A Phoenix Rises From the Ashes to Live Again

A phoenix is rising in Rotifunk to live again.  But not a bird.  A different kind of phoenix.

A phoenix is a mythological bird that arises from the ashes of its own funeral pyre as a newborn bird to live again.

Computer Lab 2Rotifunk had to abandon their town to rebel control for seven years during Sierra Leone’s civil war. Townspeople fled for their lives, and rebels burned the town to the ground.

Today, on the main road in Rotifunk, a building torched by rebels is rising once again from its own ashes. It’s being rebuilt as the new community computer center.

The computer center for Rotifunk that started as our dream three years ago is coming to life. No myth here. It’s being built, bricks and mortar style.  Or rather, being rebuilt.

Charred wood support posts.

Charred wood support posts.

In Sierra Leone, necessity is the mother of many things. Rebuilding structurally sound but damaged buildings to live again is a common thing. Especially buildings like this one that died a premature death at the hands of rebels intent on destroying a town.

This large building is being given over to house Rotifunk’s new community computer lab.  The concrete slab and foundation walls are good. It’s large enough to house two classrooms, offices and storage rooms. And importantly, it’s centrally located on the main road to easily serve residents and visitors alike as a computer café and business service center.

Anything wood, like these roof supports, burned when set on fire by rebels.  But the concrete foundation and original walls remain to work with.

Computer Lab 4Local materials are further bringing down the project cost.  Bricks made in wooden frames from the hard laterite clay mixed with cement dry in the hot tropical sun. Locally cut lumber from tropical hardwoods will support and frame the roof.

Inner walls of new bricks are being laid to reinforce the old walls and to rebuild upwards.

Window openings were left all around.  An important design feature for this town that still has no electricity and needs natural light coming in.

Computer Lab 10

Partitions – mud brick inner walls – will go in next to create classrooms, two offices, a storeroom and toilets.  These days modern style buildings in Rotifunk are built with inside toilets and underground septic systems.

This picture I just got shows the roof support starting to go up.  Roof trusses will go in that are one the biggest cost of the re- build.  We need roof trusses and a corrugated metal roof strong enough to hold solar panels.

You may ask how can a town build a computer center if it has no electricity. Well, we’ve already been operating a temporary computer center in a small house for nearly a year.  We were fortunate to get 50 up-to-date PC’s last year with a corporate donation from Schneider Electric.  Our local Rotifunk partner, the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation wasted no time starting computer literacy classes. But classes end by 6:00 or 6:30 pm when it becomes too dark to see.

The PC’s are re-charged remotely. Too bad I don’t have a picture  of kids carrying 20 computers at a time (in PC bags) on their heads across town to a place that charges cell phones. It’s a standard these days to have small cell phone charging businesses run by generators.

But this is no way to run a real computer center.  Our next stage for this project is fundraising for a solar energy system.  We want to maximize use of the center and operate for twelve hours a day, seven days a week. We need reliable solar power.

People in Rotifunk are eager to learn to use a computer.  Most people can’t afford their own PC now. They can come here to take classes or rent a PC by the hour for a token fee.  Those who just want to have something typed or printed, can come here like a local Kinko’s or Staples for business services.  And the center will earn some money to make itself self supporting.

Rebels may have tried to destroy Rotifunk. But Rotifunk is no longer destroyed.  It’s a vibrant small town that’s rebuilding itself.  It’s once again taking its position as the rural hub for education, health care and trade it’s been for over a hundred years.

Rotifunk is rebuilding itself to be better than its former self.  Computers are linking its residents with the rest of world.

Sherbro Foundation is proud we arranged the original computer donation and are now fundraising for the building’s solar system.  The building itself is being paid by private donations and community contributions, including the building shell, local materials and local unskilled labor.

It definitely is “taking a village” to make this computer center become a reality for the rural town of Rotifunk.  It’s an international village of donors and supporters.

Why not join us? If you’d like help, you can read more about our donations and donate yourself here.


Guest Post: Turning Education into Leadership

Prosperity Girls assembly

Subira Popenoe is a junior at Mount Holyoke College working with Sherbro Foundation this summer. 

When discussing why educating girls is important, it helps to think about the long-term potential. In Sierra Leone, the problem is not so much societal opposition but rather a lack of access. Women are often faced with financial difficulties, family problems, or early marriage and motherhood. In addition, the country is still recovering from the crippling civil war which left its infrastructure years behind many other African countries. Although many more girls and women are now going to school, there is still progress to be made.

Across the continent, African women are increasingly advocating for themselves, becoming leaders in their communities, and improving their quality of life. Particularly in post-conflict societies, women have had an influential role in recovery and rebuilding. Liberia, which neighbors Sierra Leone and also experienced a civil war, already has a female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Another notable example is Rwanda, a country which has made great strides towards gender equality. After the 1994 genocide, many women had to take over for their husbands who had been killed or imprisoned. They began running coffee farms, joining the police force and the army, and becoming engineers and government ministers. In part due to quotas, nearly two-thirds of the parliament now consists of women.

Leadership itself can take many forms be it as a mother, teacher, community organizer, entrepreneur, businesswoman, or politician. Regardless, education is the key to meeting women’s potential. Educating both men and women is what will translate government policies into change at the local level. When women know their rights and abilities, along with the concrete skills needed to achieve their goals, they can help a country such as Sierra Leone develop.


For more information:

Women’s Struggle in Sierra Leone- http://www.worldpress.org/Africa/3777.cfm

Sierra Leone Women Struggle for Political Role- http://www.voanews.com/content/sierra-leone-women-struggle-for-political-role/1554869.html

Rwanda: A revolution in rights for women- http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/may/28/womens-rights-rwanda

Rwanda’s women make strides towards equality 20 years after the genocide- http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/apr/07/rwanda-women-empowered-impoverished

Twenty years after the genocide, Rwandan women bring the country back to life- http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2014/04/08/twenty-years-after-the-genocide-rwandan-women-bring-the-country-back-to-life/

Rwanda: The Land of Gender Equality?- http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2014/04/08/twenty-years-after-the-genocide-rwandan-women-bring-the-country-back-to-life/

The Role of Women in Reconstruction: Experience of Rwanda-  http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/SHS/pdf/Role-Women-Rwanda.pdf