funded projects with UNICEF in South Africa. Now, one year later, a group of IKEA co-workers from the UK and Ireland will follow in their footsteps to see how the donations from the Soft Toys for Education campaign are making a difference in the lives of many children in South Africa.

Take a look at the lovely film IKEA Norway made last year, and get inspired to follow the new series of blog posts we will be publishing in the coming days.

 

 

About Juli Riegler

Juli is the IKEA Foundation's Digital Communications Manager. Next to managing the IKEA Foundation's website and Facebook account she works closely with Save the Children and UNICEF and IKEA's yearly Soft Toys for Education campaign. She enjoys doing a lot of different sports, travelling and connecting with people from around the world.

A world of contrasts


We live in a world full of contrasts, which sometimes we don’t notice anymore. We have broadband Internet connections, we get our weather forecast from satellites and we live in shiny cities that never sleep.

80 km away from Bucharest, our capital city, where the wealth is above the European average, we had today the opportunity to visit two locations where Save the Children Romania implements their “Raising children in a Stigma-Free Society”, a project financed by IKEA Foundation. For us, the employees of the Bucharest IKEA store, this project is the fulfillment of the goal of every year’s Soft Toys Campaign.

First we visited the kindergarten in Vulcana-Pandele, a village close to the city of Târgoviște. 20 friendly and enthusiastic kids greeted us, all sunny as a summer day.

We saw how they learned to draw, sing and dance in a very short period of time. One month ago they had never been to school or kindergarten, they did not know how to introduce themselves or wash their hands.

Summer kindergarten in Vulcana - photo by Mircea Ilie

Summer kindergarten in Vulcana – photo by Mircea Ilie

These children belong to very poor families, usually with a lot of children, where the parents themselves did not have the opportunity to go to school when they were younger.

House in poor area in Vulcana - photo by Mircea Ilie

House in poor area in Vulcana – photo by Mircea Ilie

Many of the children walk 2-3 km every day to school and the same distance back, be it good weather, rain or snow. Even under these circumstances, most of the children that attended the Save the Children project are very dedicated to learning when they enroll in regular schools. They usually miss classes only when they are sick.

The narrow path to school - photo by Mircea Ilie

The narrow path to school – photo by Mircea Ilie

In Vulcana-Pandele, 100% of the children who attended the summer kindergarten last year enrolled in school and graduated the class. Nationwide, 94% of the children who attended kindergartens in the summer of 2013 graduated in 2014.

This achievement was possible thanks to dedicated and involved teachers, some of them doing voluntary work, who become inspirational models for these kids: one 5 year old girl confessed she wants to become a teacher.

IWitness Ligia helps a future teacher to draw - photo by Mircea Ilie

IWitness Ligia helps a future teacher to draw – photo by Mircea Ilie

Next, we visited a summer kindergarten in ”Mihai Viteazul” school in Târgoviște, where we found the same enthusiasm and openness.

Both in Vulcana-Pandele and in Târgoviște the children prepared very nice shows for us: poems, dancing, singing. We were very impressed how much they accomplished in only three weeks, since the 2014 program started.

Children's show in Vulcana - photo by Mircea Ilie

Children’s show in Vulcana – photo by Mircea Ilie

Children's show in Târgoviște - photo by Mircea Ilie

Children’s show in Târgoviște – photo by Mircea Ilie

We talked to parents proud of their children’s abilities, parents willing to continue to attend the program and to send their other children, too.

All the children are receptive and have great potential. The teachers identified some with special abilities, but these abilities need to be continuously developed.

In Târgoviște, at the show performed by the children we also met the Mayor. The City Hall is willing to continue the project for a longer term.

It would be great if this could happen in more places in the country, but it’s still a long road ahead. However, two first steps were taken: two extra summer kindergartens supported by the City Hall from Târgoviște volunteered to join the project.

We saw dirty roads, we saw poor houses, but we saw also commitment, dedication, joy and sparkling eyes. And we go home with hope in our hearts. We will make sure that this year’s Soft Toys Campaign will be better, because somewhere in the world children need help.

