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Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone

by AdvocAid
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Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone
Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone
Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone
Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone
Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone
Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone
Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone
Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone
Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone
Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone
Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone
Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone
Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone
Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone
Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone
Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone
Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone
Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone
Supporting 350 Female Detainees in Sierra Leone

One of AdvocAid's pillars of support is tracing family that incarcerated women would not otherwise be able to reach out to. Even though police stations and correctional services have a duty to inform family members of the arrest, they often does not happen.

During one of our social worker's weekly visits, Mariatu* approached her. As soon as she started talking, she could not hold back her tears: "Auntie, last week they arrested me. I just came to Freetown for a visit. None of my family up in the provinces was informed about my arrest. I beg you to inform them for me. They will think I just left my children behind like that. These thoughts don’t let me sleep at night".

Fortunately, Mariatu knew of a distant family member working in town. The next day, our social worker headed out to look for him. After not finding him at his work place the first time, she came back another time. When she finally managed to find him, he immediately informed the rest of the family. Having been distressed over Mariatu’s disappearance, it was a great relief for them to hear that she was well, though arrested.

Mariatu was very relieved to know that her family and children were doing well and had been informed about her arrest. Thank you for supporting our social work, so that we can continue assisting families, even when the legal system turns their back to them.

 

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Mercy, AdvocAid’s social worker, conducting a ballgame as part of a psycho-social session in the Makeni Correctional Centre.

 

Living behind bars, only able to leave the shared cell for nine hours aday, many women’s thoughts circle around the same issues and questions day in, day out:

How many years will my sentence last?

When will I see my child again?

Will my community and family accept me after being released from prison?

Added to these thoughts comes a monotonous daily routine, sometimes interrupted by visits from outside, but mainly characterised by long hours of waiting for the time to pass. Left alone with their thoughts and worries, some women develop mental health issues such as depression.

To tackle this, AdvocAid’s social workers have been offering monthly psycho-social sessions, since September 2018, in five correctional centres across Sierra Leone. These sessions aim to help incarcerated women manage stress, resolve conflicts and build resilience. The  sessions vary: some teach the women about coping mechanisms to deal with emotions such as anger, frustration, desperation or sadness, others incorporate games, dancing or other creative ways of expressing your self. Whilst some women enjoy verbal ways of processing their experiences and challenges, others prefer storytelling, singing or speaking to a social worker one on one.

After every session, the participants get the chance to share what they enjoyed and their ideas for improvement. Over the past year, with the help of their feedback, AdvocAid has been able to adapt its support to meet the individual needs of each woman. Thanks to that, the sessions are a great success today. As one of the participants put it:

“This session is great. I am most times worried about my case whenever I remember my offence but from this session I have learnt ways to cope with my emotions through the use of the positive reach scheme and how I should deal with negative thoughts through the happy moments coping techniques.”

______________

On behalf of the women and girls we work with, thank you for your continued support for AdvocAid. Each and every donor, however big or small their contribution might be, helps us adapt our activities to respond to the acute needs of the women we work with.

 

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Women in the courtyard of a female correctional
Women in the courtyard of a female correctional

In Sierra Leone, children who are on trial are incarcerated in ‘remand homes.’ As juveniles, they cannot be incarcerated in the adult correctional centres. These children remain in the remand homes for the duration of their court case - sometimes for many years. 

For children detained in the remand home they are not only deprived of their liberty, they are often deprived of an education. These years without access to education, coupled stigma of incarceration, can prove to be too big a gap in their learning to be bridged when starting a life beyond detention. 

AdvocAid is fortunate to have generous support from a range of volunteers. One such volunteer is a teacher who has been visiting the remand home on a weekly basis for several months to provide tailored classes to two girls in the remand home, Mariatu* and Tenneh*. This teacher has been helping them improve with their writing, reading and comprehension, as well as basic maths. These are critical skills, as both Mariatu and Tenneh had ambitions to sit their Basic Examination Certificate (BEC).  AdvocAid was able to pay the fees required and buy the uniforms needed to sit the exam, as well as buy books and supplies for their learning, with thanks to the generous donations received through Global Giving. In addition to the fantastic support from our volunteer teacher, AdvocAid was also able to pay for a teacher to provide a few weeks of exam preparation lessons. 

