By Dr. Lauretta Will Sillah, CEO, People’s Foundation for Humanity Development
Sierra Leone, for decades, has suffered and has been notoriously labeled, by multiple sources as one of the highest rates in illiteracy, maternal and infant mortality, corruption, gender inequality and other major socio-economic problems responsible for the high rate of poverty and backwardness. So many interventions by government, missionaries, NGOs and private sectors have failed to address the societal cancer of this nation. Other insurmountable challenges include lack of information and capacity on alternative livelihood options. Additionally, corruption and middle man exploitation have ravaged ignorant women who are unable to effectively and efficiently produce, process and/or directly access marketing opportunities. Most villages depend upon agriculture, fisheries, cattle-rearing and petty trading for their daily wages. I witnessed a particular trade fair process over the Christmas Holidays in Gbangbatoke village, Moyamba District where one of the district trade fairs are held locally called “Luma” or “Ndowei”. I found a lot of my women their from the Moseilolo WIMI group. The trade fair was very disorganized inspite of all the political promotions of such marketing opportunities. Majority of the villagers are not aware of political system and very few people participate in the political system. As a result, the people are dominated and exploited by these politicians. Our Women Self-Help Groups are unfortunately negatively impacted by such inefficiencies. Women Self-Help groups however, could be taken as the base for majority gender interventions and livelihood activities enabling them to contribute towards mainstream Human Capital Development process, thereby uplifting their status especially those from marginalized section of society through various development initiatives.
Other challenges that directly impact women groups are health-related. In a typical village like Moseilolo in the Moyamba District, only first aid support is available. By the time a serious patient is rushed to the closest medical facility 7-10 miles away, death often is the end result, adding to Sierra Leone’s statistics of highest mortality rates. Some areas, health and sanitation are much neglected. Due to financial problem, many do not go to hospital, they are treated at the village by phony shady medicine men, herbs or by quack local medical person, hardly providing any adequate healing. The village, as well as urban children suffer from poverty through malnutrition and other chronic diseases also adding to the Sierra Leone’s record of highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world. I spent my 2020 Christmas Holiday in a typical village called Moseilolo, where I observed a baby’s death from high fever. The compounded difficulties are worsened during raining season when it becomes extremely difficult for the people to come to the closest medical facility. I was spending Christmas Holidays, but I felt like a researcher, mesmerized and overwhelmed by some of the challenges in the village, including a lack of school for 9 surrounding villages. I will address the academics in the next article.
Today, I would like to discuss a particular intervention, “Women Self Groups.” Developing, enhancing, promoting and utilizing socio-cultural practices of local communities could bring powerful positive changes in the livelihood opportunities and income generating activities which could contribute to human capital development of targeted communities. At PeFoHD, through our WIMI Programs, we have Organized Cluster level activities including alternative livelihood opportunities in the target communities for women like community fair shops and other micro enterprises like fish mongering and petty trading.
We have also been networking with financial institutions and have established business and financial training linkages. Even though our female literacy rate is very hopeless, however in some of the villages Women in Sierra Leone are at a higher illiteracy and poverty rate than men. That has not impacted our trainings which are conducted in the local languages. Like most African women on the continent, Sierra Leonean women are more hardworking than men. As a result, skill building measures need to be established, or we can enhance existing ones in order to improve on effectiveness of their marginal levels of livelihood practices. At People’s Foundation for Humanity Development, our Gender Training Program, WIMI includes holistic trainings which impact spiritual, behavioral and attitudinal changes. In empowering our women groups, we conduct Business trainings including Financial Literacy, Money Management and Small Enterprise Empowerment. We also conduct Leadership trainings to enable them to actively participate in decision making processes at their own community levels. We have proven over and again that the above trainings bring about lasting impact on target beneficiaries way beyond any project implementation. Some examples I’ve been involved in, include the WIMI Small Scale Empowerment Projects at WIMI Bo, WIMI Funkia, WIMI Angola Town in Freetown and the Engineers Without Borders Water (EWB) , Sanitation and Solar project at Centennial Secondary School, Mattru Jong. Prior to implementation of these projects, the communities were mobilized, engaged, sensitized and involved. All of them were very successful with very minimal challenges.
All of these projects have significantly, holistically and positively affected the lives of the respective communities. Those that were income generation activities created self-employability and livelihood security such as the fishmongers of Funkia and petty traders of Bo. The EWB project at Centennial Secondary School has impacted other surrounding schools who also utilize the solar light, the surrounding communities also use the campus water after school hours thereby impacted even their health from drinking treated water which has greatly impacted water-borned disease in the community.
For Sierra Leone, as a whole, these Self-Help Groups could be replicated in various areas of the country thereby impacted the socio-changes brought in by trainings prior to empowerment projects, in terms of livelihood practices, which will have lasting impact on the target beneficiaries even beyond the project period. Sierra Leone’s quest for Human Capital Development is not only through formal education but non-formal trainings, livelihood security, job opportunities which will strengthen income generation opportunities through capacity building support nationwide. It is expected that the beneficiaries will continue the livelihood practices, which directly contribute to increased family economy, which directly has the potential of positively impacting the esteemed Human Capital Development.
Dr. Lauretta Will Sillah, CEO/Founder of People’s Foundation for Humanity Development (PeFoHD) provides Executive Leadership and Strategic Vision of PeFoHD. She has participated in the 2017, 2018 and 2019 conferences at the United Nation’s High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Goals in New York. For 21 years, through her charity and missionary team initiatives, Dr. Sillah has pioneered a Water, Sanitation and Solar Light with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) at her alma mater – Centennial Secondary School, Mattru Jong, Sierra Leone as well as several Women Group projects through the Women In Ministry International (WIMI) Training programs. She has collected and donated over a million-dollar worth of emergency relief supplies and educational materials to higher institutions including University of Sierra Leone, Njala University, IAMTECH, orphanages, victims of disasters, primary and secondary academic institutions in Sierra Leone in relief efforts during Post-war, Post Ebola, Post Flooding and Post Landslide disasters. An ordained Minister at Fresh Anointing House of Worship, USA, Dr. Sillah is married with 4 grown sons, 4 granddaughters and 4 adopted children