With Christian Aid Week beginning on 13 May, three Christian Aid supporters visited Sierra Leone to see how the Church is helping the country recover, a decade after it was devastated by civil war.
Worship leader Mike Burn from London, Christian community worker Llinos Roberts from north Wales and Peter Murray, a retired university lecturer from Darlington, spent a week seeing how the Methodist Church of Sierra Leone (MCSL) is bringing people together following the conflict.
Despite having an abundance of natural resources, Sierra Leoneons are struggling to recover from the conflict. Land remained uncultivated for years, and people fighting for opposing sides returning to the same villages. Trust in one another was undermined, leaving the task of working together difficult.
Mike Burn saw this first hand in the Bonthe region of the country, where four out of five households do not have enough to eat and two-fifths of children suffer from chronic malnutrition.
He said, “I had an impression of what I thought poverty looked like because that’s what I was seeing in other African countries I had visited. It was a shock that people were in such dire need considering their country has so many resources.”
But Christian Aid say that with the support from the MCSL, their crops are beginning to flourish. The people have come together to work in village development committees, where they can pool their resources and labour. One farming group received a loan to buy a tractor, and was provided with seeds and simple tools.
“It is fantastic to see crops being grown that meant the difference between life and death,” said Burn. “We had a meal with one of the workers who showed us overwhelming hospitality. These are people who have nothing and yet they want to share.”
Llinos Roberts said she was pleased to see the Church giving a voice to women and young people through the village development committees.
She explained, “There was a woman called Mary, who represented the women in the village and she explained that since she became a member of the committee, the men have started to understand women’s problems so much better. As a result domestic violence has dramatically decreased.”
She said it was “great to see how our fundraising efforts back home are making a real difference to people’s lives in places like Sierra Leone far away”.
Peter Murray, who has collected for Christian Aid for more than 40 years, said, “I met a man called Patrick, who ran an agriculture business centre, which housed machinery enabling villagers to process their raw agricultural produce into something that can fetch a higher price at the market. This is something the local people lobbied for and it was fantastic to see how people are being empowered and given the tools to help them out of poverty.”
This year the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) have agreed to match pound for pound the first £5 million raised during Christian Aid Week. Christian Aid aims to help all people, regardless of faith.