The West Africa Initiative continues to build community
By Winston Carroo | Agricultural Missions, Inc.
On this day, now marked as the International Day of Human Fraternity, we are reminded of the power of peace, cooperation, and resilience.
In many developing countries, religious and sectarian strife and conflicts are the realities of daily life, often resulting in violence against individuals, families, and entire communities. Loss of lives, homes, livelihoods and even displacement of entire communities are common – often sanctioned and supported by governments.
Fortunately for the West Africa Initiative (WAI) in Liberia and Sierra Leone, this is not the case. Although WAI does not deliberately promote religious and ethnic tolerance, the activities of the program are open to all members of participating communities regardless of religion, tribal affiliation or gender.
The WAI program started in both countries in 2008 as part of the faith community’s response to reconstruction and rebuilding efforts following the brutal civil wars which lasted more than a decade –Liberia 1989 to 1997 and 1999 to 2003 and in Sierra Leone 1991 to 2002. The root causes of these conflicts were not ethnic or religious in nature but were fueled by harsh economic conditions, corruption, and politically based power grabs.
The program was a joint venture engaged by the three One Great Hour of Sharing ministries, the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Presbyterian Hunger Program, and the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, in partnership with ecumenical partners, including Agricultural Missions, Inc. which provided much of the technical training and support.
The initial focus of the WAI program was to work with local community groups in rural areas to improve the food security situation through local food production by providing hand tools, seeds, and training. This was very successful and resulted in the expansion of the program to other communities and to other areas of need such as safe drinking water and microcredit for women. At the end of 2019 the program was active in 24 villages in Liberia and 27 in Sierra Leone, serving a combined 11,000 persons directly.
There is a stark difference in the religious composition of Liberia when compared to Sierra Leone. In the Liberia, 85% of the population is Christian and 12% Muslim, while in Sierra Leone 12% are Christian and 73% Muslim.
In both countries, traditional and animist beliefs account for the majority of those not counted as belonging to one of the two major religions. Regardless of how they identify themselves, most people incorporate traditional spiritual and supernatural beliefs into their religious thinking and practices. Freedom of religion is respected and fully guaranteed in both countries which consider themselves secular states where there is no government sanctioned religion.
In both countries, the Councils of Churches and the Islamic Councils promote relationship building and coordinate programs of the various denominations or Islamic sects. The inter-religious councils, consisting of Christians and Muslims work together to promote understanding and coordinate relief and other activities.
At the village level, it is not unusual for both Christians, and Muslims and others to work together on the sponsored projects. It is a common practice for members of the community to help build each other’s houses of worship and even worship with each other. All group meetings begin with both the Muslim and Christian prayers.
The WAI program has deepened cooperation and trust through working together and the sharing of responsibilities and benefits regardless of religious and other differences. As one of the group members stated, “we have worked to build this community and achieved so much that we will never go back to war”.
The work of the Presbyterian Hunger Program is possible thanks to your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.