In a place like rural Sierra Leone, connections between people and places are invaluable. Villagers in Ngolahun depend on a worn bridge that connects them to nearby communities and provides access to their farms.
This bridge and others like it are made by villagers with local materials—sticks from the bush and homemade rope. They cannot last through the rainy season and require annual maintenance, but sometimes they break sooner than expected. Recently, a child following his mother to their farm in Ngolahun fell from the rundown bridge and was injured.
The following day, villagers gathered at a community meeting to discuss how the community should share in the work for their selected OVP project – total latrine coverage for every household. A community member brought up the more immediate issue of the failing bridge and the injured child, who has fortunately healed now. His mother said, “Let us come together and show OVP that we can respond to our own challenges.”
It quickly became clear that the whole community wanted to use the skills they had developed through OVP’s model to solve their problems together as a committed team. A plan was made to repair the bridge the next day and avoid further incidents.
Typically, the Ngolahun community divides responsibilities into three sections when things like bridges fail. One section starts the work, then the next section picks it up, and the final section completes the job. Each section provides just enough labor to get the work done.
Because OVP’s model emphasizes collaboration, this time the villagers decided to share the work as a unified community so they could fix the bridge quickly and keep their children safe. Such a swift and cohesive response had never been seen before. In the past such an undertaking would have taken weeks, but this time the bridge was fixed in just one day.
After an immediate answer was found, Community Projects Supervisor Sheku worked with the community to brainstorm long term solutions. A plan was made for each household to contribute a small amount of money each year to purchase new materials for a bridge that is stronger and more sustainable.
By coming together and sharing responsibility equally, the Ngolahun community gained a new understanding of their ability to act as agents of change. As they constructed a plan to strengthen their bridge, the people of Ngolahun also strengthened their confidence in themselves and their connections to one another.
Sheku says, “If it were not for the presence of OVP in that community that day, probing to know and getting the people to realize what they ought to do, the result would have likely been… [okay, let’s get the child healed and move on]. The bridge would not have been fixed.”
“The reason the bridge got fixed so quickly is because the entire community came together to get it done,” says Monitoring, Evaluation & Communications Manager Sophie Dresser. “I think communities are starting to recognize the value in the way that OVP is pushing them to work.” By facilitating this sort of community action, OVP is truly creating change from within.