 

About IKEA Romania

A group of co-workers from IKEA Romania were selected to become IWitness ambassadors and visit Save the Children's projects in their own country. The selected co-workers are dedicated to sustainability and keen to become champions for the Soft Toys for Education campaign. The group visited Soft Toys for Education projects funded by the IKEA Foundation. They will take you on their journey by writing these blogs, sharing for you their findings and thoughts about how we try and change the lives of children less fortunate.

The Kosovo connection


When IKEA Canada announced the opportunity to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see the great work being done by the IKEA Foundation and our partners like UNICEF and Save the Children, I immediately envisioned myself taking part in it and contributing to this great cause. After two years of applying to this program, I was privileged to be chosen and given this amazing opportunity. I am looking forward to being your eyes on the ground and connecting with you all through my blogs.

I feel strongly that as individuals we play a significant role in shaping the kinds of societies and environments we want to live in. We can only do so by being an integral part of this process on all levels in life: personal and work. This brings it full circle for me on a personal level because not only am I actively involved in my community, but I can now say that I can be that change factor at work as well. I can make the connection and raise awareness that as IKEA co-workers we are making a difference around the world through the Soft Toys for Education campaign by providing equal, quality education for children, and we all can be very proud of this.

I cannot express the excitement that is building within me surrounding this trip to Kosovo. When I first found out, I shared it with my immediate co-workers in the Accounting Department and eventually the communication was shared throughout Canada. All the positive feedback, encouragement and congratulatory expressions has energized me even more, and I accept the responsibility of being their eyes and ears in Kosovo.

About Rocio Reyes

I started my IKEA journey over 13 years ago and am currently an accountant in the Canadian Service Office. Born in El Salvador, I am proud to call Canada my home. I volunteer with an organization called Asociación Fraternidad Hispana, which provides social, cultural, educational, and sports programs for our community. Now that I have the opportunity to represent Canada as one of the IWitness ambassadors, I can add this to my ongoing journey, accept humbly the responsibilities it entails and look forward to sharing with the world.

What makes it all possible


Anton Nyman works for UNICEF Sweden, and he recently returned from an IWitness trip to Sierra Leone. Here he explains why the IKEA Foundation’s funding is so important for UNICEF’s work, and he thanks IKEA co-workers for helping UNICEF improve children’s education in Sierra Leone.

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Over the last couple of days, I have had the privilege of visiting Sierra Leone with five IKEA co-workers. The purpose of the visit is to see and learn more about the programmes that the IKEA Foundation supports in Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world.

Here we have met teachers, children and community leaders, and we have seen and experienced a lot. And from my experience, I can truly say that the money donated to UNICEF’s programmes on child-centered teacher training and emerging issues is making a massive impact and gives more children access to a good education. But that does not surprise me at all. Actually, that it is something that, as a UNICEF employee, I expect to see on a visit like this. It is our job and mission to support vulnerable children and to make sure that their rights are listened to and acted upon. There is still very much to be achieved in the work for children in Sierra Leone, but the work done is really pushing in the right direction.

School picture - by Martin Nordin

School picture – by Martin Nordin

What really has made an impression on me during this visit is what makes it all possible. Of course, there are a lot of factors that have to work to make it all happen. We need the right staff, the right local partner, a connection with the right authorities, and so on. But without money coming in from private donors, corporate partners and governments, none of this would be possible. Without the support from the IKEA Foundation toward this specific programme, fewer children would have the opportunity to get a good education. It is as simple as that.

The most common comment I get when telling people that I work for UNICEF is: “It must be great to work for an organisation that really does something important. That really makes a difference.” And yes, it is truly a privilege to work for UNICEF, because children and societies really benefit through the work that we do.

