Irish Presbyterians to provide meaningful aid in Sierra Leone

Cunningham Memorial Presbyterian church, Cullybackey, Co Antrim     Picture: Billy MaxwellCunningham Memorial Presbyterian church, Cullybackey, Co Antrim     Picture: Billy Maxwell
Cunningham Memorial Presbyterian church, Cullybackey, Co Antrim Picture: Billy Maxwell
​With displacement of people in Sierra Leone’s tropical forests continuing, families are having to start their lives from scratch as a result of the practices of multinational palm oil companies and local collaborators.

​This year’s Presbyterian Church in Ireland world development appeal will provide meaningful support and training to enable those who have been forced off their land to rebuild their lives.

For 40 years, in the run up to Christmas and over the New Year, the Irish Presbyterian church’s 500-plus congregations have come together to support the annual appeal.

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Assisting the work of PCI’s relief and development partners, Christian Aid and Tearfund in a number of countries across the globe, this year’s lead project is a Christian Aid programme seeking to lessen the economic and humanitarian effect of the ongoing injustice around palm oil production in West African nation Sierra Leone.

More than 30,000 people in 50 villages in Malen chiefdom in Sierra Leone’s Pujehun district have been impacted by arrival of a multi-national-owned palm oil plantation over a decade ago.

The 18,000 acres have been leased, of which 12,000 make up the plantation, has also been blamed for pollution of the local environment as well as the destruction of farmland.

As the Rev Liam Rutherford, convener of Presbyterian world development appeal committee explained, while congregations are being asked to support the appeal, titled‘ Starting from Scratch: Hope for the Displaced’, the church also asks people more widely to consider the impact of their actions as consumers, if the palm oil that they use is not sustainably sourced.

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“In many countries, large European-based companies are buying up or leasing land for palm oil plantations, often with the support of local agencies and village elders, with little or no regard for the people who live on that land and rely on it for their livelihoods,” said Mr Rutherford, minister of Ballydown church, Banbridge.

“The generosity of Irish Presbyterians will make a difference to the lives of many, especially women, in helping them to rebuild their lives and start from scratch.,"

Christian Aid's head of fundraising Ruth Cooke, who met women impacted by the palm oil plantation when she was in Sierra Leone, said: "To assist 300 women who were forced to abandon their homes following the arrival of the plantation, money raised by the PCI world development appeal will fund a village savings and loan scheme.

“I saw how the scheme makes a real difference to the lives of the women.”

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* Primarily for Presbyterians, the WDA normally raises between £300,000 and £500,000 to support life-changing sustainable development projects in some of the poorest communities and disadvantaged places in the world. This year the appeal will also support Tearfund projects, including those in Bangladesh, working through the local church to equip communities to reduce the impact of climate related disasters. A proportion of PCI funding is also set aside for the church’s international partners’ development projects.