In Ebola response, let’s also think LONG TERM and LOCAL

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As the Ebola crisis has unfolded in Sierra Leone (and West Africa, and beyond), the pull to the urgent is strong.  And rightfully so – everyone wants to act swiftly and effectively to stop the spread of the disease, as well as to provide healing care for all those impacted.  The Fambul Tok staff is no exception to that pull to the urgent – they have added a significant Ebola education/prevention component to their work, as you’ve read about in other posts on this blog.  And as do so many of us, they yearn to do more.

And yet, even while the international community works hard to respond in all the ways it can to the urgency of the need, it is critical – now more than ever – to continue to think and act long term.  And even while many are looking for large scale solutions (which we typically do by looking to large entities external to the area in crisis, whether it’s bringing the US military to Liberia, for example, or looking for more, or more effective, action from international organizations like the WHO), it is critical to think ‘small’ and act local. 

The resources that often get overlooked in any crisis are in fact the smallest ‘entities’ and those closest to the crisis itself – ordinary people and local communities.  And yet, as we have seen powerfully with Fambul Tok, when the people most impacted by a crisis not only fully participate but actually LEAD in addressing that crisis it can be hugely transformative – for individuals, communities, and beyond.

But what does it take for the people most impacted by a crisis to actually lead in the work of rebuilding after (or perhaps even during) that crisis? As we have seen with Fambul Tok, first it takes a recognition that they can, supported by a long term vision and commitment to (re)build robust, localized networks of support – aka strong communities.

The small and local becomes big in its impact when it’s nurtured over time (the long term), and supported by processes and structures that connect, support, and magnify.  Since it began working in its first village over 6 years ago, Fambul Tok’s reach has expanded to close to 2500 villages today.

FT How It Works flowchart jpg

Fambul Tok’s process in the districts

Since 2008, Fambul Tok has been patiently doing the work of helping create healthy and strong communities in rural Sierra Leone. This is the ‘container’ that held (and continues to hold) Fambul Tok’s reconciliation process, making it safe for people to come forward and tell their stories of what they did or what happened to them in the war. It is the ‘container’ that allowed victims and perpetrators in the war to apologize and to forgive, even for some of the most egregious atrocities. And it is the ‘container’ that enabled communities to begin to move forward – together.

And as a result, as any of the posts on this blog will attest, Fambul Tok communities are now engaging in development projects that are bringing needed income to their residents. They are tackling social and political problems like teenage pregnancy and domestic violence. They are addressing new conflicts that emerge and not needing to take so many to the police or the traditional authorities.  They are beginning to build and strengthen educational infrastructure. They are empowering women to lead.

The need for a long term approach emphasizing relationship- and community-rebuilding, done in a way which honors local capacity, doesn’t diminish in the face of a crisis like Ebola. In fact, it deepens.

There is a lot of talk now about the need for establishing better health care systems in Sierra Leone. “But if the communities are not working together,” says Fambul Tok Executive Director John Caulker, “The health systems won’t work. They won’t be sustained.”

This is true whatever the social goal is, he notes, whether it’s health, justice, empowerment for women, or child welfare.  “Only in a healthy community can these other systems thrive.  Otherwise it is like pouring water into a cracked bowl. Healthy community is needed to sustain the process.  This will be the challenge we will face as a nation moving forward.”

Preparing for post-Ebola community health needs to be happening NOW, and it looks much like the work that Fambul Tok is already doing to help communities heal after the devastating decade of war.

Even as we feel the call of the urgent, let’s have the vision, courage and commitment to also go long, and go local.

Posted in From the Ground: Program Updates from Sierra Leone, In the News, Organization, Reflections | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Ebola Training Sessions Conducted in Three Chiefdoms

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Fambul Tok has conducted training sessions for community members in three chiefdoms in its efforts to complement the work of the Koinadugu District Health Management Team, the district ebola task force, and other partner organizations in the fight against ebola in Sierra Leone.

Madam Mbalia(right-front roll) poses with community members after the training in Heremakono

Madam Mbalia (right-front row) poses with community members after the training in Heremakono

The purpose of the trainings, which ran from September 5-7, was to the raise the awareness level of community members, especially those within Fambul Tok leadership positions (contact persons, Peace Mothers, peace club members, etc.). The Fambul Tok leaders were given necessary tools and information to sensitize their various sections towards the prevention of ebola in the district.

