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Sierra Leone has faced educational, social, and economic challenges in the decades following the country’s independence from Britain in 1961, including a decade-long civil war that ended in 2002 and the largest Ebola outbreak in history, from 2014 to 2015. The poverty rate is 64 percent, life expectancy is only 60 years, and across rural Sierra Leone the literacy rate is 48 percent. Only 16 percent of the population has access to basic sanitation, and only 2 percent has access to potable water.
Like other aid groups, the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based nonprofit OneVillage Partners aimed to provide assistance to struggling communities in Sierra Leone. Commercial real estate developer Jeff Hall founded the nonprofit in 2005, inspired by his visit with friends who had survived the civil war and were living in camps for displaced persons. These friendships began in 1987 when Hall worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Eastern Sierra Leone.
Relationships are the building blocks of the nonprofit’s efforts. “OneVillage Partners’ work is grounded in being community-led and asking people what they need and how can we help so that they can improve their lives,” says Jill LaLonde, the nonprofit’s executive director.
OneVillage Partners begins work in a community by first convening its members and asking them to select 12 residents to represent them in a community action group (CAP). These volunteers act as liaisons between the community and OneVillage Partners staff. OneVillage Partners facilitates project-management training for CAP and brings in technical experts and partners on projects as needed.
All 32 communities with which the nonprofit has worked have prioritized water and sanitation issues. Each community has designed a project unique to its circumstances. While one community might rehabilitate broken wells, another might require entirely new wells. One community might charge well-users for each use, while another may tax the entire community for open access. Many communities have built latrines for improved sanitation and have educated their residents on the importance of utilizing and maintaining these facilities. In 2022, communities that implemented water and sanitation projects reported on average a 73 percent reduction in diarrheal disease, according to OneVillage Partners’ data.