Capabilities Approach

Capabilities Approach

Work from development economists can be difficult for any layman to remember, particularly because there is still so much unnecessary poverty and suffering in this world. There is, however, the theory entitled The Capabilities Approach that, founded by development economist Amartya Sen and developed further by theorists like Martha Nussbaum, make a lot of sense when considering how best to achieve poverty reduction that I think everyone should keep in mind when considering how best to contribute to poverty reduction or how best to support our work here at The Fig Tree Children.

Achieving economic well-being depends on a person’s ability to “be” and ability to “do.” To be and to do are functions, which require certain kinds of freedoms: capabilities. Perhaps the following explains the concepts more succinctly: “Functionings are ‘doings and beings’, that is, various states of human beings and activities that a person can undertake, such as being well-nourished, getting married, being educated, and traveling, while capabilities are the real, or substantive, opportunity that they have to achieve these doings and beings,” (Robeyns et al. 2020).

There is a reason as to why this is so relevant to The Fig Tree Children. Poverty can be described as deprivation of capabilities. What we aim to do at The Fig Tree Children is help to expand the capabilities of some of the most vulnerable children in one of the most impoverished countries in the world.

Providing money as a ‘hand-out’ may not be the best solution to expanding capabilities, but we can provide money to pay for resources that expand these children’s capabilities exponentially. How? By providing them access to educational resources. Once a child has access to education, they have the freedom to choose between different functioning combinations, different combinations of being and of doing. 

The functionality of literacy and numeracy are critical examples of functions that lead to immense capabilities. Amartya Sen “is a strong advocate of literacy as a goal of human development, and has regularly cited literacy, and ‘the ability to read and write’ as a ‘basic capability’ and necessary condition for well-being,” (Maddox 2008, pg. 189).

I welcome you to think about how The Fig Tree Children is critical in providing the tools necessary for vulnerable orphans in Sierra Leone to experience capabilities and functionings, especially within the context of providing the capabilities to be literate and numerate. 

Let’s think about it from the perspective of a Fig Tree Child. A sponsor has paid money for a child to have access to their respective school, as well as school supplies such as school shoes, backpacks, and notebooks to last them the year. These things provided are called resources in the capabilities literature. Resources lead to capabilities; essentially, the effective freedom of an individual to choose between multiple and differing functioning combinations that may lead to well-being.

These functioning combinations may include being able to read, write, count and perform valuable trades.

Being educated leads to so many opportunities; it may lead a child to have the freedom to be a tradesman when they are out of school, to help Sierra Leone continue to develop their country’s infrastructure which was not long ago destroyed by a devastating civil war. It may lead a woman to develop a passion for numeracy and give her the freedom to be an accountant, which would also significantly benefit her local community. 


Amartya Sen himself has written a list of the capabilities and functions derived from education, and the literacy gained through education: 

  • i)  the reduction of illiteracy and innumeracy as deprivation and ‘forms of insecurity in themselves’;
  • ii)  improving access to ‘jobs and gainful employment’ (individual benefits and those of the wider economy);
  • iii)  people’s ability to ‘understand and invoke their legal rights’;
  • iv)  increasing people’s opportunity for ‘political voice participation’;
  • v)  improvement in women’s wellbeing (including benefits to women
    such as access to employment, and participation in ‘decisions within and outside the family’ and to their family in terms of ‘reduced fertility rates’ and ‘reduced mortality rates of children’);
  • vi)  the impact of education and literacy on identity formation, its potential to influence conflict and the conditions of peace and security. (Sen, 2003, pp. 22–29)

Capabilities and functions lead to outcomes of human wellbeing, and everyone deserves the freedom to work towards their wellbeing. 


With these matters in mind, we thank you for your continued support of our work for The Fig Tree Children.



Maddox, B 2008, ‘What Good is Literacy? Insights and Implications of the Capabilities Approach’, Journal of Human Development, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 185–206.

