Paramount Chief Caulker visits Freedom Center

Paramount Chief Caulker had a unique museum experience visiting Cincinnati’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The Freedom Center chronicles three centuries of slavery in the US and educates on today’s human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

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Many African- American ancestors came from Sierra Leone, as now shown through analysis of slave ship records and DNA testing. The Freedom Center spotlights the Cincinnati area’s important role in abolition and the Underground Railroad that secretly moved slaves to safety in the North.

Richard Cooper, the center’s director of museum experiences, gave Chief Caulker a personal tour, starting with two huge artifacts on the main floor. The first is Journey I and II, dramatic textiles depicting West African history and the slave trade by Aminah Robinson, made over 35 years.

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20160416_130138 - Copy20160416_130503It’s an unforgettable experience to step inside an actual slave pen moved intact from only 60 miles away. It was used in Kentucky to hold enslaved people until they were moved farther south. 

20160416_130427The names of a group of slaves were posted in front. Chief Caulker noted one name, Amada, saying it sounded like a Sierra Leone name. Could this have been a Sierra Leonean?  20160416_131149 - Copy

We were lucky to view a special exhibit with an original handwritten copy of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery — with Abraham Lincoln’s signature.

A Freedom Center visit serves to underscore the special connections between the US and Sierra Leone and how our histories are linked.

Rotary Club Grant Kick-Starts New Computer Center

Rotary Club Grant Kick-Starts New Computer Center

ready to open - CopyRotifunk’s first Community Computer Center will soon start the area’s first copy and printing service, thanks to a grant from the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor, MI.

The community gets much faster and cheaper printing access. The Center will earn income to operate and offer computer training for students and adults. That’s what you call win – win.

 

Rotary-Web-Banner-New12[1] (2)Ann Arbor’s public service club awarded a $2,500 grant to Sherbro Foundation Sierra Leone, matched by $1,250 from Rotary District 6380. The money will equip a copying and printing business, helping the much-needed nonprofit center quickly become self-sustaining and introduce computer technology in the chiefdom.

Computer training means local residents gain wage-paying job skills, especially girls and single mothers. And printers will eliminate a difficult and costly eight-hour round-trip to the capital city for educators and others who need any printed materials.

Today, every report card, exam paper and classroom handout in schools with few text books need to be printed in Freetown. These and programs and flyers for churches, mosques, sports meets and community events will now be printed much faster and much more cheaply with the local service. The printing service will be open to all, including chiefdom and government authorities, local businesses and nearby chiefdoms that need printed materials.

ready to open - Copy (2)Sherbro Foundation’s local nonprofit partner, the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation (CCET), comprised of teacher-volunteers, will operate the Computer Center and hire an IT manager. They transformed a centrally located ruin into a spacious, modern Computer Center complete with a snack bar – all done during the Ebola crisis.

Sherbro Foundation funded its completion, wiring excess solar power from a solar system on a nearby building. We also hired local carpenters to build wooden desks and chairs and office and canteen furniture.

The Center will offer other educational programs, starting with Adult Literacy that’s been interrupted since the start of Ebola.  Other income-producing services will fund the Center’s operation, including cell phone charging, the snack bar and facility rental for conferences and meetings.

20160331_202850Paramount Chief Charles Caulker joined Sherbro Foundation in meeting with the Ann Arbor Rotary Club during his March – April US visit.  We all celebrated Bumpeh Chiefdom’s work with a dinner, left, hosted by Rotarians Mary Avrakotos and Barb Bach.

The Rotary Club of Ann Arbor is the largest in Michigan, and one of the largest in the world. It’s observing its 100th anniversary this year. Nearly 20 percent of the Club’s annual giving budget supports international humanitarian organizations.

Making Personal Connections

The beauty of Paramount Chief Caulker’s recent US trip was how many person-to-person connections he made. You couldn’t help but feel the connection when Chief talked earnestly of the small village communities he’s working to transform with education and income-producing fruit orchards.

Sierra Leone was no longer a strange and distant land. It was one of girls excitedly going to secondary school for the first time and people planting home-grown trees to improve their lives and protect their environment.

Chief Caulker was able to connect with Americans in five states and the District of Columbia, sharing his personal stories of Bumpeh Chiefdom’s difficult life and his message of hope and hard work. 20160414_215258

Sherbro Foundation especially appreciated making connections with the Sierra Leone community in the US.

Who knew there is a Sierra Leone Group of Cincinnati with a Facebook page? Page organizer Hashim Williams 20160414_214742found my invitation message and brought a group to Chief’s April 6th presentation.

Mr. Michael Foday of the group then extended his and wife Evelyn’s hospitality with a dinner of Sierra Leone food at their home. He and a number of invited guests generously gave their support for the Chief’s Bumpeh Chiefdom programs. (Above L to R, Sanussi Janneh, Arlene Golembiewski, Chief Caulker, Hashim Williams, Michael Foday)

We started the evening as new acquaintances, and left feeling bonded as friends. Chief Caulker poured libation on Mr. Foday’s doorstep (left) in appreciation of the new friendships forged that evening.

