ďOur hope has been restored
... Says Fayia Solomon
by GTZís resettlement schemeĒ
The global economic crisis is having a devastating effect on many people in Sierra Leone, perhaps nowhere more so than on under- or unemployed youth in urban centres such as Freetown and in the artisanal diamond fields around Koidu.
Many of these young men and women were displaced by the decade-long civil war and seven years later, they still languish as internally displaced people, living in abject poverty and without the means to return to their villages ó and their farms ó in rural areas. While they are desperate to go home, they simply cannot do so without support.
This has in turn had severe effects on rural food and cash crop production, particularly in the fertile east of the country where villages desperately need their able-bodied youth to work the rice swamps and brush the plantations of lucrative tree crops such as cocoa, coffee, palm oil and cola nuts.
It was this desire among displaced youth to return home and the desire among their elders back in the villages to have their youth back that gave rise to the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) Voluntary Resettlement and Reintegration Project.
Philip Amadu and his wife Aminata Amadu are among those who have benefited from this project. Mr. Amadu, 35, a native born of Sandeya Village in the Kailahun District, lost both parents of his during the war, and his wife, Aminata Amadu also suffered greatly, losing her father right in front of her eyes, when he was killed without mercy by a rebel commander called the Killer.
Before the war, Philip Amadu recalls that both he and his parents were living together peacefully and happily in their village. He said: ďMy father was a farmer, and therefore we were mostly engaged in farming activities Ė satisfying our own food needs. We had everything in abundance and life was full of hope. The war took our happiness away.
I suffered for several years in displacement, but thank God I am now a happy man. My thanks to GTZ for giving my life and those of my family a new beginning. My greatest happiness right now is that I have returned home and am now in charge of the vast plantation left behind by my late father. I am also currently doing farming, and I am going to spend the rest of my life farmingĒ.
Joseph Kpakima, 28, currently displaced in Koidu City and desperately awaiting resettlement to his native town in Lei Chiefdom, Kono District, said ďI have wasted my life in the mines without any benefit. The highest amount of money I ever got from mining is Le 60,000 (sixty thousand leones), not even enough to take away all the pains I endured.
Life in displacement is mysterious. I can hardly afford a decent meal a day. I am fed-up and want to go back to my village to take care of the vast plantation left behind by my father who was murdered by rebels during the war. My only stress right now is that I donít have the means to return on my own to my villageĒ.¬†¬†
Youth such as Joseph Kpakima are finding hope in the new GTZ Voluntary Resettlement and Reintegration project, which is part of its Employment Promotion Programme (EPP). GTZ aims in the next five years to offer the support needed by 15,000 displaced youth to get back to their rural communities in Kono and Kailahun Districts.
The main objectives of the GTZ project include reversing the rural-urban migration flow and responding to a desire among the youth to get back home to relieve the high concentration of disenfranchised youth in the urban and mining settlement, thereby contributing to political and social stability in Sierra Leone. It also aims to empower youth and increase their productivity through agriculture and income generating activities for secure livelihoods, thereby responding to the Government of Sierra Leoneís priority of addressing youth unemployment and increasing food security in the country and contributing to rural development as well as increasing agricultural productivity.
Working with its partners in the Government of Sierra Leone, the District Councils and with local NGOs, GTZ has so far been able to offer 2000 youth and their dependants the support they need to resettle and reintegrate in their villages of origin in the GTZ project area in Kono and Kailahun Districts.
Fayia Solomon, who with his family was resettled to Kissy Town by GTZ in 2007, said ďOur lives have changed completely. Whilst in Tombodu (outside of Koidu), I used to buy nearly everything and managed to have one single meal for my family. Now in my village, itís a different story all together. Just look around, there is enough food and to spare. We now have three meals a day and our hope has been restored. My rice farm will soon be harvested and I hope to reserve some for the next planting season. Here we eat fresh fruits ... from God to manĒ.
Back home, the resettlers who were received by their people with jubilation, are now producing their own food stuffs and contributing in no small way to restoring life to their once lifeless communities after the devastating war.
Chief Komba Mattia of Kissy Town in Lei Chiefdom said in a thankful mood that ďWe donít even know where to start thanking GTZ because the coming of our youth, our workforce, has rapidly increased agricultural productivity and growth in our communityĒ.
One of the resettlers in Kissy Town, Sahr Victor Sumana, is currently preparing a total of 60 pupils for the National Primary School Examination (NPSE). He said ďIt is good that I am back to my root. I am going to make the most of my home-coming by being useful to my peopleĒ.
Once the youth have returned to their villages, GTZ continues to support them with agricultural training, inputs, income-generation support, infrastructural development such as drying floors, health and hygiene training and peace-building activities to ensure that they are included in community governance and decision-making.
Councillor Safea Paul Kandah representing Ward 87 at the Kono District Council, referred to the GTZ resettlement project as ďthe most acclaimed and desirable initiative presently ongoing in the districtĒ, adding that ďresettlement is a panacea for the attainment of food security and the reduction of crime among jobless youth living as displaced in the big citiesĒ.
¬†There is room for other players to join the effort, particularly to help develop feeder roads in Kono and Kailahun Districts that would allow farmers to get their produce to markets in the country, and also to extend the resettlement opportunity to displaced youth from the north and south of the country who have expressed an interest in going back to their farming communities.