Saran Koroma, Representative of the women's wing of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in Kabala knows what it's like to come up from the bottom. "During the war, I lost all that I had. When I returned to this community, there was nothing I could lay my hand on to help myself and I became very troubled and depressed." Koroma's husband was also paralyzed during the war, leaving her responsible for both him and the rest of her household. "The stress was so great that all I did was complain. I could not even talk to people politely. After the training we've received, I've learned to manage my stress, and I don't get so depressed."
Koroma was chosen among local leaders from all parts of civil society to participate in an six-month training program sponsored by USAID called "Nation Building," whose goal is to build responsive citizens and leaders within Sierra Leone. Local leaders, including government officials, civil servants, civil society activists and other leaders in prominent economic groups like Koroma are taken through a series of training modules which focus on healing both mind and body, reaffirming traditional community values, conflict management and negotiation skills for leaders, and the nature of good governance and how it benefits the community.
Says Koroma, "I am now using some of the elements in the training such as valuing others as individuals, and love for one's neighbors. I have also applied community values in working with my colleagues such as honesty, learning and peace. I've learned to really listen to other people."
Koroma has learned different tactics for resolving problems, which she regularly shares with other women in community-based agricultural co-ops. In addition to offering good counsel, Koroma also helps other agricultural groups get started by sharing agricultural supplies in the good neighbor fashion with women in and around her chiefdom. "We first share watering cans, seeds, and other supplies with the 30 intensive groups we have in our chiefdom. Then, if there is any left over, we think about the other 30 traditional groups from other chiefdoms. We have adopted this idea of sharing--it encourages the groups to better carry out their agricultural activities."
The Nation Building training also allowed Koroma to demonstrate true leadership skills recently in helping bring about the peaceful resolution of a conflict when a riot broke out in January during the neck-in-neck race in Sengbe chiefdom over the election of the local paramount chief (See article on Kabala's Paramount Chief Elections). Koroma was able to use her negotiation skills in acting as intermediary in talking to the young candidate's mother, who then persuaded him to help calm down his supporters and discourage them from carrying out what might have turned into a violent demonstration.
Says Koroma, "This training has taught us many things. We have learned to reconcile among one another. The problems we used to solve with violence have been dealt with through love and honesty, and we have been able to solve them peacefully."
Story by Laura Lartigue