Church Partnerships Enable Children With Disabilities in Sierra Leone
Today, children with disabilities in Sierra Leone are becoming increasingly understood, valued and protected. World Hope International’s Enable the Children program and its partner churches are educating the country’s Christian and Muslim majority about the science of disabilities.
Strategically communicating disability facts saves and changes lives. World Hope developed a simple approach that works well in Sierra Leone:
- Identify the problem: Common superstitions in Sierra Leone falsely link children with disabilities to the devil. That collective fear and subsequent accepted behaviors have led to children’s ostracization, abandonment and preventable deaths.
- Pinpoint an opportunity: People with these superstitions tend to trust and follow the recommendations of their religious leaders.
- Implement a solution: Teach religious leaders in Sierra Leone the science of disabilities and how to communicate from their pulpits the facts about disability inclusion.
- See the results: Disability awareness is trickling down into communities, and children with disabilities now have brighter futures.
“The religious leaders have a tremendous impact on the people, so the more they know about disability and understand how they can help, the more they can affect the communities,” said Rob Brugler, deputy program director of Enable the Children in Sierra Leone. “Enable the Children educates pastors and religious leaders to understand disabilities better and communicate about them accurately.”
Brugler shared the story of Winners Baptist Church in Freetown, the nation’s capital.
As with any good story, there’s a backstory. In 2022, Enable the Children began working with the Baptist Convention of Sierra Leone (a group with 24,000 members across 49 churches) and Tearfund (a charity that provides local church and community transformation training), said Lindsey Smart, annual fund giving manager at World Hope.
“About 36 pastors, including church leaders from the Baptist Convention of Sierra Leone, were present at a two-day training in 2022,” Smart said. “One of the trainings was about a pastor’s training on the Biblical perspective on disability.”
The instructor was Jonathan Williams, lead pastoral support worker with Enable the Children. Williams leads World Hope’s Kupenda Disability Training Programs for religious leaders. He’s worked with World Hope since 2015 and heads a team of two pastors and two social workers, Brugler said.
“He’s a huge advocate for us,” Brugler said.
One of the couples who attended Williams’ first pastor training in May 2022 was “Pastor Jesse” Sidikie Turay of Winners Baptist Church and his wife. The two were so moved that they took immediate action, Brugler said.
“They went back to their church and raised awareness,” Brugler said. “And that’s what the story’s about.”
Pastor Jesse’s pastoral training led to conversations with congregants that changed mindsets about disabilities, which led to outreach and trusted relationships with people with disabilities in their community. Those relationships expanded into an intentional, visible movement and a Dec. 23, 2022, event that celebrated 50 people with disabilities.
Williams made it onto the invitation list.
“They (Winners Baptist Church) invited him because they at first heard about disability in the church and the church’s role from our training,” Brugler said.
U.S. churches sent the 50 guests of honor Christmas gifts. It’s but one example of the impact a U.S. church can have on a child with disabilities.
Church partnerships with Enable the Children support other events, as well, said Nancy Green, chief development officer at World Hope.
“Our Sierra Leone church partnership focuses on advocacy for children living with disabilities,” Green said. “Our U.S. partnerships focus on advocacy in the church and support for events like Beach Day.”
Other churches host retreats for Enable the Children staff who work long hours to serve families in hard circumstances, she said.
Enable the Children has provided physiotherapy and occupational therapy, care and support services to some 1,000 children with disabilities in Sierra Leone and some 3,500 children total. Currently, Enable the Children is working with about 1,000 children, more than half of whom have cerebral palsy. Other children in the program are living with acquired brain injuries, muscular dystrophy, orthopedic, Down syndrome, autism or other challenges.
Mameh Kargbo, a social worker with the World Hope Protection team, has seen the power of church partnerships change public perception of children with disabilities in Sierra Leone. She said these churches deserve a heartfelt “thank you.”
To learn or inquire about church partnership opportunities to support children with disabilities through Enable the Children, visit World Hope’s community partnership page.