Salayea, in Liberia’s Lofa County, is one of the towns that was hard hit by the violent conflicts that rocked the West African country between 1989 and 2003. The scars are still healing in the town of 5,500 inhabitants despite the vibrant youth population.
“The war brought about untold destruction in lives, properties, and human behaviour,” says Tokpa G. Gleh, an elderly resident of Salayea. “We no longer use the land in common. Disputes [over land] are widespread and the cost of living is higher.”
The community is, however, keen to keep the demons of war and conflict in the past. Their focus is to build social cohesion that would translate into peaceful approaches of solving conflicts but more importantly how to improve livelihoods. Over 50 residents of Salayea attended a Community-Based Participatory Planning (CBPP) exercise to enable them think through what they want as viable development initiatives for their town and its people.
CBPP is conducted together by communities, partners and local government staff who discuss and agree on priority activities to significantly improve the poorest and most vulnerable households.
The participants, for instance, toured Salayea’s nine residential neighbourhoods to identify natural resources, infrastructure, service provision centres, and community assets to harness and utilize them during the implementation of their community action plan. They identified farming, petty trade, transportation (motor bike riding), charcoal and teaching as key activities without which the community people would not survive.
“I am here because we are trying to develop and pull together our action plan for this town, so we can uplift it tomorrow. This approach of involving us will improve our lives and the lives of our children,” says Kizzelee Sulonteh, a farmer who attended the sessions.
The community members resolved to increase joint farming, trade, and work together to eliminate crime, increase food security and improve social services including health and education facilities. The inclusive process gave a voice to segments of the community who often felt alienated.
“In the past, when it came to the County Development Fund, no disabled people were included. We have not been counted and have lacked the right information. This time around, I think it will be different,” says Sam K. Darkolon, chairperson of the Disabled People’s Association.
The exercise in Salayea was conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP) as part of a United Nations project on sustaining peace and improving social cohesion through the promotion of rural employment opportunities for youth in conflict-prone areas. The project funded by the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) through the 2019 Liberia Multi Partner Trust Fund is implemented by WFP, the Un Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO). It aims to sustain peace and improve social cohesion through the promotion of rural employment opportunities for youth in conflict-prone areas in Lofa and Bong Counties.
“WFP brought us together and involved us all, especially the disabled, widows, and youth; we are recognizing and respecting one another,” says Clifford Moiwen, a youth leader.