Two girls wear their "Ending Child Marriage Champion" t-shirts in Kailahun, Sierra Leone.

Kuji, 19, and Kpemeh, 18, cousins and close friends, became advocates against child marriage after Kuji intervened to stop Kpemeh's forced marriage. They now pursue their dreams of becoming nurses. Photo: Shona Hamilton *Names changed for protection

Lionhearted Souls Inspire in Sierra Leone

Written by Susan Salice

March 2024 - The seed for my journey to Sierra Leone was planted over three years ago when I, along with other members of Save the Children’s 100 Strong women’s philanthropic network, supported the Ending Child Marriage project. I had questions. I sought metrics. I wanted to assess outcomes of this pilot, which concluded in 2023.

As a mother of grown daughters and an advocate for girls' education and advancement, I also wanted to commend the brave girls who confronted adversities like childhood pregnancy, isolation, violence and uncertainty to assert their rights.

It was inspiring to meet these lionhearted girls who are champions for themselves and their communities and to be in Sierra Leone at this time of political and social change.

There is a palpable sense of progress in the country – among the world’s poorest. It still grapples with challenges like access to clean water and electricity. Entrenched traditional beliefs that condone or even encourage early marriage persist in many areas, hindering efforts to protect children, promote education and empower girls and women.

Yet there is a groundbreaking movement underway, championed by Sierra Leone First Lady Fatima Maada Bio and supported by President Julius Maada Bio, to openly discuss protecting children, especially girls. 

Educating the Next Generation

The situation of young girls in Sierra Leone leaving school due to cultural pressure to marry is concerning. I wanted to understand their struggle and encourage them to stay in school. Believing in the power of education, I was disheartened to learn that around 40% of girls in Sierra Leone become mothers by age 18, often leading to early marriages and the end of their schooling. 

To address this issue, Save the Children’s Ending Child Marriage project has partnered with 15 communities in Kailahun, a rural district with Sierra Leone’s highest child marriage rates. The approach involves supporting communities to develop and implement their own action plans, with input from Girl Champions, parents, local leaders and other stakeholders.

These efforts are yielding positive results. Notably, we witnessed the joy, dare I say, relief, of young mothers participating in the project as they shared their journeys. Twelve girls told us they were returning to school, thanks to the program. 

Leading Women Role Models of Sierra Leone

We had a treasured moment meeting with the First Lady, who had brought her project idea about Ending Child Marriage to Save the Children and 100 Strong. She warmly welcomed us into her home, emphasizing her commitment to protecting girls through her platform to protect girls. What an authentic advocate for girls' advancement and her country’s future!

We also had the pleasure of meeting the new Minister of Gender Affairs, Dr. Isata Mahoi. She joined us on a trip to Kailahun, where she visited a school and delivered a powerful message to the students: respect each other, avoid early sexual activity and stay in school, especially for the girls. Dr. Mahoi’s impactful words will surely leave a lasting impression on many of these young girls.  

Paving the Way Forward

In Kailahun, Dr. Mahoi spoke passionately to the community, urging them to safeguard their daughters’ education while praising their work. She also called upon the local chief to set a precedent for other patriarchal chiefdoms. Their joint efforts show promise in ending child marriage, aided by partnerships with the First Lady and Save the Children. Advocates nationwide are pushing for laws against child marriage, while Kailahun has implemented districtwide bylaws against early marriage. 

Our team of 100 Strong U.S. and the UK Women’s Network proved steady in their dedication to ending child marriage in Sierra Leone. This visit strengthened my belief in women philanthropists’ power to effect positive change for girls and women. It reinforces my belief that education changes lives. The educated girls of Sierra Leone will create and share a brighter future.

Susan Salice is the President of The Salice Family Foundation and currently serves on the Boards of Fordham University, Greenwich Hospital, Silver Hill Hospital and Catholic Charities. She is a member of the Westchester Chapter of Impact 100 and Impact 100 the Palm Beaches.

To learn more about the 100 Strong women’s philanthropic leadership network or the Ending Child Marriage project in Sierra Leone, please contact Mary Taylor, Senior Advisor for Principal Gifts and 100 Strong: [email protected]; 203-209-3630. Given the success of the Ending Child Marriage pilot, we are currently planning for phase 2 of the project with the goal of reaching more communities in Sierra Leone.



Thank you for signing up! Now, you’ll be among the first to know how Save the Children is responding to the most urgent needs of children, every day and in times of crisis—and how your support can make a difference. You may opt-out at any time by clicking "unsubscribe" at the bottom of any email.

By providing my mobile phone number, I agree to receive recurring text messages from Save the Children (48188) and phone calls with opportunities to donate and ways to engage in our mission to support children around the world. Text STOP to opt-out, HELP for info. Message & data rates may apply. View our Privacy Policy at