New training center for women opens in Sierra Leone

The Sierra Leone Conference, with support from The United Methodist Church in Germany, dedicated a new United Methodist Women’s Training Center in Bo, southern Sierra Leone.

This is the fourth United Methodist Women’s skills training center in the country, with the others in Freetown, Kono and Yonibana.

The centers were set up to educate and empower disadvantaged young men and women in Sierra Leone affected by the civil conflict in the country between 1991 and 2002. Women who were abused through rape or forced labor or who dropped out of school because of the war were given skills training in tailoring, hairdressing, catering and other areas to help them become self-reliant.

Fifteen years on, many women in Sierra Leone still drop out of school because of cultural practices that favor male children getting an education over girls. Domestic abuse and teenage pregnancy are other contributors; the country’s education laws forbid pregnant girls from continuing in the formal school sector. The United Methodist Church is providing empowerment for these women through its training centers.

At the Jan. 29 dedication, United Methodist district superintendent in Bo, Francis Charley, thanked the church in Germany for providing $142,000 to build the new center.

The edifice, he said, will be used for “the training of young girls and middle-aged women who cannot enter into the senior secondary school or other tertiary institutions in the formal educational system — some due to the rebel war that happened in the country some 15 years ago, others due to other social vices in our country.”

The new United Methodist Women’s Training Center will allow more women and girls in Sierra Leone to participate in skills training. Photo by Phileas Jusus, UMNS.

In their new building, the women will continue with gara (tie-dye) coloring and processing of Sierra Leonean costumes, tailoring and adult literacy programs. Photo by Phileas Jusu, UMNS. 

The center also would be open to creating new opportunities given the vast space they now have, said coordinator Comfort Bangalie. She and Bo United Methodist Women started the center in April 2013 with nine trainees.

As more girls and women started coming to the center, the small hut at the Centenary United Methodist Church compound could no longer hold them all. Bangalie and United Methodist Women pleaded with their German partners to help build a larger center.

“Words cannot express how happy I am to see my dream, your dream and our dream come true,” Bangalie said. “If you take delight in the Lord, he will give you your heart’s desire. And today, the Lord has given me my heart’s desire … my heart desire for Bo women.

“We opened this center for vulnerable girls and widows who could not fend for themselves. It was to provide training for them that would enhance them to fend for their families. Hence our motto: ‘Empowerment for self-reliance.’ We wanted our women to be self-reliant because depending on men all the time is burdensome,” she said.

The center graduated the first set of 11 trainees in 2015 — six with tailoring skills and five in the gara tie-dyeing component.

“It will amaze you to know that trainees who entered the center who never darkened the doors of a school can now read and write English,” Bangalie said.

Retired German Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, who attended the dedication ceremony with Bishop Christian Alsted from the Nordic and Baltic Area of The United Methodist Church in Norway and Sierra Leone Bishop John Yambasu, expressed delight in the work the women already are doing.

She addressed the women at the center, noting she was especially excited for “you, the young women who are trained and equipped to gain independence and self esteem. I urge you not only to use it for your own benefit, but also for the benefit of your family and the broader communities you are living in,” she said.

She wished the women blessed hearts and minds in the new building. “I pray for you and for this school and for the people here in Bo. May God bless you and enable you to be a blessing to others,” she said.

Trainees at United Methodist Women’s centers across the country pay a cost recovery fee of the equivalence of $25 for a whole year. “Our focus is the empowerment of the women; not profit making,” said Ethel Sandy, United Methodist Women national coordinator.

Sierra Leone’s deputy director of education in the Bo district, John Amara Swaray, chaired the dedication and official opening of the center. He expressed gratitude to The United Methodist Church for providing resources to build an institution that was going to provide training and expose young women to the opportunity of developing their skills for the good of their communities and Sierra Leone at large.

Jusu is director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone. News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected] To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests. 

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