In secondary school in Sierra Leone, Florence Roberts met a young woman whose mother had passed away.
“She was struggling in her classes,” Florence says. “I told her, ‘I want to be your mother,’ and shared my lunch with her every day. Whenever my mom bought me gifts, I would share them with her, too. I’ve always believed in sharing.”
Florence, who went on to study peace building and sustainable development, now volunteers with the Youth and Children’s Advocacy Panel in Freetown.
As a volunteer, Florence works to spread awareness about various public health issues, including those associated with teen pregnancies.
“In the Tonko Limba in Sierra Leone, girls were getting pregnant at age 13,” Florence says. “We needed to spread awareness about the many risks to teens.”
Today Florence is meeting with local leaders to discuss these issues, collaborating with other specialists to improve public health, and giving presentations at local schools to educate students about teen pregnancy complications.
“You can’t just go into communities and talk,” Florence says. “You need to work within existing structures, both political and institutional. For us, we worked with local chiefdoms and established school groups to get our message across.”
Florence recommends, in addition to delivering presentations, interacting with students in small groups and designing a mentorship system to track student progress.
“It’s important that each student understands not only the risks associated with teen pregnancies, but also how they can change their communities.”
For Florence, one challenge she faced in spreading awareness about this and other public health issues was the language barrier in some remote villages.
“I had to work closely with traditional leaders and local aids to ensure that our message was understood and not lost in translation,” Florence says.
Over the course of her work, Florence has come to realize that volunteering is not unlike the friendship she had with her struggling classmate in secondary school.
“In the same way that I helped her, I can make a difference today,” Florence says. “I’ve always thought to myself, ‘I can do more.’”
Volunteering is also an opportunity to learn more about herself and about others, as Florence explains.
“Volunteering is a school. It teaches you something,” Florence says. “In my case, it’s taught me to get close to people; it’s taught me that I enjoy helping others.”
“It’s a blessing. In the end, it’s better to give than to receive.”
Interested in Florence’s work? Learn how you can volunteer to serve Africa on our #YALIServes page.