The skit, laced with misconceptions and misinformation on the FQEP, set the stage for frank discussion among community people and public service providers on the three key areas of education, health and social protection. Starting with education, participants lamented the numerous challenges of accessing quality schooling before now and assessed the extent to which the newly introduced FQEP will go to address those challenges in the short, medium and long terms.
“The FQEP is being implemented over a five-year period (2019-2023) and in phases; so not all of these challenges will be addressed immediately,” said Allieu Marah, SEND Sierra Leone SABI Project Officer.
Explaining the FQEP policy, the Deputy Director of Education in Kailahun District, Foday Conteh, provided answers to the frequently asked questions on the program including which children are covered; responsibilities of Government on one hand and the parents/guardians on the other; which schools will benefit from the schooling feeding program and where will the school bus scheme operate.
Participants were shocked to learn that parents/guardians could face penalties of fine or imprisonment if they fail to send their children/wards to school (Education Act 2004).
Furthermore, they were amazed to learn that FQEP covers only public schools (Government owned and government assisted schools). Many of the schools in rural communities are community owned and these are not covered by the FQEP. Education officials are still counting the number of children in these community schools across the country that are missing out on the FQEP.
Nevertheless, Conteh said the Ministry has adopted a set of criteria such schools have to meet before they are approved as public schools. According to the criteria, community schools must have a good structure plus a playground that are big enough to accommodate the pupils; they must have good WASH facilities, and a reasonable trained and qualified number of teachers.
“We have received applications from community schools and many of them will be approved in due course,” said Conteh; adding however that henceforth any NGO or faith based organisation that wishes to establish a school is mandated to seek approval from the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, prior to establishing the school.
In the area of the Free Health Care Initiative (FHCI) the general complain from the community people is that they are usually asked to pay money before they can be treated or given essential drugs even though such should be free. However, Matron Sando Kamara from the Kailahun Government Hospital insisted that FHCI is free for children under-five years’ old, pregnant women and lactating mothers; and lately People with Disability (PWDs) and Ebola survivors have been added to this primary beneficiary group.
“The only instances they (FCHI beneficiaries) pay money is when the drugs are not readily available in our stores. Sometimes the drugs delay to reach to the hospital; so we write prescriptions and ask them to go and buy them outside from the pharmacies,” explained Matron Kamara.
In Kpandebu, Dama Chiefdom, Kenema District, Nurse-In-Charge at the Kpandebu Community Health Center, Lilly E. Moiwo, reported that most of the pregnant and lactating mothers refused to come to the center and instead rely on ‘peppeh doctas’ (quack nurses) in the community.
“For example, children Under-5 are only brought to the center when they convulse,” she said.
However, Moiwo disclosed that unlike before there are no more special clinic days for pregnant women.
“Now they can come any day; every day is clinic day,” she said.
On Social Protection, especially relating to the rights and privileges of PWDs, participants learned that every person with disability has a right to free education in tertiary institutions accredited by the Tertiary Education Commission and approved by the Ministry responsible for education. Moreover, a person with disability shall not be denied admission to or expelled from an educational institution by reason only of his/her disability.
PWDs also have right to access public facilities, to employment and equal rights at the job place. Furthermore, they should be involved in all committees in their communities- from the School Management Committee to Ward Development Committee and Ward Education Committee.
Apart from helping community people understand their rights and responsibilities, the policy literacy sessions also guide communities to channel their concerns relating to essential service delivery through the appropriate authorities at ward, chiefdom, district and national level.
“These policy literacy sessions are implemented under the SABI Project funded by UKaid through Christian Aid. SABI doesn’t approve the community schools for the FQEP or provide the essential drugs for the FHCI; what it does is to enable communities to understand their rights and responsibilities and take action by channeling their concerns through the right bodies or heads,” said Marrah.
Operational in every district in Sierra Leone, the project seeks to strengthen community-led accountability, increasing awareness of, and demand for, the delivery of basic services – including health, education, social protection, water and energy.
The policy literacy sessions are organized by SEND Sierra Leone in 30 wards in Kailahun, Kenema, Kono, Western Urban and Western Rural districts.
Credit: Development and Economic Journalists Association (DEJA-SL)