Last month we shared Jusu’s story, a remarkable young man from southern Sierra Leone, who taught people in his community how to write through our Empowering Local Communities in Pujehun project, co-funded by the European Union. Jusu’s story demonstrated the power of knowledge sharing and community building, how fundamental they are to lifting people out of poverty and setting them up for a brighter future.
In Koiva, roughly seven miles north of Jusu’s village, a similar story is unfolding. Working alongside our local partners MAPCO, we used our community-based organisation (CBO) model to put communities at the helm of economic support services, such as seed banks, small business loans and vocational training offers delivered by artisans, for the people of Koiva.
Like much of rural Sierra Leone, Koiva still bares the—physical and economic—scars from civil war and unequal development relative to the country’s urban districts. The percentage of Sierra Leone’s city-dwelling population who have access to at least basic sanitation services, for example, is just over 25%, compared to just under 10% for its rural population.
This lack of sanitation and hygiene facilities is a particularly acute symptom of the broader problem facing these rural communities—poverty. The main focus of the project was to address the root causes of this poverty. Working with our partners, we set up 19 women-led CBOs, all of which are now operating microbusiness and seed loans for vegetable growth; 19 literacy groups, and 38 artisans training ten apprentices each. 7,053 families are part of a CBO.
Ishaka’s skill is in weaving and, with sanitation in place, he was able to focus on sharing his skills with women apprentices, so that they may attain greater economic independence and diversify their incomes. Not only does this improve their lives materially, it also increases their standing among peers and provides a foundation for greater gender equality.
Among Ishaka’s students were two women called Baindu, 25, and Yattu, 27, both mothers. Baindu and Yattu agree with the sentiment that economic and social participation go hand-in-hand. ‘It is the right of the woman to access food at home,’ says Baindu. ‘It is the right of the woman to be involved in income generating activities. It is the right of the woman and husband to have clothing and shelter. When there are quarrels amongst women and men, now I settle them.’
Yattu emphasises how her increased earnings from the project have made her feel: ‘with my income I support my children in school, provide food for them, and I have been happy for this. I have received a certificate, I am proud to go anywhere and I’m proud to present myself to the community. It helps me to present myself well.’
Poverty is so all-encompassing, that when people’s earnings improve, so too does their their health, their social standing and, perhaps most importantly, their self-esteem.
Both women have an eye towards the future. ‘My plan is to continue the work,’ says Yattu. ‘I hope to work towards a savings pot and then open a bank account so that I can ensure my children’s future.’
And Baindu is also going to continue the work she begun on the project. ‘I want to produce plenty,’ she explains. ‘So that I can use part of my income to educate my children.’
And what advice do they have for those younger ones? ‘The past conditions are not where we want to stay. Take education seriously. Learn a trade, so whatever activities you are involved in you have to move forward and progress,’ says Baindu.
As for Ishaka, artisans also have access to the microloans and economic infrastructure set up by the project. ‘Now, me and my family live easily,’ he explains. ‘Now I can feed my people fine, everybody is happy in the home. My children all go to school.’
Indeed, 5,741 people have increased their incomes by at least 30% compared to the start of the project, making a meaningful, material difference to their lives.
Ishaka says his village are ‘very, very grateful to the EU for this project. The seeds in this community have multiplied so much that I am happy.’
This project is co-funded by the European Union.