An Overview of the Community Driven Intervention to Reduce Teenage Pregnancy in Sierra Leone

Globally, the dominant approaches used by NGOs to establish or support community-based child protection mechanisms are characterized by relatively low levels of community ownership. This is problematic since community ownership is one of the primary determinants of the effectiveness and sustainability of interventions. In addition, top-down efforts at strengthening child protection systems have suffered from limited use and also from pushback from local communities. A case in point is Sierra Leone, where people in rural communities have tended not to use state imposed community-based Child Welfare Committees and have viewed child rights education as alien and damaging to parental authority. Overall, the low levels of community ownership of the formal aspects of the child protection system in Sierra Leone have contributed to the disconnect between the formal and nonformal aspects of the national child protection system.

To address these issues, the Interagency Learning Initiative has cultivated a process of community-driven action that addresses needs of vulnerable children in Bombali and Moyamba Districts of Sierra Leone through linkages and partnership between rural communities and the formal health and child protection systems. The initial stage was ethnographic research that enabled learning about local views of childhood, harms to children, what happens when the harms occur, and linkages with the formal system. The research took place in a cluster of three villages from a single Chiefdom in each of the two districts. The ethnographic findings were shared back with each cluster of communities, who validated the findings and reflected on their own on what they should do to address the problems. In important respects, these reflections set the stage for the next phase--the action research phase.

In participatory action research and community mobilization approaches, local groups of people collectively identify a problem of concern and then mobilize themselves to plan, implement, and evaluate an intervention to address the problem. This approach generates high levels of community ownership since it is the community that defines the problem and manages or runs the intervention. In this approach, the community holds the power and makes the key decisions about which problem to address, what steps to take in addressing it, how to organize itself to implement the intervention, whom to partner with and how, and so on.

In Sierra Leone, both clusters of communities chose teenage pregnancy as the problem to be addressed. The intervention planning discussions overlapped with the discussions that aimed to select which issue to address. The intervention planning discussions were highly inclusive and used a methodology very similar to that which had been used to decide on the priority issue to address. The intervention process was documented in a systematic manner by Sierra Leonean monitors who lived and worked in the villages and who used participant observation methodology to capture various activities.

Published 2019-01-14