Getting Sierra Leone Students Ready for What Lies Ahead

Getting Sierra Leone Students Ready for What Lies Ahead

Sierra Leone schools finally will reopen in October after a 5-month Covid shutdown

How do you help students now at an education milestone with a looming big exam that determines their fate – or which could result in more barriers to reaching their life goals?

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Sierra Leone students have already been through a lot to reach 9th grade or 12th grade. With previous stops and starts, senior high students are often 20 years old and more. They’ve been in schools with too few teachers qualified to teach the curriculum.

Now, they’ve a 5-month school gap to fill because of Covid.

We’re working on improving Rotifunk’s educational system with teacher training. But what happens to the kids now in school?

CCET-SL’s Tutorial Program, going into its fourth year, tackles this problem, turning it into an opportunity.

Rosaline Kaimbay saw local secondary schools don’t have enough trained and qualified teachers to cover the full curriculum, especially in math, science and English.

Her solution: offer tutorials, but not just one-on-one or for small groups. Offer after-school classes to students from three schools preparing for national exams. And make it free.IMG-20190304-WA0003 (2)With Sherbro Foundation funding, 9th and 12th grade students came in droves for this free extra help. CCET-SL had to limit enrollment to the capacity of the CCET-SL education center, about 75 students at a time.

The program has been a big success and continues to grow. 170 students are anticipated this year, exceeding the size of the CCET-SL center. Classes are in two shifts and overflow classes go to a nearby primary school in afternoons.

Students facing the biggest barriers to education are invited for tutoring, providing a boost for the most vulnerable: orphans, those in single-parent households, often woman-led, or away from their home village living with guardians, and the lowest income families. 80% are girls.

The Tutorial program adds quality to the education these students receive – and does it using existing resources.

20200113_113722 (2)The best qualified local teachers combine forces in extra classes for students from three schools.

For a modest $40 monthly stipend, these dedicated teachers come after school, week after week, for another round of teaching over the whole school year.

The result: 9th grade tutorial students each year got higher results on average on the senior high entrance exam than peers in their home school, better on average than all chiefdom schools and than most of the district’s 40 secondary schools. They took many of the top three results in their home school.

The tutorial students, 80% girls, also became motivated to continue their education. More went on to senior high at the age when girls typically drop-out and marry. With extra support and their daughters’ success, more parents saw the value of education and kept their girls in school.

Create All-Day 12th grade School
Rosaline has taken 12th grade after-school tutoring to a higher level. The total number of 12th graders in Rotifunk schools remains small. Most have dropped out by this point.

Rosaline convinced school principals it would be more effective to bring all 12th grade students together and teach one all-day 12th grade school with the best local teachers at the CCET-SL center.

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Students get the best teaching Rotifunk has to offer. The intensive all-day school prepares them for the exam that’s the entry to all higher education and requested on job applications. All 12 senior high subjects are taught, including classes for college and commercial tracks.

School in the time of Covid
12th grade after-school tutoring converted to the all-day school in December 2019.  Covid then closed schools at the end of March 2020. Still, with six months total of focused teaching, we’re hoping this group now taking the national exam will do better than in the past.

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CCET-SL will resume both the 12th-grade school and 9th grade after-school tutoring when Sierra Leone schools reopen in October. They observe the same procedures as all schools, including Covid safety procedures: required masks, spacing out students and frequent hand-washing. The CCET-SL Center has large windows to open on both sides creating air flow.

9th grade tutorial classes and the 12th grade school will be more important than ever in helping Rotifunk students catch up after missing five months of school for Covid.  No Zoom in Rotifunk!

You can step in and sponsor a 9th grade or 12th grade student for 10 months of classes for only $40 for the whole year.  Sponsor a student here.

Together, we can help 170 students stay on track and make big gains in their quest for a complete education. More than that. They’re preparing for the next step that lies ahead. Thank you!

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

Light Up Izzy’s Life. She’ll Bring Light to Others.

Light Up Izzy’s Life. She’ll Bring Light to Others.

Youth unemployment in Sierra Leone is staggering.

70% of those under the age of 35 are unemployed or underemployed. Erratic work in the informal economy, like market trading and day labor, is hard to even call employment. But that’s the best many can do. They have no skills.

Izzy is back in school now to avoid this fate. She’s in a vocational course teaching her electrical wiring. She chose that because it will lead to a wage-paying job with a future She’ll be poised on the leading edge of Sierra Leone’s solar revolution.

It’s back-to-school time. And time for our annual educational fundraising appeal – with another new twist this year.

Vocational training is one of four types of higher-education scholarships we’re sponsoring for chiefdom students. The successful after-school tutoring program will continue, as well.

Izzy is one of 12 Bumpeh Chiefdom students enrolled in a new vocational training program with Sherbro Foundation scholarships.

