The development of Women of Hope International has been an amazing journey of God’s direction and provision combined with giant steps of faith and obedience. The journey has not been an easy one, but it has demonstrated His great heart for the poor, the oppressed, the broken and the disabled. Below are some highlights on the timeline of this journey.
Women of Hope was born during a weekend strategic planning retreat outside of Seattle, WA of about a dozen women who felt burdened to do something to help the plight of women with disabilities in Sierra Leone. Many of the women had been involved in ministry in Sierra Leone in various capacities. The goal of coming together for 3 days of prayer, discussion and planning was to seek God’s plan for a long-term impact on the lives of women living with disability in Sierra Leone. It was decided that we would work out of Makeni in the Northern Province, where resources are fewer, and ask a friend involved in development work in Sierra Leone to conduct a survey of women with disabilities to begin to understand the size of the target population.
A group of 6 women from the founding body (which formed the original board of directors), plus a photographer, went to Sierra Leone to conduct a needs assessment of the women with disabilities. Days of focus groups with various disability groups and meetings with government leaders and NGO personnel resulted in an understanding that the need was immense, but no clearer idea how to go about addressing it in a sustainable and effective manner. Two women were contracted in Makeni, along with a driver, to begin building relationships with the women through Bible storying groups, laying a foundation for entering the community.
March – July 2010
The official launch of Women of Hope in Sierra Leone occurred when Kim Kargbo, who had been asked by the board to direct the organization, her children, and Kelsey Martin went to Sierra Leone to register the organization as an NGO, open an office and hire staff members. The Community Health Evangelism aspect of the program began with a needs assessment conducted by the women with disabilities in the Makeni area, the division of Makeni into 3 geographic zones and the selection and training of a development committee in each zone.
The first group of 10 CHEs (Community Health Evangelists), chosen by their community began their 7 month training – one day a week. During the first training session, it became evident that the women needed to sign for their transportation allowance, assisting them in getting to and from training each week. But most of them had never even held a pen. So, the staff undertook the task of teaching them to write their names. Their dignity level rose immeasurably as they signed their names for the first time in their lives.
All 10 women graduated as the first fully trained group of CHEs among the women with disabilities in Sierra Leone. Every woman attended every single training session, and not one of them ever came even 10 minutes late! The bar had been set…
During the graduation ceremony, the women were challenged to reach out beyond their borders and contribute to the famine relief efforts in Somalia. They gave a collection of $30 to help women who were in more dire straights than themselves.
The next group of 12 CHEs began training.
March – April 2012
The first skills training classes, taught by a team of 3 women from the States (all over 65!), were taught how to create greetings cards, knit caps, patchwork bags and crochet. Twenty-seven women learned a skill and were given small start-up kits to create products to sell. While some products were already being made and sold in the US by the women, this effort launched the formal beginning of the Fair Trade Initiative. The women were taught how to appropriately price and market their new products in order to use their new skills as livelihood for their families. A cooperative workshop area was set up in the Women of Hope office to allow the women a place to work together and keep their materials and finished products safe.
Land was purchased for the building of the HOPE Centre, a cooperative workshop which will provide more space for the women to work, to conduct skills training classes, and to gather for trainings and meetings.