Blog // 10.07.2011

Striving On to Impact Rural Lives

Article by Efua A

Mrs. Mary Hawa Turay- a Sierra Leonean living in Canada- knew from a tender age that her main purpose in life was to serve the people in rural Sierra Leone. She wished to help improve the people’s quality of living, and providing opportunities which would lead them towards a brighter future. Tempo was very blessed to have had the opportunity to hear her story.

Mrs. Turay and her husband, Dr. Thomas Turay, founded The Centre for Development and Peace Education, commonly referred to as cdpeace, in the early 1990s right after completing high school. They established the center as a means to work with rural communities in providing resources to support their development in education, health, and other areas. They also saw a need to serve as consultants for local organizations and mediators between them and donor organizations.Usually, western donors are not really accountable to third world partners but expect a lot of accountability from third world partners.” Mrs. Turay said. She gave an example of donors expecting things according to their own timelines without considering the context of the local partners.

Although the Turays initiated cdpeace in their home, they soon realized that in order to progress as an organization and provide better services, they themselves would have to further their education. They decided to go to Canada in 1994, leaving the program in the hands of well trusted staff.

Around the time the centre was founded however, the civil war was birthed.  “We came in 1994 thinking we would come for two years and go back, but the war escalated so we couldn’t go back.” Mrs. Turay said.

The civil war was one thing, but the devastation it left behind was another war of its own. Although the cdpeace centre was not a direct target, their home which housed the centre completely destroyed during the war. “One of our staff members was killed and everyone else was displaced, including family members.” Mrs. Turay added distressfully. Afterward there was not only a call to rebuild infrastructure, but also to restore the shattered lives of many survivors.

Meeting the People’s Needs

The war was only in Freetown for a few months, and over the years it was the rural communities that were most affected. Despite this, after the conflict large amounts of international support going into the country was aimed on rehabilitating the big cities and towns and sadly the rural parts of Sierra Leone were forgotten and the people’s needs were not met.

Mrs. Turay and her husband were deeply disturbed by this and diligently continued their passionate work to restore lives in rural Sierra Leone. Mrs. Turay explained how they began mobilizing communities in Sierra Leone and in Canada. “The war was over but people were dealing with extreme problems. They wanted to send their children back to school but they didn’t know where to start.  So we stepped up and directed people in what they could do. In Canada, we did presentations, organized fundraising activities, and then we started to get people interested in what they could do.”  Mrs. Turay is president of cdpeace in Canada and Director of the international partnership program. Once partners and volunteers arrive in Sierra Leone, Dr. Turay, who returned to oversee the reconstruction and operation of the centre, takes over.

With the support of partners in Canada, the team was the first to set up an internet system in rural communities. “Our focus is to promote rural communities; we want to make life there more livable. So with internet, now we’re having other organizations come into rural Sierra Leone” noted Mrs. Turay.

In addition to setting up an internet system, the organization has been able to execute several other life changing projects in rural communities, including the re- building of several schools that were heavily damaged in the war, and the building of a health centre. For the past four years or so they have been raising funds to rebuild the center, and in 2010 efforts were placed towards the actual construction.

Women’s Income Generating Activities

Kombra– which means “caring and nurturing” in the Temne indigenous language in Sierra Leone is a project founded under cdpeace that aspires to nurture and empower rural women to earn their own income, while educating men on the importance of supporting women. Working with women is Mrs. Turay’s passion. “I became a bit guilty because I realized, I’m learning from the women. I would benefit from them, get a degree, and higher status, but what will they gain? That’s when I started Kombra.”  Through Kombra, a partnership between Canadian and Sierra Leonean women, rural women engage in small business initiatives, such as textile production and fruit jam production.

Mrs. Turay currently lives in Canada where she is earning a part-time Masters Degree in Adult Education with a focus in Women’s Enterprise Development. She also works full-time as student career advisor at St. Francis Xavier University. Aside from her busy study and work routine, she also continues to help run and promote cdpeace. A super woman indeed!

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One Response to “Striving On to Impact Rural Lives”

  1. Tinah says:

    Amazing work! Mary Hawa Turay. It is such a blessing. I am so happy to see Africans educated in Canada giving back to the people and communities in their Homeland that have given so much to them. I too, would like to start a non governmental organization that works with the urban poor and rural communities in Kenya to combat social and ecological issues. The work that you have done is really inspiring.

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