She was an 11th grade student aimlessly drifting in a conventional school that didn’t offer much to a student like her. Izzy (short for Ismatu) lost first one parent, then the other. She lives with her grandmother, helping in her catering business, which in rural Rotifunk, is down more than up.

Izzy is a quiet girl. In a month of being around her, I never got more than a “good morning, ma.” She’s always silent, her grandmother said. Just quietly doing tasks she’s asked to do. Fetch water, wash the pots, peel potatoes, pluck feathers off a chicken. You can see she’s had a painful past. Spending her time with older women who didn’t have their own chance for education, she never formed any goals.

The Sierra Leone government recognizes young people like Izzy need new opportunities. Most will never go to college. They need to get job skills. The government decentralized its Government Technical Institute, putting satellite programs in the district capitals where it’s practical for impoverished students to study. They made it affordable, with low tuition and avoid the capital Freetown’s high cost of living.

When Izzy’s chance for a new kind of education came up, she went for it. Electrical wiring is unusual for any girl to elect, but especially in Sierra Leone.

I asked her, why choose this, and Izzy softly said, “So I can do betta.” Meaning, so I can get a job and do better than the women around me.

Now she’s learning a skill that will set her up in a trade with opportunities, as Sierra Leone’s construction industry grows and electrical power takes off.

Until now, 90% of rural Sierra Leone has been in the dark.

Izzy didn’t choose this out of the blue. Last year, she was helping her grandmother cook for a group of Germans who came to install a solar system at Rotifunk’s mission hospital. They observed women have almost no options for jobs and are always working as “beasts of burden.” They encouraged Izzy, saying she could be doing solar installations and other electrical work. 

Not long ago, a group of illiterate Sierra Leone women went to India to be trained as part of a “barefoot solar” program, which successfully trains illiterate Indian women to do solar system installations. They show even uneducated women can learn what they need to know to run wiring and install solar panels. Women are disciplined and pay attention to detail. 

When Izzy was selected for one of the first 12 Bumpeh Chiefdom positions at the new technical institute in the district capital Moyamba, she saw electrical wiring was a course option. She didn’t hesitate.

Four young women and eight young men were accepted for Sherbro Foundation funded scholarships. Three women elected an IT course. The men are studying building and constuction, auto mechanics and IT.

The only female in her electrical course, Izzy is getting encouragement all around, including from the guys in the class. She’ll be finishing her first year soon, leading to a one-year certificate. If she does well, she can continue into a second year and get a full diploma.

Izzy’s timing is good. Small scale solar systems are spreading across Sierra Leone.

Easy Solar is one company bringing small solar units to rural African households. It installs solar panels with as little as 25 to 50 watts capacity, enough to run a couple LED lights and charge phones, plug in a radio or another small device.

Compared to always buying expensive alkaline batteries, this kind of small solar service is affordable for many. The smallest package is $70. You can buy your set-up outright, or pay it off monthly. Later, you can add on.

The exciting news is a solar mini-grid is being installed for the town of Rotifunk. It’s a public-private venture, that will be run like a small utility company. Households who want the service will get an electrical meter installed for pay-as-you-go service. Poles are going up around Rotifunk to carry electrical wires throughout town. The rest goes in soon, when the peak of the rainy season passes.

I smiled when I heard one excited resident say, with electricity, “Rotifunk will be New York City of the south [of Sierra Leone].”

The above solar mini-grid is an example of many being installed in rural Sierra Leone.

Imagine the anticipation of having even small-scale power and lights around Rotifunk for the very first time. It will no doubt keep growing, as power expands around the country. 

Izzy soon will be ready to take advantage with her new electrical skills. She can “do betta” and have a future in front of her. 

When asked to sponsor vocational training scholarships, Sherbro Foundation immediately said, absolutely.

It takes just $325 for a total scholarship package for the year to help one vocational student get job skills! This includes tuition and practicals fee, room rental and transportation for nine months.

The institute is impressed with Bumpeh Chiefdom’s response in sending students. It’s the only chiefdom in the district to fully sponsor 12 impoverished students and give them this opportunity.

You can help Izzy and 11 others like her get real job skills. Contribute towards a $325 annual scholarship here and these young people will soon join the job market – and avoid lives of poverty.

You’ll be making a great investment that feels great, too. Thank you!

  — Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

Our Sierra Leone partner CCET-SL has more education programs helping Bumpeh Chiefdom students move to self-reliant lives. Stay tuned to hear what’s next for the successful after-school tutoring program and two other scholarships for community health nurses and our first university student!

Putting Quality Into Sierra Leone Girls’ Education

Putting Quality Into Sierra Leone Girls’ Education

We’re kicking off our annual appeal for our educational programs. 

