Janet plants her little sister’s hair for tomorrow. Schools in Sierra Leone expect girls to neatly braid their hair as part of the dress code, and most girls spend their Sunday afternoons doing so. Janet sits on a bench near her home’s veranda, carrying her baby boy on her back with a lappa tied around her torso. Janet’s mother comes and goes to fetch water from the swamp, while her brother and his friend return from their farm work. 

A tall tree stands in the yard and bears an abundance of juicy and delicious grapefruit. The family collects a few to eat while laughing and relaxing in the late afternoon sun. Janet continues to braid and begins her story.

Janet's Story

I passed the Basic Examination Certificate Exam (BECE) last year after completing junior secondary school. I should be in senior secondary one (SS1) but I stopped going to school. I have two sons and nobody can look after them if I attend classes. My mother and father work on the farm all day. My uncle and other relatives work on farms too. Only on Sundays like today will my mom stay closer to the house.

My first son is seven years old. His father died from a stomach sickness. My other son is four months old and his father works on a farm. He sat his West African Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) but failed all of the subjects. He has no choice but to continue farming. His family can’t take care of our son because they live in a village far away from us.

I know of a daycare near my house, but it’s too expensive. They charge Le 150,000 (USD ~16) per year. I will go to a local women’s organization called Ladies in Development to try and find a solution. I can also try talking with school staff—teachers, counselors, or the principal. SS1 is an important year. I want to attend school so I can focus on the sciences like biology, chemistry, and physics. Then I could sit my own WASSCE and become a nurse.

I feel so inspired seeing nurses work around the hospital and town. I observed when they vaccinated my baby boy against measles, polio, and other sickness. Sometimes the hospital has an event at the town field. They work with Humanity First Canada to train mothers and give us supplies for our children like cloth diapers, disposable diapers, and clothes. They also teach us how to properly breast feed and recommend we do so for one year and six months. If I become a nurse I would help people, especially my family.

My mother inspires me to get up every day because she has love for me. I also love my father. I wake up every morning to see my beautiful children because I love them so much. I’m thankful to God for my health and I pray that we all have long life. 

I want to advise girls to stay focused on their studies. If they get pregnant and have children, their education will delay or even stop. I want men and boys to stop womanizing because they might cause pregnancy. Then they’ll need to care for their child and that won’t leave much time for studying.