Group tours progress of Ebola-ravaged communities
by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
KENEMA, Sierra Leone – A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) delegation made its way across remote sections of Sierra Leone over the last three days, visiting five villages involved with the West Africa Initiative (WAI). Most of the visits involved driving for hours to remote locations and, in one case, leaving the cars and walking along a small path, shaded by large trees and surrounded by swamps.
Each visit was greeted by a strong welcome from the people in the villages. It was an opportunity for villagers to express appreciation for help received during a period of drought and the Ebola outbreak.
The WAI is a rural development program implemented in Sierra Leone and Liberia in 2008 to help strengthen communities’ ability to provide for their families through food production, security and economic opportunity. Currently, there are 26 rural communities serving 6,000 direct beneficiaries.
Despite the Ebola outbreak two years ago WAI has continued to operate and, according to facilitators, the program helped communities survive during the outbreak.
While visiting the Mathibo Village last week, Valery Nodem, international coordinator for the Presbyterian Hunger Program, told the group he was relieved to see them and to observe the progress they had made following the ravages of Ebola.
“We grieved with you when Ebola hit this country and when you were crying, we were crying,” he said. “We know you have worked very hard to restore life and sustainability in your community and we are very proud of the progress you’ve made.”
A woman who has spent her life in the village, thanked the delegation for its help.
“You have done great things for us and may God bless all of you. We are free from slavery, we now have seeds and money and you’ve been with us through this,” she said. “We are so very happy to see you. That’s why we dance and sing when you visit us. We have joy in our hearts for all of you.”
“You’ve given us seeds and now we can walk,” said one man. “You listened to our cry and now we have a grain storage building. You live thousands of miles away from us and yet you help us. We will never let you down.”
Many of the villagers in Mathibo had high praise for the women and youth in their community.
“The youth and women have truly guided us and that has brought about great unity,” said another man. “Because of their work, our village is together and that unity has brought us a community center.”
The village leaders gave the delegation a tour of their garden and a broken well. They are concerned about the future as water becomes harder to find.
One of the largest ceremonial greetings came from the Konia Dama Village. More than 200 residents gathered in the center of the village to talk with the delegation and welcome the delegation with song and dance.
“We are excited to be here for we are family with you. Your pain has been our pain. What you go through, we go through,” said the Rev. Alonzo Johnson, SDOP coordinator. “We continue to pray for you and we are excited to see the action taking place in this community.”
Konia Dama has constructed a concrete storage house for the seeds. Like other communities, it provides seed loans to villages that have had a lean growing season.
The village also has a very strong youth organization. Many of the teens are already experienced farmers working with their parents and those connected with WAI. “We want to cultivate the land because it’s the only thing we know. We have the ability and the desire,” said one young man.
The Sierre Leone visit concluded following a daylong meeting with group facilitators on Saturday, March 4.
The West Africa Initiative is made possible by gifts to the One Great Hour of Sharing.
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Categories: Hunger & Poverty, Mission Around the World, Special Offerings
Tags: compassion peace and justice, One Great Hour of Sharing, 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 Hunger Program, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Special Offerings