In order to strengthen grassroots advocacy, Tearfund and its local partner AEL organize regular workshops in communities in Liberia. The workshops target local authorities, youth, church- and community-based organizations (CBOs). One such workshop carried out in Tappita Statutory District Nimba County, Liberia, brought about change in one man’s life. Chester, a strong youth leader who in the past was involved in advocating for development projects in his community, had an encounter a couple of years ago that left him demoralized and no longer willing to carry out advocacy.
Chester’s out-going character and zeal to bring about change in his community as well as his accommodating and trusting nature led him to a non-governmental organization (NGO) that promised to help his community build a school. Chester made a formal introduction of this NGO to his community and assured the community on the credibility of the NGO. A few weeks later, the NGO signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the community members. In the MOU, it was agreed that the community would provide sand and rocks for the construction, while the NGO would provide the remaining funds for completion of construction. However, about four months after the MOU was signed, none of the staff of the NGO were around and no funds for the construction of the school had been disbursed. As months passed, anxiety began growing in the community and the blame and distrust fell on Chester. For Chester, this proved a very difficult time as he felt betrayed by both the NGO and his own community. Following the incident, Chester decided not to take part in any advocacy work or developmental work that was on-going in the community. Being one of the only educated and outspoken people in his village, this had a big effect on other on-going development projects in his community.
On 6 September 2008, Tearfund announced advocacy training and encouraged Chester to attend. This training was able to equip Chester with better skills as well as confidence in advocacy:
‘I had decided never to participate in any community development in my town. This workshop has encouraged me to continue advocating for my community. I made mistakes during my interventions in the past simply because I never understood how to advocate. What is expected of an advocate, what to do and what not to do. Now, with this training, I can continue to advocate for good things for my community”.
Chester’s story is just one illustration that shows the difference capacity building in advocacy makes. Advocacy training is key in equipping those in the communities who carry out advocacy with the relevant skills and knowledge, to ensure proper dissemination of information and research on any undertakings. In a case like Chester’s, his withdrawal from advocacy was caused by a feeling of self-blame and betrayal; yet, the training gave him the opportunity to learn the approaches, hurdles and challenges faced in advocacy and ways to overcome these challenges and continue advocating for change at the local level.
For more information, contact WSSCC member Bilha Joy Keiru, Policy and Learning Officer, Tearfund, Nairobi, Kenya, at firstname.lastname@example.org. For general water, sanitation and hygiene advocacy information and tools, visit www.wsscc.org.
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