The rains have started in Sierra Leone and for many, this means one thing – time to get to work on the farm. Over 50%  of Sierra Leoneans take part in agricultural activities as their main source of income. This is also true in the communities where we work – the majority  of our Community Action Group members are farmers. Many of them have chosen to farm instead of going to school because it is the only way they know how to earn money since their families have been farming for generations. Many of them raise enough income during the harvest season to keep their families sustained for an entire year. Farms are the livelihood to many here and it is no easy job.
Since the rains have started, most of the Community Action Group volunteers that I am working with found it difficult to both tend to their farms and attend our Community Action DESIGN workshops. These workshops are focused on narrowing down their priority challenge (Kigbai voted on hygiene and sanitation) and testing solutions to the problem. In Kigbai, we have focused on open defecation as the root problem and are currently testing latrine prototypes.
One of the Community Action Group volunteers named Sao Musa came up with a solution to the scheduling problem. She proposed that at the end of each DESIGN workshop (held three times weekly) the Community Action Group volunteers would mobilize and go assist one person from the group on his/her farm.
The group accepted this proposal and it is ongoing smoothly after each DESIGN session. Sao’s initiative influenced other community members to join and help the Community Action Group volunteers tend to their farms as the greater community realized that the workshops are not only for the volunteers themselves, but a benefit to the development of the entire community.
Community members are recognizing the efforts of the Community Action Group volunteers. OVP’s approach to development is idolized by the entire community as they see the Community Action Group volunteers exhibiting good team building skills and qualities, inclusiveness and understanding. OVP fosters this environment of unity by involving community members every step of the way – from selecting the Community Action Group volunteers to approving the design of the project that stems from the DESIGN workshops.
OVP’s transparency and accountability to the community is key – when we enter a community we explain how we operate and we ask their opinion. We don’t impose anything on them. We ask, “What is good for your community?” The Community Action Group told me that one of the major reasons they are united is because of the love and respect they have for me. I think the community respects me because of the way we as coordinators interact with them. We open up to them and we really care about their wellbeing; we ensure all of them belong, have voice, and are included in any decision making. When asking the CAG about other NGOs they said, “They [other NGOs] just see us as stakeholders, but OVP sees us as important people in society and role models.” I think OVP gives them purpose.
One of OVP’s greatest assets is their approach to community participation. Unlike many NGOs who say they are doing community-led development, I have the opportunity to witness each day how OVP’s community-led approach is bringing communities together. This all starts with the unity and inclusiveness of our volunteer change agents – the Community Action Group, igniters of change who are encouraging their fellow community members to unite for the sake of development.
 Sierra Leone Demographic and Health Survey 2013
 Over 50%, according to Community Action Group demographic data obtained by OVP 2016
Introducing OVP Community Action Coordinator: Muje Josephine Belmoh
Muje shares, “One thing that makes me love my job is the direct impact that I see in the lives of villagers. For example, in some communities before this time, you never see them practicing anything on hygiene, sanitation, or even unity, but now we are seeing all these changes. The dependency on us as an NGO is not an issue – they are doing things on their own. For us, guiding them to realize even with their own local resources they can improve the standard of living in their community.”
Something you might not know about Sierra Leone?
Muje says, “We have all the natural resources that will make us wealthy in Sierra Leone, but if we have the knowledge in using these resources we will not be exploited by the wealthier countries because we can use our resources for our benefit.”