Musician Sorie Kondi, the Stevie Wonder of Sierra Leone, is trying to make it as a world musician in part because he needs to pay his daughter's school fees. He's hitting the road to investigate what's happening with girls' education ten years after the civil war.
Sorie Kondi, Sierra Leone's Stevie Wonder. He's on iTunes and YouTube, but still struggling to make it. Foreign acclaim does not pay his bills. Sorie pays his eight dollars a month rent by busking the streets of the capital, Freetown. His wife Sally is also blind. She makes and sells soap to help out.
SORIE KONDI [Musician]
London, America, UK...one day, sometime, we'll go there.
Busking the streets also helps keep his daughter in school. Getting 14-year-old Zeinab through school is a big struggle for Sorie. Primary education is free in Sierra Leone, but there are extra fees demanded by poorly paid teachers and other costs. Somehow Sorie always finds the money. But keeping Zeinab out of trouble is more difficult.
When did you get pregnant?
Zeinab lives with her cousins who have all left school early because of pregnancy.
Zeinab's not safe. Look at what's happening in this house. Her cousins only made it up to Form Two and got pregnant. So I do worry that someday it will happen to her, you see?
We asked Sorie Kondi to help us make a road movie looking at what's happening with girls' education around the country ten years after civil war. Sorie's trusted aid is 23-year-old Foday P, who helped with production on Sorie's first album. Sorie Kondi's barely ventured out of Freetown since the civil war started 18 years ago. It's a two-week trip around the country. Just Sorie, Foday P -- now "Foday the Roadie" -- and whoever else they pick up on the way. Theophilus needs a lift to Makene. He's a primary school teacher. What's making him angry? Ghost teachers. It's estimated the government has been paying the salaries of thirty thousand phantom teachers who don't exist, the money going who knows where. Ghost teachers are a drain on the budget. But the government's now started a roll call of teachers to make sure the money's spent properly. Theophilus says it's an urgent problem.
THEOPHILUS [Primary School Teacher]
Teachers do retire, some die. But heads of schools and principles, they still maintain their names in the register. The money goes in their pockets, forgetting the fact that they need to delete those names from the register. So there are ghost teachers all over.
Sierra Leone spends almost four percent of its GDP on education. Sorie is beginning to wonder how much of it finds its way to the children. One of the problems for girls in rural areas is the long walk to school. But they're lucky. Over a quarter of a million children don't go to primary school at all. And most of them are girls.
Mangay Loko Village
Sorie Kondi's village is Mangay Loko. Back home, Sorie's a success story. His old friend Hassan used to be a small time trader. Hassan did pass his school exams, but no more. Now he's a "UU", an unqualified, untrained teacher. The villagers pay him what they can when they can, and it's often not much. Almost half of Sierra Leone's teachers are UUs and often have second jobs to survive. We've heard stories of schools down the road. Sorie's off to learn more. They're all on their way to Mateboi. The school here has an impressive list of former pupils, including some major public figures. Sorie Kondi wants to put on a performance, but the kids get there first.
Free primary education has seen a huge increase in pupils here -- it's up by half. Now the school has 425 students but only five teachers and three classrooms.
FODAY P. FOFANAH [Music Producer]
If you could see them, you would see that the children are having difficulties. They have no desks, and have to put the books on their laps to write.
Half the classes are under mango trees. There just aren't enough buildings.
So, no benches then?
FODAY P. FOFANAH
They do have benches to sit on but they haven't got anything to write on.
When the rains come, the problems really start. Children from the mango tree classrooms pile into the school building classrooms and the entire school comes to a halt. For nine-year-old Fatima, that means losing up to forty days a year of school.
When I come to school in the morning and it rains heavily, my books and uniform get completely soaked.
As Sorie leaves -- burnt out ruins of buildings. A reminder of civil war; over twelve hundred schools were destroyed. And in contrast, the new roads of reconstruction that take us to Koidu, the center for blood diamonds. There is money around here. And money can be a problem, as Sorie's next encounter shows. Sia Elizabeth Tongu belongs to a women's group that campaigns against teenage marriage.
SIA ELIZABETH TONGU
Our young girls face a lot of challenges. We're concerned about teenage marriages, "early marriages" we call them out here. People with money will lure them out of school. It still happens.
Mariama didn't get a chance to finish her schooling. At sixteen her parents wanted to marry her off to an older man. She ran away, but in the end she did marry him and had three kids. Like many girls in Sierra Leone, Mariama was married before she was eighteen, which is illegal here. Now, ten years on, she's being divorced and her husband has claimed back the bride money and expenses from her family.
Seeing as your father, your parents, were the ones who arranged your marriage, they should have helped you out, not left you to sort it out alone. Why, when bad things happen, do they leave you to fend for yourself? Why?
I don't know.
Kenema, the economic heart of eastern Sierra Leone, the country's diamond trading center. Juliette is a primary school teacher, volunteer radio journalist, and a single mother. Juliette runs a youth program and opens the phone lines every Saturday morning.
JULIETTE YUKIE [Eastern Radio Presenter]
I most of the time try an open phone line, I ask people to contribute. But they ask questions about teenage pregnancy. And most questions that used to come to our studio whenever I'm presenting this program, people say the teenagers themselves are responsible for the problems they usually face. I'll blame the parents, the guardians, I'll blame the teenagers themselves. And I'll blame also the schools that these teenagers are attending.
Back to Freetown, where Foday will be helping Sorie record his new album.
FODAY P. FOFANAH
I think education is very, very important, because if it hadn't been for education I would not have been what I am today.
There's a lot riding on Sorie Kondi's new album: his career, and Zeinab's future.
Zeinab's my child, but she has a mind of her own. Even though I really hope she finishes her studies, it's up to her. I am praying to God that she finishes her education because I believe it will be good for her. If I get money I will send her to college. If I get money, I believe God will provide.
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