The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Self-Development of People (SDOP), Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) ministries of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministry area are leading the way in the reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and the world is taking notice.  The West Africa Initiative (WAI) was one of 800 nominations from 113 countries recently selected to receive the prestigious Equator Initiative Award.  The WAI is a SDOP, PHP and PDA–led partnership between several U.S. denominations, including the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the United Church of Christ (UCC), and the Disciples of Christ, and ecumenical partners in Liberia and Sierre Leone.

The goal of the WAI is to support and strengthen the capacity of rural community groups to develop self-reliant and independent organizations that are engaged in food production and marketing, thus contributing to the improvement of community food security and the economic and social well-being of their members.

The United Nations Development Program, the awarding body, brings together the United Nations, governments, civil society, businesses and grassroots organizations to recognize and advance local sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities.  The prize is awarded biennially and shines a spotlight on the efforts of local and indigenous groups across the world charting a path towards sustainable development by honoring them on an international stage.  The Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of SDOP, PDA, and PHP started the WAI initiative in 2008.

"We celebrate the West African Initiative, Liberia on many levels," says Cynthia White, coordinator for the PC(USA)’s SDOP program.  "This is one of the first collaborative efforts of the ministries supported by the One Great Hour of Sharing offering.  This was truly an ecumenical effort.  We worked in partnership with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the United Church of Christ,  Agricultural Missions, Inc. as well as our religious and community partners in Liberia.  However, the greatest blessing in all of this is seeing the joy on the faces of the farmers as they are now able to feed their families and contribute to the economic well-being of their community.  Receiving this award attests to the great work being done."

In Liberia the program promotes agriculture, apiculture, snail raising, and the planting of multi-purpose tree species to improve the livelihood options of unemployed rural farmers. Over 200 farmers received training and a starter kit containing beehives, snail cages, basic carpentry tools, and moringa tree seedlings. To date these farmers in eight villages have also received training and initial starter kits to launch businesses that generated an average of $3,500 per year per group.  Participating individuals also have access to leadership training, guidance on small-business development, and a revolving microcredit fund, which provides start-up capital.  Improved incomes have been invested in education, health and community infrastructure needs.

The coordinator of WAI Liberia, Ezekiel Freeman, will travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to receive the award in June during the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development.