Archive | May, 2012

Sarah J – Sierra Leone – Second post

31 May

‘Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand’

What’s been happening?

Since my first blog, an Advisor in participatory appraisal from Rwanda has travelled to Kambia to train the ABC project team and  nine community facilitators from across the communities we are working with In rural Kambia. As a result, the facilitators are already playing a crucial role in supporting their communities to identify and analyse their problems, which will enable them to decide the activities they want to undertake to tackle the problems with help from us. All in all it’s been a busy and exciting few weeks and I’m keen to share a bit more about what has been happening with you.


A family from Kambia, Sierra Leone

Photo: Kambia family

We’ve been asking some questions . . . .

‘Participation’ is all the rage in development work. We hear this term all the time. It seems that all the donors want it and all the NGOs claim to be doing it. But what does it really mean? What does it look like? How can we tell when something is truly participation and not just consultation cunningly disguised as participation? How do we need to be thinking and acting to be truly participatory and for communities to really take the lead? If we are in the business of community empowerment, what does that imply for how we go about our work? These are just some of the questions that have been at the forefront of my mind for the past few weeks as our very skilled Rwandan Advisor has been leading the training in participatory appraisal with the ABC team and facilitators.

And finding some answers in Participatory Education Appraisal . . .

The facilitators and the team have been training in participatory appraisal and field testing the approach with their communities almost every day for the past two and a half weeks. What is interesting is the emphasis in this process on our attitudes and mind sets as development workers. It requires us to really believe that the community are capable of analysing their problems, of coming up with an activity plan and budget for how they want to tackle the problems, and monitoring and managing those activities themselves –with our support, but firmly taking the lead. It is about respecting not undermining the knowledge the community already has. It’s also about slowing down, spending time and helping everyone to truly understand the situation and issues so as to tackle them most effectively. To borrow a phrase from our Advisor, we want to ‘pick and stay’ not ‘pick and go’ –we stay with communities and help them to deeply analyse, understand and act on their problems for the long run.

Participatory Education Appraisal in Kambia Sierra Leone

Photo: a facilitator engages with a community during a Participatory Education Appraisal (PEA) in Kambia

With support from the Advisor and the ABC team, the facilitators have been helping their communities understand the way people are living together now (defining social categories) so that they can decide how to improve their lives from where they are; drawing a social map of the community which is owned by the community and will help them evaluate how their situation is improving or getting worse and use this evidence to ask and analyse why this is the case and then take action; and identify the big problems communities are facing and decide on the main problem they want to tackle now (the others are not ignored –we will discuss with communities how else they could tackle them and where they could seek support). All of this is working towards the communities developing proposals of activities they want us to support, based on the key problem they have identified and after considering what their own contribution to the project will be.

Matthew & Francois

Photo: Left – Francois, Rwandan Advisor. Right – Matthew, Children in Crisis in-country Programme Manager

On a final note . . .   

Until I write with my next update, let me leave you with a well-known Confucian proverb that captures the spirit of the process we are in the middle of now and that will guide the rest of the project: ‘Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand’ 


We push for justice in the DR Congo

17 May

“Were the lives of our dear colleagues and the three other passengers that perished with them really worth so little? It is almost unthinkable.”

 – Sarah Rowse – Director of Programmes.

In October 2011, in one of the worst attacks against humanitarian workers in eastern DR Congo, four members of our local partner NGO Eben Ezer Ministry International (EMI) were murdered as they travelled up to schools on the remote Plateau. Here our Director of Programmes, Sarah Rowse writes about her recent visit to Kinshasa, and Children in Crisis’ pursuit of justice for our dear friends and colleagues.

I travelled to Kinshasa, the capital city of Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), at the end of March with our partners from EMI, Reverend Muvunyi Samson and Dr Lazare Sebiterereko. Although I’ve worked and travelled extensively in eastern DR Congo since 2005, it was my first time to the capital city and as far removed from the rural isolation and savage beauty of eastern Congo as one could imagine.

