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08 May 2012

Rebuilding lives in Sierra Leone

Rebuilding lives in Sierra Leone

This year marks 10 years since the end of the civil war that ravaged Sierra Leone, leaving thousands in poverty, and communities shattered.

Mike Burn, who is the director of Family Worship Resources, visited the west African country to see how Christian Aid partner, The Methodist Church of Sierra Leone (MCSL), is supporting communities to rebuild their lives by working together, and he’s sharing his experiences this Christian Aid Week (13 - 19 May).

Even after a decade, Sierra Leoneans, whose country is abundant with natural resources, are struggling to recover from the conflict.

Land remained uncultivated for years, and with people who fought for opposing sides returning to the same villages, trust in one another became undermined, leaving the task of working together difficult.

Mike saw this first-hand in the Bonthe region of the country, where four out of five households don’t have enough to eat, and two fifths of children suffer from chronic malnutrition.

He said: “I had an impression of what I thought poverty looked like because that’s what I was seeing in other African countries I’ve visited.

“It was a shock that people were in dire need, especially because their country has lots of resources.”

Mike, who attends Alliance member Catford Community Church, visited the community of Gbap, which until recently barely produced enough food to survive.  Their fields had previously been left empty and unworked by companies who had invested in agriculture, which was further exacerbated by the war.

No-one stepped in to work on the land, and communities fell back on subsistence farming at a household level.

But now, with support from MCSL, their crops are flourishing. The people have come together to work in Village Development Committees, where they can pool their resources and labour. One farming group received a loan to buy a tractor, and was provided with seeds and simple tools.  The money they will make from the crops will help pay back the loan, as well as improving the lives of many families.

“I found that fantastic to see, crops being grown that meant the difference between life and death.  We had a meal with one of the workers, they had overwhelming hospitality.  These are people who have nothing and they want to share,” he said.

“It was good to understand the way funding is used.  The very tangible stuff funds were spent on. Tangible stuff which they could not afford but that really makes a difference.”

Women and youths – usually marginalised in society – have been involved in community decision making, and have lobbied local public works officials for a new school building. They also have a new agricultural work centre, where the vegetable Casava can be grated by machine.  The flour-like substance produced can fetch a lot more at market.

Mike is encouraging people to support Christian Aid Week 2012 next week.

“People should support Christian Aid Week because it really makes a difference. Particularly when it comes to justice, we are all aware of the poor getting poorer, the wealthier get wealthier.

“You can really see how a small amount will really make a difference to someone’s life.”