But the change made for children is not just thanks to UNICEF or any other non-governmental organisation. It is thanks to dedicated people. It is thanks to our engaged donors and partners. It is thanks to people like you, working at IKEA and making it a successful business, that more children in Sierra Leone and many other places can get the quality education they have the right to get. It is your engagement and dedication to do a good job that makes it all possible. It is from the sales of beds, lights and bookshelves that children in Sierra Leone are given the tools they need to rise from poverty. It is thanks to your work with selling soft toys that more children can face a better future.

Soft Toy picture - by Martin Nordin

Soft Toy picture – by Martin Nordin

So all I can say is thanks. Thanks for your engagement and dedication. It must be great to work for an organisation that really does something important. That really makes a difference for a lot of children.

Feel pride in what you do, because what you do is great!

Best regards,
Anton Nyman
Senior Corporate Officer
UNICEF Sweden

About Juli Riegler

Juli is the IKEA Foundation's Digital Communications Manager. Next to managing the IKEA Foundation's website and Facebook account she works closely with Save the Children and UNICEF and IKEA's yearly Soft Toys for Education campaign. She enjoys doing a lot of different sports, travelling and connecting with people from around the world.

A warm meal for all school children


Broth cooking on open fire just outside the classrooms of RC Primary School in Foredugu village. Photo by Martin Nordin

Broth cooking on open fire just outside the classrooms of RC Primary School in Foredugu village. Photo by Martin Nordin

When coming back from the DEC Primary School school in Buya village to the school in Foredugu, that we visited earlier in the morning, lunch was being prepared. Exiting our cars the air was filled with a nice aroma from the broth pot being fed with spices and vegetables.

The women that make this happen. Photo by Martin Nordin

The women that make this happen. Photo by Martin Nordin.

Pounding different types of chillis and small, dried, salty fish together to make a paste for the broth, which was then mixed with bulgur.

Cashew apples. Photo by Martin Nordin

Cashew apples. Photo by Martin Nordin

Cashew apples, part of the vegetables going into the broth.

Juli chipping in. Photo by Martin Nordin

Juli chipping in. Photo by Martin Nordin

Juli was helping out serving the lunch to the children in the classroom. Since two children have to share one plate she had to be very precise when dishing portions on either side of the plate.

Plates on the floor. Photo by Martin Nordin

Plates on the floor. Photo by Martin Nordin

Plate of Bulgur in a broth of vegetables, chilli and and dried salty fish.

Girls ready to dig in. Photo by Martin Nordin

Girls ready to dig in. Photo by Martin Nordin

 

About Martin Nordin

I'm a senior art director working at IKEA Communications Creative Hub in Malmö. I have been working at IKEA for seven years. I'm 36 years old and live in Malmö with my family. For the last couple of years, I've been working with the IKEA Good Cause campaigns: Soft Toys for Education and Brighter Lives for Refugees. I'm very much looking forward to getting out in the field and seeing the real work being done by our partners and the things our efforts have achieved.

Everyone benefits from child friendly teaching methods


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RC Primary School in Foredugu village – by Martin Nordin

“One of our boy’s mother died. His father said he needed him to drop out of school and start working. The boy answered: I need to go to school, it’s as important as my name.” – Mr. Ibrahim, Teacher, DEC Primary School, Buya village.

UNICEFs Land Cruisers going through tough terrain to get to the School in Buya village. Photo by Martin Nordin

UNICEFs Land Cruisers going through tough terrain to get to the School in Buya village. Photo by Martin Nordin

It’s Wednesday morning, we are leaving Makeni for a 45 minute drive to the village of Foredugu to meet with teachers and children that have benefited from the CCTT and EMI programmes. We are all eager to get on the road, going out to the school and seeing first-hand how this works; it’s what we are here for.

