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Breaking down barriers: how increasing inclusion is transforming communities

Churches in Sierra Leone are making changes so that even more people can get involved and overcome poverty.

Tearfund | 03 Dec 2021

Image Credit: Layton Thompson/Tearfund

Poverty robs people of the chance to reach their God-given potential. But the global church is working to change that. In Sierra Leone, an exciting new project is reaching out to equip even more people to lift themselves out of poverty. And it’s working…

Tearfund helps train church leaders in how they can lead their communities to overcome poverty. The leaders are empowered to set up group discussions, Bible studies and workshops where the community members decide on their goals and plan how they can reach them together.

But facilitators from local churches in Sierra Leone saw that some people in their groups were not able to join in with all the activities. Some were unable to read or write, while others were only able to contribute in their second or third language. So, what could be done?

Old traditions, new learning

‘We were unintentionally excluding some people, so this was a serious issue that we wanted to address,’ says Noorie Dudley-Sam, who oversees Tearfund’s work in Sierra Leone and Liberia. ‘We have now launched a new oral-based version of the training to make it more accessible for everyone.’

This approach uses a variety of techniques to enable everyone to be able to take part, with no reading or writing required. Some groups are using drama activities, drawing, or even singing.

Many African communities have been learning and passing on information through storytelling, songs and other oral traditions for generations, so these types of activities are both familiar and inclusive.

In each of the 13 churches in Sierra Leone where this has been trialled, church leaders are reporting back that everyone is benefitting.

Instead of text, pictures and symbols are used to communicate with people who can't read.

‘People have previously really struggled to grasp… how we track our progress in becoming the church and community that we desire to be,’ explains Rev Paul Conteh, who leads a community transformation group in his church.

‘But [using] the symbols changes that, and makes it very simple. We can just look at the symbol for love, and ask, is love happening here?’

A bigger vision

As church leaders see the positive outcomes of this, they are looking for other ways to incorporate it into their wider church and community work.

‘I am going to change our vision statement into symbols, because there are people in our church that cannot recite it because they cannot read,’ says Aminata, a church leader. ‘I am going to change it so that everyone can be involved.’

‘Seeing the success of this is encouraging,’ concludes Noorie. ‘When more people are able to take an active role in community activities, then we will see even more lives transformed.’

‘Please pray for our ongoing efforts to make our work with churches and communities as accessible and inclusive as possible.’

Pray with us

God’s heart is for everyone to be able to get involved to help transform their communities for the better. But there are barriers that can stop people from being able to do this. This can be because of accessibility, mentioned above, but also be financial reasons too.

Spend time with God reflecting on the barriers that can stop people from taking part. Pray that these barriers will be removed and ask God what your role can be in helping to remove them.

As this story outlines, there are many different ways that people learn and communicate. Why not try expressing your prayer to God in a way that you wouldn’t normally do? You could speak it out loud, draw it or express it through a song.

  Tearfund

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