The sessions,  held in Heremakono in Wara Wara Yagala chiefdom, Dogoloya in Folosaba Dembelia chiefdom and Gbenkoro in Sengbeh chiefdom, attracted community stakeholders. The stakeholders present included section chiefs, women’s leaders, Peace Mothers, youths, and peace makers.

According to Fambul Tok’s  Rev. Emmanuel Mansaray, most people in Koinadugu district do not have access to basic information. He says that some communities do not even have access to radio and other forms of communications. Fambul Tok deemed it fit to reach out to communities to educate them about ebola; Fambul Tok spoke about how ebola is spread, prevented and the role of the communities in containing the disease. Rev. Mansaray says regular hand washing, avoiding large gatherings and avoiding body contacts go a long way to prevent the spread of the virus. He also stressed the role of community members, adding that they should report to health authorities if someone  showing symptoms of ebola such as vomiting, frequent stools, and high fever. He advised the community that whenever someone shows such symptoms family members should not have contacts with that person’s body fluids and health officials should be informed immediately.

Rev. Mansaray stated that Koinadugu  remains the only district in the country with no reported case of ebola since the outbreak.  However, he emphasized that this does not mean people should relax. Rev. Mansaray went to say that Fambul Tok is holding the trainings in case the virus sneaks into the district.

Training session in Dogoloya

Training session in Dogoloya

“Fambul Tok always consults  communities in whatever it wants to embark on because communities have answers to their problems. That is why we are training you so in return you could sensitize others in your various villages,” Rev. Mansaray disclosed.

In his remarks, Alhaji Abubakarr Jalloh, section chief of Dogoloya, pointed out that though most muslims regard the practice of hand shake as very important, it should be considered as not mandatory. He therefore appealed to his people to follow the necessary  precautions given by health authorities.

Madam Mbalia Koroma, acting section chief of Heremakono, extended appreciation to Fambul Tok for being the first organization to conduct such training session in their communities. She stressed that the trainings go “a long way as our people are now aware of the existence of the disease in the country”.

The trainings would be replicated in other chiefdoms.

Meanwhile, Fambul Tok district staff continue to participate in weekly radio programs focusing on ebola. The ebola jingle continues to be aired in community radio stations in all districts on a daily basis. District staff also attend regular District Health Management Team/Ebola Task Force meetings to get daily updates in their various districts on ebola situation.

Posted in From the Ground: Program Updates from Sierra Leone, In the News, Organization | Tagged | Leave a comment

Fambul Tok Joins Fight Against EBOLA

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Councilors strategise to tackle ebola in Kailahun

Councilors strategize how to tackle Ebola in Kailahun

Fambul Tok International-Sierra Leone, in a effort to complement governmental aide and other partners’ work to contain the Ebola disease in the country, has intensified activities focusing on Ebola education in different communities.

Sierra Leone is under a 90 day state of emergency  on public health. Because of restrictions associated with this declaration, movement to epicenters, where Ebola medical facilities are located, is especially difficult in places where the disease has hit. To increase knowledge in the country, Fambul Tok recently produced a  jingle  on Ebola in different local languages. The jingle outlines prevention, care and the role of the community during the Ebola crisis. The jingle is now aired on various community radio stations in the country. In addition to the jingle, radio programs on Ebola are held weekly in all districts. These programs give update to the community not only on Fambul Tok activities, but also on the Ebola disease. The jingle and radio programs have helped communities to know how to prevent Ebola, where to go and their roles in the fight against the disease.

ebola fact sheet supplied to communities

Ebola fact sheet supplied to communities

Fambul Tok staff  continue to collaborate with agencies and community-based organizations to monitor the situation in the country. District staff are invited to District Health Management Team meetings on a weekly basis to get updates from health officials.

One of the communities that has taken the lead in house-to-house sensitization is Gorama-Kono chiefdom in Kono district. Peace Mothers in Kangama have stepped up efforts to sensitize their womenfolks and the rest of the villages on the virulent disease of Ebola. Focusing on community efforts is essential, as the community has a role to play by reporting any suspected cases of Ebola to the nearest health facility immediately.

