Press Releases

    SG/SM/9607
    AFR/1071
    22 November 2004

    Secretary-General, in Message to Conference on Cooperation with West African Children, Hails Education as Building Block, Catalyst for Development

    NEW YORK, 19 November (UN Headquarters) -- The following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message to the conference:  “From war to classroom.  From crisis to recovery.  Italian cooperation for West African children”, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, today 19 November:

    In the past few years, Sierra Leone has taken leaps forward that only a few years ago many might not have imagined possible.

    I will never forget my own visit to Freetown in 1999, when I held a two-year-old girl whose arm had been cut off by rebels.  She was one of countless people who lost limbs in this way or endured other acts of brutality.

    Today, thousands of former child soldiers are carrying not machetes and guns but books, and are attending school and creating a more hopeful future for themselves and their communities.  Sierra Leoneans in all parts of the country are building roads and clinics, being trained as doctors, engineers and other professionals, and taking other steps to resume normal life.  Rice production has reached 80 per cent of pre-war levels.  More than half a million refugees and displaced persons have returned to their homes.  And primary school enrolment increased by 70 per cent from 2002 to 2003, a very encouraging trend given the centrality of education -- in particular for girls -- as a building block and catalyst for development.

    For other countries in the region struggling to put conflict and chaos behind them, such as Liberia, Sierra Leone stands as an example of what is possible when people work together and the international community backs those efforts. The United Nations will continue to do its part to match the courage and will of the Sierra Leonean people with tangible, sustained support. I thank the Government of Italy and the World Food Programme for organizing this conference, and offer my best wishes to all the participants for a successful event that will keep this positive momentum going.

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