OneVillage Partners works in the small country of Sierra Leone in West Africa, which was recently affected by the Ebola outbreak. It is a land of thick forests teeming with screeching birds and the occasional hollering monkey. The rainforest that stretches across West Africa keeps the air here thick and hot and the roads muddy and impassible. It can rain for days on end.
It’s an isolated area with little infrastructure and limited health services, yet it has enormous wealth in its soil. Most people here are farmers, growing rice and cassava, but also many of the commodities the rest of the world craves: coffee, cocoa, timber, and diamonds. A scramble for this richness is what sparked the “11 Year War” in the early ‘90s and plunged this area into terror and a grinding poverty that still holds many back a decade after peace returned in 2002.
The true richness of this area has always been the people calling this land home and carving out the best life they can for their families in the face of enormous challenges. This is how OVP works: we invest in this land’s greatest natural wealth, its people.
Folks living here are predominantly of the Mende tribe, but there is a rich multiculturalism here too. People from all over Sierra Leone and surrounding countries call this land home. Over 7,000 people live across the six villages we serve. There are 800 -1500 living in each of these villages and our aim is to help them reach their own vision of a developed village.
People living here are:
- Religious: Roughly half the people are Muslim, and the other half are Christian. But unlike many other places in the world, they aren’t divided along these lines. They coexist respectfully.
- Hard-Working: Most families own farms, and nearly everyone lends a hand to help on their neighbors’ farms. The people are predominantly swamp rice farmers, though they also tend to gardens for vegetables along with whatever cash crops they can cultivate. Many people have second jobs as carpenters, masons, or running small, basic retail shops. Young people may start “telecentre” businesses by saving up enough to purchase a generator and then charging cell phones for a small fee.
- Caring: Mende families are traditionally large. It is common to have 4 or 5 children, but the extended family also remains close and will sometimes live together in the same house.
- Respectful: People in Sierra Leone very proudly hold to their traditions. Village chiefs hold the authority, but they are supported by elders in the community. A Paramount Chief has authority over a chiefdom that contains dozens of villages. Women have limited leadership roles.
- Hopeful: Almost everyone here believe that the future prosperity of their children depends on getting an education. However, schools in this part of the world are underresourced and understaffed. In some, there are only 3 teachers for hundreds of students. Nevertheless, school is a priority for families here.
Life in these villages is hard: infant mortality rates are some of the highest in the world. The geographic isolation and dilapidated roads make it hard for farmers to access markets profitably, and hunger is a regular experience. Disease and health challenges are everywhere, even before this part of the world captured headlines with an Ebola outbreak.
But to focus on the difficulties is to only see half the picture. This is a land of optimism and vibrancy and joy. The energy in these communities can transform lives, and we want to empower men, women and children here to make that happen.