Giving Thanks in Sierra Leone

Giving Thanks in Sierra Leone

Thanksgiving came early for me this year. I hadn’t planned my trip to be in Sierra Leone on the day the country was declared Ebola free. But I was grateful it worked out that way.

November 9th, the actual day, was quiet and rather anticlimactic. This chiefdom, like much of the country, hadn’t had an Ebola case since mid-January – ten months ago.  November 9th was a day for reflection, to remember those who lost their lives, especially health care workers.  It was a day to give thanks that the chiefdom and the country were delivered from this scourge.

Bumpeh Chiefdom’s Ebola Committee decided at the last minute to have a small ceremony while I was still in the country to thank Sherbro Foundation for our support in their Ebola fight.

I was honored to accept their thanks on behalf of all Sherbro Foundation donors who came forward to help during Ebola’s darkest days.

Paramount Chief Caulker recognizing Nov 9th, the Ebola-free date.

Paramount Chief Caulker recognizing Nov 9th, the Ebola-free date.

One by one, leaders of the community came forward to thank Sherbro Foundation. An Imam and a Christian minister offered prayers, with people joining in to recite both.

A representative of village chiefs and a section chief were grateful SF funded over 300 hand washing stations they set up early when no other funding was coming. These were the chiefdom leaders on the front line as the epidemic was spreading. A year ago, it was unclear how easily the Ebola virus could be transferred with casual contact. It was a frightening time and people avoided each other. They didn’t know who they could trust.

The Local Councilor and Chiefdom Speaker were grateful SF stayed in touch throughout the outbreak and just asked, how can we help. When the Ebola Committee recognized they needed a more aggressive approach to keeping Ebola from entering their chiefdom, SF quickly responded. They thanked us for funding them to staff checkpoints, do house to house checks in every village and stop unsafe burials.

Paramount Chief Caulker has been vocal throughout that the chiefdom could not have done what they did without Sherbro Foundation support.

But as I was accepting their thanks, I was silently thinking, who’s more grateful?  Them, or me?

I was grateful lives were spared and my friends were safe.

I was grateful SF could play a role in enabling this chiefdom to become a model for the rest of the country in stopping Ebola.  I was never more proud to be part of an organization’s work than when I saw the dramatic 80% drop in Ebola cases last January as chiefdoms around the country implemented programs like Bumpeh Chiefdom’s.

IMG_4552I was grateful to work with our remarkable partner, the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation who volunteer their efforts to protect and now develop their chiefdom.  They shifted from fighting Ebola to reopening schools closed for nine months to restarting our projects without missing a beat – all within a few months.

I was grateful to see children back in school – and more Bumpeh Chiefdom girls in secondary school than ever before.

I was grateful to go to the new community bank and see 1249 new savings accounts opened for newborn babies that can grow to fund their future education – more baby accounts than adult accounts.

IMG_0104I was grateful to see the computer center built during the Ebola outbreak finished.  The floors are tiled floors and it’s wired for power we’ll bring over from a nearby solar system. Come February, we should be able to start initial computer and adult literacy classes.

 

 

 

IMG_0138I was grateful to see our dream of transforming the chiefdom by planting fruit trees is becoming reality.  15,000 tree seedlings were planted this year that will transform six villages economically and environmentally.  I saw thousands more fruit trees started from seed growing in two tree nurseries, awaiting planting in next year’s village orchards. And plans to start thousands more in January – February.

 

IMG_4684I was grateful to see firsthand the work spreading to the community level. More than a hundred people in six villages took ownership to clear 10-20 acres each and plant their community orchards.  Orchards that will provide income for them to build schools, dig wells, send their children to school and protect the environment for years to come.

All this had been done, in spite of the Ebola crisis.

 

I think most people just want to feel they’ve made a difference in the world and someone’s life has improved because of their efforts.  

I had ample evidence on this trip that Sherbro Foundation’s collaboration with Bumpeh Chiefdom was doing just that.

This work gets done because of the generosity of Sherbro Foundation’s donors. We are deeply grateful for all you have done to make this possible.

So, when you’re sitting around the Thanksgiving table this year giving thanks, pat yourself on the back for reaching out and making a difference in Sierra Leone. I’ll be thinking of you and thanking you again.

——- Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

Girl Scholarship Students Dream Big – I Want to Become President

Girl Scholarship Students Dream Big – I Want to Become President

Going to secondary school should be about more than reading and writing. It should be a place where Sierra Leone girls learn what’s possible in life. They should learn to dream big at this early age.

Form 5 (11th grade) student Adama Sankoh at Bumpeh Academy has a big dream. When asked what she wants to do after finishing school, Adama said,

“I want to become a president.”

She’s clear on where to start. “Education is the only way I could change the social and economic status of my family. School prepares my mind to be useful and influential in my community and country as a whole.”

