How a group of single mothers is changing lives in Sierra Leone

By Joshua Lew McDermott

Just south of Bo, the second largest city in Sierra Leone, lies Tinkonko, a bustling and largely-rural chiefdom home to about 54,000 individuals.

Like the rest of Sierra Leone, Tinkonko has a high prevalence of single mothers, especially teenage mothers, and at-risk children and orphans. A 2013 United Nations report states that Sierra Leone has the seventh highest teenage pregnancy rate in the world and that 40% of Sierra Leonean women will have a child before they are 18.

In a country where poverty and hunger are rampant even among two-spousal families, the level of poverty that single mothers face is often a matter of life and death.

In February of this year, a group of ten local women came together to found the Mother and Child Livelihood Concern (MCLC), a grassroots community organization which aims to empower local single mothers, their children, and orphans within Tinkonko.

The group’s model is simple: by providing land, seeds, tools, and training to single mothers and community volunteers, MCLC gives local women access to food, life skills, community support, and independent capital. As the group continues to expand its work and influence, it also plans to use funding from the sale of crops for housing and school fees for homeless and orphaned children.

Local women plant crops as part of MCLC in Tinkonko

Truly a community effort, the land used by MCLC members was donated by a founding member. Through fundraising efforts and the dedicated time and effort of the local women, MCLC also provides members of the program with the necessary tools, seeds, and training to grow, harvest, and sell their own crops. But the effort is not atomized or cut off from the broader community: on any given day, local single mothers, group organizers, and other supportive community members can be seen working on the MCLC plots.

Nancy Kangbai, one of the groups ten founders, spoke to Africanist Press about the impetus for the project and why she believes localized community efforts such as MCLC are vital for African communities.

Like the other founding members of MCLC, Nancy knows first-hand the difficulties mothers face in Sierra Leone. The child of a single mother, Nancy is also a widow, a single mother of three young children, and the guardian of her sister’s child. Denied a tertiary education due to her family’s difficulties, Nancy says she helped to start MCLC to provide children and women in the community with opportunities she never had.

“Women go through so many difficulties in our society,” Nancy said, noting that “women should not have to be dependent on their husbands.”

 The group says government should implement social policies that promote the well-being of single-mothers, including loans to women entrepreneurs, funding for girls’ education, and providing welfare services for single mothers and children.

MCLC recently completed its first phase of agricultural activities, with a harvest of peanuts and then corn.

Community members harvest groundnuts as part of MCLC

“The first phase was a success,” Nancy said, explaining that excess money raised from selling the crops was used to offer loans to local women and to purchase school supplies for two children for every single-mother participant.

While MCLC is concerned about how to continue raising the necessary funds to sustain and grow their efforts, Nancy believes it’s is better for locals to be in control.

“These are social problems that can only be solved by involving community stakeholders to help in the facilitation of projects and by employing local staff,” she said.

The group hopes that donors, both foreign and domestic, will continue to support their efforts while allowing them to retain control of the project. The group’s online fundraising campaign is ongoing at

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