Assignment 7

Meet the newly empowered women of Sierra Leone

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Advances for women have been slow to come in many developing countries, but in a recent trip to West Africa, we witnessed how women are helping the nation of Sierra Leone rise from the ashes of civil war with support from aid groups with ties here in the Bay Area.

In the rural countryside of Sierra Leone, rice is the primary crop grown to nourish and sustain the people, but in many communities, their simply isn't enough. And with so many hungry children, there's often nothing extra to bring to the bustling markets that sprout from town centers every Saturday and little money to buy what the vendors there have to sell.

Another staple here is a root called cassava, similar to sweet potato. Like rice, it's grown in fields often tended by women.

"Although it was grown mainly by women, they've not been realizing much in economic terms," said Catherine Sillah from World Vision.

Sillah overseas more than 60 villages with the aid group World Vision. She turned to the Internet in search of a way to maximize the potential of cassava and discovered it could be processed into a variety of food products. With a $30,000 grant, she set out to train local women.

"I encouraged them, gave them a lot of hope, we naturally think and reorient the idea of producing cassava," said Sillah.

That grant covered the cost of an agricultural trainer, and with a little trial and error, there is now a women's cooperative in Koribondo. That is where villagers now process cassava into dozens of different products like flower, cassava crosslets, and cassava cake.

Hawa Bio manages the co-op, and says the finished products are competitive with the foods sold at local markets, and even in larger cities like Bo.

"So when we produce products, we sell to the community. They don't go to Bo again to buy anything from Bo. We produce lots of products, food items," said Bio.

Their success has allowed them to open a store of their own.

"It has changed their lives considerably because before this time, even for the children to get food to [take to] school was problem. But now, they can give the produce from cassava," said Sillah.

In a nearby village, members met us near nightfall, to show us a strong box that represents another innovation here. It's a local savings and loan, supported by villagers themselves to help each other and their community flourish.

"If you want to do that, you can take a loan from there and pay everything with very minimal interest," said Sillah.

The new economic opportunities have also empowered these women to start small businesses, trade their goods, and even step forward into decision making roles within their community, changing the dynamic in these villages first and perhaps ultimately in the country itself.

"That is the dream of this country and we have seen it. That is the vision for every woman now because we have realized that if we empower the women, the future of this country we move country lies in the hands of women," said Sillah.

While women in Sierra Leone are making advances, they still face challenges we might view as terrifying in this country. Next, we'll look at efforts to end cultural practices that can put young women's lives in danger.

And if you'd like to join the Million Moms Challenge launched by ABC News with partners like World Vision, you can click on the links above.

Written and produced by Tim Didion

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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children, travel, africa, assignment 7, carolyn johnson
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