Community Health Evangelism:
CHE is a wholistic, community-based development strategy that combines relevant evangelism with health education and development principles to bring about the transformation of individuals and communities. It has been used throughout Africa and the world with great success for 30 years.
The strategy involves training development committees which oversee the process in their own community. These committees (in this case comprised of women with disabilities) select women in the community to be trained as Community Health Evangelists/Educators (CHEs) to facilitate the transformative process within the community. The CHEs go through an intensive 8-month training program using a Participatory Learning Approach (PLA) so that the lessons can be transferred to all of the women in the community, without relying on literate methods of transfer. The content of the training course includes, among other things:
- Bible storying
- Basic development principles and practices
- Health education and basic health care
- Sustainable plans, business skills and strategy
- Attitudinal change and capacity building
- Exploitation awareness and defense
- Disability-specific issues
All training provided is geared at oral learners and does not require literacy skills. This enables the women, who are primarily uneducated, to begin learning immediately and implement changes without having to wait for literacy training. Aids are created in pictorial format and can be reproduced simply, so that the women can pass along what they have learned to their children, neighbors and friends with participatory learning methods.
Discipleship is at the core of everything we do at Women of Hope. Our mission statement is equipping and discipling women with disabilities to become life-long followers of Christ…
We are not interested in making converts. Most of our women will tell us they are Christians without blinking if they think that is what will make us happy. Many of them go to the mosque on Friday, church on Sunday and offer sacrifices to ancestoral spirits any other day of the week, just to cover all their bases.
During CHE training, general meetings and in some small group settings, oral Bible storying is used to begin to reshape the women’s thinking about who God is and their need for Him. CHE training also covers topics of spiritual growth and walking with Christ.
Bible storying in chronological order begins with the creation of the spirit beings, emphasizing the truth that those beings, greatly feared in African society as having arbitrary power over human beings, were created by God and are ruled by Him. After establishing where the spirit beings came from and how they fell in the rebellion led by Satan, then the stories of the creation of the world and humans are covered. The fall, as an extension of the rebellion against God, emphasizes the responsibility of both Adam and Eve and the consequences of sin. Islam teaches about the fall as well, but in a distorted way, placing all the blame on the woman and even changing the nature of the sin so as to devalue and demean women’s very nature. These beliefs contribute to the bondage that women are held in throughout the world where Islam is held in high regard.
Mother’s Support Group:
Women with disabilities deal with many years worth of wrong messages, stemming back to their childhood. They are often rejected by their parents and told they are worthless. The lack of support and resources available to those parents who want to try to give their special needs children the best opportunity that they can creates barriers to those children’s development.
Realizing that re-education needed to start with parents, and particularly mothers, Women of Hope established a support group for mother’s of children with disabilities. During these monthly sessions, mothers are given hope through examples of children with disabilities who have excelled and succeeded, taught coping skills and adaptation methods that will equip their children for life, and given Biblical truths related to disability in order to reshape their thinking about their children. During these sessions, the children are often cared for by staff and volunteers, helping them learn new skills and showing them that they are loved and valued.
To change the situation of people with disabilities (PWDs) in Sierra Leone, the mindset of society in general must first change. Due to animistic and Islamic belief systems, combined with low educational levels, the majority of Sierra Leoneans believe that people with disabilities are cursed by God, demonic and that the curse that is upon them can be transferred to others by being in contact with them. Even those who are more aware and informed often have misguided ideas about the abilities of people with disabilities, treating them with pity, but failing to empower them to reach their potential.
Community awareness campaigns regarding the causes of disability, the potential that PWDs have to become contributing members of society and the rights of PWDs are conducted to begin a paradigm shift in the minds of the community-at-large. Radio programs, symposiums and poster campaigns help to re-educate the population in general, preparing a platform of truth on which women with disabilities can begin to build their lives.