Practical Tools Initiative is a voluntary organisation set up to collect, refurbish, and send used tools to deprived post-war communities for social and economic rehabilitation. The organisation aims to provide practical support to trained and skilled people in communities for the purpose of income generation, employment development and community reintegration. The organisation also provides learning materials for local schools, and mobility aid such as wheelchairs and crutches for disabled people.
In the last twenty years Sub-Sahara Africa has undergone considerable transition in its social, economic and political life. Civil wars and pre and post-election violence have displaced entire communities, forcing them to live a life of economic inactivity, extreme poverty, destitution and poor health. Many skilled artisans and trained crafts men and women have been displaced, and farmers have been forced to leave their homes and livelihoods. This displacement has caused serious overcrowding, unemployment, and crime in larger towns and cities especially in countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia. Practical Tools Initiative aims to reengage people through the provision of tools, learning materials for schools, and mobility aid for disabled people.
Practical Tools Initiative is the first organisation of its kind to be set up by the diaspora for the purpose of supporting poverty reduction campaigns and strategies in Africa.
Practical Tools Initiative is a unique, fast-growing and forward-looking voluntary organisation whose work is grounded on evidence-based research work in West Africa. Its front-line activities and impact are not only driven by its engagement with community partners in West Africa and the UK, but also by its deep understanding of the socio-economic and social policy issues affecting social rehabilitation, employment and economic regeneration in these countries.
The practical work, which started in The Gambia in the late 1990s proved very successful. In 1997 James Fallah-Williams, whilst working with the Methodist Mission representative in the Gambia, received a delivery of used tailoring tools including sewing machines.
James identified that some Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees in the Gambia were trained tailors and needed machines to practice their profession. He also identified that Gambia youths were leaving school without skills. He gave machines to Sierra Leonean refugees in Serekunda, Gambia’s largest city. Upon visiting the project, he met a sixteen-year-old Gambian girl who had just completed her secondary education but she did not pass her exams. She wanted to learn tailoring. She was given a machine and placed with a professional tailor who had also been given machines. In 2001 James returned to the Gambia to complete a research project on the impact of poverty alleviation policies on women in the country for his degree. He visited the projects where he had distributed machines. To his amazement, the girl had completed her apprenticeship and found her own tailoring shop on the Bundun high street, producing and selling ladies’ dresses. The professional tailor who trained her had also extended his workshop and taken in new apprentices. James went on to produce a successful undergraduate dissertation on the impact of poverty alleviation policies on women in the Gambia.
In 2001 James visited Sierra Leone immediately after the war, and further work through partnership development was done. Upon his return he appealed for tools, and he received considerable response from the Southampton district synod of the Methodist Church, Warwick University Chaplaincy, the Gibbs Trust in Bristol, and from several other organisations and individuals. Bristol, Portsmouth and Greater Manchester have now become the main tool collection regions in the UK through volunteers.
The programme has now established itself as a diaspora-led voluntary organisation looking forward to working in several countries in the region.
Our work focuses on key issues such as youth unemployment, education, disability, and women’s empowerment. We also carry out high-level campaigning and advocacy work in UK and Africa.
The Gambia work has mostly been done by UK volunteers, working with local clinics and schools in Marakissa. Right.