Paramount Chief Charles Caulker brought a focused message on his first visit to America this month:
Sierra Leone has no social safety net for its children — not even ensuring they can go to school. So, he is creating his own.
He’s doing it using the only resources his chiefdom has, the natural ones of land, water and sun.
During an April 6 public program Sherbro Foundation hosted in Cincinnati, Chief Caulker told the rapt gathering about the stark realities of life in Bumpeh Chiefdom. Conditions actually have worsened in the last 20 years. The partial recovery following a brutal 11-year rebel war was dealt a big setback with the recent Ebola epidemic. People are struggling to feed their families.
When Paramount Chief Caulker took the podium in his flowing embroidered blue robe, you knew this man didn’t just have the title of paramount chief. He’s clearly a leader with presence that commands your attention. Maybe it’s his 32 years as paramount chief of Bumpeh Chiefdom, where he’s the second-longest serving traditional ruler in Sierra Leone. And his leadership as the chairman of the National Council of all 149 paramount chiefs in Sierra Leone. And his 40 years of experience in various senior government roles.
Chief Caulker’s darkly intense eyes have seen much sadness in those 32 years as chief. But his face lit up as he told the April 6th group he brings them a traditional African greeting, addressing them as “my dear friends.”
His face also lights up when he talks about the children of Bumpeh Chiefdom. Protecting children and striving to give them a better life has become his life’s work. A better life starts with education, and Chief Caulker spoke of how widespread illiteracy in his rural chiefdom weighs on him.
Only 40% of children there attend poorly equipped primary schools. Many drop out before secondary school, which only exist in the main town of Rotifunk. Most families live in small villages miles away.
Distance and cost (just $US30 a year for school fees!) are insurmountable roadblocks for most families.
For 20 years, this remote area waited for government and foreign nonprofit organizations (NGOs) to bring aid that never came. The chiefdom of 40,000 must take charge of its own development, Chief Caulker said, and find sustainable “roots” for education.
“We set a goal that, in 12 years, every baby born [in my chiefdom] will have access to secondary school education.”
“To do this, we are opening education savings accounts for each newborn baby. To date, we have opened 2,000 baby accounts,” Chief said.
How? By helping his villages raise fruit trees. He has an innovative program for expanding their subsistence agricultural tradition into profitable local businesses.
Fruit trees are raised from seed and given to rural villages to plant in community orchards. The orchards will produce income for their children’s education for years to come. And they’ll also fund village development projects like digging wells and building roads, primary schools and health clinics.
Chief Caulker said the program is becoming a model for community-led development in Sierra Leone. “We have accomplished big things in a short time under difficult circumstances,” he said. “We are confident about building a prosperous future as we fight to break barriers to development.”
Bumpeh Chiefdom’s program has grown in two and a half years to include two tree nurseries that have raised over 40,000 fruit tree seedlings — with seed from local fruit. Six villages have planted 15,000 trees in their community orchards. Families of newborn babies have been given over 4,000 seedlings to raise in their backyard gardens. Some seedlings are being sold to private farmers to raise funds to expand the program. And 2,000 babies have their education savings accounts. Ebola delayed but did not derail the program.
Chief Caulker has plans to cover the chiefdom with fruit orchards that will support new fruit-based cottage industries and create wage-paying jobs. He intends to transfer his knowledge to help other chiefdoms start their own self-sustaining programs.
Chief Caulker ended his presentation saying, “We are also confident that you’ll be by us since we share a common aspiration to serve mankind.” Read the full text of his speech here: April 6 PC Caulker – Cincinnati
Sherbro Foundation assists Bumpeh Chiefdom in their goal of giving every child access to education with our “Growing a Baby’s Future” program. We funded the first fruit tree nursery and helped the chiefdom create their own birth registration system, as no government system exists for rural areas. We’ve funded 1,200 of the newborn education savings accounts to date.
You can also “grow a baby’s future” by donating here. For $20, Sherbro Foundation will:
• Open a newborn baby’s education savings account
• Give families three fruit trees of their own to help fund their baby’s education savings.
• Help families secure their baby’s birth certificate.
100% of donations to Sherbro Foundation go directly to fund Bumpeh Chiefdom programs. We pay our own administration costs. Chief Caulker’s US trip was privately funded and with accommodations from family and friends.