Since 2018, DANIEL SARA TURAY has been running a huge project in his region of Sierra Leone. The aim: to build over 100 miles of roads in order to connect villages that have never been connected by road before. To do this, he’s recruited hundreds of local volunteers. In this new episode of How To Build Community, he tells us how and why. Listen to it here, or read the highlights below.
Daniel runs the Centre for Positive Attitude and Sustainable Development. He's observed a problem of dependency: “a negative mindset, that everything should be done by government, or by NGOs.” He believes that this has to change before community development work can be successful. “Until the mindset changes, it will not work, and even if it works, it will not be sustainable.” So he’s determined to change attitudes. “You know, it is quite a daunting task.”
Another daunting task: building over 100 miles of road. But it's a necessity for the 10,000 people across 40 villages in Daniel’s chiefdom in Sierra Leone. There are only two health facilities in the area, and 80% of the villages are not accessible by road. The furthest villages are 30-35 miles from the chiefdom’s headquarters, which has to be travelled on foot.
Inaccessibility is a huge barrier to community members. It affects their ability to access healthcare, education, agriculture and commerce. Daniel said, “it’s difficult to even build schools or health centres, because it's difficult to carry important materials.” During the rainy season, children are kept home from school to avoid flooding. If produce is grown, it's not possible to carry it all to the bigger towns to sell. And NGOs won't operate in places that aren't accessible by road.
Daniel’s team began this huge task by carrying out a survey. The lack of a road network emerged as a problem stopping any other development activities. To acquire tools, they asked for donations from descendants of the chiefdom. And for labour, he recruited over 200 volunteers from the villages. They each give one day a week to working on the road. He also recruited supervisors and set up weekly meetings: a system of accountability. He explained the enthusiasm of the volunteers: “they see it as a need, and that is why we are getting maximum support from them. Because they want it, because their parents, their grandparents, have suffered, and they want to leave a legacy behind.”
He also had the idea of a tool library, to keep track of the tools being used. “People are really buying it and they think it's a wonderful idea.” It will also be used for the maintenance of the roads when they’re complete, and for other local needs. Asked if the project has received any government support, Daniel was emphatic: no. When they have completed the road surface, then they will invite councils and NGOs to the area and suggest how they might be able to help. “We don't want to start with them, we want to start with ourselves.”
Daniel often says that he is retired, but he is not tired. We had to know: where does he get his energy from? He said, “it is an innate tendency in me…. One of the reasons is that I'm very passionate about grassroots development, because I come from a very very poor background.” He isn’t motivated by wealth. “If you become excessively wealthy, I don't admire it, I know it's from corrupt means. And so I don't care much about what I make for myself, but I care about what I do for people. That is my orientation in life.”
He had some simple advice for people wanting to start community projects like his. First, he has a saying: “don't work for people, work with people. Working for people is not sustainable.” And secondly, he recommends starting with a survey: “my advice is try and go and study the dynamics in the community.” And ultimately, everything comes back to mindset. “For countries, especially for developing countries, one of the things I really want to advise is that people need to take responsibility for the development of their communities.”
Listen to more episodes of the How To Build Community podcast here.