Fred’s Trip to West Africa
Our 23-year-old Be the Change Academy Programme Manager Fred spent a month visiting our centres in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. This was the first visit of its kind since the Ebola outbreak, an emergency to which our BTCAs adapted brilliantly. Fred visited as our BTCAs are preparing for the future in some exciting ways.
Having just returned from visiting the Be the Change Academy network in West Africa, I want to give everyone an update on what has been happening on the ground, as this was the first monitoring and evaluation trip since June 2014. Aside from this primary purpose, the trip also allowed me to gain a greater understanding of BTCA activities and how our network has risen to the challenges they have encountered over the last nine months.
In Liberia, I arrived in time to attend the graduation of BTCA Liberia’s third cohort, which graduated 176 young women. The ceremony went very well, and BTCA Liberia is ready and eager to push on and try to make up the time and trainings they lost due to the school shut-down from Ebola.
BTCA Liberia, which is partnered with Youth Crime Watch Liberia, has recently forged a relationship with a local young women’s TVET school, and it has been agreed that all young women (approximately 400) within the school should undertake the BTCA training as a compulsory component of their education.
This is an encouraging sign, showing that our partnership with both the Ministry of Youth and Sport and the Ministry of Education is aligning to add a different dimension to the new TVET policy.
In Sierra Leone, BTCA training continued and, whilst I was visiting, graduated the 5th cohort of 99 young women in the rural province of Tunkia (about 45 miles from Kenema). The BTCA management in Sierra Leone demonstrated great dedication and innovation to keep the training running despite the threat of Ebola. Moving the training to the area of Tunkia allowed the BTCA to help the local community avoid cases of Ebola.
A W.I.S.H, our local partner, was instrumental in providing trainings and workshops about the prevention of Ebola, which led the local community to rally and create a rule that any newcomer to the area would first have to be screened for Ebola. The second reason the training was moved to Tunkia was to allow the young women in this area, who have never had the opportunity to access training of this type, a chance to participate in the programme. As such, there is a great deal of praise within the community for the BTCA.
Due to the area of Tunkia being a mainly agricultural-based economy, the BTCA, in partnership with the local women, have created a Farming Cooperative with 30 trainees who will seek a joint loan to start a farm that will produce rice. After this initial crop, the plan is to then diversify into other type of food production.
This interesting and innovative development shows that the BTCA is an adaptable programme, which I find very encouraging in regards to its future. The BTCAs have, of course, also provided more traditional loans to women, such as supporting bakers and petty traders, within the community of Tunkia.
Finally, the approach that PCI and NORAD (which funds the BTCA) have taken by partnering and empowering local organisations such as A W.I.S.H, has generated a massive capacity-building effect. A W.I.S.H successively applied for and was awarded a donation of materials from Cross Road foundation. From this donation, A W.I.S.H will be opening a school within Kenema to provide 100 free places to Ebola orphans as well as offer ICT trainings to all classes from year 5 upwards.
In Guinea, like in Sierra Leone, I must express my admiration for the continuation of the BTCA trainings despite the dangers posed by Ebola. The BTCA Guinea teams have trained the most young women throughout the network, and in my personal view, employ an approach different from our other two BTCAs.
Due to the locational and situational setting of the BTCA in Conakry, BTCA Guinea has resolved to deliver a more professional training. This approach is used for both university students as well as less-privileged young women though I would say that even if a young woman is in university, that does not necessarily mean, in the setting of Guinea, that she is not disadvantaged.
The Guinea team has also recently been working in partnership with TVET schools to provide BTCA trainings to their graduates in order to give them a practical knowledge of business. BTCA Guinea has, in an encouraging step, decided to advance the first sets of loans through Jatropha.
We hope that before the end of the month, the first ten loans will have been handed out. However, these loans highlight the different approach taken in Guinea – they are planning to advance loans of a value far higher than in Liberia and Sierra Leone, with amounts nearer to $1,000.
The trip provided a great insight for me, and I’m glad to share with you my thoughts and feelings on what is currently happening within the BTCA network. I believe that there is exciting and innovative work taking place in each country that seeks to build a better and more sustainable future for young women, and the BTCAs are evidently becoming a key part of the creation of a new generation of empowered young women in West Africa.