Other Peace Mothers have taken the lead in this drive as they embark on house to house sensitization. However the Peace Mothers cannot work in huge numbers, because large gatherings are not currently allowed.

As some people still hold the view that the disease does not exist, community members are making efforts to ensure that the people, especially in the rural areas, are well informed about Ebola, thereby mitigating unnecessary rumors and myths.

Fambul Tok has also provided Ebola fact sheet, posters and other vital reading materials to Peace Mothers’ information centers in its operational areas. Staff are also provided with disinfectants.



Posted in From the Ground: Program Updates from Sierra Leone, Recognition | Tagged | Leave a comment

Paki Masabong Chiefdom’s Revolving Loan Reaches 20 Million Leones

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Adama addresses her colleagues during the meeting

Adama addresses her colleagues during the meeting

The Chairlady of the Fambul Tok Peace Mothers in Masabong section, Paki Masabong chiefdom, Bombali district in the north of Sierra Leone, during their regularly monthly meeting on June 5, 2014,  proudly announced that their usual revolving loan scheme will amount to 20,300,000 Leones in July, 2014.

Giving this update during a Peace Mothers meeting in Makuna village, Adama Lakkoh was very much optimistic about the projected amount, adding that each of the 14  villages will receive 1,265,000 Leones to embark on commercial activities.

In an overview of the loan scheme, Madam Lakkoh said it all started on August 5, 2011 after the Fambul Tok reconciliation ceremonies in their section. She said women in that section had never worked or formed any groups together, but through Fambul Tok they immediately called a meeting and discussed how they could collaborate.

Peace Mothers in Rapt Attention

Peace Mothers in rapt attention

During the inaugural meeting in August 2011, each of the women in the 14 villages agreed to embark on revolving loan scheme. Each member was tasked to pay 5,000 Leones  at the end of every month. She explained that the seed money was re-distributed with little interest among members in their different villages to embark on small scale activities.

Every month we meet in any of the 14 villages to collect the money and after verify our records we re-distribute it among members” says Lakkoh.

Because of the Peace Mother’s hard work, Fambul Tok, through funds from US State Department, provided a brand new rice mill for the Peace Mothers in Masabong. An oversight committee has already been set to monitor the process. During the meeting the Peace Mothers agreed to embark on store building project and in-valley swamp cultivation for this year’s farming season.

Today, after just 4 years, the women could now boost to millions of Leones with funds generated by themselves without external support. This shows that working together as a unit yields more dividends and promote development rapidly.

Posted in Bombali District, From the Ground: Program Updates from Sierra Leone, Peace Mothers | Tagged | Leave a comment

First Female Town Chief Crowned

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Chieftaincy in any form and shape in the Northern province of Sierra Leone is a taboo for women. Many women have faced a lot of challenges for the past decades when it comes to chieftaincy or public elections in the country, thus most women have been marginalized.

The trend has started changing over the years; women are now holding positions of trust in that part of the country. Last year in Heremakono section, Wara Wara chiefdom, Mbalia Koroma, chairlady of Peace Mothers was appointed the first acting female section chief. This success is in part due to Fambul Tok’s intensive sensitization  and training programs on women rights and responsibilities in the North.

Cecilia Kanu pic

Cecilia Kanu

Recently, the people of Masongbo village, Makari Gbanti chiefdom, Bombali district, Northern Sierra Leone unanimously appointed the very first female town chief since the inception of the village. Cecelia Kanu, an adviser in the Peace Mothers group in Masongbo section went unopposed and was crowned, thus entering the guinness book of records for being the first female town chief in Masongbo.

Cecelia elevation to that  position was also a result of her dedication and commitment to advocate for more women to be involved in decision making processes. Her clarion call has started yielding fruits!

In an interview in her village, she says she believes in the emancipation of women. “This is just the beginning, I have the conviction that in a not too distant future women are expected to become Paramount chiefs in the north like in the east and south of Sierra Leone,” she emphasizes.

Madam Kanu is also the headmistress of the Roman Catholic Primary School in Masonbo village and is very active Peace Mother. She is  54 and married with four children.

Posted in Bombali District, From the Ground: Program Updates from Sierra Leone, Updates by District | Leave a comment