Promoting home-grown solutions to combat hunger and malnutrition: One community at a time

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Photo: Participants in Jori village viewing a video that teaches them how to combine wheat flour with orange-fleshed sweet potatoes in bread baking ©Helen Keller/INTL Sierra Leone

In a nationwide campaign, Helen Keller Intl Sierra Leone has successfully reached 204 chiefdoms across 10 (of the 16) districts in Sierra Leone, spreading awareness among village development committee members about the invaluable nutritional and economic benefits of the orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (OFSP). This initiative is aimed to enhance self-sufficiency in food production, combat hunger and malnutrition, promote infection prevention control and water sanitation hygiene in rural communities.

To ensure the campaign’s success, seven representatives from each village comprising traditional and religious leaders, farmers, traders, bakers, youth groups, and dedicated health workers, were selected by their respective communities to participate in the engagement. Over the course of approximately 90 minutes in each engagement, these individuals, along with Helen Keller’s staff, district nutritionists, and monitoring and evaluation specialists from the District Health Management Team in all 10 districts, led the participatory engagement sessions. The sessions, supported by FOCUS 1000 district coordinators, began with an introduction to Helen Keller, fostering a deeper understanding of the organization’s impactful work in Sierra Leone and then went into the details of OFSP and its benefits.

FOCUS 1000 Coordinator in Kenema district, Emmanuel Musa, shared that participants were encouraged to cultivate sweet potatoes as a local solution to address acute hunger and malnutrition. “What we achieved in promoting sustainable food sources highlights the importance of collaborative efforts among communities, government entities, and non-governmental organization,” emphasized Musa.

Despite facing challenges in reaching remote areas, the campaign successfully raised awareness about the numerous benefits of OFSP. Helen Keller, together with its dedicated partners, remains optimistic that this awareness will translate into increased cultivation and consumption of the crop, ultimately leading to improved nutritional outcomes for vulnerable populations throughout Sierra Leone.

“The widespread impact of this campaign is a true testament to the relentless efforts of aid organizations and the unwavering commitment of communities to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of zero hunger and the government Human Capital Development good health and well-being,” said Rugiatu Lahai, a nutritionist from the District Health Management Team in Kenema while educating the participants about the role of vitamin A (OFSP is a rich source of Vitamin A, an essential micronutrient for promoting healthy vision, immune function and growth and development, particularly in young children and pregnant women.

Mammie Brima, a forty-five-year-old Mamie Queen (queen mother) from Blama Township in Kenema District, was deeply touched by the message about the sweet potato. She made a pledge to spread the word to her community, encouraging households to pool their resources and buy the OFSP vines from the Extension Division in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security in her district. “We will go door-to-door to inform people about this potato,” she said. “We will collect our resources and purchase the vines because we want this potato to thrive in our community.”

By focusing on home-grown solutions, such as the cultivation of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, this campaign showcases the transformative potential of local interventions in addressing prevalent issues including food insecurity and positively transforming the lives of those most in need.

“The significance of community engagement in combatting hunger and malnutrition cannot be overstated,” says Alpha Daramy Sesay, Communication Officer at Helen Keller in Sierra Leone. “Empowering communities to be at the center of their own food production to bolster food self-sufficiency, cultivates a sense of ownership and empowers them with knowledge and resources to create lasting impact,” he adds.

So far, thanks to our amazing partners and generous donors like Irish Aid, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Arab Gulf Program for Development that we have achieved such results – within a period of 30 days, 10 districts were visited with more than 47 engagements held across the 204 chiefdoms and 404 communities engaged – over 3,600 people participated. 

As Helen Keller’s nationwide community engagement campaign draws to a close, its legacy is already apparent. The seeds of change have been sown in the hearts and minds of communities across the country. With increased awareness and the empowerment of local communities, the campaign has set the stage for a brighter and more nourished future for Sierra Leone. By continuing to prioritize community-driven solutions and building upon the momentum generated by this initiative, we can pave the way for a Sierra Leone where no one suffers from hunger or malnutrition—a country where the full potential of every individual can be realized – the dream Helen worked towards her whole life!

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