Plan's Youth in Governance Program in Sierra Leone
In 2008, Mary approached Plan with a project concept regarding good governance and youth.
As CEO and founder of the Women’s Centre for Good Governance and Human Rights, Mary had a vision that women and youth would begin to have a voice in their communities and in national politics.
When we asked Mary why she decided to dedicate her life to fighting for human rights, she shared a story of hardship.
During the civil war in Sierra Leone, Mary was attacked and beaten. During this time, she also witnessed the stabbing of her brother which left him severely injured. Prompted by what she had witnessed, she began to speak out about universal human rights issues.
However, not everyone in her community was supportive of her efforts. Her parents threatened to abandon her and she was excused from her university. Most recently, her office was attacked and her laptop was stolen.
Despite all of these challenges, Mary has remained determined to fight for the rights of women and youth.
The Patriarchal Role of Men
Prior to Plan’s intervention in the Northern Bombali Region of Sierra Leone, men maintained patriarchal roles in communities. Thus, in many households, men were often the sole decision makers and youth were excluded. Frustrated, alienated, and unemployed many young people resorted to drugs and prostitution.
In order to address this issue, Mary decided to meet with Plan to discuss the gap between the youth and the elderly in community decision making. As a result of the meeting, Plan teamed up with Mary to form the Youth in Governance program in the Bombali District.
The Youth in Governance Project
The Youth in Governance program ran from 2009-2011. The goal of the project was to strengthen the engagement of especially marginalized young people in rural communities by supporting 900 vulnerable young people in rural communities to get involved in local government activities.
Plan organized them into 36 youth groups, training them to help in projects such as maintaining water points and working to change laws to enable pregnant girls to attend school. They also participated in livelihood projects using seeds and tools donated by the Ministry of Agriculture.
The youth were also involved in collecting taxes. In the past, youth were not allowed to contribute to community decisions. As a result, they often refused to pay their taxes. However, once they became active decision makers within their communities they began to contribute. As participants, they made communities accountable for how they were spending their revenue. They were also able to advocate that some of the revenue be dedicated towards youth activities. As a result, the communities collected three times the normal amount of taxes and were able to allocate tax money towards the construction of a new youth complex.
Active Participation Continues
Today, most of the youth groups have remained active and are officially registered, with their own bank accounts. Many young people are pursuing higher education or training, or have been elected to governing council and are actively engaging in community development.
"This project transformed the lives of these young people and made them realize that they have hidden potential that can make them role models in society," says Patrick Mahoi of Plan Sierra Leone.
"I now have self-confidence," says one group member. "I'm a member of our Ward Committee and I attend council meetings. I have authority!"