I’ve just returned from a week’s visit to ActionAid Sierra Leone where I got to see their work in action.
In the Western Area outside of Freetown, I joined a group of 20 or so women doing community adult literacy classes.
The group included widows who lost their husbands during the war and mothers with young children, keen to get a second chance to learn to read and write, and help their kids do the same.
ActionAid trains the people who run the classes and provides the basic materials that the women need to learn. Beyond that, the women work the magic themselves!
The women were very excited about what they had already learnt and told me how it was helping them to do things that they never even dreamt of being able to do.
They talked about how they were now able to do the household budget, help their kids with their homework and sell goods at the local market. All of which made a huge difference to their lives.
They also told me that learning to read and write had given them the confidence to negotiate with the local government on their rights to education and those of their families. A huge step for those who suffered greatly during the civil war.
Many of the women who have participated in this programme have gone on to become active in local and even national politics.
In fact, one lady is now a local councillor, who stands up for the rights of women across Sierra Leone.
The same group of women have set up a ‘backyard farming scheme’ to grow food. In this part of Sierra Leone, women produce 80% of the food but only own 10% of the land.
We’re helping them to claim land so that they can produce food – not just for their own families – but also for sale on the local market.
The money they earn gives them economic independence – meaning that they can then fund other projects which help improve the lives of themselves and their families.