In Cameroon, The Gambia, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, USPG is working alongside the Internal Province of West Africa (IPWA)
IPWA, created in 2012, comprises five countries divided into six dioceses: Cameroon, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia and two dioceses in Sierra Leone.
The province’s bishops, clergy and staff are focused and committed to serving their communities, but as they develop their fledgling province, they are the first to admit that they lack certain types of experience and knowledge.
USPG – as long-standing friends of church in this region – has been a constant companion of IPWA on its journey. We have been a listening ear, providing a space for provincial leaders to explore options and discern the way forward.
In April 2017, IPWA held its first synod, and USPG was there.
The key item on the agenda was to agree on a five-year plan for how to develop the province.
The strategy highlights five key priorities, namely investment, governance, communication, post-Ebola reconstruction and livelihoods, as follows:
- Investment: The province wants to be self-sustainable, which means they need to increase their income through investment. To this end, the province has agreed to carry out an audit of all its assets and resources. For example, the church owns huge areas of land that could be utilised for income generation.
- Governance: Members of the synod are aware that they need to put structures and processes in place to help run it efficiently. To this end, there are plans to appoint a provincial secretary, set up a provincial head office, and provide training for key personnel.
- Communication: There is an awareness that effective communications are critical for the health of any organisation. Therefore, tor the province to function, there is a need to establish the means to communicate with all staff at all levels, which is likely to involve establishing the use of electronic communications.
- Post-Ebola reconstruction: Three countries were affect by Ebola: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Ebola seems to have now gone completely, but the churches are being cautious, aware that the disease could come back. Accordingly, precautionary measures are encouraged, such as washing hands before entering churches. In addition, the church is helping to rebuild health facilities by supporting church-run hospitals and clinics with personnel training, medicines and salaries for staff.
- Livelihoods: All five countries have been suffering, previously due to conflict and civil war, more recently due to Ebola which shattered the economy. The church is researching how best to support communities through such strategies as income generation initiatives, vocational training, agricultural programmes, self-help groups, and micro-finance, with a particular focus on vulnerable groups such as children, youth, women and those with HIV.
For this provincial-wide strategy to work, each diocese will establish its own operational plan that takes into account the local context, which will vary across the region.
Davidson Solanki, USPG International Programmes Manager, said: ‘This work is a very big step for the province, and I have been very impressed with the work of the leadership. They told me: “We don’t need money – we don’t need “fish” – we want to learn how to fish.”
‘My ongoing role will be to offer accompaniment to the province – to provide respectful and dignified support as the leadership seeks to become confident enough to manage its own affairs.
‘The church is also very clear about the centrality of faith. It does not want to become an NGO, but a church that is responding directly to the needs of the people through a holistic approach to mission that takes into account the economic, emotional and spiritual well-being of the people.’