School girls sign up for family planning consultancy at the Miatta Conference Hall
© Robbie Lawrence

In June, USA for UNFPA hosted a book launch with photographer Robbie Lawrence that shed light on sexual and reproductive health in Sierra Leone. Lawrence traveled to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, in 2017 to capture photos of the state of reproductive health there. In the previous three years, the country had experienced one of the worst Ebola outbreaks and had witnessed a decrease in healthcare funding.

Lawrence chose not to reinforce negative stereotypes about how hard it is to live in Africa through his images. Instead, he consciously took photographs that caught life in Freetown, showing everything from streaky car windows after a rainstorm to a nurse resting during her shift.

A nurse at Bonthe Hospital. The district – where nine doctors serve 200,000 people spread across several islands that are not easily reached – illustrates the extreme challenges facing maternal health in Sierra Leone. The nurse had spent the morning providing young women with contraceptive implants.
  © Robbie Lawrence
© Robbie Lawrence

UNFPA’s Chief of Commodity Security, Dr. Gifty Addico spoke at the event on the importance of family planning and reproductive health care access in developing countries. Previously, she had worked in Eastern and Southern Africa, including in South Africa, Rwanda, and Ethiopia, and had also helped with humanitarian response efforts in Yemen.  

Today, Sierra Leone has some of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and maternal death in the world. Nearly one-third of girls there become mothers before age 19. Many of those girls, due to higher risks for complications in young mothers, face the life-threatening consequences from the lack of access to family planning care and comprehensive sexuality education. 

School girls sign up for family planning consultancy at the Miatta Conference Hall
© Robbie Lawrence
A young female journalist interviews school girls and boys at the family planning outreach session – the session was aimed at encouraging the students to discuss using contraception openly to break down traditional taboos and stigmas – Miatta Conference Hall © Robbie Lawrence

Freetown, as the book is called, was published by studio be-poles as part of their Portraits des Villes collection which works with artists to paint unique pictures of different cities around the world. Present at the launch were copies of the book for sale and prints of Lawrence’s work. Attendees also had the chance to meet Lawrence and learn more about his time in Freetown and his work with UNFPA. All proceeds from the event supported UNFPA’s work in Sierra Leone ensuring the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls.

You can view the book here and proceeds from the sale of the books will go towards UNFPA’s family planning initiatives in Freetown.

-Dana Kirkegaard

Proceeds from the sale of Freetown will go towards UNFPA’s family planning initiatives in Sierra Leone.

*Captions originally shared in Time article about Freetown.