By: Chad McCordic, Program Director
At OneVillage Partners, we believe in local, ‘bottom up’ solutions. But what good is that if there aren’t the right institutions or environment to sustain it, or the right people in place to champion those solutions? While change comes from within a community, it is equally important to us to build and support the civic structures to maintain and strengthen the change that takes place in each village that we work in.
In our consultations, we also hear over and over again how the social cohesion that once built and sustained progress in their village was shattered during the civil war in Sierra Leone. The “11 years’ war” pried open divisions in the community that still exist today long after their homes have been rebuilt. Rekindling this social cohesion is how we get started building the kind of inclusive environment that will sustain progress.
How does OneVillage Partners do this?
We build new leaders. When we start a partnership with a village, we make it clear to everyone that we intend to develop a long term working relationship with them. We assemble a team of community supported change agents, the Community Action Group (CAG), and train them to be leaders of the development projects we are doing together. But through the implementation of that project, the community begins to see them as the leaders in their own right; they aren’t just leading the project, but leading the community towards an improved quality of life.
We help existing leaders become more responsive: Every step of the way through our engagement with a community, we invite the leadership to join the conversation. Then in community meetings, we provide a forum where all can provide feedback. By keeping the whole process open and transparent we enable community members and leadership alike to participate and have a voice. Chiefs have expressed their own surprise at how effectively the community can work together when everyone can freely communicate. Many chiefs confess that they felt their community didn’t care about development, when in reality, everyone cared, but they did not know where to start. OneVillage Partners provides that starting point, and acts as the platform to keep the conversation going.
We connect to existing structures: The Ward Development Committee is a group of community leaders established by the district government to assess village’s needs and report those needs back to the government. OneVillage Partners works hard to involve them from the early stages of partnership with a community, by inviting any Ward Development Committee members to join the CAG. Then, after we complete a project, we bring CAG and members of the Ward Development Committee together from these villages who have recently completed their projects. In this conference, we facilitate a conversation not just between different communities, but between the structures working within each community. This brings both sides to an understanding of the work that each does, but also how each can better support the other moving forward.
Our approach doesn’t just build cohesion within communities, between our local volunteers and government entities, it creates a network. OneVillage Partners builds a solidarity among all of our CAG across multiple villages. We have so far mobilized and trained 156 Community Action Group members, and 13 of them have helped us train new volunteers in each new village we have expanded to. Through the creation of this network, different tools, skills, and experience are being organically shared across these villages and beyond.
These leaders’ activities are bigger than the individual projects we do together. This is how ‘bottom up’ solutions make their impact felt, by groups of people building onto the change that they created. And it all starts by bringing a village together to have a conversation about what that change is. Many of our CAG have become leaders, whether in formal, traditional ways or informal, but no less impactful ways. From our earliest group of volunteers in Mamboma, Bockarie Boyah was surprised to find himself being asked questions about disease transmission by his neighbors during the Ebola outbreak in 2014. Everyone was afraid at the time, including him, but because OneVillage Partners had helped the group understand germ theory better when designing their Sanitation Project there, people naturally flocked to him with questions about hygiene and disease prevention. Mohamed Koroma is now a role model to the youth, and spends time helping them plan activities that can improve their community. Brima Mambu in Yandohun has helped build better support from parents for community teachers. Miatta Brima from Ngolahun has become a member of the Ward Development Committee and is sharing with her colleagues in district government some the participatory needs assessment tools she has learned from OneVillage Partners.
These leaders’ activities are bigger than the individual projects we do together. This is how ‘bottom up’ solutions make their impact felt, by groups of people building onto the change that they created. And it all starts by bringing a village together to have a conversation about what that change is.