Robeyns, Ingrid and Morten Fibieger Byskov, “The Capability Approach”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

Sen, A.K. (2003) ‘Reflections on literacy’, in C. Robinson (Ed.), Literacy as Freedom, 

UNESCO, Paris, pp. 21–30.

A day in the life of Christiana

A day in the life of Christiana


Let’s spend a day with Christiana. Christiana lives with her father and brother, Peter. Her father had to stay at home to care for Peter after his son got sick, and as a result, he lost his job as a driver. His wife (the children’s mother) left him and he now has to look after his children. Christiana’s father finds it extremely difficult to earn a living and provide for his children.

The Fig Tree Children help support Christiana and Peter’s Father by paying school fees and providing school material’s for both children. Their transportation to school, lunch, uniform, books, tuition fees, pens, pencils are all funded and so Christiana and her brother are given the opportunity to an education.

On a typical school morning, Christiana gets ready by gathering her uniform, organising her breakfast and packing her bag. Once she is dressed, she has her breakfast and packs her school bag with her books, lunchbox and water bottle. On a normal day, she packs either some rice, bread, couscous or cassava. Her bag is filled with both exercise books and textbooks, 2 pencils, an eraser, a sharpener and a ruler.

Christiana’s brother gets ready to attend school alongside his sister. He, much like Christiana, gathers his school essentials and begins his journey to school. They travel together by taxi which often takes around 15 minutes. On the way, Christiana often ponders what exactly is in store for the day ahead. As science is her favourite subject, she wonders whether she will she learn a new word? Or will she get the chance to conduct a new experiment?


* Pseudonym

Once reaching the school grounds, Christiana rushes to greet her school friends and gets herself organised for the day. Her school has roughly 1500 students and 15 teachers. Classes start from 8:30 am and go till 2 pm. A typical school day schedule often starts with Devotion hour, morning teaching sessions, then lunchtime where she eats lunch and plays with her friends, afternoon teaching sessions then finally closure of school for the day.

Walking home from school Christiana begins planning her afternoon ahead. But what she is most excited for, and what seems to be her favourite part of her daily afternoon routine, is handwashing her school uniform.

Using soda soap (which is locally made soap from caustic soda and palm oil), cold water and a hand brush, she gently hand washes her school dress for half an hour. She loves to ensure it is spotless before leaving it overnight to air dry. Thankfully, Christiana has been provided with two school uniforms and so she is able to wear her second, clean one while allowing the other to completely dry.

“I love washing my school uniform” are the exact words that leave Christiana’s mouth as she scrubs away at her uniform over a small washing bucket. The pride she takes in her presentation is undoubtedly a reflection on her dedication to education.

It comes as no surprise that education is a privilege in Sierra Leone. It is also no surprise that education equals power, and with power comes success and opportunity.

Christiana is just one example of one young woman living in Sierra Leone committed to learning and studying. She is committed to pathing the way to a successful future. She is committed to making the most out of every school day. She is committed to expanding her horizons. She is committed to working toward creating the best possible version of herself.

While the illiteracy rate still remains high among adolescents in Sierra Leone, it is encouraging to see young women such as Christiana, devoting their energy and time out of the classroom to not only ensuring they are school ready but future-ready.



International Day of the Girl

International Day of the Girl

Sunday 11 October 2020, across the globe the spotlight is on the rights of women and girls, everywhere.

The 2020 theme, “My voice, our equal future”, rallies to protect young girls and their healthy and safe progression into the future by bringing attention to the unjust realities these young women face on a daily basis.

For girls in Sierra Leone (like Safiatu* right, sponsored by Kylie Deeth), like many others in developing countries, gender inequality is rampant and has devastating impacts on all realms of life. Ranking number 153 of 162 countries on the Gender Inequality Index, female Sierra Leonians have a lower chance of attending secondary school or gaining a seat in parliament [1]. In combination with gendered-violence, early marriage, denied access to birth control, poor health infrastructure, in addition to drastically basic education, women’s health is severely impacted. As seen in their higher rates of maternal mortality, and health consequences including medical complications including death and psychological impacts of female genital mutilation (FGM) [2].

