Sierra Leone

A boy reading in Sierra Leone. Photo via Flickr by Celestial Meeker.

YES Students

All students from Sierra Leone are Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program scholarship winners. Click here to learn more about the YES Program.

Country Information

Named for the for the roar of waves crashing into the steep mountains of its coast, Sierra Leone was once part of the Mali Empire, and was a British colony until 1961. Though much of the country lives in deep poverty, conditions have improved greatly since peace was declared in 2002 after years of war.

Lifestyle and Family

This male-dominated culture emphasizes ethnic ties, or even village-ties, over national ones. Though extended family is important, some children are “fostered” out, meaning they are taken care of by someone who is wealthy or has no children with the hope that person will educate and take care of the child better than the family can. Education is valued as a tool for improving one's life.

Teen Life and Sports

Soccer is the nation’s favorite game. It is the only sport in the country that is well organized, with leagues that children can play in. Soccer games are well attended by spectators. Teens also enjoy a traditional game played at school, called the paw paw race. In the race, people run with smaller people on their backs.


The diet of Sierra Leone is always changing. Food prices are a major determining factor in what Sierra Leoneans buy and eat. A usual meal consists of rice with a sauce made of cassava leaves, palm oil, or chili pepper. For dessert there are tropical fruits that are locally grown, such as bananas, pineapple, or mango

Language and Religion

Though English is the nation’s official language, not everyone in Sierra Leone can speak or understand it, and proficiency is a sign of wealth and/or education. Most people speak Krio, a mixture of African languages. The majority of the population is either Sunni Muslim or Christian.

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