Skills Training Program: Women’s Training Centers in Kissy and Kono Musu
United Methodist Women’s Organization in Sierra Leone
The United Methodist Women’s Organization of Sierra Leone is about 131 years old. Over the years, we have committed our lives to serving God through worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism. Today we have about 12,000 members and national representatives, including a national coordinator, a president and her executive, and a local unit in all United Methodist churches in Sierra Leone. All local units form the District United Methodist Women.
In addition to bringing together United Methodists for ministry, we network and collaborate with other Christian and non-Christian women’s groups to address and find solutions to the challenging issues facing women, children and youth.
In Sierra Leone today, 70 percent of women are illiterate, and the majority are unskilled. Many young girls from rural areas are trafficked to the cities by relatives through force, deception, adoption or fostering. Many rural people living in poverty need help to rear their children, so they willingly give their children to relatives or friends who live in the city. Most of these children, particularly girls, end up as prostitutes or street children.
We have girls who have dropped out of school as a result of teenage pregnancy or early or forced marriages because their parents cannot afford the school fees. They are seen on our beaches working as prostitutes; others are on the street, selling unprofitable items like used clothing, soap and needles.
As Christian women, we follow the example of Jesus Christ, who, we are told, came so that others could have life in abundance (John 10:10). We as United Methodists are trying to change the unpleasant situation of many women and make a difference in their lives.
Women’s Training Centers in Kissy and Kono Musu
The Kissy women’s training Center is in the rural area of Freetown, where many girls sell food items as well as their bodies. Before the decade-long rebel war in Sierra Leone, this center was the only place that provided skills training and spiritual growth activities. Each year about 100-150 young women and elder women attended the center. After the war, government and nongovernmental organizations built vocational schools all over the country, particularly in rural areas. They offer free but inadequate skills training, so many trainees decide to go to centers like ours. Today the number of attendees varies from 15 to 50.
Kono Musu is in the heart of the mining district of Koidu. Girls often drop out of school to mine diamonds or to marry rich miners at a very young age. With our skills training centers, we can put our faith, hope and love into action.
What United Methodist Women Funds
Through projects funded by United Methodist Women, women can acquire skills that will empower them to find better ways of generating income. By the end of their training, we hope to have equipped them to transform their lives and contribute to the development of Sierra Leone.
Each year about 50 young women leave our centers with the skills to serve their communities, which they learn through a variety of activities. All the tutors at the two centers are members of United Methodist Women. The most important aspect of our curriculum is spiritual growth through daily devotions, thanksgiving service, Bible studies and talks on biblical themes.
We also equip the women with the skills relevant to generating income through handicraft and proper budgeting. In 2010-2011 the students were able to learn about embroidery, food and nutrition, soapmaking, dressmaking, basic literacy, knitting, gara tie-dye and batik.
In 2011-2013 we continued to offer the same courses, but, in addition to the traditional gara tie-dye and soapmaking skills, we added other cost-effective and income-generating ones, such as making cakes and other pastries and foods for church meetings. We hope to introduce basic computer classes in the later part of 2013 for women who have had some formal schooling.
The skills the women have acquired at our centers have empowered and enabled them to make a better living in a fast-changing world. From the sales generated by their products, they are able to pay the school fees for their children or siblings and even provide better food at home.
From the end of the war in 2002 to today, more than 1,000 girls have graduated with our certificates and become self-employed in towns and rural areas. In Kono Musu, two are tutors. At the Kissy women’s training center, one is a tutor. Students come to the centers without the ability to read; but by the end of the training, they can read and write. We have been able to reduce the number of prostitutes in both Freetown and Kono Musu, and Sierra Leone as a whole.
Through spiritual growth activities, the women are active in United Methodist churches. They emerge from our centers spiritually fulfilled and detraumatized, having built self-confidence and acquired the skills and knowledge needed to protect their dignity and human rights.
Every year we learn that the increasing levels of poverty, suffering and unemployment in Sierra Leone often drive many girls and women to prostitution and high-risk behavior. But when they are encouraged to seek alternative ways of living, some are willing and appreciative. This is all the more reason to appeal for support—so that young women will know God and engage in safer income-generating activities.
We Still Need Your Support
Skills training can be very challenging; for example, the wear and tear on teaching material is alarming. Sewing machines break down easily, because women are learning how to use them. Other resources are expensive, perishable or depleted, such as dyes, fabrics and cooking materials. We continue to replace them as often as possible. Please keep giving to United Methodist Women so we can buy new and higher-quality sewing machines.
The Kono Musu and Kissy women’s training centers do not have showrooms to display finished products. If such rooms were available, products would be displayed there, attracting customers, and the proceeds from the sales would help replace worn-out teaching and learning materials.
Another major challenge we face is the lack of startup kits. At other skills training centers, women who do well are given startup kits at the end of their courses. Each kit usually includes a sewing machine, materials for gara tie-dye and a small amount of money to help the trainee begin a project or activity after graduation. If we had the funds to provide these kits, we could help not only the trainee but the whole community as well.
Beatrice Fofanah is the women's coordinator for the United Methodist Women's organization in Sierra Leone.