Date of Award


Document Type




First Reader

Dr. Kathy Collins

Second Reader

Dr. Myra Houser

Third Reader

Dr. Amy Sonheim


When I applied to travel to Sierra Leone in 2018, it was with the intent of researching special education in Freetown. In my mind, this meant researching schools and special services in a Sierra Leonean context. I had traveled to Sierra Leone twice before in 2013 and 2016, and I was aware that the school systems in Sierra Leone are a work in progress. Due to many factors, including the Civil War (1991-2002) and the more recent Ebola epidemic (2014-2016), the country is working to rebuild and develop its school system ("Sierra Leone Profile- Timeline," 2018). In 2015, 27% of children ages 6-11 were not enrolled in school, and the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education is working to decrease that percentage each year (Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, n.d.). Schools may often lack supplies, trained teachers, and integrity in finances and relationships -- all issues the ministry seeks to correct (Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, n.d.). Although I had some prior knowledge about the challenge of education in Sierra Leone, I was not prepared for the specific challenges children with disabilities face in Sierra Leone -- challenges that often eclipse their access to an education in the first place.

In June of 2018, I traveled to Freetown, Sierra Leone to spend a week researching special education in the country. My research was primarily composed of interviews and observations of those working with children with disabilities in Freetown. Coming out of a first interview in-country that highlighted Freetown's lack of support for special education and the vulnerability of children with disabilities in Sierra Leone, I remember wondering if I could find something productive to write about during my visit. I believe in a focus on strengths -- as well as a realistic understanding of needs -- and I knew I had discovered more than enough needs to fill a book. The school programs and special services I had naively hoped to research did not exist, and I could not conceive of writing only about what was simply not in place yet. I knew that to paint an accurate picture of special education in Sierra Leone, I needed to find more than just the field's missing pieces.

Thankfully, as the week progressed, I found what was undeniably present in the country -- groups of dedicated individuals working to challenge cultural norms and provide hope to one of Sierra Leone's most vulnerable populations. This thesis intends to highlight their work and express its value in light of the context in which they operate. In a culture that overwhelmingly views children with disabilities as threatening, insignificant, or returnable, these individuals are working to make these children an understood and celebrated part of their communities with meaningful and hopeful futures.



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