Last year we helped SHUMAS to launch a new initiative aimed at teenage boys and girls from the NW region, who had been forced to drop out of school early because of the war. Most of these children had lost family members, some had signed up as child soldiers, many of the girls had suffered sexual abuse, almost all of them were malnourished because of poor food security in the region – and it is certain that all had been traumatised by the violence of the conflict. These youngsters had no means to earn an income other than through crime or prostitution, yet they found themselves in the position of having to provide for themselves and for their families.
SHUMAS’ proposal was to provide training and practical support to a group of these vulnerable youngsters to enable them to earn their own livelihoods and thus support their families. We were fortunate enough to be able to raise the funds required to make this a flagship project for SHUMAS during this time of political crisis.
100 youngsters, aged between 14 and 24, were selected from three different villages in Bui Division and training was given in Market Gardening and Livestock Rearing. The participants were required to prepare an appropriate piece of land for cultivation and also construct suitable housing for livestock. Vegetable seeds, farm hand tools and a goat or sheep were provided as part of the project. The young people were supervised throughout the entire project and were helped to identify appropriate markets for their produce. In addition, they were given psycho-social support by trained SHUMAS staff to help them overcome the trauma they had suffered.
The impact of this project has been huge.
Almost all of the beneficiaries (97%) have sold a substantial proportion of their vegetables. Some have used the money raised to pay for treatment of health issues, some have ploughed back part of their profit into acquiring more seeds. All of them have had sufficient vegetables to feed themselves and their families.
All the animals have reproduced once and some twice. Some of beneficiaries have decided to use part of the sale price to pay school fees. Some want to send their junior siblings to school or to learn a trade whilst others have enrolled in evening classes.
About 80% of the girls involved in the project have children and they can now take care of these children’s needs and take them to attend clinics. This had not been possible before the project.
The youngsters have formed self-help groups in order to share news of good markets for the sale of their crops etc., and these also help them to keep focussed on providing for their families.
It is particularly gratifying to note that several other organisations, including CARITAS and other international NGOs, have been following this SHUMAS project to see how successful it would be. Having seen the enormous impact of this low-cost project, they are now offering the same kind of project to other groups of adolescents. The young anglophones of the NW and SW regions have lost so much during the past five years of conflict: they are unlikely to ever have the means to return to education and their futures have been blighted because of the war. Thankfully projects like this one help to restore their hope for the future and we are very proud indeed to have been able to help them in this way.