Why this project in Sierra Leone shows the importance of community participation

by | Jul 13, 2017

Contrary to popular belief, alleviating poverty requires more than just teaching people skills or handing out materials.  A key factor often overlooked in the international development field is community participation. When the community is engaged in the initiative you are trying to accomplish, the likelihood of long-term, sustainable impact rises.

Communities experiencing poverty know their needs best. Asking questions and listening helps ensure that all voices are heard. People are also more receptive to assistance when they feel understood. Without this step, development projects often fail because they are out of touch with the actual needs of the community.

An example of an organization doing community participation well is our newest collaborator OneVillage Partners (OVP). Together we are working to improve access to sanitation in the remote villages of Madina and Makka in Sierra Leone. The project will construct 68 latrines, which are toilet systems that do not require water to flush. These latrines and the addition of handwashing stations will ensure proper sanitation and reduce the spread of diseases in these communities.

OneVillage Partners makes it a priority to listen to the community’s concerns before starting a project. To do this, they have established community action groups who meet to decide on the top five priorities that need to be addressed in their villages. OVP then works alongside leaders to solve the issues. For our partnership with OneVillage, the community action groups decided they wanted to focus on improving sanitation.

In addition to listening to the community’s voice initially, there also needs to be community participation throughout the project. This means including community members in the planning, construction, and implementation.

Participation throughout the process passes on important skills. It also encourages buy-in from the community and ownership of the project. This empowers community members to continue the project, even when the organization leaves.

People living in Madina and Makka will work alongside OVP in the implementation of the sanitation project. As a result, local ownership will be more likely, which means people will participate in the use and maintenance of the new latrines and handwashing stations.

Lahai Amara, one of the beneficiaries of the project says, “to enhance project sustainability, communities should contribute.” He will be one of the local volunteers that will encourage and educate his community on the effectiveness of handwashing and using the new sanitation facilities.

OneVillage Partners notes the importance of their local leaders: “Together with toilet facilities and handwashing station construction, people like Lahai will be actively contributing to the improved wellbeing of the community of Makka.”

For each of ODW’s projects, we make sure that the communities where we work are brought into the process of planning and implementation. We believe that listening to people’s voices and involving the community is necessary in order to create sustainable impact.

You can support this sanitation project in Sierra Leone here.

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Jessinia Ruff is an ODW Blog Contributor and student at Seattle Pacific University.

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