Christian Aid/Tom Pilston

IWD: How a simple box is transforming women's lives in Sierra Leone, thanks to Christian Aid

Before Sierra Leone was declared Ebola free by the World Health Organisation in 2014, Pujehun was one of many districts in the West African nation that saw its community gripped with fear, death and devastating loss.

It's hard to imagine how Adama Fambuleh, a 30-year-old mother of eight, two of which she gave birth to and the rest adopted because they insisted, can be as positive about life as she is.

Sat under the scorching sun on a small wooden bench outside her home in Bumbeh Pejuh village, in the Southern Province, Fambuleh recalled how her teenage girls were forced to leave their school during the outbreak.

 

When it was time for the girls to return, Fambuleh (below) had no money to buy their uniform.

Christian Aid/Tom Pilston

 

But with the help of a Christian Aid initiative that provides steel boxes for women in communities to collectively save money to use for emergencies, Fambuleh was able to borrow money - with interest, for the youngsters to return to school.

It really is as simple as it sounds - the charity takes two ordinary padlocked steel boxes into communities and remarkably, it doesn't take long for transformations to occur. Within a year, of the boxes being introduced, it's clear what kind of difference it has made.

"I'm so thankful to God for being chair lady of the box," Fambuleh told Premier.

Christian Aid/Tom Pilston

 

She beamed with pride describing the respect she has received since she was selected to be one of two women that have the responsibility of managing the boxes.

Christian Aid and its local partners introduced the system of saving money in the boxes but it is the women who ensure it doesn't fall apart.

When Fambuleh needed to borrow from the box she looks after, after gaining permission from the community, three women who each look after a key had to open the three padlocks on the box.

Christian Aid/Tom Pilston

 

Because of the boxes, countless women have stories of petty trade businesses started, hospital bills paid and homes rented. Without these basic steel boxes, people wouldn't have money to buy food, medicine to save lives wouldn't be administered and members of the community would be homeless.

With the help of charities, community effort, and to some extent the government, women - the poorest in the small West African society, are being empowered.

Hon Rebecca Yei Kamara (below) was elected exactly one year ago today on International Women's day as an MP in Sierra Leone.

She partially credits her position to the 'Power to women' project - a Christian Aid initiative that works to ensure that there are more female voices in politics.

"All the people I consulted with - civil society, women's group, my family, chiefs, they all said 'you have our blessing 100 per cent- go for it - you'll win it'," she told Premier.

"Even cutting across party lines. People like me and they thought I would perform. So the 'Power to Women' was an added advantage to me."

Christian Aid/Tom Pilston

 

Now that she is in a position of power, she wants to make sure more women are elected.

"As women we know the issues - we are in the communities but the men usually go to work," she said.

"We know what is happening in the community so if we become politicians, we'll be able to voice out the issues and we'll be able to find solutions to these issues."

But in a country where 46 per cent of girls and young women aged 15-24 don't know how to read and write, how likely is it that more women will follow Kamara's footsteps?

"The only way other women will enter that door is from my own work, it's from what I will do tangible in the district," she stated boldly.

"When there is another election in 2023, I will be able to say 'I did this during my tenure, I brought this, I did this, and I did that'.

"Not only in passing law but also doing something within the community that people have been yearning for and they are able to see headway.

"That will give them confidence. Some constituencies will say, 'oh, thank God, a woman has done X, Y, Z in our own constituency' and another will say 'ours is a man and he has not done anything, so this time around, we want a woman'.

"They will only say that from my own success."

Listen to Premier's Eno Adeogun's special report recorded in Sierra Leone:

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