First “Baby Orchard” Celebrates a Life Well Lived: Mike Diliberti

From Peace Corps teacher to World Bank manager to Friends of Sierra Leone president, Mike Diliberti gave his all for Sierra Leone. To celebrate his life, we have planted our first “Baby Orchard.” A new generation of children will be able to go to school when the fruit from Mike’s Orchard is sold.

Ten acres of tropical forest in a small village deep in coastal Bumpeh Chiefdom are forever preserved to honor Mike’s 40 years of service to Sierra Leone.

diliberti-and-kids       Mike in 2011 visit on the porch of his old house in Sembehun where he served as Peace Corps teacher. He stayed four years and started the chiefdom’s first secondary school.

In this summer’s rains, 1,500 fruit trees were planted — cashew, plum, mango,  inter-planted with faster growing guava and pineapple that produce fruit in one to two years.

mikes-orchard-5-june-16Sherbro Foundation’s Board funded the “Baby Orchard” to create long-term income for the chiefdom’s Newborn Education Savings Program, and dedicated it to Mike. Education savings accounts are opened for newborns and funded by fruit income. When a child reaches the age of twelve, they will have money for a secondary school education. I think Mike would have liked the idea, and I know his family does.

Left, Bagging fast growing young guava trees in the tree nursery to plant in Mike’s Orchard last July. These will be fruiting and earning money in their second year. 

Mike was one of the first people I met when we all joined the Peace Corps in 1974 and were assigned to Moyamba District as teachers. Mike went to Sembehun, I to Rotifunk. Our friendship grew with weekend R&R trips to Moyamba town and wherever volunteers gathered. Mike was such a warm and engaging guy, that early bond was remained over the years.

A flood of memories came back when we lost Mike last year.

dscn0474It’s safe to say but for Mike, Sherbro Foundation would not exist today. He encouraged me to join a Friends of Sierra Leone trip in 2011, my first return in 35 years. Ever the African traveler, he coordinated a tour of our former Moyamba District villages for five of us, including Wendy Diliberti, his wife, Sherbro Foundation Board Member Steve Papelian and Howie Fleck.

Left, Sembehun Village flocked to see Mr. Mike when he returned to visit in 2011.

If I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have reconnected with Rotifunk and seen the great need in such a personal way. As I later struggled with ideas on how I could help, it was Mike who encouraged me to start a new organization, and just go for it.

Now, just three years after Sherbro Foundation was founded, we can point to Mike’s Orchard, a lasting – and growing – memorial. It’s not only part of the larger Village Orchard Program, but one of six successful projects the foundation has helped Bumpeh Chiefdom to launch.

Sherbro Foundation helps villages start community orchards, creating sustainable income for development projects and to send children to school. In a few years, a village may see thousands of dollars in annual fruit income for village projects they choose: to dig wells, build primary schools, improve roads, etc. Orchard income will also fund newborn education savings accounts for years to come.

A Milwaukee, WI native, Mike served a total of four years in the Peace Corps as both a teacher and principal. He and Wendy settled in Virginia, where they raised two children, and Mike had a thirty year career with the World Bank, focused on Africa. The international organization issues loans to underdeveloped nations to help eliminate poverty.

Mike’s lifetime of work with Sierra Leone started with teaching children and developing schools. I think he would be pleased to be part of the Orchard program. The Mike Diliberti Memorial Orchard will now help ensure secondary school educations for a whole generation of children in Bumpeh Chiefdom. You can view how an orchard is planted here.

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director, Sherbro Foundation

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