Education is one of the most crucial factors of a young woman’s life, however, due to marginalisation and discrimination overwhelming this group, it is one of the worst impacted. 

Safiatu* sponsored by The Deeths

Hawa* sponsored by Alison and Emily Shakespeare-Jones

Earlier this year in March 2020, we saw positive steps occurring for girls and their rights to an education, with the lifting of a ban preventing pregnant girls attending school. The ban which was implemented in 2015 after the Ebola crisis was in direct breach of human rights listed in United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child, that Sierra Leone is a signatory to [3]. While this is a success story for Sierra Leone, sexual violence, child marriage, teenage pregnancies, in addition to FGM are all still keeping girls going to school altogether – reinforcing the gender gap.


To change the narrative, we MUST:

  • Stand together to call out and challenge bias and discrimination.
  • Disrupt the normalisation of violence against women.
  • Nurture, support and empower all women.

How YOU can help?

Far from Sierra Leone, you might feel stuck on what exactly you can do to advocate for these young girls and women who are facing these life-threatening breaches of human rights. However, there is plenty that can be done from the other side of the world.

1. Sponsor a Fig Tree Girl

With your support, a young girl will receive what she needs to be able to participate in education and learn the important skills that can ignite change, fight poverty and protect social justice. Christiana who is facing personal and family challenges needs sponsorship to provide her with bare essentials such as school fees and equipment, as well as a small allowance to pay for shelter and food. Please consider your invaluable assistance, and sponsor Christiana today.

2. Provide a girl one year’s supply of sanitary pads.

Menstruation is yet another barrier to a girl’s education keeping them at home for the duration, due to not having reasonable sanitary products, safe or adequate toilet facilities among other reasons. Read more about this extremely important topic here. Help end period poverty and empower a young Sierra Leonean woman this Day of the Girl Child.

Help provide a girl in Sierra Leone with a year’s supply of sanitary pads (reusable or disposable depending on the girl’s preference and circumstances). $5 AUD of each donation will go to The Fig Tree Children Emergency Health Fund.


[1] United Nations Development Programme. (2019). Inequalities in Human Development in the 21st Century.

[2] Bjälkander, O., Bangura, L., Leigh, B., Berggren, V., Bergström, S., & Almroth, L. (2012). Health Complications of Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone. International Journal of Women’s Health, 4, 321–331.

[3] Amnesty International. (2016). Sierra Leone: Amnesty International Submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Mitigating Climate change, one educated girl at a time

Mitigating Climate change, one educated girl at a time

Not only is education key to bringing countries like Sierra Leone out of poverty, but it is also critical for the health of our planet. Educating girls has been determined to be one of the top 100 ways to combat climate change. So much so, in fact, that it was ranked 6 out of 100 solutions to reduce CO2 emissions. This ranking was determined by a thorough analysis, published in the book Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken. A whopping 59.6 Gigatons of CO2 can be reduced by 2050 if the world committed to filling the massive educational financing gap that is currently present in low and low-mid income countries [1].

Educating girls is also a cost-competitive carbon abatement strategy [2], meaning that funding girls’ education can be as cost-effective as other climate change mitigation and carbon-abatement strategies. While conventional development literature stresses the importance of educating girls for the sake of carbon reduction in the form of limiting population growth [1, 2], we must stress that it is not this merit that we consider critical. Rather, what we consider to be important is that education provides girls and women more opportunity to think independently. Education grants the agency that they deserve as a human right. Christina Kwauk, a gender equality specialist, writes that “quality education plays a critical role in fostering girls’ leadership and womens’ capacity to participate in climate decision-making,” [3]. 