Mr. Dumbuya, Teacher at RC Primary School, Foredugu village - By Melani Schultz

Mr. Dumbuya, Teacher at RC Primary School, Foredugu village – by Melani Schultz

“When we were working with the old method I felt like an instructor and the children felt very ashamed when they answered wrong. Children were in fear. Now, when working with the CCTT method the children feel empowerd, like they take care of their own education, like they are doing it themselves.” – Mr Dumbuy, Teacher

Students in the classroom of RC Primary School in Foredugu village - By Martin Nordin

Students in the classroom of RC Primary School in Foredugu village – by Martin Nordin

“In some schools they still use coporal punishment, using the cane to correct students. When we meet teachers we explain to them the benefit of not hitting children. When they say they still need the cane to point the board, we say, use your finger instead” – Mr. Alhaji

Mr. Ibrahim Koroma teaching matter in the science class at DEC Primary School in Buya village - by Martin Nordin

Mr. Ibrahim Koroma teaching matter in the science class at DEC Primary School in Buya village – by Martin Nordin

“Now working with the CCTT method it really feels like the children dare to challenge us, they even teach us sometimes. Like when I talk about different fishing techniques, the children contribute with examples of the local techniques used in thier own community and that adds to all our knowledge.” – Mr. Ibrahim, Teacher, DEC Primary School, Buya village

RC Primary School in Foredugu village. Photo by Martin Nordin

RC Primary School in Foredugu village. Photo by Martin Nordin

About Martin Nordin

I'm a senior art director working at IKEA Communications Creative Hub in Malmö. I have been working at IKEA for seven years. I'm 36 years old and live in Malmö with my family. For the last couple of years, I've been working with the IKEA Good Cause campaigns: Soft Toys for Education and Brighter Lives for Refugees. I'm very much looking forward to getting out in the field and seeing the real work being done by our partners and the things our efforts have achieved.

From bountiful beaches to basic needs for children’s education


After 16 hours and quite a long delay, I finally landed at Lungi airport in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Stepping out of the airplane into warm air filled with wonderful smells, I take a few deep breaths for the last, and probably most exciting, part of my journey from Amsterdam to Sierra Leone: crossing a lagoon on a speedboat to get to the city. Once I arrive at the beach from where the boat is leaving, I look up at the dark skies through some palm trees and see the bright moon and stars shining. Even though it’s almost pitch black, I can tell it’s absolutely beautiful.

The crossing is fun, as we go over the water at high speed. A driver is waiting for me on the other side, and he takes me to the hotel. I arrive way past midnight and crash directly into my bed.

The next morning feels great. The air is warm and welcoming. At breakfast I have some time to meet my fellow IWitnesses. We sit and chat, taking photos of the view over Freetown.

Our first day in Freetown – Natalia, Martin, Melani

Our first day in Freetown – Natalia, Martin, Melani

 View over Freetown from our hotel

View over Freetown from our hotel

The rest of our group will arrive on Sunday, but today we meet John from UNICEF, who has offered to show us the city and one of the many bountiful beaches that Sierra Leone has to offer.

The drive through the city is intense—bouncy roads, little sheds and houses on both sides of the road, streets filled with busy people going to church or selling their products. It smells like fire because people are burning trash. It quickly gets to 35 degrees, but we keep the windows of the car down to take in the scenery and observe the busyness of everything happening around us.

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It takes us almost one hour to leave the hectic roads of Freetown behind and continue driving further south to Bureh Beach. Once we arrive, we almost cannot believe the beauty of what we see…

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After a swim, eating freshly caught fish and relaxing in the sun, we drive back to meet Anton from UNICEF Sweden, who is arriving just in time to join us for dinner.

The contrast could not have been more extreme, seeing the most beautiful beaches and the daily struggles people face every day. One does not get the impression that people suffer, but the facts cannot be overlooked. Sierra Leone is still recovering from a cruel, 10-year-long civil war, which ended in 2002. The maternal mortality rate is among the highest in the world. About 50% of all children work instead of going to school. Girls get married from 11 years of age and drop out of school due to teenage pregnancy. UNICEF’s work in Sierra Leone is critical to improve education and child protection.

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In Sierra Leone, UNICEF focuses on child survival and developing basic education and child protection. At the UNCEF office we get to understand the bigger picture of the challenges related to nutrition, early childhood education and empowering women. With our main interest being education, we soon learn that the country is on the move, experiencing a strong willingness to change and improve.

