Sierra Leone Chesterton Center

by Stratford Caldecott

[Friends, I was made aware of the Sierra Leone Chesterton Center by the great distributist, Aidan Mackey. What follows was originally presented by Second Spring: A Journal of Faith and Culture.]

The potential application of Chestertonian Distributist ideas in Africa, Latin America, parts of Asia.

Designated in UN statistics as one of the poorest countries in the world, and until recently torn by civil war, SL is desperately in need of constructive initiatives to open up a real future for its people. The SL Chesterton Center has been conceived and designed by Sierra Leonians educated in the West as an educational project to train young local people in techniques of agriculture. The idea is to help them take the lead in regenerating the economy of SL.

It was exposure to the ideas of G.K. Chesterton at Plater College that inspired the project. Chesterton's Distributism could be described as a social philosophy that believes in the importance of the rural economy, self-sufficiency, local community. Society is healthier the more individuals and families are able to stand on their own feet, supporting themselves from their own land or business, and the less they are dependent on the state or employer for wages and assistance. It is called Distributism because it believes in widening the distribution of ownership to all levels of society.

In the first year of the Chesterton Center, 600 young people in two separate rural communities (in the north and south of SL) are targeted for educational assistance. The project will initially benefit the local communities where these people are working, and in the longer term the wider society of SL. John Kanu is the National Secretary, responsible for coordinating the project activities at national and local levels, aided by Community Committees in the project's operational areas.

We want to help by supporting the educational effort, and later to take from the SL experience a "model" of Distributism in action that could be applied also in other parts of the world. For example the pattern might look a bit like this:

• Locate a team and team leader to support, who will be able to mobilize part of native population.
• Establish an educational initiative. Support it with books, articles, online references, and advice on working economic models and experiences from other parts of the world.
• Partnership with dioceses and reliance on predictable volunteer economic and community development organizations.
• Finance? Assist with voluntary donations, grant application advice.
• Identify appropriate crops and technologies for agricultural development.
• Acquire access to land for communal development.
• Plan the marketing of produce to local areas with a view to self-sustenance and even profitability (community-supported agriculture).
• Plan extension of the method to other like communities.
• Establish appropriate education in these communities.

We would welcome ideas and discussion of this project, and any assistance individual readers might be able to offer.

In January 2006 John Kanu sent this update:

Much has happened in Sierra Leone over the last four years. Thanks to international pressure which led to successful national and local political elections as the last batch of UN troops are due to leave Sierra Leone a week from today. Today, armed with Distributist ideas and exposing the recklessness of social and economic injustices in any society, the Sierra Leone Chesterton Centre (SLCC), in collaboration with other local civil organizations is silently helping to counter the recurrence of civil strife in Sierra Leone. Post-war reconstruction is challenging and much is yet to be addressed to sustain the current status quo. More than any other form of support, your moral support has been and will continue to help us keep focused especially when we often feel the tide moving against us.

You requested information on what a donation of, say, 20 pounds sterling would provide for families or local communities in Sierra Leone. Well, a lot. For example, a recent donation of 50 pounds will be utilized to pay for four bushels of seed rice and local farm tools for two farm-families, comprising of 16 individuals during the present farming season in Mathalay village. At the cost of 20 pounds each per family, the impact of such small donations are enormous.

As you may be aware, the SLCC maintains a policy to set up individual families on a one-off basis in agriculture, but with continued technical assistance in collaboration with our partners (Ministry of Agriculture and the SL Farmers Association) to ensure that once assisted, families or groups do not relapse to situations where they were before our assistance.

In sum, this means 50 pounds including travelling cost would set up at least 2 families per farming season, being the start-up of a long rural community partnership process. Most importantly, for that amount of money families are not only provided with farm inputs, but also the basic tools and information to address long-term rural community renewal and cohesion.

Last year for example, a total donation of 300 pounds, we were able to experiment by mobilizing a fairly large community in Mathalay (Northern province) of nearly 50 families to undertake a 10 acre cassava farm. As of now and following a mini-agricultural exhibition last year, a small co-operative community industry has begun. What we seek this year and subsequent years is to expand and replicate such initiative to other parts of the country, hence my project proposal last year and indeed, your continued assistance to achieve grater impact.

As the demands grow to maintain regular community visits and coordinate activities with our local partners (MIDI, Min. of Agriculture, SLFA and Network Movement), it appears that this work will be a full-time engagement for me in the near future. In the meantime, it looks like what is most required is not always the large sums of money but rather a large capacity and will to act.


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