Season’s greetings. I owe you a catch up on what Network for Africa has been up to in these unpredictable times. I also want to thank you again for your support, especially as 2021 has been another challenging year. Thank you to all of you who have donated so generously towards our work. Here are a few highlights that we are both delighted about and proud of.
- 2022 will see us able to provide free childcare at our group counselling sessions for young genocide survivors. Many of the young mothers are forced to bring their babies and toddlers to the counselling sessions because they have no-one to baby sit for them. Childcare is something that the participants have been requesting for a long time. It will be a win-win solution for mothers and children alike.
- In 2022 we will be able to start an entrepreneurship training programme with support for small business start-ups run by participants of our group counselling programme. This will really set the young genocide survivors on their way to long-term recovery, and will help to break the cycle of poverty and trauma, anxiety and depression.
- We were awarded a generous grant to start a livelihoods programme for 180 people with mental health issues and their caregivers. This is the first time we are undertaking a livelihoods programme in Sierra Leone. It will help to lift them out of poverty and in doing so consolidate their long-term recovery and resilience.
- We were able to support children with epilepsy who had dropped out of school due to their seizures. They are now on medication and are attending school. Furthermore, the local government Education Office is now carrying out a survey on the rate of epilepsy amongst children in Port Loko District – the first time such a survey has been carried out.
- We were able to provide livelihoods training and support to 700 people who were being supported by our counselling team and have recovered sufficiently to start small businesses. This is already helping them with their financial security, raising their self-esteem and contributing to their long-term well-being.
- Such has been the impact of our work that a hospital in one of the areas where we provide mental health services, has taken the decision to set up a proper mental health clinic with dedicated staff, which will leave our team free to take its services to another area where there are none. This is the type of long-term impact that we aim for.
Over the years, our staff and volunteers have put a great deal of work into sharing capacity with the local NGOs with whom we work in Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Uganda. This effort has paid off during the pandemic, allowing our local projects to continue to run smoothly without our regular presence. Whilst unable to travel, our team in the UK have kept in constant contact thanks to Zoom, and our partners have excelled themselves in coping with difficult circumstances brought about by Covid-19.
Our partners work hand-in-hand with local government, training community leaders, supporting mental health staff in government clinics, and spearheading Covid prevention and vaccination campaigns. Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Uganda have all been in and out of lockdown measures, with strict curfews. Where there has been some vaccine hesitancy, this is often because of a lack of trust in what people are being told by authorities. Happily, our local partners are regarded as reliable sources of information, and particularly in Sierra Leone, they have been central to Covid vaccination efforts.
Money has been tight, and despite some predictions of the collapse of small NGOs, we have kept going. We closed our London office, saving us rent. Working from home seems to be succeeding for all concerned, with weekly Zoom meetings. We had started meeting in person again until the recent Omicron variant temporarily put a stop to this.
We can’t ignore the shift by large donor organisations towards starting to fund directly in-country rather than via UK-based NGOs like Network for Africa. We worry about the capacity of small, grassroots organisations such as our partners to meet the stringent funding requirements and navigate the complex application process. We are watching, waiting and quietly using what influence we have to show that these decisions should not be applied uniformly across the board, especially when it comes to smaller local organisations in sub-Saharan Africa. We are hopeful that some of the funders may grow to understand that ‘one size doesn’t fit all’.
I could go on, but most of you will have been seeing our regular newsletters, so I will leave it there and invite you to email us with any questions. I remain indebted to our staff and volunteers both in the UK/USA and Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Uganda. I am also indebted to you for helping us through difficult patches like this. Every day your support is making it possible for people to turn their lives around and start planning for the future, rather than being trapped in the past. Let’s hope 2022 will be a healthier year for humans and the planet.