Not only is educating girls important and effective with regard to carbon abatement and climate change mitigation, it is also important and effective with regard to climate change adaptation. Educating girls has been found to be the “single most important” factor associated with reducing vulnerability to natural disasters, [4] many of which are exacerbated by the impacts of climate change. This is a major finding, considering that the impacts of climate change are expected to hit the poor, particularly those in less developed countries, the hardest [5].

The Fig Tree Children’s efforts in assisting orphaned children in Sierra Leone includes paying the child’s school fees directly to the school that they attend.

Fig Tree Children such as Binta* and Sinnah* above are young girls who have recently become sponsored and now have access to school, as should be their right. 

Christiana*, from the time of this writing, still urgently needs sponsorship to cover her school fees. Girls like Binta*, Sinnah* and Christiana* have the potential to do great things with the education they could get.

*The real names of the children registered with us are replaced by a pseudonym to protect their identity.



[1] Hawken, P (ed.) 2017, Drawdown: the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming, Penguin Books, New York, New York.

[2] David Wheeler and Dan Hammer. 2010. “The Economics of Population Policy for Carbon Emissions Reduction in Developing Countries.” CGD Working Paper 229. Washington, D.C.: Center for Global Development.

[3]Kwauk, C 2020, ‘Opinion: Girls’ education as a solution to climate change is about more than fertility’, Devex, 6 April, <>.

[4] Striessnig, E, Lutz, W & Patt, AG 2013, ‘Effects of Educational Attainment on Climate Risk Vulnerability’, Ecology and Society, vol. 18, no. 1.

[5] Mendelsohn, R, Dinar, A & Williams, L 2006, ‘The distributional impact of climate change on rich and poor countries’, Environment and Development Economics, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 159–178.

Menstrual Hygiene in Sierra Leone

Menstrual Hygiene in Sierra Leone

Let’s talk Periods!

With Menstrual Hygiene Day just around the corner, we thought we would take this opportunity to talk about how ‘menses’ (periods) affects girls of menstruating age in The Fig Tree Children.

If you would like to help to end ‘period poverty’ please have a look at our campaign at the end of this article.

Whenever you try to bring up the topic of menstruation with people in Sierra Leone, there’s definitely the feeling that periods are a taboo topic. It doesn’t surprise me to learn, that the first time most girls in Sierra Leone get their period, they have no idea what’s happening. If a girl is registered in The Fig Tree program, then she will be going to school and I would imagine if she had her period at school, this would be a challenging time for her. While she might have heard about sanitary pads, she probably will have also heard about how they can cause infertility, they’re expensive, and they’re difficult to source. She will have to try and manage her menses with ‘pieces’ (small scraps of fabric or old cloth) which as you might imagine, wouldn’t be very hygienic. If the school she attends has toilet facilities, the toilets are most probably shared with boys so privacy would be an issue. Imagine having blood on your hands and needing to wash it off! She’s likely to get teased. If her teacher is a male, she won’t have anyone to go to for support.

It’s no wonder so many girls stay home from school rather than deal with all this potential embarrassment and shame. Girls lose weeks of school a year simply because they don’t have a reliable way to manage their period!

It’s a pretty scary time for these girls. They hear stories about how once they get their period, it’s the end of their childhood, that she’s now mature and ready to have sex or have a lover, that she’s already having sex because she has her period and that she should now drop out of school and get married. Can you imagine being as young as 10 or 11 years of age and hearing this!

In Sierra Leone, teenage pregnancy and child marriage are common: data from 2015 show that nearly 40 per cent of girls are married before their 18th birthday.

However, the good news is that there are organisations in the community that are trying to put a stop to the myths, and they are educating women and girls on the truth about menstruation and sexual health. They give them practical advice and are also providing access to sanitary pads. One such organisation is Girl Child Network (GCN). Not only are they educating girls, but they also make reusable sanitary pads which they distribute to the girls who attend their training workshops. The pads they make are based on Freeda Thong’s Ecopads. In 2016, The Fig Tree Children founder, Jane, was in Sierra Leone when a container that had been shipped loaded with bicycles donated by Bikes4Life, and a few other items. Jane distributed the donated sanitary pads and gave Aminata Kamara from GCNSL 200 sanitary hygiene kits from Days for Girls Toowoomba and 30 kits from Freeda Thong at Ecopads Australia. 30 girls trialled the two different designs and chose Ecopads as the design they liked the most, hence Anita choosing to make a sanitary pad based on Freeda’s design.

