Author: Musa Gangha, Senior Community Action Coordinator
Miatta is the mother of four children and lives in the community of Ngolahun. Ngolahun is a beautiful village, blessed with rich green vegetation and forest that offers cool air and many livelihood and farming opportunities.
Before Ngolahun’s partnership with OneVillage Partners, Miatta lived a stereotypical life as a housewife. Rural Sierra Leone has experienced many challenges and barriers to women holding leadership positions, which have frustrated not just women’s rights, but community development efforts as a whole. In fact, the leadership in Ngolahun was known for being patriarchal, with women rarely having the chance to become leaders, much less be encouraged to do so. Most women like Miatta were never given the opportunity to even consider becoming a leader, instead confining themselves to work in the household. Miatta, like many women in rural communities, received little support from both her male counterparts and her fellow women due to the stereotypical gender roles and their demotivation from leadership. Miatta stated, “For leadership in my life, it’s like expecting a rain in the desert.”
Miatta is a Traditional Birth Attendant in Ngolahun, helping pregnant women though childbirth. Her encounter with OneVillage Partners was a turning point in her life. Miatta now serves as a Community Action Group member, volunteering to support the development of her community and has gained confidence to start interacting with male counterparts in her village. During the first and second phases of the intervention, where the community began to brainstorm about its needs and design a suitable project, Miatta started to wash away her previous mindset of fear and impossibility. This change in mentality was both personal and communal, with men and women in the community beginning to change their views about women, eventually recognizing the potential of people like Miatta.
Miatta started challenging preconceived ideas about women and the prevailing individualistic mentality of her community and began to dream of becoming a leader. Miatta joined the Community Action Group, acquired knowledge, became bold and confident and began to articulate her ideas and vision for her community by channeling community concerns into solutions. She was well-received in her work with the local authorities who, through hearing of her growing reputation began to gain respect for her. Attendance and contribution in community meetings improved, due to Miatta’s enthusiasm and the Community Action Group as a whole bringing in new initiatives and leading the implementation of the project that saw the construction of latrines
Despite starting to realize her dreams, Miatta also faced challenges trying to strike a balance between her community work and providing for her family. This became even more challenging as her husband stopped providing for her because he felt threatened and powerless by her success. Additionally, she often still faced the challenge of her male counterparts not giving her the respect she deserved when voicing her views. In spite of these challenges, her dedication, cool temperament, restraint, and leadership propelled her even further to overcome these obstacles. Miatta worked tirelessly to educate and change the mindset of other women in the community who refused to give her support. Miatta stated: “I already had the mindset that I wanted to be a leader. The Community Action Group served as the platform I needed for others to see me in this way. As I was acting like a leader, slowly people began to respect me and learned to see me as such. This is what kept me going.”
As she began to exceed the expectations of her fellow women, men and the community as a whole, gradually opinions about women in leadership became more positive. As her husband began to see the high regard that the whole community had for his wife, he put his jealousy aside and began to feel proud of her. The whole community sat together and appointed Miatta as a Ward Development Committee (WDC) member a local government position involved in making decisions regarding development within districts in Sierra Leone.
Miatta’s prestigious new role increased her ability to develop the community of Ngolahun. Her ability to lead and inspire implementation of community initiatives has improved rapidly. For example, Miatta is one outstanding woman who pioneered the Operation Animal Control Campaign that entirely removed animals from the town to get rid of open defecation of any sort in their community. Miatta mobilized fellow women and men to start rehabilitation of the traditional Barray (community meeting place) for local leaders to sit and discuss the development of Ngolahun. Miatta is currently a leading expert in establishing saving and lending associations in Ngolahun. Miatta’s leadership extends far beyond the volunteer role she took on when joining the Community Action Group. This particular role was the kick start to what will surely be a long career leading and inspiring the people of the beautiful community of Ngolahun.