This guest post was written by the Children’s Forum Network (CFN) branch in Kenema District and GFC’s Regional Capacity Development Specialist for West Africa, Amé Atsu David.
In early 2020, the Children’s Forum Network (CFN) branch in Kenema District, Sierra Leone, welcomed a team of staff members from Global Fund for Children (GFC). GFC was scouting for organizations to partner with to help end violence against girls in rural parts of the country. Just two months later, CFN-Kenema received its first grant from GFC. This partnership has transformed CFN-Kenema’s ability to protect and empower the district’s children, with a particular focus on girls.
Formed as Sierra Leone’s civil war (1991–2002) was ending, CFN is the country’s leading child advocacy network and currently operates under the auspices of Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs. Led by children and youth, CFN was established to advocate on behalf of the country’s children and to prevent and respond to physical, social, and emotional abuse of children, especially girls.
CFN’s vision is for children to live in dignity and be treated with respect. The organization also works to build a society that creates a space for children to fully explore their talents and dreams. CFN collaborates with the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs and other child protection partners to challenge child welfare issues in society and in the country at large.
Established in 2007, the Kenema District branch of CFN is a children’s membership organization with elected leadership positions, currently held by 16- and 17-year-olds. Its programs include radio shows, seminars, workshops, community engagements, school visits, and other public education events, all geared toward raising awareness around the protection and empowerment of children in Kenema District.
Advocacy and child welfare activities are not just watchwords at CFN. They run in the veins of every CFN advocate. From dawn to dusk, CFN-Kenema works relentlessly to speak out and advocate for the rights of every child in Kenema District.
“CFN was established to talk for the voiceless children,” said CFN President Thomas Vandi.
In spite of its achievements in child advocacy and confronting child abuse cases in Kenema District, CFN-Kenema faced several challenges in implementing its activities and sustaining its work. When GFC visited in early 2020, CFN-Kenema lacked not only consistent funding but also basics like office and meeting space, office supplies and equipment, and internet access to communicate with external stakeholders.
“You find it very uncommon in Sierra Leone for adults to believe in the vision of young people,” said former CFN President Khalid Ahmad Tamu.
This made it difficult for CFN-Kenema to efficiently carry out its plans and activities. The organization held most of its meetings at the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs conference hall and the UNICEF Kenema branch compound, and it relied on the Ministry for use of essentials such as computers and printers. Because CFN-Kenema is run by children and youth, many international partners paid little attention to helping the organization meet its pressing needs and build the infrastructure necessary to facilitate its work. Enabling children to participate meaningfully in private and public spaces is resource intensive, involving preparation, training, and ongoing activities. It is not seen by many funders as a core function.
In February 2020, CFN-Kenema met GFC during its scouting visit for organizations to partner with under the Ending Violence, Empowering Girls initiative funded by the NoVo Foundation and People’s Postcode Lottery. In April 2020, GFC staff enthusiastically brought on CFN-Kenema and seven other organizations as full-fledged partners. CFN-Kenema received a flexible grant that has aided the organization in solving most of its logistical challenges. CFN-Kenema now proudly has its own office within the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs compound, with space for its elected officers to work in. It has also been able to acquire the requisite supplies, equipment, and internet access to run the office.
Through its collaboration with GFC, CFN-Kenema has been able to develop its own policies and systems necessary to ensure effective management of its operations. With its increased logistical and organizational capacity, CFN-Kenema is now regarded as a partner, instead of just a children’s club. The organization is treated with respect and invited to meetings. All the beautiful things CFN-Kenema has done have been possible due to the support rendered by GFC.
Looking forward, CFN-Kenema plans to work with other advocacy organizations on some of the major issues facing children, especially girls, in Kenema District and elsewhere in the southeast region. In particular, CFN-Kenema plans to ensure that harmful activities against girls, such as child labor and sexual and gender-based violence, are relentlessly challenged, and to resolutely seek justice for these girls.
Header photo: Girls participate in a CFN initiative. © CFN
Global Fund for Children (GFC) UK Trust, created in 2006, is a UK registered charity (UK charity number 1119544). We work to generate vital income, create new fundraising opportunities, and raise awareness of the invaluable work of GFC’s grassroots grantees. Our aim is to extend the reach of GFC in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.
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