Project Umubano: Reflections on Sierra Leone by Francesca Bowen

Francesca Bowen volunteered on Project Umubano in Sierra Leone this summer. She shared her experiences on the project and working with the Community team in West Africa:

"Umubano 2017 marked the tenth anniversary of this project in Africa. We were lucky enough to return to Sierra Leone this year, the first time since 2009 due to the Ebola crisis. Whilst there has been a marked improvement in infrastructure with the help of British Foreign investment, over 70% of the population live in poverty.

Our group was determined to make a positive impact in the ten days we were there and so split into three groups according to our various skill sets:

• Legal – with a focus on environmental law in Sierra Leone • Business – how to start and maintain a successful business • Community – employability training

My previous experience in setting up a company concentrating on enablement of female employment in emerging economies, as well as training and mentoring others to find, prepare for and keep a job meant that working with the communities team was a great match. This was a key factor in the success of the trip; appropriating our skill sets to provide sound advice to people on an individual level as well as with our team.

This was facilitated by the fantastic work of the British charities that the communities team supported during our visit:

• Restless Development - a development agency with funding from DFID. • VSO – Voluntary Services Overseas is an international development agency • Ycare – charity with the goal to create opportunities for vulnerable young people • Wharf Kids – charity founded by former UK military commander in Sierra Leone to secure the future of children affected by Ebola in Freetown • Street Child of Sierra Leone – provides opportunities for young people in West Africa • Age International – is devoted to help older people in developing countries • CAFOD – is a faith based international development agency

I was particularly impressed by the local community staff who had volunteered for at least a year before being accepted full time at the different charities. Their work had proven vital during the Ebola crisis as key contacts within villages were trained to enable and maintain strict hygiene rules that saved many lives.

In terms of the individual impact we had as volunteers, there were two days which particularly stood out. Thanks to VSO, Restless Development and Ycare, the Communities Team were able to arrange an employability training day with ICS alumni. About 20 people had travelled from across the country, some as far as Bo (four hours away) to receive this training. We focused on transferable skills, CV writing and interview training. It was an extremely interactive day with lively discussion where we heard from individuals about their experiences in trying to maintain employment in Sierra Leone, where jobs are scarce. One interesting observation we found after listening to their stories, was that the majority of these educated people who originally aimed to become Doctors, Lawyers and Bankers had changed paths to train as social workers since the outbreak of Ebola.

We also visited a very remote village in the northern province of Kambia with CAFOD. Few in the village were literate and all lived on the poverty line. Their source of food was from agriculture, growing maize, peppers, cucumbers amongst other vegetables. As many had not travelled beyond their village, their source of income was to sell their produce within. We taught the concept of supply and demand, suggesting they provide a marketplace for the surrounding villages to benefit from. This idea proved a hit amongst the men and women and I aim to visit this village again to review progress.

Overall, my first Umubano was a fantastic trip and one that will not be forgotten. Aside from the incredible experience of meeting so many people that have been positively affected by the work of British charities, I really felt that we were able to make a lasting impact by knowing our audience well and presenting employability advice accordingly.

I really hope this is a project that will continue as I will certainly be back next year."