Freetown Landslide

Freetown Landslide

A lot can happen in three years, especially in the eyes of a child. In Freetown, this is an understatement. On the 14 of August 2017 the citizens of Freetown had experienced the impacts of a devastating landslide that left over 1,000 people dead or missing, while also leaving 11,000 people displaced and homeless [2]. The Regent district of Freetown was the area most heavily impacted by the landslides, with people and homes buried alive under mud, rock and rubble. Faud* and Joseph*’s father was working in the Regent district the morning that the landslides occurred and has not been seen since. For Faud* and Joseph*, tragedy struck at such an early age, uncertainty enveloping their young lives as they failed to find their father amidst the mud and rubble. 

Such an event is unfathomable and tragic; while the effects on individuals, their wellbeing and livelihoods continue to this day. Faud* and Joseph*’s widowed mother has struggled to put food on the table, let alone pay for the boy’s school fees. It is clear that tragedies such as the Freetown landslide affect the poor most disproportionately, but it is unfathomable that in 2020 a family continues to struggle to feed itself and survive. 

Unsustainable levels of urbanisation led to massive deforestation which, coupled together, contributed to the devastating landslide in Freetown. Deforestation contributes to landslides directly as it decreases rainfall infiltration and increases debris runoff. It must thus be taken into consideration that Sierra Leone’s rainy season, while the direct cause of the landslide, would have been less likely to happen were informal and hazardous urbanisation, “disturbing the natural ecology and hydrology of the mountain slope,” [3] avoided.

Freetown needs structured urban planning and enforceable legislation against illegal logging and illegal settlement construction. Furthermore, Freetown would benefit from reforestation initiatives. One example of a land restoration initiative could be an increase in agroforestry, which would have the added benefits of curbing climate change and increasing the city’s food security [4].

These initiatives are all the more important in the face of climate change, as there is scientific consensus on the dangers of increased severe weather events, including wetter and more intense rainy seasons. As “poverty and disadvantage are expected to increase in some populations as global warming increases,” [5] the people of Sierra Leone are in danger of more catastrophe and urgently need to prioritise climate resilience and adaptation.

Working on climate change adaptation strategies, including natural disaster prevention, helps to reduce the requirement for rebuilding efforts after natural disasters. So much so that “every $1 spent upfront on prevention strategies and disaster risk management will save the $3 required for rebuilding after an event.” [6] Along with the need to advocate for investments in natural disaster prevention, there is also the need to support the victims of the traumatic 2017 landslide. This is certainly the case when considering vulnerable children such as Faud*. 

While Joseph* is being sponsored by a Fig Tree Children supporter, Faud* continues to lack sponsorship. Sponsoring Faud* would make a significant positive impact on his future. Not only would it help to educate him, but it could also lead to Faud* developing the skills necessary to contribute to his 

community as it continues to recover from the landslide and develop natural disaster prevention strategies.

* Pseudonyms used


[1] Al Jazeera 2017, ‘Sierra Leone mudslides “kill more than 1,000”’, 28 August, <>.

[2] ACAPS  Assessment Capacities Project 2020, ACAPS Anticipatory briefing note: Sierra Leone – Floods – 4 August 2020, <>.

[3] Cui, Y, Cheng, D, Choi, CE, Jin, W, Lei, Y & Kargel, JS 2019, ‘The cost of rapid and haphazard urbanization: lessons learned from the Freetown landslide disaster’, Landslides, vol. 16, no. 6, pp. 1167–1176

[4] Mbow, C, Van Noordwijk, M, Luedeling, E, Neufeldt, H, Minang, PA & Kowero, G 2014, ‘Agroforestry solutions to address food security and climate change challenges in Africa’, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, vol. 6, pp. 61–67.

[5] Allen, M, Babiker, M & Chen, Y 2018, Summary for Policymakers. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty, IPCC, <>.

[6] Bruce, I 2019, ‘A preventable disaster: Landslides and flooding disaster in Freetown, Sierra Leone’, World Bank Blogs, 2 May, <>.


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 ????