Trying to do good in another country is not always straightforward. First, you need to find well-defined projects you believe will “do good” in the area you want to serve. Then you need a trusted partner on the ground who shares your objectives and can effectively deliver the nuts-and-bolts work, and do it with integrity.
The Sherbro Foundation is fortunate to have found such a partner in The Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation. CCET is a grassroots, all-volunteer nonprofit group of Sierra Leoneans organized for the development of Rotifunk and Bumpeh Chiefdom.
It’s quite a name and tells you right off what the vision of this group is. It’s no less than the empowerment and transformation of their community.
I was fortunate to have had an early and impactful learning from my old days in the Peace Corps that I’ve carried with me all these years. To make lasting change or improvements, don’t show up with your pre-cooked “solution” and try to give it to people who aren’t sold on – or maybe even aware of – the problem you’ve selected for them. This is generally true anywhere, and even more true when working with a rural community of another culture.
Still today, I see too many NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) trying to solve the problems of the world with their own “programs”. They may not spend enough time in the developing country communities they want to serve to jointly set priorities and agree on approaches to use.
It was a stroke of luck that found me back in Rotifunk for my third return trip right as the concept for the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation was taking shape. I was visiting more of the chiefdom and better understanding the extent of the needs there. I arrived already frustrated in not finding existing nonprofit organizations in the U. S. interested in supporting the kind of small community projects I saw needed in Bumpeh Chiefdom. Grant applications, even if successful, can take months if not a year or more to process. I was already toying with the idea of creating my own nonprofit.
At the same time Prosperity Girls High School had just started their first senior high class, and with that, hired several new teachers. More competent and committed teachers joined those already at PGHS, ready to serve this rural community. Within a month of their arrival, several of the new teachers joined up with existing teachers to form the concept for a community based organization.
The Center concept
I asked Mr. Sonnah and Mr. Kamara, PGHS teachers and thought leaders in the Center, how their concept had come about. Both relayed the same story. Some old university friends of theirs representing an NGO had come to Rotifunk to do a survey. They challenged them to create their own community-based organization. Come on, they said. You’re in this rural place with time on your hands; you have the education and potential to be doing more.
The teachers had already seen how PGHS principal Rosaline Kaimbay was struggling to start adult literacy classes, holding intermittent lessons on the front porch of her house after school let out. The majority of the adult students were women whose educations were interrupted, or maybe never started, because of the war.
The teachers agreed adult literacy would become the first core program for the Center to take on and they would do it on a volunteer basis.
More projects soon followed. The Center’s current project portfolio includes:
- Adult literacy – starting with creating a curriculum of practical skills for small traders and farmers that are illiterate, mainly women.
- Girls Scholarship program – paying school fees to keep teenage girls in Rotifunk’s four secondary schools at a time when drop out rates for girls climb and families have great difficulty paying for the cost of an education.
- Tree nursery for trees of economic value – nursing small teak tree and oil palm seedlings and starting citrus and avocado trees from seed to provide to the community at nominal cost.
- Computer literacy – building the computer skills of local teachers in preparation for organizing the community computer lab the Sherbro Foundation has facilitated with a donated shipment of fifty computers now on their way to Rotifunk.
- Registration of chiefdom births and deaths –helping set up a model process where none now exists in Bumpeh Chiefdom, or most of rural Sierra Leone.
- Adult sports teams for women – organizing women’s football (soccer) teams to give women still traumatized from the war a physical outlet for stress and team building for a peer network.
Within five months of their initial conceptual discussion, the Center volunteers are busy planting trees, teaching computer skills, and developing lessons on basic computations for illiterate market women.
This is what I call empowerment. They’re getting going on concrete, practical programs that can help transform their community using the limited resources they have.
The Sherbro Foundation is proud to have helped with start-up costs for the Center. We have donated money to pay fees for the Center to officially register as a nonprofit with several Sierra Leone ministries, making them eligible for local grant funds. We have also provided money for classroom furniture to be locally built for the computer lab, and to purchase farming tools and oil palm seedlings for the tree nursery. We will fund a one-day workshop where people will be taught how to complete the birth/death registrations.
More will follow on each of these projects.
Mr. Sonnah explained the Center’s logo to me and how it symbolizes what they plan to accomplish. A man and a woman are together holding one torch light. Light brings about transformation, and men and women are equally balanced in holding one light. They are surrounded by olive branches depicting them rescuing the chiefdom from its past traumas. They are transforming the chiefdom to be a better place. Mr. Kamara said in his quietly confident manner, we are developing our brothers and sisters, and we know with our work today, tomorrow will be a brighter day. We see our future as bright.
The Sherbro Foundation sees their future as bright, too, and we’re happy to be helping them on their way.