Communities can lift themselves out of poverty
Letter to Friends around the World # 82

Village Care Initiatives (VCI) is a NGO in Sierra Leone. VCI works directly with local groups and villages to show how communities can lift themselves out of poverty. These groups are made up of farmers, fishermen and local traders.

Four villages now have considerable links with one another, which may eventually develop into inter-group associations. These villages do joint planning and share food donations and seeds. They give advice to one another, attempt to coordinate resources for community food banks and development projects. Increase in group membership came after the training and benefits of group work became obvious to members of the community.

Agricultural production continues to be the primary source of income for VCI groups. However there has been a marked shift away from groundnut farming and into swamp rice cultivation. Similarly, soap making has declined markedly as an income for VCI groups. Groups said that they stopped making soap because: inputs became scarce and costly; the price of soap fell as production in the area expanded; and women were sometimes given very limited freedom to travel in search of inputs and markets.

Cassava grating continues to be profitable. The only machine bought by one group continues to function. Trained group members perform routine maintenance on the machine and groups supply their own fuel. Other activities are vegetable gardening, fishing or hunting, craft work, (mats, baskets, and hats) for local markets. They would like to expand their marketing networks but have a lack of transportation and contacts.

The groups use their income to undertake a wide variety of projects. By far, most resources are devoted to community development projects which are subsidised by VCI. One group constructed plate racks, and introduced cloth linings in the village, using local resources. Another was contracted to have a water well repaired and others have done road improvement projects. The well has also helped to decrease the workload of women and children, who sometimes walk miles to obtain water in the dry season.

Shed J., Sierra Leone