Sierra Leone | ActionAid UK

Sierra Leone

Why we work in Sierra Leone

Civil war

Sierra Leone saw one-third of its population displaced and tens of thousands killed during the civil war of the 1990s.

The conflict ended in 2002, bringing with it a more stable economy. But the destruction of many schools, hospitals and roads during combat has proved a challenge to recovery, and the country remains one of the poorest in the world.  

Youth unemployment was a root cause of the civil conflict and is still a problem.

Lack of education

Illiteracy rates are amongst the highest in the world and less than half of all school-aged children are in education.

Ebola outbreak

The deadly Ebola outbreak of 2014 took a massive toll on the country’s economic and social recovery. Although Sierra Leone is now Ebola-free, more than 3,500 people died and many more lost their families and livelihoods.

Maternal death

Women are among the most marginalised members of society in Sierra Leone. Here, a woman’s chance of dying from pregnancy-related causes is amongst the highest in the world, with one in every 21 women at risk. This is partly due to high teenage pregnancy rates, with 38% of girls giving birth and 44% being married before they are 18.

  • 60
    60% of the population live below the poverty line.
  • 9.5
    Only 9.5% of women have reached secondary or higher education.
  • 44
    44% of girls are married before their 18th birthday.




Hawanatu, aged 11, (on right) with some of her school friends in Bo district, Sierra Leone.

Photo credit: Kate Holt.

What we do in Sierra Leone

ActionAid works to provide healthcare, safe childbirth practices and clean water and lobbies governments to change the policies and practices that affect the lives of Sierra Leone’s women and girls. We also work with communities to create opportunities for young people to get an education and develop business skills for the future.

Getting girls into school

ActionAid sees education as a lasting solution to poverty in Sierra Leone. Although school attendance rates are improving, the drop-out rate among girls remains high, with only 33% of girls attending secondary school.

When parents struggle to meet the costs of education, such as books and uniforms, it is girls who miss out the most. Many girls are expected to support their families and marry at a young age. They are also at risk from sexual violence on their way to school.

ActionAid works with girls to identify the changes they want to see and to empower them to go to school. We organise training for women, men, boys and girls on the importance of educating girls. We also support communities to improve existing schools and build new ones.

Tackling violence against women and girls

ActionAid puts women and girls at the forefront of our work in Sierra Leone. We work in communities where violence against women is a persistent problem and seek to change attitudes from within.

We run workshops and awareness-raising programmes to ensure that men know it is illegal to incite violence upon women. This is combined with projects that inform women of their rights and how to get legal support if they have been abused.

Promoting women’s leadership means that women can speak out about the issues that affect them and help improve their communities.

Preventing Ebola

A devastating outbreak of Ebola struck Sierra Leone in May 2014. The virus spread rapidly, killing over 3,500 people and affecting over 8,000.

Community engagement was key to ActionAid’s Ebola programme in Sierra Leone. We worked directly through networks such as local mothers groups who were able to gain the trust of local people and educate them in how to stop the virus spreading.

During the height of the outbreak our community volunteers went door-to-door, spreading awareness of the importance of simple hygiene measures such as handwashing, and reaching over 100,000 people. We also trained neighbourhood watch teams to spot signs of illness in the community and to safely deliver medicine to people quarantined in their homes. 

During the emergency phase of the outbreak we provided food and hygiene kits to vulnerable people including quarantined families, education materials for children when their schools were closed and psychosocial support to survivors. During 2014 and 2015 our Ebola response reached over 350,000 people across seven districts. 

How we change lives for good in Sierra Leone

  • 1,240 children are being sponsored in Bo district.
  • We supported 350,000 people through our Ebola response.
  • 1,200 volunteers were trained to stop the spread of Ebola.


Photos: Kate Holt/ActionAid, Greg Funnell/ActionAid