Community Garden Grows Seeds of Development, Equality

Every day, Mary visits the community garden at her church in Massam Kpaka, Sierra Leone. Her village is located in the Anglican Diocese of Bo, which has been working in partnership with Episcopal Relief & Development to alleviate hunger and promote health in the southern districts of Bo and Pujehun. Mary joined the church’s gardening group – mostly women, with a few men – and with the training, tools and seeds the group received through the diocese’s program, now she and her fellow growers are feeding their families and earning income.

The Diocese of Bo has long been active in community development, and has become even more important as a source of stability and regeneration since Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil conflict ended in 2002. Together with Episcopal Relief & Development, the Church is currently building an integrated program to promote health, improve local food supply and address gender and good governance. In an area with abundant land but little cultivation, endemic malaria and one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, the Church’s presence in remote communities enables it to reach those most in need of sustainable change.

The community garden at Mary’s church is actually just the first stage of a larger project that aims to give farmers the practical know-how to develop larger farms of their own. Working with diocesan staff, Mary and the gardening group are learning how to make and use compost to fertilize the soil, how to choose planting locations for each kind of crop and how to care for seedlings so they produce nutritious food. The demonstration farm is currently cultivating moringa, a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree that produces edible seed pods, leaves and roots, but the group plans to diversify and plant rice and bell peppers as well. Later, they will take on chicken farming, which will provide another source of protein and income from eggs and meat.

As part of the gardening group, Mary receives a share of the produce they harvest, which has helped her improve her family’s diet while saving money on her visits to the market. Mary also receives a share of the income the group earns by selling their surplus produce, and this has made a surprising difference in her life at home. Before she became a breadwinner, she had to ask her husband for money to pay their children’s school fees or buy food for dinner; now that she has her own income, though, Mary and her husband make spending decisions together. “My husband now respects me because I am a contributing member of the household,” she said.

Mary’s community is also participating in gender awareness and good governance activities facilitated by the Diocese of Bo, as part of the larger integrated program. In a series of group workshops, men and women come together to discuss, dramatize and implement ways of leading and building relationships that emphasize mutual respect and understanding. Mary has noticed that in the gardening group, there is a sense of respect and fellowship among the members that adds value beyond the skills she is learning. “We share ideas and learn from each other during this time,” Mary said, noting that people feel safe talking about issues in their lives and receiving or offering advice.

The third aspect of the Diocese of Bo’s integrated community development work is malaria prevention through the NetsforLife® program partnership. Since 2006, NetsforLife® has trained 82,000 local health volunteers across Africa to be Malaria Control Agents (MCAs), distributing and hanging mosquito nets and educating their neighbors about malaria. Specifically, the MCAs focus on accurate knowledge of what causes malaria, how best to avoid mosquito bites and what symptoms indicate a visit to the local health post for treatment. As of 2011, thanks to ongoing monitoring by the MCAs and NetsforLife® staff, the program has reduced the number of malaria cases by up to 45% in communities where it is active. The program will be publishing its 2012 results in conjunction with World Malaria Day.

“The Diocese of Bo is one of our core partners, and we are grateful that our deep and long-standing relationship has allowed us to work together to reach more than a million people in remote communities,” said Abagail Nelson, Senior Vice President of Programs for Episcopal Relief & Development. “Their integrated program, combining agriculture, animal rearing, malaria prevention and gender awareness, is a great example of what we are striving to cultivate in all of the countries where we have strong partnerships. I look forward to seeing this program continue to grow and change lives.”