Susan and Jim Robinson (below left)  hosted a reception in their home so people like Pam Dixon (far left) could talk with Chief Caulker firsthand. Winona McNeil (below right), Cincinnati Chapter President of The Links, a professional women’s society, joined in meeting the Chief.

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20160330_104104Sherbro Foundation Board Members Arlene Golembiewski and Steve Papelian, left, are former Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Rotifunk, Chief Caulker’s hometown. They reminisced with Chief on their life-changing experience at the steps of the University of Michigan Union, where then-presidential candidate John Kennedy first presented his new concept of the Peace Corps in 1960. The 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps was commemorated at Ann Arbor’s U-M Union with this historic marker, depicting President Kennedy’s speech.

No visit to Michigan would be complete for Baby Boomers without a trip to Detroit and the Motown Museum.  Chief Caulker, a big Motown fan, enjoyed reliving the soundtrack of his youth with Sherbro Foundation Board Director Cheryl Farmer.

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Women’s Vegetable Growing Project – Making millionaires out of peanuts

Women’s Vegetable Growing Project – Making millionaires out of peanuts

Seventy five women farmers have a chance to become Sierra Leone millionaires. Sherbro Foundation just funded a new group of 75 women to grow groundnuts (we call them peanuts) in the Women’s Vegetable Growing Project – one of our most successful projects to date.

 I can still vividly remember last November when I approached Mobainda village to visit the first women’s project. Women had gathered and filled the narrow dirt road. The car stopped, so I got out to see what was happening. The women began singing and dancing around me. They had come out to honor me and escort me into their village — the traditional way of the women’s society.

No words, no speeches. They just surrounded me with their harmonized singing and drumming on hand-made drums, and slowly moved towards the village.  So, I moved with them, their singing filling the air for the last quarter mile.

They were thanking me – thanking Sherbro Foundation – for helping them plant peanuts in April 2015, right as the Ebola crisis was lifting. These are women who normally live on the slimmest of margins, earning an average of less than $1 a day. They couldn’t even earn that during Ebola, when much farming stopped and markets for selling their produce closed for over four months.

“The Women’s Vegetable Project is one of the most successful projects introduced in my chiefdom,Paramount Chief Caulker said.

Veg - Groundnut harvesting3It was conceived as a way to quickly help women earn income again. We started small with 30 women, supplying each with enough peanut seed for a half-acre garden and other vegetable seed like cucumbers and corn. They also got a 50Kg (100-pound) bag of rice to feed their families before their harvest.

Leave it to women to make the best use possible of resources they were given. Most women grew a bumper crop of peanuts in four short months, harvesting 6-7 bags of peanuts for each bag of seed they received.

We jokingly said we were making millionaires out of peanuts. A large bag of peanuts went for 160,000 leones. So, 7 bags are worth over a million leones. Or about US$200.

TIMG_0211hat may not sound like much, but it was three times more than the women would make in cash in a whole year of traditional rice farming, an incredibly labor intensive crop. And they still had the rest of the year to grow rice and do fishing in the Bumpeh River.

Leave it to these women to be grateful for this help. In these small, close-knit villages of 200-300 people, the women wanted to help other women do what they just did. They came up with the idea of each donating back a half-bag of groundnut seed for the next group to plant. They showed me their donated seed, left.

A local survey found 450 more women in this area of eight villages want to be part of the program. This part of Bumpeh Chiefdom was selected because it has the largest concentration of active women farmers. They were the most severely affected when Ebola abruptly curtailed their normal farming.

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Executive Director Rosaline Kaimbay, right, of CCET, our partner organization, distributes seed and supplies to the May 2016 group of women farmers, holding white drying tarps they received on their heads. We bought any seed locally available, saving transport cost for both buyer and sellers.

So, the program is expanding to 150 women per year in two groups of 75 women each in the spring and fall.  The program is meant to be a stopgap measure to help women farmers get back on their feet after Ebola. It will continue for three years and cover all 450 interested women. The women draw lots to select who will be in each group.

Veg - drying groundnutsThe 2014-15 farming year was exceptionally hard with Ebola. The first group of women peanut farmers unfortunately didn’t become self-sufficient with just one peanut crop in 2015. They were forced to eat a large part of their first peanut harvest to avoid hunger. But this allowed them to save some of the previous year’s rice as seed to grow their next rice crop. We’re giving these first 30 women partial support again in the current project to ensure they can make enough profit in 2016 to go from there.

This year we are also giving each woman a large tarpaulin to safely dry their harvest of groundnuts (or peppers) and avoid losses due to rotting.

I’m already looking forward to my next visit when I can join the women and again celebrate their success. I learned the song the women sang for me last November loosely translated said: “If you wake up in the morning and just work hard, you will succeed.”

And succeed these hard-working women did. In only five months after my first long-distance phone call that conceived the project, the women were harvesting a bumper crop. Their success became our success. And now we’re expanding to help more women succeed.

Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director