YMCA of Sierra Leone
Since 2005, because of its desire to raise awareness about global issues, the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka has partnered with the YMCA of Sierra Leone. The purpose of this partnership is to assist and improve the lives of those living in the shadow of a devastating civil war; one that has ravaged a country and its people. Once called “a lost cause, beyond hope”, Sierra Leone is crawling out from under the stigma of the United Nation’s ranking as one of the worst places in the world to live.
Since this partnership began in 2005, the bonds of friendship and compassion have stretched across the ocean and brought a greater sense of understanding and awareness of what the people of Sierra Leone have endured. Ten staff members and a group of YMCA youth leaders have made the journey there.
The partnership has focused on vocational training, women/youth leadership development, strengthening institutional frameworks, peace building/conflict resolution and HIV/AIDS education. The YMCA has been critical in the delivery of programs and services that have begun to heal the scars left behind after years of horrifying war and suffering.
A Brief overview of Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone, with a population of 5.8 million, is situated between Guinea and Liberia in Western Africa, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Sierra Leone is an extremely poor nation with tremendous inequality in income distribution. GDP per capita (with purchasing power parity) is $600 (2007 Est.)and some 68% of the population lives in poverty. Life expectancy is very low at 43 years and infant mortality very high at 145 deaths per 1,000 live births. The HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate is 1.7% and by 2007 fully 55,000 were people living with HIV/AIDS. Although Sierra Leone has significant natural wealth, including mineral, agricultural, and fishery resources, development was blocked by a civil war from 1991 to 2002. This conflict killed more than 70,000 and displaced over 2 million, many of whom are still refugees in neighbouring countries. Although demobilization and disarmament is completed, the country’s economic and social infrastructure is debilitated, and serious social disorders continue to hamper national development. On the other hand, agricultural output has recently increased sharply, particularly for coffee, cocoa, groundnuts, and palm kernels. About two-thirds of the working-age population engages in subsistence agriculture. The mining of diamonds, bauxite, and rutile provides the major source of hard currency. Sierra Leone’s prospects now hinge on maintaining peace and showing progress in economic, institutional and social development. The YMCA of Sierra Leone has a long history of success in a wide range of areas, including peace-building and social development.
The YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka formed a partnership with the YMCA of Sierra Leone in 2005…at the time, many people said that Sierra Leone, a west African country, was a lost cause, beyond help…The country, at the time ranked 177th of 177 countries on the UN’s Human Development index (now ranked 179th of 182), which measures things such as life expectancy, literacy, child welfare and overall standard of living, suffered through a civil war that lasted for more than 12 years…the war officially ended in January 2002. 5 years ago Sierra Leone was experiencing the effects of post war turmoil, uncertainty and unrest. Our CEO and Board of Directors, recognizing the tremendous need for support, took a compassionate leap of faith and committed to supporting the YMCA in Sierra Leone, as they also recognized the strong leadership and dedication that was being demonstrated by the people of Sierra Leone.
Our partnership has grown and developed in many ways. We have been able to send Staff and Volunteers overseas to gain a deeper understanding of the situation and needs in the country and to build a stronger personal bond with the staff and volunteers at the YMCA of Sierra Leone. In addition, we were able to send a group of 8 of our Young Leaders to Sierra Leone during the summer of 2009, which provided these youth with the opportunity to see the world from an entirely new and life changing perspective. All of those that have travelled to Sierra Leone to visit with our partners have come back describing themselves as better people for having had the opportunity.
Our partnership with the YMCA of Sierra Leone has focused on the following
• Vocational Training
• Women & Youth Leadership
• Institutional Framework Strengthening
• Peace Building & Conflict Resolution
• HIV/AIDS Education
Child soldiers, that were forced to bear arms during the war were asked to return to their communities and begin again…they were to return to the same communities where there lived family members of people that they had murdered…most had no parents or family to speak of and all had serious emotional and often physical scars. What has taken place over the past 7 years, thanks largely in part to the YMCA and other organizations is in my eyes an incredible tribute to the resiliency and strength of human kind. Through Peace and Conflict resolution programs, families impacted by the actions of these child soldiers have been able to forgive and accept them into their communities. Youth, that once acted as soldiers are now acting as Peace Leaders and teaching peaceful conflict resolution strategies to other youth with hopes that history will never repeat itself. The YMCA is a leader in the delivery of these and many other hugely impactful programs and initiatives.
So many wonderful stories have come from our partnership with the YMCA of Sierra Leone – this relationship has touched so many lives and we, at the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka are so much richer having had the opportunity to build relationships with the people of Sierra Leone.