In a country ravaged by war and poverty, Sierra Leone ranks as the 9th poorest country in the world. With most of its citizens living in poverty and destitution, the average family income is only $759/year. Streets are running with open sewage and trash, children die daily from preventable diseases, and millions are living without clean water or electricity. Around 60% of their adult population cannot read and endlessly struggle to break out of the cycle of poverty. One out of every 7 children dies before their fifth birthday, and the average life expectancy is only 48 years.
A devastating ten-year civil war (1992-2002) ravaged the peoples of Sierra Leone, obliterating the country’s infrastructure, particularly impacting the children. A rebel army formed, performing atrocities and destroying villages, town and lives in order to overtake the country’s diamond mines. The rebel army invaded villages, killing the adults, and capturing their children for soldiers, amputating their limbs as a strategy of intimidation and domination. The children were then branded, brainwashed, drugged with cocaine, given guns and told to kill as many people as they could.
The pillaging effects of the civil war have left a still-devastated Sierra Leone; not only in its infrastructure, but also in its people. If you walk the streets of
Freetown, many of the buildings that were damaged still lie in disrepair and have been abandoned. Countless teenage and young adult nationals suffer from the ramifications and mental impact of knowing what atrocities they committed as children. Drug abuse and mental illness are prevalent among these young people. Poverty continues to impact the overwhelming majority of people, with many people dying of very preventable causes (malaria, water-born illnesses, starvation, etc).
Although Sierra Leoneons struggle to meet their physical needs, the greater tragedy is that most of them do not know the life-giving news of Jesus Christ. In this gospel-deprived place, Islam has a strong foothold in the country with 60% of Sierra Leoneons claiming Islam as their religion. Developing a comprehensive and holistic strategy to meet real human needs alongside sharing the truth of the gospel became our strategy.
Meeting The Need
Sierra Leone International Mission School (SLIMS) was birthed by Atlanta International Fellowship in 1992 as a safe haven and educational institution for children orphaned by the gruesome, bloody civil war. SLIMS opened during the first year of the ten-year struggle. The war for Sierra Leone’s diamond-rich mines displaced thousands of children, many who were left homeless and orphaned. Leaders of Atlanta International Fellowship and others were determined to provide a refuge for the children victimized by the war in the country’s capital, Freetown. SLIMS opened in Freetown in 1992 and hundreds of children arrived from all over the country seeking solace and protection from capture, amputation and forced rebel military enlistment.
By 1996, the Sierra Leonean government was so pleased with the outstanding and benevolent work of SLIMS, that it granted the school 10 acres of land in a new location on the edge of Freetown called Wellington, allowing for a move to a permanent location. By 1997, SLIMS had opened a makeshift medical clinic designed to meet the growing needs of injured and sick children that were teeming to the campus due to the war. Orphans were traversing long distances to find refuge at the regionally acclaimed safe haven of SLIMS, most of which arrived with medical needs.
In January 1999, life was so tumultuous in Sierra Leone that all American companies and organizations had abandoned their stations – except one – SLIMS. That month, however, the rebel army raided the SLIMS campus and threatened all 900 students and the teachers, slaughtering a handful of teachers as an example of their power and domination. All 900 children fled for safety. The rebel army bunkered down at the SLIMS campus and transformed it into a military headquarters.
By January 2000, the national army routed the rebel army and reclaimed
SLIMS’ campus. As an act of spite, the rebel army burned the school down upon their escape. By God’s grace, classes started again right away, this time meeting under the mango trees, with 700 of the 900 students returning!