Organisations working to tackle poverty in Sierra Leone and Liberia were able to question and challenge CAFOD during a lively workshop in Sierra Leone last week. The week-long meeting, which was hosted by CAFOD and its sister agency Caritas Germany, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, brought together nearly 40 local organisations and 6 agencies from the CIDSE and Caritas networks of Catholic development agencies in Europe and USA. Those attending the workshops were also joined by Bishop Biguzzi of Makeni in Sierra Leone, and Bishop Zeigler of Gbarnga in Liberia. Participants spent the week discussing ways in which local organisations could change the way they work, through a process known as Organisational Development, so they can become more professional, relevant and dynamic, allowing them to have an even greater impact on the poor and marginalised communities in which they work. Most of the agencies had, until recently, concentrated their efforts on responding to the needs of people caught up in brutal conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia, by providing food and shelter or lobbying for the release of child soldiers. Now that the wars are over, organisations are looking to move away from emergency aid to supporting poor communities to rebuild their livelihoods. The workshop gave local agencies a chance to speak candidly about the many challenges they face in achieving this. There was also an opportunity for local organisations, of which 6 were CAFOD partners, to speak frankly to the northern agencies - CAFOD, Caritas Germany, Misereor, Trocaire and CRS - about how internal organisational changes had worked in the past, and to challenge their European and American partners on the level of their support. Philip Kamara, Deputy Director of Caritas Makeni, one of CAFOD's partner organisations, said: "Chances like this don't come along very often. We spent the week talking about how we can improve our organisations from the inside, but we were also given the opportunity to talk frankly to our northern donor agencies. We were able to point out some weaknesses and limitations to their previous involvement with us and together we worked out how we could improve on that for the future. "We also spoke openly about the difficulties we face in our changing environments - it is clear that making some changes to the way we work is vital if we are to respond to the changing needs of communities." Vincent Bolt, CAFOD's Country Programme Manager, said: "This is the first time CIDSE/Caritas has met in Sierra Leone, Liberia or Guinea, and holding our annual meeting here in Freetown has turned out to be a huge success. "Not only were we able to talk to local organisations about changes they can make which will enhance their sustainability and contribute to their success, the week-long workshop was a fantastic opportunity for us, our local partners, and the local Church to come together in an open environment and to talk plainly to one another. Not many northern agencies offer their local partners the chance to do that. The healthy debate has ensured that lessons have most definitely been learned by all." The 2008 CIDSE/Caritas meeting will be held in Monrovia next January. CAFOD opened an office in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in April 2006 covering Sierra Leone and Liberia.
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