EU Aid Volunteer Zita Nazha travels to remote communities in Sierra Leone, to learn about the impact of projects supporting local farmers and women’s empowerment.
Despite the heavy rains of the wet season, Hassan, one of Trócaire’s drivers in Sierra Leone looks confident as he carefully navigates through narrow unpaved roads, marked by endless puddles surrounded by green, lush vegetation.
Hassan drove us safely to visit five communities in Northwest Sierra Leone, in order to assess the impact of a 3-year Trócaire project funded by the European Union. I was collecting case studies from this project, and I wanted to meet directly with the communities and learn from them. Now in its second year, had the project changed anything for these communities?
The project is implemented by 6 local partner organisations, and it aims to support poverty reduction and the attainment of the sustainable development goals in Sierra Leone.
Across the districts we visited, the majority of community members depend on the food they grow to survive. However, many of the farmers spoke to me about the challenges they face that affect agricultural productivity. As part of the project, farmers have been supported with farming tools as well as a selection of seeds for growing different vegetables. These new vegetables that they can now grow not only support families’ food security but also provide a more diverse and nutritious diet for their families.
The project has also provided training on farming techniques including pest control and fertilising soil, using locally made natural fertilisers. The organic approach has been embraced by the farmers, who said that it has led to an increase in production and has allowed them to earn an income by selling on the surplus.
Communities have also been able to use the increase in income to invest in their own development. For example, members of the Malai community in Bombali district told me that they used the surplus to construct a petrol water pump for the community.
This has helped everyone in the community to be able to irrigate their crops. Alpha Karim Kamara, one of the community members said that ‘We bought the water pump together, everyone in the village can use it for free, they just have to supply their own petrol.’
In Rogbet, a small village in Port Loko I met women who told me about the benefits of a women’s empowerment project which uses the ‘Living Peace Methodology’. This approach aims to reduce domestic violence and abuse within households, by promoting healthy relationships between family members. The staff of Trócaire’s local partners are trained to facilitate discussions with women so they can talk openly about their experiences of violence and inequality in a safe setting.
Men are also engaged in mixed discussions. Although this work is challenging and changing attitudes and behaviours takes a long time, several male community members expressed their gratitude for being able to be part of a project that encourages them to think critically about masculinity.
35-year-old Dauda Kamara, who lives with his wife and two small children in Robat village in Kambia District shared his experiences by saying:
‘Before I used to quarrel with my wife about many things. But when I participated in the discussions my initial thoughts were positive and I changed. Now we make decisions together instead of arguing, and it feels good.’
On the last day of the trip I met three young women, Rebecca, Yeanor and Dora, living in Bumban village in Bombali District. They told me how life has changed since the project began, through participating in literacy and numeracy classes, public speaking training and also personal hygiene awareness sessions.
When I asked them what they gained most from the project, Rebecca says without hesitation ‘Learning about our rights as women has really helped us a lot, gaining confidence in every facet of our lives. We now know our rights and we stand strong.’
After three days visiting these communities, Hassan and I begin the long drive back to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
I am thinking about the people I met, and the places I have been to. While these communities face many challenges, it is deeply touching to meet so many people who have been empowered and to see how people’s lives and communities are changing with Trócaire’s support.