Kono Residents Find Gems In Jobs and Education

Battered by Sierra Leone’s 1991-2002 civil war, residents of the diamond-rich Kono district are getting back on their feet thanks, in part, to World Food Programme-sponsored work and training programmes.

by Antti Mantymaa and Francis Boima

KISSY TOWN -- Yakuba Ansumana, a father of seven, receives WFP food rations for his family in return for helping restore a community rice field abandoned during Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war.  His smile is radiant as he stands next to the now-productive land.

“This field does not only serve those who worked on its rehabilitation and their families but the whole community,” Ansumana says, adding that the community school also receives rice harvested from the field.

Ansumana lives in Sierra Leone’s eastern Kono district, once home to booming diamond mines that were hard hit by the decade-long conflict.

Today, the diamond industry is shrinking as the remaining diamonds become more difficult to recover and Kono remains one of the nation’s least developed districts.

Education and jobs

But ask Kono residents what they find valuable and they will answer education or employment -- not diamonds.

For Ansumana, that means participating in the WFP Food-For-Work project, carried out with support from Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security and a local NGO, Community Action for Development.

“We now know better how to keep this field productive,” says Ansumana, a resident of Kissy town in Kono.

The Kissy project also brings villagers together – critical in an area where people who escaped the Sierra Leone conflict are gradually returning.

Daily meals make a difference

WFP food rations have also helped change the life of 28-year-old Kadiatu Sandy.  A onetime school dropout who fled to Guinea during the conflict, Sandy is now studying to become a caterer at the Community Vocational Training Centre in Kono’s district capital Koidu.

Sandy, a mother of two, would not be able to attend the training without WFP-supported daily meals and daycare provided by the training centre.

“I did petty trading before, which was far from being profitable. I could not even pay my rent and stayed at friends,” she says.

Sandy will graduate in five months.  She would like to open her own canteen some day, but the new skills have already proved useful.

“I am able to pay my rent with the money I make by selling self-made cakes and dishes,” Sandy says.

Altogether WFP plans to reach some 69,000 vulnerable people in Kono this year through school meals and programmes offering food to adolescents and young adults in training and community work projects – some of the ingredients for development in this war ravaged country.