IMG_0257

Bumpeh Academy Principal David Rashid Conteh, Arlene, BA scholarship students, CCET Executive Director, Rosaline Kaimbay. Adama is front row, 3rd student from right.  Signs read: Sherbro Foundation, You are welcome. Please help our school.

In school, Sierra Leone girls like Adama are being exposed to the opportunities open to them beyond the small rural communities they come from. Even becoming president. They’re learning the first practical step to achieving those dreams is completing their education.

Sherbro Foundation’s girls scholarship program helped 150 Bumpeh Chiefdom girls continue their education for the school year starting August 2015.

My motivation for starting the girls scholarship program in Bumpeh Chiefdom was simple.  I wanted girls to learn to dream big and start on the path to reaching their full potential with education.  I’ve met more high potential Bumpeh Chiefdom girls like Adama who want to become doctors, nurses, lawyers, journalists, teachers, accountants. Their first step – completing secondary school – is still a hurdle and huge accomplishment for most girls in Sierra Leone.

Sherbro Foundation helps eliminate financial barriers to girls attending secondary school. This year we provided school uniforms for girls in five Bumpeh Chiefdom schools.

The Sierra Leone government paid school fees this year with post-Ebola funding. But uniforms cost as much as school fees, and present a big burden for parents still recovering the past year’s Ebola crisis.

Sherbro Foundation’s 2015 scholarship program helped remove that barrier for 150 of the chiefdom’s most vulnerable girl students. The program is administered by our local partner, the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation (CCET). Here’s more of this year’s scholarship students.

—– Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

WSSS scholarshipsWalter Schutz Memorial Secondary School students

 

 

 

 

2015 scholarships WSSS, Ah, BAScholarship awardees from three schools flanked by CCET Executive Director, Mrs. Rosaline Kaimbay (left) and CCET Child Welfare program director, Abdul Foday (lower right).  Schools left to right: Walter Schutz SS, Ahmadiyya SS, Bumpeh Academy SS

 

 

Ahmadiyya scholarshipsAhmadiyya Islamic Secondary School students

 

 

 

 

 

2015 scholarship Mosimbara bEarnest Bai Koroma Junior Secondary School in Mosimbara village, Bumpeh Chiefdom’s newest secondary school. Children from small villages can start secondary school here close to home, and later transfer to Rotifunk for senior high.

 

 

 

2015 Bellentine primaryVain Memorial Primary School, serving six villages in Bellentine Section.  Primary school students got 2 uniforms each. Mothers of many children in this school are in our Women’s Vegetable Growing project.

Back from a month in Sierra Leone

Back from a month in Sierra Leone

IMG_4630I’m just back Sunday from a month in Sierra Leone. Word is getting out to Bumpeh Chiefdom families about the Newborn Baby program. Kadijatu Kamara seen here presented herself to me with one-week-old Sheikfuad. She wanted to get him registered so he’ll have his education fund bank account opened and get three fruit trees to plant.

It was gratifying to be in Sierra Leone last week when they reached 42 days with no new Ebola cases and were declared Ebola-free. Bumpeh Chiefdom’s Ebola Committee warmly recognized Sherbro Foundation’s support in their Ebola fight – one that led to them being recognized nationally as a model program.

Big thanks go out to all Sherbro Foundation donors.  It was you who made that happen and you who helped save lives.

It was a great trip back to Sierra Leone – my first in two years.  All our projects are moving forward.  Our local partner the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation mapped out big plans for 2016 that we are excited to assist them with. Look for more news here soon.

—- Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

Ebola-free at Last!

Thousands of people danced in the streets of the capital of Freetown Saturday, after the UN’s World Health Organization declared Sierra Leone officially free of Ebola.

They also gathered for candlelight vigils, according to news reports, to remember the nearly 4,000 people killed by the vicious virus since May 2014. Among them were 221 health workers, who died trying to save others.

But the impacts of the Ebola crisis are far from over. The economy, already weakened by a decade-long civil war, has been crippled. Foreign mining companies and other investors packed up and left. Farms had to be abandoned. People across the country are hungry. There are an estimated 12,000 orphans.

The country must be vigilant against new outbreaks — neighboring Liberia has been declared Ebola-free twice and Guinea saw several new cases in recent weeks. And scientists are discovering that the disease might be transmitted sexually by survivors and that “after effects” could include blindness, deafness or pain.

Sierra Leoneans, despite their undefeated spirit and optimism, will continue to need help getting back on their feet and securing their families’ futures. Sherbro Foundation intends to be there for them.

You can be a part of the recovery. Our current campaign, Growing a Baby’s Future, aims to help parents save for their baby’s education and gain income from planting fruit trees. Go to: SherbroFoundation.org/donate

To read more see:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/11/sierra-leone-ebola-free/414795/

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/07/world-health-organisation-sierra-leone-ebola-free