Anita Koroma who is the Sierra Leone representative for GCN Sierra Leone is openly discussing menstruation with the whole community and challenging the myths that prevent so many women from reaching their full potential. This has a huge impact!

Having access to sanitary pads (reusable or disposable) improves women’s physical health and restores their sense of dignity.

Using the ‘pieces’ many girls use to manage their menses often gives the girls wounds, rashes and infection. After a while of wearing pieces, there is usually an offensive smell or odour. Having access to sanitary pads makes all the difference. The girls feel cleaner and fresher.


Reusable or Disposable?

While having any type of sanitary pad over ‘pieces’ is better, the disposal of used disposable pads is a big challenge. Waste is a global dilemma and there’s no question that replacing reusable ‘pieces’ with disposable pads is contributing to that problem. However, for girls who don’t easily have access to clean water, reusable pads that can’t be cleaned adequately is also a problem. What’s important is that these girls have the best type of sanitary pad depending on their circumstances, reusable or disposable are both better than just ‘pieces’.

Periods cause challenges for women – regardless of where in the world they live. But they are a fact of life. It is not acceptable that — for some women and girls — periods stand in the way of their right to education. Or that they are the catalyst for early marriage. Or even a source of shame and ridicule.

Here at The Fig Tree Children, we want to make sure that our girls all have access to sanitary pads, reusable if they have access to clean water to clean them adequately, or disposable, if not. However, it’s their right to choose, as it is ours too. We are starting to become more aware of the environmental effects of our actions and more and more girls are looking to reusable pads as their choice of sanitary pad. By educating girls in Sierra Leone about environmental issues will equip them to make that decision too.

We’re running a campaign to give a girl in Sierra Leone a year’s worth of sanitary pads (disposable or reusable, depending on their circumstances).

At The fig Tree Children, we are supporting children through their education by paying school fees and giving their carer a monthly allowance to help care for them. Ensuring the girls, we support, have what they need to help them during menstruation is important to us and them. We don’t want girls missing days from school because of their periods.

A donation of 30 AUD will not only give a girl a year’s supply of sanitary wear, but where reusable pads are chosen, she will also attend a menstrual and sexual health workshop and receive a menstrual bracelet. $10 of the donation will also go towards The Fig Tree Children’s Emergency Health Fund.

For girls who prefer disposable over reusable sanitary pads, we will purchase these in bulk from a local supplier, keeping our expenses to a minimum whilst supporting local business in Sierra Leone.


A $30 one-off donation will buy (for one girl):

  • One year’s supply of sanitary pads (reusable or disposable)
  • Menstrual and Sexual Health Training (when reusable pads are purchased)
  • Menstrual Bracelet (when reusable pads are purchased)
  • A $10 donation to The Fig Tree Children emergency health fund.


Macrotrends LLC, 2010-2020. Sierra Leone Youth Unemployment Rate 1991-2020. Available at:

One Girl, 2019. International Women’s Day: We’re talking periods. Available at:–international-womens-day

Mason, H. September 2017. Ending Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy in Sierra Leone. Available at:

Provide a year’s supply of sanitary pads for one girl

Help us provide 200 girls in Sierra Leone with a year's supply of sanitary pads (reusable or disposable depending on the girl's preference and circumstances). $5 AUD of each donation will also go towards The Fig Tree Children's 'Emergency Health Fund', helping provide for our children when they get sick.

To date, we have provided sanitary pads for 88 girls and $440 has been donated to our healthcare fund.

Thank you to all of you who have supported this campaign ????