Group visits communities working in the West Africa Initiative
by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
KENEMA, Sierra Leone – Between Freetown and Kenema, Sierra Leone, there is an old dirt road off the main highway that winds its way further and further into the wilderness. Sometimes the holes in the road are half as big as the cars that drive around them. At the end of the 20-minute ride is the village of Makai Sanka, one of the groups in the so-called central cluster of the West Africa Initiative (WAI).
Two years ago, the residents of this tiny community were dealing with the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak. In an effort to keep the disease from spreading, villages like this were required to stay away from more populated areas, prompting residents to become even more resilient in how they cared for their families and each other.
On this hot and humid March day, a delegation from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) paid a visit to the residents to see how they have progressed since 2015. The group was welcomed as the women of the village broke out in song and dance, thanking those who walked with them in an effort to make the village more resilient and independent.
The WAI is a joint collaboration of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Self-Development of People. For international coordinators Valery Nodem and Luke Asikoye, it was a homecoming. This was the first visit for the Rev. Alonzo Johnson who recently became coordinator for SDOP.
“I was incredibly pleased with the progress this community has taken. They are empowered and have learned to do so many things,” said Johnson. “They are committed to not only improving their own lives but the lives of their children through better education, as well as reaching out to their neighbors in other villages.”
During a gathering in the village square, resident after resident shared their stories and appreciation for WAI.
“We will never forget what you’ve done for us. We are counting our blessings,” said Hannah Turay, the community chairperson. “During the Ebola period, we knew you never forgot us. Even after Ebola, you helped us with seeds.”
“The training in how to garden helped us a lot. For many years, we had no training and no garden. You’ve taught us how to plant and to dig holes for water,” said Isafu Tarawillie. “We want to expand our gardens but water is still a problem for us, there is very little.”
The village has dug wells in a nearby swamp, but the water table continues to drop making it a bigger challenge to find what they need.
Residents were proud to show a concrete storehouse where they keep rice seeds for the upcoming growing season. Many bags of seed are set aside to share with neighboring villages that are struggling to grow crops.
“This storehouse is a good start. You saw a need and took the initiative to do something on your own,” said Asikoye. “You should be very proud of yourselves.”
Mariah Banghra is a 19-year-old resident of the village who was quick to tell the delegation what WAI’s contribution has meant to her.
“The school assistance materials you have provided through your support has been very helpful to people like me,” she said. “These materials have played a vital role for children and have encouraged them to go to school.”
Nodem thanked the group for its feedback.
“We all work in an office and when we come here, it’s clear what we are working for,” said Nodem. “Your work, stories and perseverance give us strength and encouragement as well. We were very worried about you during the Ebola crisis, but it’s a joy to see you working so hard and your hope gives us hope in return.”
Makai Sanka was one of three villages the delegation visited on its first day on the road. Visits will continue through Saturday. The delegation will travel to Liberia on Sunday.
Gifts to the One Great Hour of Sharing special offering make the work in Sierra Leone and Liberia possible.
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Categories: Advocacy & Social Justice, Disaster Response, Hunger & Poverty, Special Offerings, World Mission
Tags: compassion peace and justice, liberia, pcusa, presbyterian, presbyterian disaster assistance, presbyterian hunger program, self development of people, sierra leone
Ministries: Compassion, Peace and Justice, Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Presbyterian Hunger Program, Special Offerings