OneVillage Partners is a young and growing organization yet its roots begin in 1988.
In 1988, Jeff Hall served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the villages of Jokibu, Foindu, and Pujehun in eastern Sierra Leone. Living for 2 years amongst the villagers, Jeff was tasked with improving agricultural techniques amongst the farmers to increase food self-sufficiency. The primary goal was to increase rice swamp development. While in the village, Jeff made life-long friends and despite the years, he stayed in touch with 3 of his closest friends.
Beginning in 1991, Sierra Leone experienced a brutal civil war. The villagers were forced to flee from their homes and farms. The war officially ended in 2002 and Jeff returned to Sierra Leone to locate his friends in 2004. Jeff was happy to find that his 3 closest friends has survived the war and were living, with most of the residents from the villages in a refugee camp. In conversations with the villagers, it became clear that people wanted to return to their homes but were uncertain they could successfully resume subsistence farming. Their farmland is in the rain forest and without continual care, their fields were most likely overcome with vegetation growth. Moreover, when the rebel front came through the villages during the war, they removed the aluminum roofs from homes to use as scrap metal, rendering the villagers’ previously sturdy homes into makeshift structures easily damaged by the intense rainy season.
Jeff decided to raise money in Minneapolis to help the villagers return to their homes and resume their lives. As villagers returned, Jeff supplied bags of rice to reduce starvation while fund raising amongst his local church, Plymouth Congregational Church, to purchase aluminum roofs. The need for roofs became acutely clear when farmers had to spend a disproportionate amount of time fixing their makeshift roofs rather than in the fields. To subsistence farmers that do not generate a crop surplus, this time expenditure can result in malnutrition.
During the fund raiser for roofs, titled “Roofs for Salone”, numerous church members were eager to assist the villages. Together, they raised approximately $200,000 – enough to purchase 400 roofs and benefit over 4,000 villagers. With Roofs for Salone a successful project with tangible impact, many people wanted to continue their support of the villagers.
With growing involvement by the members of the church, Sierra Leone Plymouth Partnership was born in 2006. The Partnership was an ideal fit: it enabled a social justice-oriented church a hands-on, grassroots opportunity and provided Jeff with the additional support and camaraderie needed to further develop the possibilities of long term development for Sierra Leone into a professional organization.
Jeff began to make an annual trip to the villagers to visit his friends and see the progress. Church members and friends began to accompany him to see the impact of their donations on the villagers’ lives. Overwhelmed by the extreme need in the villages and interested to assist, the number of people invested in the success of the villagers grew.
In 2010, Sierra Leone Plymouth Partnership began operations under a new name, OneVillage Partners. This name change signals the growth of the organization to an independent nonprofit with increasing programs, activities, and responsibilities. OneVillage Partners continues to maintain a close administrative relationship with Plymouth Congregational Church until 501(c)3 status is granted, which is anticipated in late 2010 or early 2011.
As the organization grows, we welcome your participation in this important endeavor to create a sustainable model for rural development.