The enrolment rate for children of six years has gone up to 76%, but about 52% of the teaching staff is not qualified for their level and position. Funding from the Soft Toys for Education campaign is going to improve both issues. When teachers are trained in child-friendly teaching methods and corporal punishment is abandoned, the enrolment rates go up naturally.

At noon we leave for Port Loko, where we meet teachers and facilitators at a teacher training centre where teachers learn child-friendly teaching methods following a UNICEF scheme. The deputy principal and several teachers and facilitators tell us how the new programmes have changed their approach to education and the way they treat their students.

Natalia and Melani in the car on our way to Port Loko – by Juli Riegler

Natalia and Melani in the car on our way to Port Loko – by Juli Riegler

One focus is to abandon the use of the cane and all corporal punishment and to create a child-friendly learning environment, where children want to be, can learn and have fun. This has not been the case in Sierra Leone, where the war has affected a whole generation and physical punishment has been a common way of raising children.

UNICEF teacher training centre at Port Loko – by Juli Riegler

UNICEF teacher training centre at Port Loko – by Juli Riegler

The training centre reaches out to teachers from the whole country and creates a scaling effect, as they take what they learned back to their home communities and pass on the knowledge and methods to local teachers, families and community leaders. This way the programme has already reached many remote and very small villages. In 2013, 398 teachers were trained and certified. The training is followed up on and evaluated by visits from facilitators, who visit the schools and report on their improvement.

The training not only addresses child-friendly teaching methods but also tackles some of the main concerns of Sierra Leonean society, like child marriage, teenage pregnancy and education on sanitation and hygiene.

The first day has truly been an eye-opener in terms of realising where this country is coming from but also what progress is being made and the ambitions to improve life for the coming generations.

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About Juli Riegler

Juli is the IKEA Foundation's Digital Communications Manager. Next to managing the IKEA Foundation's website and Facebook account she works closely with Save the Children and UNICEF and IKEA's yearly Soft Toys for Education campaign. She enjoys doing a lot of different sports, travelling and connecting with people from around the world.

This is happening: My trip to Sierra Leone with UNICEF


 

“Are you excited?”
“Are you nervous?”
“Oh , that’s so cool!”
“It’s going to be the experience of a lifetime.”
“You’ll never be the same.”
“It’s life changing.”

These are just some of the things my co-workers, family, and friends have said to me since they found out I’d be going to Sierra Leone on an IWitness field trip. I don’t want my answers to disappoint anyone, but the truth is, this all still feels like a dream and I can’t get my head around what is about to happen, so I say, “Yes! I know!” to all of it.

The range of feelings one might have when one is about to embark on a journey to a foreign place, to see things they’ve never seen (and will likely never see again), to experience a culture and a way of life so completely unlike their own—I’m experiencing all of them. But as of right now, they are safely locked up in some part of my brain where I store my thoughts about the unknown—until the time comes when I can process and make sense of them.

Maybe tomorrow, when I’m on the plane to Freetown, it will sink in. Or maybe it will sink in when the airplane doors open and I’m hit with the heat and smells of the tropics. Maybe it won’t sink in until I’m out in the schools with the kids, or until I’m back on familiar soil. I don’t know when it will hit me. Or how. But I do know my mind and heart are open. I’m ready for it. Ready for anything…

About Melani Schultz

I grew up in the dry, dusty desert of Phoenix, Arizona – which instilled in me a love of warm weather, the blazing sun, and chlorinated swimming pools. Now I live in cold, dark Sweden – which has only intensified my love for warm weather, the blazing sun, and chlorinated swimming pools. I have a husband and 2.5 kids (2 daughters + a dog). I'm a Copywriter at IKEA Communications Creative Hub. I'm proud of and committed to the sustainability work IKEA is doing, which is why I'm thrilled to be part of the team working with IKEA Foundation and its partners, UNICEF, Save the Children and UNHCR, on the Soft Toys for Education and Brighter Lives for Refugees campaigns. Recently, I worked on the new identity and communication package for the IWitness Programme.