“Children born today have no provision that will guarantee they survive.” — Paramount Chief Charles Caulker, Bumpeh Chiefdom, Sierra Leone.
Every newborn life holds the promise of tomorrow. Yet, Chief Caulker’s recent comment is reality in Sierra Leone.
But maybe you can grow a baby’s future. Literally.
Planting a tree for a newborn infant is an old Sierra Leone tradition. Now, the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation (CCET) in Rotifunk is kicking off a new program to plant an income-producing fruit tree for each newborn in Bumpeh Chiefdom.
And they’re taking it to the next level by opening a bank account for the newborn where income from selling the tree’s fruit can be deposited and grow. In 12 years, it will fund the child’s education. Simple. And that’s why it should work.
Being a newborn baby in rural Sierra Leone is tough. The proverbial deck is stacked against them, but it’s slowly getting better. Sierra Leone is no longer among the countries with the top ten infant mortality rates. It’s No. 11, and, that’s a post-war low of 75 infant deaths per 1000 births in 2013 — a 50% drop in ten years.
Little Abraham is one newborn in Rotifunk awaiting his tomorrow and what it will bring. Born to a single mother, he crossed his first milestone by successfully reaching his first month’s birthday. A healthy baby delivered in a safe delivery, he now faces the challenge of moving beyond the poverty of his peer group.
Children survive only to be stuck in a cycle of poverty as they become adolescents. Breaking this cycle in rural villages is a tough nut to crack. In subsistence agriculture environments like Bumpeh Chiefdom, there’s very little left over after feeding and clothing your family for things like schooling.
It’s clear to all that education is one of the biggest keys to escaping the poverty cycle. Yet, sending your kids to the local primary school may be as big a stretch as you can make. Secondary school – often in another town involving room and board – can be an impossibly high hurdle.
The Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation has kicked off a new program designed to help Bumpeh Chiefdom parents prepare well in advance for clearing this hurdle. The Newborn Baby Project combines the old tradition of planting a tree for a newborn infant with a new opportunity: savings accounts in a newly opened rural community bank.
CCET is reinstating Bumpeh Chiefdom’s practice of newborn tree planting by providing fruit trees that will produce $100 of income a year for years to come. They will also initially pay the minimum balance to open an account for the infant in the community bank. Parents are then expected to add to the account with income from selling the tree’s fruit and other savings over time.
By the time the child is twelve or fourteen years of age, they should have money to fund their secondary school education and, hopefully, additional money to help their start in life as a young adult.
CCET is using another old tradition, the Naming Ceremony, to initiate the program. Parents gather family and friends a week after the child’s birth to officially announce the child’s name and seek blessings for the infant. This is the time to plant the infant’s tree, and allow the child and the tree to grow up together.
The innovative part of CCET’s program is to open a bank account for each newborn in their first weeks of life, paying the required minimum balance, and then have income from the child’s tree added over time. Parents are encouraged to add to the account when they can.
In the West, we take savings and bank accounts for granted. In October, Rotifunk opened its first-ever bank, a rural community bank. This bank operates more like a credit union does here in the US. Account holders are seen as members and shareholders of the bank. Money held by the bank is invested in conservative investments and income is paid out to shareholders.
As a community bank, accounts can also be opened for a small minimum deposit – as small as Le15,000 or about $3.50 USD. Having a safe and accessible place to save small amounts of money has long been a barrier to the world’s lowest-income people saving money.
They want to save. But the amount of money they can set aside for saving is usually so small, traditional banks don’t want to bother with this kind of account. Traditional banks also impose transaction fees that can be as large as the deposit or withdrawal the saver wants to make. Add to that, problems with access. Traditional banks are usually located far from small village savers in bigger population centers.
With the new community bank in Rotifunk, the Newborn Baby Project will now start providing for the infant’s future within their first weeks of their life. The symbolism of a child and their tree growing up together will be expanded with an income producing tree and a bank account to grow that income.
Growing a child’s future – that’s what this project aims to do. Sherbro Foundation is happy to be part of this program by providing initial money to open newborn bank accounts.