The National Institute of Mental Health awarded Boston College’s Research Program on Children and Adversity (RPCA) a five-year, 3.3 million dollar grant that will advance the program’s research on the mental health effects of war on child soldiers in Sierra Leone, according to BC News.
“There aren’t many other [studies] that are like it in the world,” said Charles Currie, a first-year doctoral student and research intern from Sierra Leone. “It’s very unique … so we’re really excited.”
After the end of the Sierra Leone Civil War in 2002, Theresa Betancourt—director of the RPCA and the Salem professor in global practice at BC’s School of Social Work—launched a study with the International Rescue Committee and a group of former child soldiers to observe the lasting trauma of war, according to Laura Bond.
“We are now in the fifth wave of data collection,” said Bond, acting program manager of the study and second year doctoral student. “So every three to five years, we’ve been able to go back. Now people that were in their youth in the early 2000s, they’re in their 40s now, and so it’s been really interesting to follow them throughout their lives, introduce the same measures, and see growth over time.”
“By doing that, we’re able to paint a more clear picture of what that level of trauma does and how it impacts people—not only the parents, but the children as well.”
According to Bond, a lot has changed since the study’s fourth round of research in 2016, as two pandemics heavily impacted Sierra Leone.
“We’ve had COVID and they were really grappling with the effects of Ebola in 2016,” Bond said. “So now having two pandemics in a row in a sense, it’s been really hard for their economy, and it has had a really drastic impact on people’s mental health in the area.”
While conducting the study, Currie said it is crucial to sample a group of people that accurately represents Sierra Leone’s population—this involves high collaboration between researchers in the United States and those on the ground in Sierra Leone, he said.
“We’re in different parts of the country,” Currie said. “There are a lot of different collaborators that are needed to make the study happen … So we very much are dependent on our colleagues and collaborators on the ground in Sierra Leone, but also other collaborators here in the US as well. And so without this grant, that collaboration is not possible”
Currie said he moved from Sierra Leone to the Boston area when he was accepted to BC’s SSW doctoral program. Both he and his wife are from Sierra Leone and adopted a baby from the country, so he said the work Betancourt does is especially meaningful to him.
“One of the motivations and inspirations for me to pursue graduate school at BC, specifically in the School of Social Work, was the work of Dr. Betancourt in Sierra Leone,” Currie said. “That was a really large part for me to be able to come and learn from her and to work with her on her projects.”
Featured Image by Ben Schultz / For the Heights