In 2014, Guinea declared a national health emergency due to the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease. By early 2016, over 2,500 people had died and nearly 6,000 children had lost parental care due to the epidemic. The epidemic has had serious effects on the country's already fragile social and economic fabric.
Life is incredibly difficult for the majority of the population
Smiling faces at the kindergarten (photo: L. Willot)
Conakry is the capital city of Guinea and has a population of around two million. Its economy is centred mainly around its port. In 2006 and 2007 Guinea saw several general strikes: rising food prices, energy shortages, and the alleged mismanagement of the country’s resources were among the reasons for the growing discontent.
In 2010, Guinea held its first democratic elections since independence from France in 1958, but the path towards a more democratic government has been fraught with difficulty and ethnic tensions. The living conditions of the majority of the population remain precarious and insecure. Water and electricity are not available to large sectors of the population and in Conakry alone, around ten murders are committed each and every day.
In part, Conakry’s social problems can be put down to its rapid expansion – the city has more than doubled in size in the last thirty years. While most of the country has an average population density of around 40 people per square kilometre, in Conakry it is as high as 2,500 per km2. The majority of people live in slum areas, where public facilities, health services, and schools are not sufficiently available. These conditions have led to increased crime rates and social unrest.
Children are the ones who suffer most
Although primary education is tuition-free and mandatory, many families cannot afford the administrative fees and thus do not send their children to school. Child labour remains common and thousands of girls are made to work as domestic helpers, in conditions akin to slavery where they are vulnerable to exploitation, violence and abuse, and receive no pay or education. Child abuse is a big problem, with girls between the ages of eleven and 15 most frequently the victims. Although the legal age for marriage is 21 for men and 17 for women, underage marriage remains common, often arranged by the parents. Child prostitution and the trafficking of minors for prostitution or illegal labour have been reported consistently. In addition, there are thousands of homeless children living on the streets of Conakry, fending for themselves without protection.
What we do in Conakry
Laughing girls at the children’s village (photo: C. Ladavicius)
SOS Children’s Villages began its work in Conakry in 1989. In recent years, there has been a growing need for support within the community due to the increasingly difficult situation in the region and neighbouring countries. The SOS Family Strengthening Programme, which we offer at our social centres, ensures that families in need have access to essential services, for example adequate education, sufficient food, regular health care, professional counselling, proper hygiene, or better housing, to name a few. In addition, families have been supported in their endeavours to secure a stable and regular family income by organizing trainings, helping them to find jobs and income generating activities. We also run an adult literacy programme for women. The SOS Social Centre supports over 500 beneficiaries at the moment.
For children from the region who can no longer live with their parents, eleven SOS families can provide a loving home for up to 110 children. In each family, the children live with their brothers and sisters, affectionately cared for by their SOS mother.
The children attend the SOS Kindergarten together with children from the neighbourhood. This ensures that children from SOS families make friends and are integrated into the local community from a young age. The kindergarten also includes one class for Montessori education. The children then continue their education at the SOS Hermann Gmeiner primary and secondary schools, which are attended by over 700 pupils.
When young people from the children’s village reach an age where they are ready to move out of the family home, the SOS Youth Programme makes shared accommodation available. Qualified SOS co-workers accompany and support the young people on their journey to becoming independent adults, for example by providing guidance and assistance in finding employment or training opportunities.