YMCA of Sierra Leone
Since 2005 the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka and the YMCA of Sierra Leone have held a mutually beneficial partnership to support one another as global citizens – a principle of YMCA’s around the world. Our YMCA’s purpose of this partnership is to assist and improve the lives of the survivors of the devastating 12 year civil war; a war that has ravaged a country and its people. In return, the YMCA of Sierra Leone provides global education and experiences for Canadian YMCA participants. Once called “a lost cause, beyond hope”, Sierra Leone is slowly crawling out from under the stigma of the United Nation’s ranking as one of the worst places in the world to live.
The YMCA has been critical to the rebuilding of Sierra Leone in healing scars left behind after years of horrifying war and suffering. Our YMCA supports the YMCA of Sierra Leone in delivering youth job training programs, women/youth leadership development, peace building/conflict resolution programs and HIV/AIDS education.
Since this partnership began in 2005, several groups of staff and volunteers have travelled between these two countries to share global experiences, and build an understanding of life in different parts of the world.
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. While the civil war ended in 2002, in 2005, Sierra Leone still ranked 177th of 177 countries on the UN’s Human Development index, which measures things such as life expectancy, literacy, child welfare and overall standard of living. Today, the rank has increased to 179th of 182.
Sierra Leone was experiencing the effects of post war turmoil, uncertainty and unrest. The YMCA in Sierra Leone called out for help, and our CEO and Board of Directors, recognizing the tremendous need for support, took a compassionate leap of faith. We committed to a partnership with the YMCA in Sierra Leone – not just a hand out – recognizing the strength and dignity of the people of Sierra Leone.
Our partnership has grown and developed in many ways. We have supported the YMCA of Sierra Leone in organizational governance and structure by sending Senior Staff and Volunteers overseas to share best practices. In addition, we were able to send teams of our Young Leaders program to volunteer in Sierra Leone during the summer of 2009, 2011 and 2013, 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.
Thanks to the Canadian International Development Agencies Youth Internship program, we have hired several Canadian students as interns to work overseas with the YMCA of Sierra Leone. These university students have supported a number of projects including program audits and development. As a true partnership, the Youth Intern program also fulfills our mission of providing youth with meaningful volunteer and employment opportunities – helping young people gain career and life experience.
YMCA Sierra Leone has made a huge impact on the lives of young people through:
• Vocational Training
• Women & Youth Leadership
• Peace Building & Conflict Resolution
• HIV/AIDS Education
For instance, YMCA programs help to rebuild the lives of child soldiers that were forced to bear arms during the war. Post-war they 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. But what has taken place over the past 7 years, thanks largely in part to the YMCA and other organizations, is 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 the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka partnership with the YMCA of Sierra Leone – this relationship has touched so many lives and we are so much richer having had the opportunity to build relationships with the people of Sierra Leone.
Donations made and designated to YMCA’s international work go directly to helping to educate and empower women and youth in Sierra Leone through programs like vocational training.