Our visit was laden with import. Since the brutal murders of our much missed colleagues, Eraste, Tite, Musore and Edmond as they travelled en route to the Plateau to conduct programme activities in schools and communities last October, there has been no enquiry into their murders – no attempt by the Congolese authorities to gather evidence.  Six months after one of the worst attacks against humanitarian workers in the history of eastern DR Congo, and nothing. Were the lives of our dear colleagues and the three other passengers that perished with them really worth so little? It is almost unthinkable.

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The goal of our trip was to push for an independent investigation to take place in relation to the October 2011 massacre of our colleagues, and in doing so, meet with embassies, UN agencies, NGOs and donors to seek their backing and support in our pursuit for justice.

Former Vice President Azarius Ruberwa, who was part of a delegation from Kinshasa that attended the memorial ceremony for our colleagues in October, had organised high level meetings with the Attorney General, the Minister of Justice, the Military Prosecutor, the European Union, US Embassy, and others. Another Senator Maitre Moise, a lawyer was on hand throughout the week to help Children in Crisis and EMI in presenting the case to the judicial authorities.

We met with the UN Secretary General’s special representative Leila Zerrougi (head of MONUSCO, the UN stabilisation force), and was encouraged by the news that she is pushing hard on the criminal case. Following our meeting with him in Kinshasa, the Attorney General has also instructed the general prosecutor to open a civil case.

This is all encouraging. It is evidence that, no matter how slowly, action is being taken into our colleagues’ murders, but we know that there is a long way to go to seek justice in a country where crimes go unpunished and perpetrators of violent acts enjoy an unparalleled level of impunity.

When I first interviewed for the job at Children in Crisis back in 2004 I was asked the question, ‘justice or democracy?’ My answer at the time was that if one can’t have both, then justice is paramount. Never have I felt such commitment to my response as I boarded the plane on return from Kinshasa six-weeks ago.

We have a tough road ahead of us but will continue to push in honour of our colleagues. Peace and reconciliation in DR Congo can only be built on a foundation of justice and respect for human rights.

On behalf of Children in Crisis, EMI and the families and communities with whom we work in DR Congo, I remain enormously grateful for the kindness and support of Children in Crisis’s friends and supporters during what has been an immensely difficult time. We will keep you updated. 

Welcome to Sierra Leone (aka Sarah Jones’ secondment)

10 May

Welcome to Sierra Leone

We arrive in Sierra Leone at a very busy Lungi airport which probably has something to do with the fact we were last off the plane. So now we have to try and spot our bags through the sea of people and figure out a way to get through the human assault course with my huge suitcase, filled with as much as I could cram in for my three month secondment in Sierra Leone. We manage to hoist it off the belt and onto the trolley and make our way out to find the speedboat company we need to take us across from Lungi to Freetown. With this task completed we board the speedboat, put on our very wet life jackets, and set off. Predictably, given how hot I remember it being when we were here this time last year, within minutes I’m dripping with sweat; but it’s a funny kind of satisfactory confirmation that I’m here after all the preparations of the last couple of months.

Members of Sierra Leonean NGO ABC Development

Our colleagues from ABC Development discuss the pilot project with Children in Crisis Director of Programmes, Sarah Rowse (far right)

In Freetown, we spend some time with our new partner organisation ABC Development who I will be working with for the next three months. ABC are the implementing partner on our new pilot project, ‘Developing Low Cost and Lasting Solutions for Sierra Leone’s poorest’.  After what have now been a few weeks with them, I can see that ABC are an impressive organisation. They have an office in Freetown and a larger office in Kambia District. In the latter, practically all the staff are from Kambia; they know it inside out, they have strong relationships with the communities, they are well known and respected throughout the District at all levels (from the communities to the District Council), they understand the challenges, the local customs and traditions, they also know the positives and what makes Kambia special to the people who live there despite the hardships they face. We can hardly drive down the road without people shouting out and waving to the team.

Children in Crisis - Sierra Leone - Freetown

Freetown, Sierra Leone

What is the pilot project all about?

