Emmanuel Farma, 30, has had enough of conflict. When Sierra Leone erupted into civil war, his whole family fled their home in the eastern Kailahun district - one of the first areas to experience fighting. They reached comparative safety in the town of Kenema but two of the family died along the way.
Emmanuel was to remain in Kenema because his family - like many others - never returned home after the war because their houses (and livelihoods) had been destroyed.
‘We had loss of property, loss of lives,’ he recalls.
So when the Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD) – a partner organisation that Christian Aid linked up with after the war finished in 2002 – started to bring together youth groups to champion post-war development, Emmanuel knew he had to get involved.
For NMJD, involving young people in its projects – from HIV education to ensuring the country’s mines benefit the whole community – is essential to the rebuilding of Sierra Leone.
In 2003, Emmanuel was elected chair of the Kenema Coalition of Youth Groups; and he has used this role ever since to campaign for the inclusion of young Sierra Leoneans in decision-making so they can contribute positively to their local communities.
He is passionate about improving living standards in Sierra Leone – seven years on from the war most Sierra Leoneans continue to live in grinding poverty – and believes the only way to do this is to put aside conflicts and work together.
It has not been easy in a country where youth have traditionally been left out of decision-making and discriminated against in favour of older people.
But Emmanuel and NMJD are already achieving some success in the Kenema region. Youth in Simbaru and Tongo are finding work after taking up training opportunities provided through NMJD.
And NMJD has helped young people improve their relationships with the community by getting them involved in projects such as the repairing of a local road between Joru and Mendekelema Gaura.
A better future
NMJD believes such initiatives are a necessity, not a luxury.
Young people, who make up the majority of Sierra Leone's population, played a central part in the country's civil war, both as soldiers and civilians affected by the fighting. By addressing their challenges, NMJD believes it can help to bring lasting change for future generations of Sierra Leoneans.