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.

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, <>.


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.



World Children’s Day

World Children’s Day

Encourage Change this World Children’s Day: November 20, 2020

November 20 is a significant historical date for children, their wellbeing and safety worldwide. With the UN General Assembly adopting both the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1959 and 1989 respectively, it is now recognised as a day to “promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare” [1]. With a mission to support vulnerable children in Sierra Leone, The Fig Tree Children invites you to actively promote and demand action for a world where children survive and thrive.

What this would mean for young people around the world, would be access to quality education, safety from emotional, physical and sexual violence, and freedom to develop to their full potential. It would mean having enough food, adequate shelter, access to health care and to be born well in a safe environment. Bound in guiding principles such as non-discrimination and the child’s inherent right to life, the Convention of the Rights of the Child is the most widely ratified document produced by the United Nations, with every country signing bar the United States [2].

Globally, children face what seems like a never-ending list of challenges daily and for young Sierra Leonians basic human rights are breached far too often. From basic needs to the right to live in a productive environment, a large proportion of children are denied the chance to succeed. 

Senesie & Alie* sponsored by Isobelle Torralba

Esther* sponsored by the staff at Excite Media

Despite the barriers they face, the youth literacy rate continues to grow each year and gender gaps in schools are slowly closing since the introduction of the free education scheme in 2018. Through resilience and hope much is done.

To keep motivation high and inspire children to continue their studies, schools put significant effort and praise into students who pass their year level. Esther*, a sponsored Fig Tree Child was over the moon to graduate from Nursery to Year One this month. Donned in a graduation gown, sash and cap, and a smile from ear to ear, the entire community celebrates these special moments.

In Sierra Leone, approximately 50% of the nation’s people are children, with 41% of their population under 15 years of age [2].  What this means for the country is an extremely high dependency ratio of 78% which puts significant pressure on people aged 15-65 or what is known as the productive population. The working people are burdened with the extra responsibility to cover not only their own living expenditure but that of one additional person outside this age bracket. Noting that this formula does not take into consideration other factors that may prevent a person entering into labour including illness or disability and those who remain in school and out of the workforce, the burden is larger than explicit statistics and much more terrifying in reality. Multi-dimensional poverty affects almost two-thirds of the population, placing social and economic stress on the country. Often forcing children into the workforce in direct violation of their rights to a healthy and safe life.

A difficult year all round, 2020 saw the additional challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic forcing schools to close earlier this year from March to October. In the face of the unplanned barrier to education, a new emphasis on quality education for children has emerged highlighting how important the physical school environment, social connection and face to face teaching is for young students. Children in Sierra Leone not only look forward to going to school, but they are also eager to learn. It is this that needs channelling and ongoing support to protect a child’s future.

Let’s spread the word this year to “reimagine a better world.” With so many ways you can support The Fig Tree Children support those in need, you can do just that. Become one of 100 ambassadors and give a child their right to a bright and safe tomorrow, today.


*Pseudonyms used



Lizzie* sponsored Petrina Taylor-Brown, Tony* sponsored by Penny Wright and his little brother.


[1] United Nations. (2020). World Children’s Day 20 November.

[2] NICEF. (2020). History of Child’s Rights.

[3] The World Bank. (2019). Age Dependency Ratio (% Of Working-Age Population) – Sierra Leone.

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.

Why Sierra Leone?

Why Sierra Leone?

I sometimes get asked what the reasons are for my commitment to Sierra Leone. I want to try and explain this, while I leave out every aspect that I consider personal to me. We all have our own history, our own story, much of which has the strength and impact of characterising us throughout our lives. Much of my curiosity came from an interest I had when studying development economics, I was genuinely interested in wanting to understand more about how microcredit was impacting the lives of women in poverty-stricken countries and the effects this had on their family, in particular, their children. The country I chose to do my research was Sierra Leone, mainly because of a friendship link One World Link had between Warwick and Bo and in the year I did my research, 2006, it was also the second poorest country in the world at that time (Human Development Report, 2006), the 10 years Civil War only ending 4 years prior to my visit.

Jane with an ebola orphaned baby

Over time, I have asked many questions and I’ve learnt to refine the desire I have to want to know more. By doing so opened my eyes to a world that I could never have imagined would have had such an impact! For years I’ve battled with myself in how it’s made me feel. I still often feel fragile in mirroring my life to the difficult, painful and complex reality that is Sierra Leone. I still, however, have the same sense of enchantment and amazement I had when I first visited. A psychiatrist friend, Dr. Roberto Ravera, has told me how, “it’s true that we see the world and people with a sense of how we, first of all, see ourselves. For example, if I am suspicious, if I am afraid, if I have become accustomed to internalising negative feelings, it will be these that I will most frequently see reflected in the world and in others.”

My son, Harry went to a great school whose goal was to inspire him, encourage him to dream, take control of his life and create his own bright future. They did that well. In Sierra Leone, children don’t have this same opportunity. However, it goes way beyond that. As Roberto explains, “how what many are conditioned with and have suffered from since childhood is cruelty and violence that extends to the whole of society. Effects, feelings and bonds are unknown aspects to many Sierra Leonean children. They grow up with a conditioned reflex in which a radical disenchantment prevails over which bonds of trust rarely take root.” I see this mistrust in the eyes of many of the children when I first meet them. It is the instinctive response of those who have not experienced love and who therefore will never abandon themselves to experience this feeling. Roberto also explains to me how he believes (from studies his organisation has done from a neurophysiological point of view), “how many of these children have a perceptive system of the emotions of others that is distorted and at the expense of a system of healthy interactions and full of positive feedback.” “It’s not difficult to see how many children live without a feeling of peace and joy in their relationships with others. Imagine how terrible it must be to live with a mechanism that destroys everything you try to build…. But not have a reflective system that works properly, so they destroy and then blame others.
This lack of system brings many of them to disenchanted, destroyed and hopeless lives. While we know that people like that are everywhere, in Sierra Leone it is an even stronger challenge because you realise this lack of a system is the reason many children are abused, maltreated and quite often neglected.”

It’s very difficult to see this and to walk away and not want to try and help in some way, and I think it is within these reasons I find myself so deeply rooted in Sierra Leone. Because every child we put in school, every vulnerable child we help provide for, every teen mum we help get back into school, is our attempt to make a difference.

I have met many children and young people during my few visits to Sierra Leone since I first visited in 2006. I think the 76 children we now help provide for have an important opportunity to change their destiny. An opportunity they wouldn’t have without our intervention. What inspires me to continue doing what I do, and I’m aware I’ve truly ‘got hold of the tiger by its’ tail’, is this story which I’m sure you will have heard before, but I find that it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of it every once in a while.

The boy and the starfish story

Here’s the story:

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work.

Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions. Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.

The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?” The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.” The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!” adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

Knowing that we might not be able to change the entire world, but at least we can change a small part of it, for someone… is all the inspiration I need to carry on… x jane ❤



United Nations, 2006. United Nations Development Programme. Available at: