It’s our Birthday – one year, five projects

It’s our Birthday – one year, five projects

It’s our birthday.  In March, Sherbro Foundation turned one year old!  And what a great first year it’s been.

Chief Caulker with village children at his rice farm.

Paamount Chief Caulker with village children at his rice farm.

In March 2013, we started with our commitment to fund a girls’ scholarship program and a pledge for 30 computers from a US corporation.  By year end, we had successfully launched five programs together with our local Sierra Leone partner, the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation (CCET). 

The spirit and commitment of CCET is matched by their capability to get things done. They didn’t just start implementing programs.  There’s already clear results to show for each one.

CCET inspires us every day. And they keep Sherbro Foundation busy in keeping up with all the projects they’ve initiated in education, agriculture development and most recently, child welfare.

I look at it as the stars somehow aligned at the time I returned to Sierra Leone in 2011 after an absence of 37 years.  I found an old teacher friend from my Peace Corps days was now Paramount Chief of the chiefdom where I once lived. He had been slowly working to develop it from total war devastation to a rural hub for education and agriculture. A new girls school recently brought capable teachers to town who were also interested in community development, and decided to form CCET. I showed up in 2011, and within a year and a half, we were all working together to develop Bumpeh Chiefdom.  The vision and strong local ownership of Chief Caulker and CCET are what makes it all work – and so quickly.

Together, here’s what we’ve done in this first year. 

"Investment in girls' education may well be the highest-return investment available n the developing world."  Larry Summers, World Bank

339 scholarships were awarded to over 200 girls in four secondary schools in Rotifunk. These enabled girls from rural villages to attend secondary school who may otherwise not be able to afford the $20 annual school fees.  Scholarships were awarded over two academic school years.

Zainab Kamara 39 yrs, 5 children, friends who can read and write inspired her to come to school; wants to learn to build her business.

Fifty adults began their journey to literacy in September when the Functional Adult Literacy program started.  Classes focus on reading, writing and practical skills to enable these adults to develop their small market trader businesses and farms.  One group started to learn the ABC’s and to write their names, while another group picked up where they left off in primary school.  This program sprang from within, when many women town came forward saying, we want to learn. Help us, too.

Computer lesson

Fifty laptop computers arrived in September through a US corporate donation, and by October, a group of adults became the first computer literacy students in Rotifunk. Only two teachers have the practical computer knowledge to teach others. So we’ve started the first computer class for the other teachers in town. They encouraged more adults to join them in becoming the first core group of computer literate people in town. As one said, we’re now joining the rest of the world.

Arlene and CCET Volunteer, Abdul Foday view palm seedlings.

In October, land was being cleared for a tree nursery where seedlings of income producing trees are now being nursed.  Tree seedlings will be given to villages to grow community orchards that will generate income for community development projects and environmental protection for years to come. Today, 18,000 seedlings are growing in the nursery until they’re strong enough to transplant.  Some will be ready for rainy season planting in June and July that will include training programs on raising tree for villagers.

Baby Abraham is a healthy baby.

In November, a child welfare program was started for newborn babies.  When a chiefdom baby is now born, an income producing tree will be planted for them and the minimum deposit paid for a bank account opened in the new rural community bank in Rotifunk.  Income from the sale of the tree’s fruit or lumber will be deposited in the account, and parents encouraged to add their own money. By the age of twelve, children will have the money for secondary school fees, and hopefully additional money to start life as young adults. Accounts are now opened for nearly 400 chiefdom newborns – and earning interest for their futures.

I visited the chiefdom in November, and I can say every project objective we set for 2013 was delivered by CCET and done with excellence.

CCET’s work in Bumpeh Chiefdom has gained national attention. The Sierra Leone EPA, the Ministry of Agriculture and a mining company were all pleased with the local initiative shown in growing income producing trees for villages and the newborn baby project. They’ve donated towards the projects.

Our work is cut out for us for 2014 in keeping all these programs moving forward.  But with this kind of foundation now laid, the future of Bumpeh Chiefdom only looks brighter.

You can join us. To help in moving Bumpeh Chiefdom to the next level, you can  donate here.

Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

Visit a Scholarship Girl’s Family Village

Imagine if $20 was a barrier to you sending your daughter to secondary school.

I’ve written before that many of the girls receiving a scholarship in Sherbro Foundation’s Girls Scholarship program might not otherwise be able to attend secondary school  because their families can’t pay the $20 annual school fees. But I haven’t showed you an actual village these girls come from and what their lives are like.

So, here’s a little tour of what it’s like to be a family living on $2 a day in a small subsistence agriculture village in Sierra Leone. You can click on each picture for a larger view.

Road to MokairoWe are on the road from Rotifunk to Mokairo, a small village where the road dead ends in the southern reaches of Bumpeh Chiefdom. The road is narrow with little visibility from wild grass overgrowing the road.  You need to be vigilant, watching for other infrequent vehicles. You’re more likely to have to dodge a motorcycle taxi, goats or farmers on foot.

roadside swamp

 

The area is lowland tropical rainforest, with many natural wetland areas that swell and shrink with the rainy season.  Forty inches of rain is an exceptional year where I live in Cincinnati, Ohio.  This area gets 120 – 140 inches.  Great for growing rice; not so great for people and establishing towns of any size. When you see the land, you know why maps of this area are largely blank  – unlabeled. This is a traditional farming area of tiny villages, too small to be marked on most maps.  This is one of the most rural parts of Sierra Leone where life goes on much as it has for hundreds of years.

Roadside village

We pass a number of small villages like this one, which is one of 208 villages in Bumpeh Chiefdom.  Usually about twenty houses, more or less.

mud house construction

 

 

Mud packed on a frame of tree branches is standard construction, which won’t last too long in this rainy climate.  Here’s a house either being repaired or expanded. The biggest complaint I hear from people here is they need money to buy a zinc metal roof. Their thatch roof leaks and it’s miserable in the rainy season.

 

Mokairo villageThe end of the road is Mobainda village, where I stayed. We walked the half mile over to the next village, Mokairo, and met met families of girl scholarship students.  Mokairo is a bit off the road among rice farms – both swamp rice and upland (dry) rice. Here, we’re entering the center of Mokairo, a typical village of dozen or so houses.  Someone’s harvested rice is invariably spread out to dry in the central area that most houses surround.

 

Bangura'sThe Bangura’s live on the corner as we enter Mokairo.  Their daughter, Aminata, has received a scholarship to Prosperity Girls High School. The Bangura’s, like their neighbors, are farmers and live as a multigenerational family. Mr. & Mrs. Bangura are here with one of their mothers. There’s usually only a few extended families in a village, and they’ve lived here for generations.

Mr. BanguraMr. Bangura proceeded to tell me he was proud to have his daughter attend secondary school, even if that meant she had to leave her home village to attend school in Rotifunk.  Mokairo together with several nearby villages can support a primary school, but not a secondary school. Mrs. Bangura went back to finishing her laundry in a plastic basin as we talked.

Mokairo childrenPrimary school students who had finished the school day crowded around us.  I have other children, more girls, I hope to also send to secondary school, Mr. Bangura told us with a smile.

This is one of the changes I’ve been happy to find in returning to Sierra Leone after many years.  Girls are now attending school in equal numbers to boys in primary school and junior high.  It’s poverty that’s holding both back from completing high school.

By high school, girls are dropping out faster than boys. Poverty makes marriage and pregnancy (not necessarily in that order) more likely outcomes than continuing school for many teenage girls.

Sherbro Foundation’s girls scholarship program is starting to change this trend.  The scholarship is coveted, and girls know they have to apply themselves in school and do well academically to keep it for the next year. In addition to learning more, the scholarships are helping keep girls focused on school and out of trouble. Student pregnancies are down, keeping girls in school longer.

2nd scholarhship student house

 

 

I asked about other scholarship students in the village.  There’s another girl in the house across the way, they said.  But no one was home in this thatch roofed house to meet.

 

 

 

Mokairo mosqueWe next came across what looked like a tiny house. I peered in to see what kind of house could be so small.  It was the village mosque.

inside mosqueHalf of Sierra Leone is Moslem.  Christians and Moslems live side by side in tiny villages like this, respecting each other’s faith and often intermarrying.  We could learn a lot about diversity here.

canoe among rice swampsYou can also enter Mokairo from the estuary that branches off the main Bumpeh River. It’s a beautiful area of swamp rice and creeks, as they call the small waterways that are deep enough to paddle a canoe.  Strong tides from the nearby ocean make the Bumpeh River rise and fall twice a day, causing these small waterways to swell or decline every six hours.  You have to time work according to the tide schedule and when you can navigate your canoe.

 

making palm oil in canoeAs we approached the back side of Mokairo in a canoe, I saw a woman “making” palm oil in her canoe at the edge of the village.  Palm oil is the third main component of the local diet together with rice and fish. Fibrous palm fruits are first boiled with water in a drum to soften them. Then they’re mashed by hand in a canoe to separate the oil from the fibrous mash left behind.

This is typically women’s work. Women will take the oil they prepare to sell in weekly markets in bigger villages or towns. You can’t mistake the neon orange color of palm oil. This is messy work and it makes eminent sense to do it in a canoe by the water. I understand the added benefit is the oil protects the wood of your canoe.

Come, come, the woman working on her oil was yelling urgently to her friends. Come quickly if you want to see the woman with the skinny nose. They came running to the shore to greet me, and remark to each other about my nose.  We chatted and were all laughing as we backed our canoe out and made our way back to main canoe landing. They made my day to see the palm oil work, and I apparently made their day as well, giving them much to gossip about back home.

cooking on three stonesThe day was winding down back on shore and we came upon a woman finishing the day’s meal for her family.  Cooking on three stones with tree branches you break up with a small ax is standard.  People might burn down wood to make charcoal, but they’d take that into town to sell for income.  Here it’s cooking on wood.  You need a shelter for your outdoor kitchen from the hot sun of the dry season, and the heavy rains of the rainy season.

Rachel's fatherAs we were starting our way back home, we ran into Mr. Bendu, the father of another scholarship girl.  I was happy to meet him as I had heard of his daughter, Rachel. Rachel is the top student at Prosperity Girls High School.  She routinely comes out first in the her class.

Stands to reason. Her father is the local primary school teacher, and he takes education of his children seriously.

It proves once again that a humble origin is not necessarily a barrier to academic achievement.  Rachel has made good use of her opportunity to get an education.  She’s now a top student in one of the top schools in Moyamba District.

It was a good way to end a good day – meeting student families and seeing first hand that Sherbro Foundation’s scholarship program for girls is indeed making a difference in the lives of these girls and their families.