Inspiration and hope: stories from Sierra Leone

Hearing Patrick Jamiru talk about some of the work that is being done in Sierra Leone, the place he calls home, is heart-warming.

Patrick works for Caritas, which is partnered with CAFOD, and he has just visited the UK to speak to parishes about some of the work funded in Sierra Leone by CAFOD.

There are four Caritas branches in the West African country, and Patrick works for Caritas Kenema, in the east of the country. As the place where the country’s first diamonds were found, where the first shot was fired in the civil war that claimed around 70,000 lives, and bordering conflict-struck Liberia, Kenema has seen more than its fair share of sorrow.

But, as Patrick explained to those of us at his talks in Cheltenham and Swindon, he believes hope for a better future is growing in Sierra Leone, despite the abject poverty still being experienced by roughly 80% of its 5.6 million population.

Patrick with parishioner Leota Charles, from Sierra Leone

Patrick with parishioner Leota Charles, from Sierra Leone

He explained that some of the work being done currently by CAFOD and Caritas surrounds climate change.

The projects aim to reduce people’s vulnerability to natural disasters, and increase the availability and reliability of food sources. Traditionally, many families did upland rice farming, felling trees to make space. The rice was very susceptible to drought, with some rice crops failing in extended dry seasons.

Caritas was able to work with many of the farmers to develop swamp valley farming, which does not require the loss of trees, and is less susceptible to drought and flood. The land is also very fertile, meaning more farmers have increased their crop yields, selling excess food, and giving them more control over their own futures.

He also talked about the savings and lending schemes set up to allow people to put money aside in the community; that money acts as a social fund for times of need, and a loan fund with low rates of interest for when farmers want to invest in something new.

Patrick with Clifton diocesan manager David Brinn talking to a group from Gloucestershire.

Patrick with Clifton diocesan manager David Brinn talking to a group from Gloucestershire.

It’s empowering, he said, as the community has worked together to organise the scheme, with new bonds, friendships and associations formed, particularly among women who subsequently have enjoyed a higher social standing in their communities.

Speaking at the event, Father Peter Slocombe, of Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, said he was uplifted by the fact that Catholics fundraising for CAFOD here in the UK were able to help people in poverty elsewhere in the world, regardless of their religions. It was an example of solidarity, of different religions working together, he said.

Sheila Morgan, from Henley on Thames, attended and said she was delighted to get the feedback of the schemes being run in Sierra Leone.

“It was interesting, informative,” she said.

“We loved hearing the names and stories of people in Sierra Leone. It’s lovely to know how we’re connecting with them.”

* Sierra Leone is the focus of CAFOD’s Lent fundraising appeal. To find out more, click here.

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