Life on the Edge 2 | Sorie K and the MDGs

Sorie Kondi and the MDGs… Millennium Development Goals… not an R & B band, but goals set by world leaders meeting at the UN in 2000.

Musician Sorie Kondi, blind from birth, has been called Sierra Leone’s Stevie Wonder – but that may be premature. Still trying to make it as a world musician, Sorie’s worried about the future of his daughter Zainab.

sorieGetting 14-year-old Zeinab through school is a big struggle for Sorie.

Busking the streets helps raise funds for this. Primary education is free in Sierra Leone. But there are extra fees demanded by poorly paid teachers and other costs.

Getting 14-year-old Zeinab through school is a big struggle for Theophilus – concerned about ‘ghost teachers’.

Somehow Sorie always finds the money. But keeping Zeinab out of trouble is more difficult. She lives with her cousins who all have stopped their schooling early because of pregnancy.

We asked Sorie Kondi to help us make a road movie looking at what’s happening with girls’ education round the country 10 years after civil war. But Sorie Kondi’s barely ventured out of Freetown since the civil war started 18 years ago. Sorie’s trusted aide is 20-year-old Fodey P – who helped with production on Sorie’s first album.

One of the problems for girls in rural areas is the long walks to school. Sorie’s daughter’s lucky. Over a quarter of a million children don’t go to primary school. And most of them girls. Twelve hundred schools were destroyed in the civil war.

They give a lift to Theophilus, who’s a primary school teacher. What’s making him angry – Ghost Teachers. It’s estimated the government has been paying the salaries of 30,000 teachers who don’t exist. But the government has now started a roll call of teachers to make sure the money’s spent properly. Theophilus says it’s an urgent problem.

In Sorie Kondi’s village – Mangay Loko – they meet his old friend Hassan who used to be a small time trader. Hassan did pass his school exams but no more. He is a UU, an unqualified, untrained teacher. The village pays him what they can when they can. It’s often not much. Almost half of Sierra Leone’s teachers are UUs and often have second jobs to survive.

Three years ago Hassan was accepted into a training programme. He has the letter. He’s just waiting for confirmation of funding. Unfortunately he’s been waiting three years.

Visiting another rural school in Mateboi, Sorie finds that 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. Half the classes are under mango trees. There are not enough buildings.

jamming_for_kidsWhen the rain comes the problem really starts. Children from the mango tree classrooms pile into the school building classrooms and the entire school comes to a halt. For nine-year-old Fatmata that means losing up to 40 days a year of school. “When I come to school in the mornings and it rains heavily my books and uniform get completely soaked.”

In Koidu, a diamond centre, they meet Sia Elizabeth Tongu who belongs to a women’s group against teenage marriage. She says: “Our young girls face a lot of challenges. People with money will lure them out of school. We’re concerned about teenage marriages, early marriages we call them out here. I mean imagine babies having babies – it’s really a serious problem. And then also, they drop out of school because they cannot continue with school once they get married and get stuck in these marital affairs.”

In Kenema, Juliette is a primary school teacher, volunteer radio journalist, and a single mother. She runs a youth programme and opens the phone lines every Saturday morning.

“Most questions that used to come to our studio, whenever I’m presenting this programme, people say the teenagers themselves are responsible for the problems they usually face. They want to live big, they want to live with all opportunities. So most of the time they choose to go to the street and just live their own life. I’ll blame the parents, the guidance, I’ll blame the teenagers themselves. Then I’ll blame also the schools that these teenagers are attending.”

Then on to Tiwai Island – Sierra Leone’s river island wildlife sanctuary. There’s someone who wants to talk to Sorie. Momodu’s a boat man transferring tourists to Tiwai Island. He spent a lot of money on his daughter Millicent’s secondary education. His daughter’s ‘belly business’ or pregnancy has been a disappointment… especially as it involved her teacher.

Millicent explains: “The story behind my pregnancy is that I was going to school and I suddenly get pregnant. I was in love with my teacher a long time… since I was in form one. He helped me pass my exams and paid for my practical fees and other things. When I told him that I was pregnant he said don’t tell me that… He said if I was willing, he had the money, I could have an abortion. I said no because some friends have died because of abortion. So I said ‘no’, I prefer to give birth.”

When Millicent reported her story to the police, she was told the teacher was already in custody on similar charges of sex with a minor – another schoolgirl. Two weeks later her father heard the teacher had been released and was back teaching at the school. No one’s sure why.

Says Sorie: “I feel bad for the father of the girl. I don’t even know what to say. The police and the school authorities ganged up against the father. The police must have taken a bribe to release this man.”

Back in Freetown, there’s a lot riding on his Sorie’s album – his success, 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.


‘Sorie K and the MDGs’ was produced with tve‘s partner in Sierra Leone, the Environment Foundation for Africa (EFA), which was founded in 1991 to protect and restore the post-conflict environment of Sierra Leone.

This programme is one of four ‘Life on the Edge’ films made as part of tve‘s ‘Five Years to Go’ project that focuses on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in sub-Saharan Africa, supported by the European Commission, Oxfam Novib, UNFPA and UN-HABITAT. Information on Sierra Leone’s progress in meeting these goals can be found here.

Here’s the website of Tiwai Island, where Sorie and Fodie go in the film.

Here is Sorie Kondi’s website, where you can also download MP3 samples of some of his songs. One of his best known numbers, ‘Without Money, No Family’, is available on YouTube.

Sorie’s CDs can be purchased from Earth CDs.

Sierra Leone’s progress on meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is reviewed here.

Efforts to boost the reproductive health of women and girls are falling short, according to the UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2010.

The UN MDG Summit took place in New York from 20-22 Septermber 2010.

For general information on Sierra Leone, visit Sierra Leone Web, which contains pages on news, laws and speeches, as well as photographs and links. Sierra Leone News is a good source of topical news.

Other websites on tourism in the country include Lonely Planet, Naturally Africa pages on ecotourism, Visit Sierra Leone and the National Tourist Board of Sierra Leone.

An earlier Life programme, Returning Dreams, looked at the problems of Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone. And another, Back in Business? looked at the aftermath of the civil war.



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