The Action on Poverty programme management team has just returned from a two-week project monitoring visit to Sierra Leone. Lauren, our Programme Officer, shares her impressions of her first visit to the country.
When we talk about people living in poverty, the challenges that spring to mind tend to be those which are the most pressing – having enough food to eat, a safe place to live, clean water to drink. In Sierra Leone, fulfilling these basic needs is a daily struggle for a staggering 58% of the population who live in poverty.
But some aspects of life in poverty are less obvious. Imagine what it would be like to own just one set of clothes. Imagine having to wash your only item of clothing then wait for it to dry before you could get dressed and go out in public. This may seem difficult to comprehend, but it is the reality for many of the women we met in Sierra Leone last week, with profound impacts on their independence and self-esteem. Finding clothes to wear is just one of the many challenges they experience in their daily lives, but this only adds to the burden of poverty that they are facing.
During our project visits in Moyamba District this month we met Betty, a member of one of the community-based organisations (CBOs) supported by our Livelihoods and Food Security project with local partner MAPCO. When Betty described what her life was like before this project, she told us that she only owned one set of clothing. Now Betty is participating in literacy training and completing an apprenticeship in weaving with a local artisan. Betty and her fellow trainees work together to weave beautiful cloth and their trainer shares the profits from sales with them. This means that Betty can now earn an income of her own. She said: “After I complete the training, I will be able to stand on my own. Before we did not have enough food, but now I can provide for my family”. Betty told us that she is happy she can now support her children – feeding them and buying their school uniform. Her pride and sense of accomplishment shone through when she showed us the dress that she had bought.
“Now I have more clothes and I am proud to see myself well dressed in society. Though I am old I can now take care of myself”
Pride was a common theme in conversations with many of the people we met during our visit: pride in their ability to feed their children nutritious food; in setting up a new business; in developing literacy skills to enable them to sign their name at meetings rather than using their thumbprint as a signature. It was striking to me how the people we met articulated the benefits they have gained from this project – the helping hand that MAPCO has given them to earn a living, the improvements in their lives and their optimism for the future. It was fantastic to see how this project is empowering people, especially women, young people and people with disabilities, to take control of their own futures and improve their communities for future generations.
Sierra Leone is a wonderful country – everywhere you go you are greeted by smiling, welcoming faces. It’s not hard to see why Alex, our CEO, says that returning to Sierra Leone is like coming home!