Ever since starting our work with the Faiths Act programme in Sierra Leone, there's a common question I am often asked by many expats in other development organizations: "Really? Volunteers?" People are surprised to learn that our programme runs exclusively through the work of volunteers. People are often astonished that the Malaria Faith Ambassadors and Champions don't receive a monthly wage, and to add to their surprise, they continue to do great work! So, how does it all work?
Sierra Leone has a very religious population. Almost all Sierra Leoneans can be seen attending either a Friday Muslim jummah or Sunday Christian service. The churches and mosques are pillars and serve as a great place for community cohesion.
Sierra Leone has a high sense of community and the programme works to mobilize people through the places of worship they frequent, by engaging the faith leaders who preside over them. We have found that the faith leaders, upon hearing about the programme, are very keen to take on the challenge and train Malaria Faith Champions to conduct house-to-house sensitization on malaria prevention. However before they begin, we do place one stipulation: Stick to your local community.
There are two reasons for this:
1. No one knows and is trusted by the local community like the brethren within their community.
2. Keeping it small scale makes the work simple and convenient.
An individual from a particular community knows the language and way of their people in-depth and by keeping it local, they can utilize this sensitivity and connection to appropriately educate their community who know them so well. Our request for them to keep it small scale stems from wanting them to work within their capacity and convenience in implementing the programme, while realizing it may be limited. In practical terms, this means they must recruit suitable Malaria Faith Champions who have both the energy and character to deliver such sensitization, and would be recognized positively by others in their neighbourhood. Along with this, for the Ambassador to properly support their Champions, they must remain close in a way that provides ease.
Aside from the practical aspects in trying to keep the programme expedient for volunteers, there is a currency in which they hold in high regard, which I like to call the "spiritual currency". While money is commonly seen as "the bottom line," most of our volunteers are driven by something deeper, their love for their faith. This love is then exemplified through their volunteerism, which propels them to do great things. As we always discuss in our trainings, compassion for one's neighbour is prevalent in both Islam and Christianity. Many of the volunteer Ambassadors and Champions choose to go above and beyond the call of this campaign, for no other reason than "it's our duty".
This heed to the call of duty, by our volunteers, has resulted in the sensitizations of over 62,000 households and also engaging almost 100,000 people though a variety of other community activities; this does not include radio, TV and press.
While some think volunteers here would ask for money for themselves, most ask for further resources to spread the campaign farther in Sierra Leone. They would rather have bicycles to travel village-to-village spreading the knowledge than monetary incentives.
Their incentive is with God alone and getting closer to Him by serving their community.
Aatif Baskanderi is a Faiths Act Fellow in Sierra Leone. He writes for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.