The project is working with three communities in Gbinleh Dixon Chiefdom in Kambia District to improve access to and quality of education for children. It will be working with vulnerable communities to support them to send their children to school. It recognises that especially in the very rural areas, communities are struggling to ensure children get an education. In the absence of investment from the state due not least to lack of Government capacity, they have set up their own community schools. According to legislation these should be taken over by the government after three years (for primary school) to ease the burden, however in reality this is the exception rather than the rule. This means that teachers are not paid but rely on the community to provide them with monetary incentives and given the poverty of the communities, this is a huge demand.  At the same time parents have to cover all the hidden costs that make the idea of free primary education for all something of a misnomer –children need uniforms, books, their weekly contribution to receive food at school. If they cannot provide these, this in itself can turn into a reason that children are not attending school.

We are working in Gbinleh Dixon Chiefdom, which is one of the most vulnerable and marginalised in Kambia District. There really is minimal input from NGOs and government. Many simply receive no support at all. This is a real struggle and in a polygamous society where a man might have up to five wives, it usually falls to the women to support their children to attend school because their husband may only help a few of the children, and then it’s usually boys. They work all hours on their domestic duties as well as trying to generate an income to pay for their children’s education. Often, the whole community –whether collectively or in groups for women and groups for men- join forces to undertake agricultural projects to generate an income to support education but because they have no external assistance these often grind to a halt after a time because they cannot afford the costs of the enterprise compared to the profits yielded or because it’s simply too hard. Communities are trying, but without any support the odds are stacked against them.

Children in Crisis - Sierra Leone - Rural Kambia

Rural Kambia

That’s why this project is seeking to support communities to identify their main barriers to ensuring children get a good quality education and to come up with projects they want to work on collectively with our support to address these. This is about communities making their voices heard and taking the lead. This is important because it’s not unheard of for development agencies to assume to know what communities need and to embark on a project without really taking the time to listen to communities and reflect on what’s needed. Communities who are vulnerable and not receiving any other support are hardly in a position to turn down an intervention even if it isn’t the most useful to them.  So projects go ahead, but they are often unsustainable and don’t have the greatest impact. We want to overcome this and ensure that communities are really leading the way and that we are building on what they are or have been doing already.

Alongside the projects that communities will be undertaking throughout the project with financial and practical support in the form of ‘stepped’ grants (whereby the next stage is achieved based on successful achievement of the previous one) from Children in Crisis and ABC, we will also be working with communities to run REFLECT literacy circles. These circles will be for men and women, but there will be an emphasis on the latter. By improving their literacy, parents will be more likely to place a greater value on education and will be better placed to support their children’s learning. REFLECT is an approach to adult literacy that is well established and recognised as an effective way of opening up spaces for those who are marginalised to have their voices heard and bringing about social change. The REFLECT circles will also receive training in small enterprise and money management to help parents to more effectively manage their money and therefore be better placed to designate funds to support their children in school. We will also provide a sustainability fund to the communities to put them in a strong position to maintain the activities set up under the project once the project has come to an end. Although the reality is that at present the Government lacks the capacity to meet its obligations to provide quality education for all, we will engage the District Council closely throughout the project. In the final analysis the state is the ultimate duty bearer and part of the project will be about building better collaboration between the state, communities, and NGOs to strengthen and reward the effectiveness and quality of self-reliant community based approaches to education.

Children in Crisis - Sierra Leone - Sarah Jones Training session with ABC Development

Me holding a training session with ABC Development

What am I doing here for the next three months?   

I will be working with ABC until mid-July to get our partnership and project off to a strong start. I will be in the office or in the communities with them every day giving us an excellent opportunity to really work closely together to plan and deliver activities in this early stage. This is a pilot project and as such our learning is crucial; we will therefore be working closely as a team to ensure that strong and robust systems are in place from the outset for recording and analysing the activities, learning from them and acting effectively on that learning. During the first week together we spent time focusing on the partnership and the project, holding workshops delving further into the ins and outs of the project and thinking strategically about how we reach the most vulnerable and work with communities to have the greatest impact. We are learning from each other already which is another aim of the secondment and our partnership; indeed this is an important element of working in partnership across all Children in Crisis’ country programmes. This is an exciting project and an exciting partnership and I will look forward to updating all of you, our valued supporters, on our progress during my time here.


For more info. on our work in Sierra Leone, go here:

You can learn more about the REFLECT methodology here: