Abass Koroma, beekeeper, Sierra Leone
Twenty three year old Abass Koroma was just eight years old when the civil war in Sierra Leone began in 1992. During the next ten years he missed out on going to school. But five years after the war ended, and with support from VSO partner CCYA, he is part of a flourishing village enterprise.
A question of survival
The UN estimates that during Sierra Leone’s ten-year civil war, some 10,000 children were recruited as soldiers – thousands more were exiled to neighbouring countries or fled to other parts of Sierra Leone. Abass Koroma from Thonkoba, near Makeni in northern Sierra Leone, is one of those who avoided recruitment but whose life and education were severely affected by the conflict.
“I was born in Thonkoba and have lived here all my life, except during the civil war when I was forced to leave my home and lived in the bush,” he says. “For many years I lived on wild fruit and bush meat. At certain points I thought my life would end like that.”
Although Abass managed to avoid capture, when he returned home there were few opportunities for him: “Many schools were forced to close during the war so I was unable to finish my schooling. When I returned to my village in 2002, I had no qualifications or source of income.”
For four years, Abass relied on subsistence farming, lacking the skills to make the most of opportunities to profit from farming. That changed in 2006 when VSO partner organisation CCYA (The Centre for Coordination Youth Activities) established a programme in Thonkoba.
When CCYA community development workers visited Thonkoba to tell residents about a beekeeping cooperative they planned to establish, Abass seized the opportunity with both hands. Membership includes training in beekeeping and honey extraction techniques; help to set up a bank account; and all the necessary equipment. All profits from the sale of the honey go back to the cooperative.
Although CCYA can draw on the skills of local community development workers to train and support the cooperatives, it lacked the organisational expertise to expand its work to reach more people like Abass. VSO Youth for Development volunteer Jayne Butler is now working with CCYA on a research project to further identify the needs of young people in Sierra Leone and help them to more effectively access donor funding.
In its first eighteen months, the cooperative produced 10 gallons of honey, with profits helping 25 members. A sister cooperative was established in neighbouring Mambamba, and other CCYA-run initiatives include an agricultural farming and goat-breeding programme. So far, almost 250 individuals and their families have benefited from this programme.
Abass is putting the finishing touches to a brick house that he has built with his share of the profits. The project has given him the opportunity to move out of his childhood home and start an independent life. He says, “With the coming of CCYA we learnt new skills, but we also opened our minds about how if we work together as a community we can achieve more, which means better lives for all of us.”
Even those who escaped recruitment to the child armies of Sierra Leone are face with a struggle to rebuild their country after years of civil war.
VSO partner CCYA and volunteer Jayne Butler bring a sustainable, entrepreneurial approach to creating viable local businesses.
VSO partner CCYA and volunteer Jayne Butler bring a sustainable, entrepreneurial approach to the creation of viable local businesses.