13/05/2012 18:16 BST | Updated 13/07/2012 06:12 BST

How the People of Sierra Leone are Being Helped to Help Themselves

There's nothing more surreal than bullet-holes in a village setting.

In many ways, with its beaches and lush, green landscapes, Sierra Leone should be an ideal holiday destination. Unfortunately, the brutal civil war of 1991, which only ended 10 years ago, has taken its toll.

As I passed through the village of Tihun, four hours of bumpy roads south-west of the capital Freetown, signs of the war were a reminder that even remote villages did not escape the brutality. Houses were covered with bullet-holes, and there was a sign commemorating 2,000 lives, all lost in just one community. It left me with a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach.

It's unimaginable for us back in the UK to think of that kind of loss. In one of the world's poorest countries, war only makes people's situation worse.

For example, the problem of malnutrition grew as food was scarce, and hospitals were closed. Parents had nowhere to take their children when they were sick. Even in 2012, one in five Sierra Leonean children does not live to see their fifth birthday.

Farming equipment had been left to rust, tools had been abandoned and there was a lack of investment in new machinery. The crops that farmers grew were barely enough to feed their families. And this was in Bonthe district, which alone contained enough fertile land to feed the whole country. When you consider that half of Sierra Leone's population of 5.9 million survive on subsistence farming, you realise how important it is.

Sierra Leone is a country with so much potential. Because people are now being provided by Christian Aid with the tools to lift themselves out of poverty, that potential is being given a chance and people can fulfil their dreams.

I went to the Agricultural Work Centre, which with the assistance of Christian Aid partner organisation MCSL was providing 14 communities with direct access to new machines like nut oil producers and cassava graters. This machinery saves the women, who do around 70% of the work, hours of hard labour and means they can earn more money at the market for their processed goods.

The theme of Christian Aid Week this year is about giving communities the tools to lift themselves out of poverty. Ganyeh Seilu, a mother of six, has benefitted hugely from the centre. Speaking to her made me quite emotional.

Her house was burnt down during the war, her husband was killed and she lost five children to malnutrition. She was such a gentle human being. Imagine losing children because you can't feed them. She wasn't angry, she wasn't bitter, she wasn't complaining and she wasn't full of rage.

She has been helped by MCSL with tools and seeds to start a cassava farm, which now produces enough crops for her to sell. This extra income means she can pay the school fees, and buy uniforms, for her remaining six children. Every woman should aspire to be like her.

I got to see how small change can change lives in such a big way. We think of charity as being large scale projects, but sometimes it can effect huge changes with what we'd think of as small adjustments.

The Gbap community had been encouraged by MCSL to form a committee, which then pressured the local government into building a school. The headmaster described the previous school to me as 'a death trap'. Now 98% of the community are going to school, and girls are being encouraged to study when they weren't before.

I met an inspirational 12 year-old called Patricia. Her mother hadn't gone to school, and neither had her grandmother. But Patricia was already talking to me about how she wanted to be president.

The kids here seem to appreciate so much and they absorb everything. Patricia and other kids her age should be given the opportunity to fulfil their dreams. Why not?

Every single person I spoke to thought that things in Sierra Leone were getting better. And it's in such simple ways, too.

In the job I do, I'm in such a fortunate position. I have grown up around charity work but this trip was a fantastic opportunity to see where the money goes. It has really inspired me to do more.

Seeing how much people have bounced back with a bit of help is really encouraging, it makes you realise how much more can be achieved with a little more help from all of us.

Tali Lennox

Christian Aid Week 2012 runs from 13-19 May. Donate online at, call 08080 006 006, or text "GIVE" to 78866 to give £5.

The first £5m donated to Christian Aid Week 2012 will be matched by the Government pound for pound, so that the charity can help more people in poor communities around the world work their way out of poverty.