May 28, 2015 By Ann Marie Dumbuya
In 2013, the National Revenue Authority (NRA) announced an ambitious village development project in support of government’s Agenda for Prosperity as part of its corporate social responsibility programme. The ‘Adopt a Village’ development scheme is a vision of NRA’s Commissioner-General, Madam Haja Kallah-Kamara, who has always maintained that her institution’s approach to corporate social responsibility is both pragmatic and genuine, and goes beyond philanthropy to sustainable community development. While the NRA has been engaged in several philanthropic activities such as food aid donations to vulnerable groups as part of its fight against the Ebola virus, it is slowly being identified as an important corporate stakeholder in community development and poverty alleviation. Gbomsamba, a village about 120km from Freetown in the Port Loko District, is the first village to have benefited from this commendable village development plan that is people-driven and guided by community needs covering broad development indicators such as education, health, agriculture and food security, clean water and sanitation, and women and youth empowerment.
The Chief of Gbomsamba Village, Pa Alimamy Turay explains that the project addresses specific community needs because community members have been actively involved from the onset in selecting and prioritizing development activities undertaken by the NRA. He said since the outbreak of Ebola, the focus has been on health and nutrition with NRA officials making frequent visits to the village to educate community members on healthy practices to stop the spread of the virus such as hand washing, while providing food aid to the 70 households in the village. He said this has ensured that the entire community has access to a proper diet and stays healthy throughout the outbreak. Indeed, not a single case of Ebola has so far been reported in Gbomsamba.
While the Ebola prevention sensitization and food aid is on-going, the village development plan has commenced in full force as the Authority is now turning to other areas of interest such as education, agriculture and women’s empowerment. “We want to support the people of Gbomsamba and help them break free from poverty. This is why we are helping to educate their children, empower their women, improve their schools and water facilities,” the NRA Commissioner-General stated. The institution has invested in boosting community infrastructure by refurbishing not only the primary and junior secondary schools and providing basic school supplies, but also crumbing houses in the village—a move that has been applauded by jubilant residents mindful of the challenges of a leaking roof during the raining season. There are plans for a library and computer school, clean drinking water facilities and solar energy supply in the community. “Our living standards have improved since NRA’s intervention in our village,” said Pa Samba, a blind man of around 90, the oldest man in the village.
A multidimensional approach to poverty reduction involves increasing people’s capabilities for self-reliance through access to resources like health, education, land and credit. As such, the NRA over the weekend invited officials from the First International Bank and the Ministry of Agriculture to dialogue with farmers on commercial farming initiatives and micro-credit opportunities for community members who wish to start their own business. Explaining the rationale behind this partnership, the Commissioner-General said the aim is to give all community members the skills and opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty and sustain basic livelihoods like food, clothing, shelter and healthcare.
She said on the one hand, to maximize any return on agricultural investments, community members need information about how to better manage their farms as well as how to explore opportunities and services being rendered by the ministry. On the other hand, women need information on how to access credit to set up their own businesses to provide for their families and assistance in business planning. It is her belief that this would ensure the ‘Adopt a Village’ project is implemented sustainably with the necessary community participation and ownership and the head of the 5-man delegation from the Ministry of Agricultural, Sheku Jusu agrees. He explains that to succeed in boosting agriculture in the community, create jobs and boost economic development, the NRA needs a robust educational support programme.
According to Mr. Jusu, farmers, particularly those in the north, need to adopt new farming practices if they are to better manage their farms as businesses. He said this is why they are being encouraged to be involved in cash crop farming such as the ongoing Cashew Nut Project. He added that alternative income and livelihood opportunities have been well thought-out by the Ministry to motivate village farmers to take up Eco-friendly farming activities—especially with regards to charcoal production—that would ensure that communities not only have the means to access incomes from their farms, but also protect and preserve the environment for posterity.
The NRA has been working toward building a strong relationship with the Gbomsamba community through frequent visits to strengthen commitments from the community leadership in ensuring the effectiveness and sustainability of the ‘bringing prosperity to Gbomsamba’ development project. As Gbomsamba is gradually transformed to a model village that the country could be proud of, it is clear that if replicated in other villages, the NRA’s ‘Adopt a Village’ scheme has the potential of promoting rural development in Sierra Leone.