News

Irish Aid UN Volunteer lends support to youth empowerment in Sierra Leone

17 July 2018
Irish Aid UN Volunteer Ellen Donnelly speaks with Malikie M. Kamara, coordinator of the Bambukoro Community Learning Centre in Sengbe Chiefdom, Koinadugu District, in Sierra Leone’s Northern Province. © UNFPA Sierra Leone

Ellen Donnelly came to Sierra Leone as a volunteer programme specialist in youth and gender, contributing to UNFPA programmes including the Irish Aid-funded Girls’ Access to Education and Services (GATES) Project. 

 

With Irish Aid funding amounting to €1 million, the project advances Irish Aid’s commitment to gender equality and empowering women and girls to achieve their full potential – including through opportunities for quality education and the chance for a better future. 

 

Through the GATES project, UNFPA Sierra Leone’s Adolescent, Youth and Gender Cluster, of which Ms. Donnelly is a part, works with NGO and government partners to make sure adolescents receive information on life skills, gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health, and can access critical services like family planning, HIV testing and counselling, and psychosocial support. 

 

Working across the country and focusing on six districts with the highest teen pregnancy rates, the project works through mainstream schools as well as learning centres to reach youth who are in and out of school alike. It has a particular emphasis on reaching girls.

As part of a baseline assessment for the GATES project, Ms. Donnelly helped to lead a training in Freetown for staff from the target districts, and subsequently travelled to three districts in the northern province to support district staff in conducting the assessment.

 

With a master’s in global health and over 10 years’ experience in youth development, Ms. Donnelly contributes her expertise in developing youth programmes and educational resources to target disadvantaged young people. In turn, she has learned much about the country and the challenges facing its youth – both from her colleagues at UNFPA and from those she met during her trip to the northern province.

“I met women who were really enthusiastic in supporting girls’ education,” she said. “I also met young mothers who are keen to return back to school, but are facing many challenges, and I met community volunteers who are really passionate about non-formal education.”

 

And Ms. Donnelly has found that UNFPA’s work in Sierra Leone is not only a matter of getting young people information and access to services. The GATES project will also support young people as leaders in creating change in their communities – by leading community dialogues, with both their elders and their peers, to challenge harmful traditional practices. 

 

“We really believe that young people can be advocates for change,” she said, “and to bring a more equal and peaceful society in their own communities in Sierra Leone.”