In Sierra Leone, social inclusion that leaves no one behind

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In Sierra Leone, social inclusion that leaves no one behind

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Abu Koroma used to make a living by asking for money on the streets of his home town, Lunsar, in Sierra Leone. Like so many other persons with disabilities in the west African country, the 42-year-old struggled to make ends meet and relied heavily on the contribution of strangers and occasional government assistance to support his family of six.    

In early 2020, things took a turn for the worse when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and the world came to a standstill.

As the virus spread, the more than 1 billion people across the world who experience some form of disability were disproportionately affected by the lockdown – including Abu Koroma, who found his freedom of movement restricted and his livelihood threatened.

But challenging months gave way to a glimmer of hope. In April 2020 Abu Koroma was approached by the Agricultural Value Chain Development Project (AVDP) and introduced to the Rural Poor Stimulus Facility (RPSF), IFAD’s multi-donor COVID-19 initiative focused on helping the most marginalised–including persons with disabilities–boost their income-generating activities and improve nutrition.

Abu Koroma and other people in Lunsar and the larger Mabettor community were encouraged by members of AVDP to consider making a living through farming. With gardens and fields close to their homes, cultivating land became a practical way to earn money when lockdown restrictions kicked in.

From the streets to the fields

RPSF provided Abu Koroma and his team with vegetable seeds, farming tools and inputs. © IFAD/David Paqui

Abu Koroma, who has reduced mobility, was sceptical. “How am I going to do farming?” he recalls. But his disability did not hold him back and soon he was in the fields. “Now, I am so happy to have a livelihood that allows me to make my own money instead of begging in the street.”

Before long, the group had 25 members and Abu Koroma was elected leader. The RPSF provided them with vegetable seeds, including peppers, okra, eggplants and tomatoes, farming tools and other agricultural inputs, as well as a fund to pay dayworkers to do the jobs the farmers struggled to carry out because of their disabilities.

With the income they generated from their first vegetable crop yield, they diversified and went on to cultivate an additional 2.5 hectares of groundnuts – a lucrative cash crop.  Abu Koroma and his team continued the RPSF legacy by growing and selling vegetables and expanding their business. 

The highlight, says Abu Koroma, is knowing that his family is no longer at risk of going hungry: “I will never again have to go back to the streets to beg, I can pay the school fees for my children and feed my family without worrying. The RPSF opened a big door for me and changed my way of life forever.”

"Disability is not inability”

When the country shut down because of COVID-19, Mariama lost her main source of income. © IFAD/Fatmata Jalloh

Like Abu Koroma, 29-year-old Mariama Bi Jalloh also bore the brunt of the pandemic. And like many persons with disabilities in Sierra Leone, she also found solace through RPSF.

Before the pandemic, the main income-generating activities for Mariama’s non-profit –Forward Women with Disability Organization (ForWDO) – were tailoring, soap-making, operating a barber shop and beauty salon, and producing tie-dyed textiles.

When the country shut down, their activities came to a complete halt and Mariama and the other women in the organization lost their main sources of income. Women with disabilities are recognized to be multiply disadvantaged, experiencing exclusion on account of their gender and their disability – for this reason, the RPSF identified them as being among the most marginalized and negatively impacted by the crisis.

The project supplied the group’s 22 women, as well as three men who provide physical labour, with seeds, fertilizer and other inputs to cultivate vegetables. The women also received a fund for daily labour and to rent machinery needed to prepare their plot for cultivation. They went on to sell their harvest and earn an income for themselves and their households.

“The RPSF help came at the right time. We planted the seeds we received and sold our vegetables. With the money we earned, we invested in rice production, waiting for the next dry season to plant vegetables again,” says Mariama.

Persons with disabilities – and especially women – face many obstacles in her community, but Mariama is adamant that she will continue to meet the challenges that come her way and create opportunities for the women in her group.

“I am confident that with agriculture we will make the money we need to pull a lot of women with disabilities – the most vulnerable in our community – out of poverty,” says Mariama. “We want to show the world that disability is not inability.”