West Africa churches create community change through WASH
Water, sanitation, and hygiene are essential for healthy living, but in Sierra Leone and Liberia, these basics are not a given.
In Sierra Leone, a 2012 survey of 28,000 water points conducted by the government’s Ministry of Water Resources showed that 52 percent of people in rural areas have no access to safe water, and as many as 40 percent of the water points provide water consistently only during the rainy season. In Liberia, 37 percent of people living in rural areas do not have access to improved water sources.
Access to toilets is even less. According to the World Bank, 17 percent of people in Liberia and 13 percent of people in Sierra Leone have access to improved sanitation. Worldwide, almost 90 percent of childhood deaths due to diarrheal diseases are caused by contaminated water, lack of sanitation, or inadequate hygiene. In fact, Sierra Leone has the highest rate of under-5 mortality in the world, in large part due to what the World Health Organization calls the “poor situation with water, sanitation, and hygiene.”
Local Nazarene churches in Sierra Leone and Liberia have been working to address the problem in many communities they serve. Through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries, the Church of the Nazarene and World Hope International have partnered to create comprehensive WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) projects in more than 15 communities in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The projects combine safe-water wells, pit latrine toilets, and hygiene education.
Wellington Patrick, a Nazarene youth leader on Liberia’s Central District, says water becomes especially scarce during the dry season from December to April because most people do not have access to deep-water wells. He points to College View, Liberia, as an example community. There, he said, “Teens will have to wake up around 5 a.m. to fetch water to bathe for school during the height of water shortage.”
The water crisis not only affects physical health, but it also affects education in both Liberia and Sierra Leone. Collecting water in families falls primarily to women and girls. As a result, girls are often late to class or forced to miss school altogether.
A teenage girl in College View named Lisa* said, “During the dry season, I usually went to school very late, because I have to fetch water … about 20 minutes walk from my house.”
In July, through the new WASH project, the Church of the Nazarene in College View was able to install a new well that is about 165 feet deep, making it possible for the community to consistently access safe water for the first time.
A community member named Madame Cooper Duo donated her land for the well.
“The impact of the project is huge, beyond significant,” she said. “We have suffered a water crisis for years, and we need to maintain this God-given opportunity so that our children don’t start suffering again.”
The projects are targeting rural communities in both countries that were affected by the Ebola crisis. According to WHO, lack of clean water, sanitation facilities, and hygiene helped spread the Ebola virus in West African countries including Sierra Leone and Liberia. Comprehensive WASH projects can help prevent future outbreaks of Ebola or similar diseases.
James Fullah, who pastors the Amazing Grace Church of the Nazarene in Ogoo Farm, Sierra Leone, understands the impact Ebola had on communities personally. He lost his wife, Isatu, to the virus in February 2015, and one of his daughters tested positive for the disease but survived.
After the church installed a safe-water well in his community, Fullah said, “We praise God, and we are very glad about this well. We thank God for it because people are suffering for water in this community. We didn’t have pure water. We only got water from streams and very dangerous places. … This is a safe place. A lot of families will benefit from this well.”
Musu Allieu is a member of the Ogoo Farm community’s new water committee, which is responsible for ensuring the well is properly cared for and functioning. She expresses gratitude for Nazarene church’s efforts to provide for the needs of her community.
“God is in this kind of church,” she said. “It’s like when Jesus said, ‘When someone is hungry, give food. When someone is thirsty, give water.' The people have God in their hearts.”
Joseph Bangura, who pastors the Monkey Bush Church of the Nazarene in Sierra Leone, said part of what makes the WASH projects successful is that they aim to serve the entire community, not just church members.
“This is the help of our church,” he said. “I have a church that makes me biggo [proud]. Holiness shows love. Anyone can get water here. People in the community say, ‘You extended love without even knowing us.' Jesus extended His love through us.”
Sierra Leone District Superintendent Vidal Cole emphasizes the role of local churches as agents of change in their community.
“As a church, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the things that affect our people,” he said. “We should not just seek to affect the spiritual needs of our people. When we meet community needs, we send a strong message to our communities that we care about them. I believe that’s the way Jesus ministered in His days, and we have been called to do nothing less.”
Visit ncm.org/wash to learn more about or to support the WASH Project in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
For more stories about the church’s work, see ncm.org/blog.
*Children’s names are changed for their protection.