Rebuilding a National Society
By Rosemarie North
Sierra Leone Red Cross Society is aiming to become financially
independent. How can the Red Cross society in the poorest country
in the world rebuild and fund-raise after ten years of civil
Rosemarie North /
Everyone in the Sierra Leonean city of Makeni is glued to
the radio. In the market, people walk around with radios pressed
to their ears. They're listening to a woman recount to the
national Truth and Reconciliation Commission how she survived
a rebel attack on her village near Makeni. "I ran into
the bush and hid," she says. "I came out the next
day and the village was deserted. There was no one left. That
day I buried 17 people from my village."
Makeni fell to the rebels in 1998 and became the base for
attacks on other centres, including the capital, Freetown.
The town was considered safe for Red Cross activities only
last year. The local Red Cross branch health officer in Makem,
Kadiatu Dainkey, helped a boy give evidence at the commission.
The rebels had stabbed him in the stomach. The wound healed
badly and the boy needed surgery.
Because of the town's tragic history, Kadiatu had hoped her
branch would receive special assistance to run programmes
to de-traumatize and reintegrate communities affected by war.
She is frustrated that it has not worked out. "Our needs
are quite different from other towns, who have been working
for a longer period. We don't have anything. We have had to
start over with nothing."
The challenges ahead for not only the Makem branch but also
the Sierra Leone Red Cross are formidable. To assist the country
in overcoming the effects of ten years of conflict is no easy
task. Add to that extreme poverty and lack of internal resources,
and the obstacles facing the National Society seem insurmountable.
Assistance from the international community is helping in
the recovery process. But one day the aid will stop flowing,
and then the country must fend for itself, including the Red
Cross. It is this eventuality that many local Red Cross branches
are starting to plan for by developing income generation projects.
The way forward, though, is not without its difficulties.
The challenge of raising funds locally
In Kenema, in the southern part of the country, branch chairman
Sandy Moijueh says he would make typhoid a priority if he
had his own income. "People have started dying of typhoid.
People do not understand how this disease is contracted. For
Kenema, it is urgent to do something to prevent further infections."
Before the war, Kenema used to raise funds by hiring a hall
and holding discos, among other projects. But the scarcity
of buildings — because so many were destroyed in the
war — has put up the cost of hiring a venue, so the
branch would not make a profit.
Field officer Steven E.B. Koroma has another motivation for
raising money for the city of Kambia, north-east of the capital,
Freetown. He would like to see the branch healthy enough to
help respond to disasters such as flooding, wild fires, epidemics
Kambia is raising money from projects such as palm oil plantations
and a guesthouse that serves travelling business people. Other
income comes from members who pay in the local currency less
than 50 US cents a month, and from chiefs and other leaders
who pay somewhat less than US$ 1.50. Like many branches, Kambia
does not force people to pay membership fees if they cannot.
Rosemarie North /
Meeting the needs of the most vulnerable and
ensuring the financial survival of the National Society are
the principal challenges facing the Sierra Leone Red Cross.
Learning from experience
Some income generation projects do not work. Near Makeni,
there is a dirt enclosure with a gaggle of skinny goats and
sheep. The aim was for the livestock to be cared for by people
maimed during the war. They would breed the sheep and goats
for sale. But the investment has not paid off. Some of the
goats died after eating plastic. Some of the others are sick;
and veterinarians are a luxury.
It is an uphill battle raising funds locally. More than 80
per cent of Sierra Leoneans live in extreme poverty, unable
to afford basics like clean water, good nutrition, health
care or education. It is the last of 173 countries on the
United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Index.
The population has a per capita income of less than 50 US
cents a day.
So the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society relies on overseas
donors for most of its income. It is grateful for their generosity,
but the society shows a healthy wish to stand on its own feet
and raise its own money. One of its difficulties is that you
need members to be able to raise income. Thousands of people,
including members, were displaced by conflict. To complicate
it even more, people were suspicious of the Red Cross. They
could not understand why the organization had dealt with all
sides during the conflict.
In spite of the destruction of the war, today only two districts
do not have active branches. One of these districts is Pujehun
in the south of the country. Once the district has its own
building, it will have crossed the last hurdle needed for
branch status, say chairman Emmanuel Kallon and coordinator
John Koroma, from an office they personally pay for. Local
chiefs have donated a big piece of land. And the Sierra Leone
Red Cross Society has provided additional funds to construct
a building that should be completed this year.
Although Pujehun would like to be stronger, it has 600 members
in five groups. The problem is keeping them committed, says
Emmanuel. "It is difficult to get 50 people in a meeting.
Maybe if you have this set of people for the meeting, you
will have a different set next time. We are really trying
to encourage people to be interested and come."
Because of its position near the Liberian border in south-eastern
Sierra Leone, Pujehun was one of the first areas to be taken
by rebels in the war. Since peace was declared last year,
it has seen huge numbers of displaced people returning from
other parts of Sierra Leone or abroad. Many traumatized and
mutilated people are living there. And the peace is uneasy.
Near the border with Liberia, you can hear gunshots. So there's
a lot of work to be done. Emmanuel says it's frustrating that
many overseas agencies pulled out soon after the fighting
Once it is a branch, Pujehun hopes to initiate projects such
as a literacy programme for young people who have never had
the chance to go to school, health clinics, water and sanitation,
preventing fires in wooden homes and rehabilitating people
damaged by war.
Bo, one of the strongest branches, has raised money —
and profile — by winning contracts from the United Nations
and international non-governmental organizations. For example,
it delivers World Food Programme supplementary feeding through
the branch clinic, transports patients discharged from hospital,
runs a rice cultivation project for the United Nations High
Commission for Refugees, and arranges for burials of people
who die at nearby refugee camps.
At a meeting with donor National Societies, the president
of the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society, Dr. M.A.S. Jalloh,
said they still needed outside help. "The government
of Sierra Leone is having an uphill task addressing the humanitarian
needs of the country. The government needs support. A lot
of us are uneasy. Peace has come to this country, and we feel
that sooner or later we will be left on our own to fend for
ourselves with very little resources."
Denis Allistone, ICRC regional delegate in Kiev.
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