Passing the exam means that Mariatu and Tenneh could then apply for senior secondary school and continue their education. They’re currently awaiting their results with keen anticipation. Our social worker Fatmata visits Mariatu and Tenneh at the remand home regularly and talks about their ambitions: ‘Both are so passionate, so hard-working. You know, they both have such plans. Tenneh dreams of becoming a counsellor. She wants to tell others, girls of her age, that there is always a way out. And Mariatu, she wants to become a lawyer. She told me that every time she goes for a hearing at court she sees how many people are left without a lawyer, without any hope or information about their cases. They both want to make a difference once they get out.’

All stages of imprisonment can have an impact on post-prison reintegration. Providing legal aid and social welfare support, including psycho-social support, during incarceration is a step to helping women and girls leave prison with brighter prospects. behalf of the people we work with, thank you for your generous donations, that allow us to keep up each pillar of our work. 

Mariatu was released on bail in August 2019, after taking her BEC exam. She was in the remand home for several years whilst on trial.

To get the latest news from AdvocAid, follow us on social media:

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In Sierra Leone, women on trial or convicted of a crime are permitted to be detained with any children they have under 2 years old. This allows mothers to continue breastfeeding their child and care for them in their infancy.

However, these mothers often struggle to ensure their children are well-nourished. Whilst in detention, women may only receive one or two meals a day, of food that may not be suitable for an infant or toddler. With your donations to Global Giving, we’ve been able to provide mothers in several correctional centres with additional food items for their children – this includes 2 babies in Makeni, 2 in Kenema and 5 presently in Freetown.

The Sierra Leone Correctional Service recognises that further steps need to be taken towards implementing the ‘Bangkok Rules’ – UN guidance on specific support needed by women offenders and prisoners. They have constructed a temporary ‘child-friendly centre’ in the Freetown Female Correctional Centre, with ambitions to open centres in each female correctional centre across the country. These centres are due to be child-friendly environments with toys and activities to stimulate children and create a safe space for play and development.

With your generous donations through Global Giving, AdvocAid will continue to support mothers and children in detention. On behalf of the women and girls we work with, thank you.

Next month Global Giving will be launching a bonus day; on July 18th any donations of $100 or over will be matched with some funding from Global Giving. Please consider donating on July 18th - your donation will be doubled and directly support our work with incarcerated women and girls.

To get the latest news from AdvocAid please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and sign up to our newsletter via our website.

*Names have been changed to protect the individuals’ identities.

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Mental health is a complex challenge for correctional centres. Some incarcerated women have come into conflict with the law as a direct result of a mental health problem. Some women develop mental health problems whilst in detention. Circumstances are challenging, for example overcrowding of cells, enforced solitude, lack of privacy, inadequate health and hygiene facilities, and limited contact with one’s loved ones. All of this can result in poor or deteriorating mental health. 

AdvocAid works on partnership with the Sierra Leone Correctional Service to protect the rights of incarcerated women in girls. This includes ensuring they have access to appropriate healthcare, both medical and psychological; they are treated with humanity and dignity; they’re protected from violence; and children in detention with their mothers are provided for. However, there are limited mental health services within Sierra Leone – this presents a challenge for the correctional service seeking to meet the needs of those in detention.

AdvocAid social workers provide one to one support and group psycho-social empowerment sessions, designed to support women with the emotional tools they may need whilst incarcerated. Despite this, we are aware of several women with acute mental health needs that require the support of a professional mental health specialist. With permission from the correctional service’s Medical Superintendent, AdvocAid now arranges for a mental health counsellor to visit the Freetown Female Correctional Service on a weekly basis to have one-to-one counselling sessions for women with the greatest need. AdvocAid has been able to provide this as a result of the generous donations made by our Global Giving donors.

It is with your help that several female detainees are now receiving much-needed mental healthcare. Through your generous donations, we hope to continue this for the months to come. In time, we would like to provide such support at all female correctional centres in Sierra Leone. 

On behalf of the women and girls we work with, we thank you for your generosity. To get the latest news from AdvocAid please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and sign up to our newsletter via our website.

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Organization Information

AdvocAid

Location: Freetown, Western Region - Sierra Leone
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @advocaid
Project Leader:
Rebecca Wood
Freetown, Western Area Sierra Leone
$8,808 raised of $15,000 goal
 
116 donations
$6,192 to go
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