The Countess of Wessex wrapped up a two-day official visit to Sierra Leone on Thursday, visiting a school in Freetown to see how girls and women are empowered through education in the West African country.
Sophie’s trip, as recounted on the Royal Family website, notes that it was at the request of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to focus on engagements “addressing sexual and gender-based violence, supporting survivors, and championing women’s role in peacebuilding.”
Thursday began at the Russell Technical School in Freetown, a secondary school that benefits from the Leh wi Learn (Let us Learn) programme implemented by the Department for International Development at the UK government.Embed from Getty Images
Operating exclusively in Sierra Leone, the programme aims to “improve English and mathematics learning achievement in all secondary schools, especially for girls,” per the UK government website.
Leh wi Learn focuses on making schools safer for girls to attend while improving the learning conditions for all students regardless of gender; strengthening capacity and improvement in monitoring and evaluation.
“The outcome of the programme will establish an enabling environment for secondary school students, especially girls, to be safe, learn and achieve.”
During her visit to the Russell Technical School, Sophie was presented with a bouquet by a young student and given a tour of the facilities by the school’s principal. She also handed out solar radios to the students so that they would be able to study life skills education.
“The radios are pre-loaded with lesson on topics including reproduction, family planning and sexual and physical violence, to help to understand, identify, prevent and report sexual and gender-based violence,” according to the Royal Family website.Embed from Getty Images
Afterwards, Sophie joined a learning club to hear more about how the students are learning about sexual and gender-based violence and gender equality, and how the school is working to improve student safety.
Sophie then travelled to the Tombo Health Clinic that “aims to provide better family planning services to women.”
The Royal Family website notes that over 20% of girls ages 15 to 19 are either pregnant or have had a child in Sierra Leone; and that 25% of women at reproductive age want access to family planning but do not have access.
During her visit, Sophie toured the facility and heard from facilitators how “improving access to suitable reproductive health information saves lives.”Embed from Getty Images
Her final engagement had a military twist: a visit to the King Tom Commonwealth Cemetery to visit the grave of Sister Jane Margaret Houston, a member of the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, of which Sophie is Royal Colonel.