Distance support in Sierra Leone: the history of Josiah, Fatmata menpikin

With Distance Support AVSI in Sierra Leone addresses educational, social and economic issues through an integrated intervention so that everyone is a protagonist of their own development and that of their communities.

Countries Sierra Leone
Date 27.02.2024

Fatmata Gandi cares alone for her four biological children and one adopted son in a small home in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. She's a loving and caring mother who dreams of giving her children all the opportunities she didn't have.

Josiah is the menpikin son of Fatmata, which means foster child in the local dialect: the relationship that binds one to the other is not one of blood but of choice, equally strong and deep.

Josiah Harding is now 19 years old, a determined and optimistic boy who has always loved going to school to find new stimuli and aspirations.

Who are the menpikin?

Menpikins are all those children who, following the loss of their biological parents, live with foster guardians who have decided to take care of them. This practice is widespread in Sierra Leone, where adoption is mostly handled informally, without the existence of a regularly structured system. Most children, whose parents are unable to care for them, have few options but the street or, the lucky ones, an institution.

Josiah was adopted by Fatmata when he was only eight years old, shortly after the Ebola epidemic during which he lost both his parents. For years, he has been supported at a distance by an Italian family that guarantees him the possibility of attending the Holy Family School, a school built and supported by AVSI. From primary school to the end of high school, Josiah has been an excellent student with excellent results, always demonstrating great commitment and an extraordinary spirit of initiative and proactivity and now, after taking his final exams with top marks, he has the ambition to study medicine at university to become a doctor.

His mother Fatmata, despite the great economic difficulties in which she lives and the large family she has to take care of, she has never stopped pushing him and standing by him. She was always the most important figure in his life, the one who taught him not to give up in the face of life's difficulties.

The distance support programme

With the Distance Support programme, AVSI supports the families of vulnerable children and young people through the regular contribution of a person - or a group of people - in Italy. The programme, through periodic correspondences, allows those who are supported and those who support to create a new bond, which accompanies more than 20,000 children around the world in their growth every year.

Distance support with AVSI was born in the 1990s and is defined as "distance support" and not "distance adoption", because the children are not adopted, but are accompanied as they grow, and the work of reference figures who are already part of their lives is supported. In fact, the children that are supported already have a family, relatives, or a local institution that takes care of them.

In Sierra Leone 801 children are supported from distance

Currently, the Distance Support programme in Sierra Leone reaches 801 children and their families with an integrated approach. The aim is to help improve the quality of life of vulnerable children and their families, improve the country's education system, reduce the drop-out rate and increase the number of children who have the opportunity to receive a quality education.