Sherbro Foundation’s core mission is education, with a focus on helping girls get an education.

We want Bumpeh Chiefdom girls – and boys – to stay in school, graduate and move on to actual careers and wage-paying jobs that make them self-supporting and part of developing their country.

Sherbro Foundation is proud to have grown to four types of scholarships serving Bumpeh Chiefdom students.

This year we’re changing our approach to our mission. No girls’ scholarships.

We’re focusing on ensuring teachers have the skills needed to help our students succeed.

“This is the right time to make a change in the scholarship program,” Bumpeh Chiefdom’s Paramount Chief Charles Caulker said. “The Sierra Leone government’s Free Quality Education program is providing more and more for students in the last two years and taking a load off families. The government made school free, paying school fees directly to schools, and giving students school supplies and textbooks for core subjects.”

Emory WSMSS SS1 math 18 (3) Over six years, Sherbro Foundation sent over 800 Bumpeh Chiefdom girls to school with scholarships, most with repeat scholarships.

We got them into junior high and kept them there. We saved many from dropping out, instead continuing into senior high. They’re starting to graduate.

But graduates aren’t moving on to their dreams. Our goal of self-sufficient young women remains unmet.

Few had school completion exam results good enough to continue into higher education. This is largely the same scenario across Sierra Leone.

The problem was pretty clear. More needs to be put into the quality of education, not just the quantity.

Quality of education starts with qualified teachers.

This year we will fund scholarships for teachers in chiefdom schools to get the Higher Teaching Certificate (HTC), the basic credential to teach at the secondary school level.

The majority of those imparting knowledge to pupils are not trained and qualified. This has created a negative impact on the performance of pupils, especially in the public exam.” Rosaline Kaimbay, managing director of our chiefdom partner CCET-SL and former high school principal.

IMG_2706 (2)If fortunate to finish high school, most graduates need to earn an income right away. They start teaching straight out of high school, sometimes as a primary school teacher.

Without an HTC or a bachelor’s degree, the government won’t pay secondary school teachers. But it’s hard for Rotifunk schools to get trained teachers to come to this rural community. They still need teachers, and scrape together a token salary, as little as $25 a month, to pay unqualified teachers.

The Sierra Leone government offers part-time courses practicing teachers can take on school holidays and some weekends to get their HTC over three years.

Many unqualifed teachers are serious and want to improve their subject knowledge and teaching skills. But paid so little, they can’t afford to pursue their HTC.

They’re stuck. But we can fix this problem.

Sherbro Foundation will fund six CCET-SL scholarships for practicing Rotifunk teachers to pursue their HTC. The cost for each is only $675 a year for tuition, fees and personal support (travel, food, internet café use, etc.)

82511258_614813622684617_5169237073403576320_n (2)Aziz is applying for one. He’s been teaching for seven years. Aziz was born in Mogbongboto, a small village deep in Bumpeh Chiefdom near where the Bumpeh River opens to the ocean. His parents were subsistence farmers, living off the land. He is one of twenty children his father gave birth to. His family can’t offer any financial help to further his education.

Aziz went to high school in Rotifunk in the period after the war when schools were being rebuilt academically as well as physically, and good instruction was limited.

When he didn’t meet university entry requirements, Aziz took the path many do. He got a basic teacher’s certificate, qualifying him to teach at primary schools.  He worked his way up, from primary school to teaching business management and physical education at a Rotifunk secondary school.

87479818_654415898724389_2420527844426776576_n (1)“At first I never want to be a teacher looking at the way the profession is neglected,” Aziz commented last year. “Later on I take it as a job. And now it’s becoming my profession.”

Teachers in a rural community like Rotifunk do more than teach a class. They’re guides and catalysts, lifting students from the trap of semi-literacy and a life of poverty to the opportunity education brings.

I was impressed with the personal vision Aziz wrote on his Facebook page. “My vision: to teach, to build, to inspire. As an educator, a life coach, a life instructor, a future builder and a Role Model, I inspire young and great minds towards becoming super thinkers and great achievers.”

Aziz meets the base criteria for an HTC Scholarship. He now has six subjects passed  after retaking the school completion exam vs. four required for HTC entry. He’s a chiefdom resident and currently teaching in a chiefdom school.

Aziz did well in CCET-SL’s scholarship interview, with a panel of seven interviewers, including Paramount Chief Caulker. He needs to now apply to an HTC school and bring a letter of acceptance.

20191222_131110 (2)“CCET-SL works to compliment the government’s Free Quality Education program,” Chief Caulker, left, said. “One thing the government is not able to do now is send teachers back to school to develop strong teaching skills. It’s right for CCET-SL to step in and help our own teachers. We’ve tailored teacher training scholarships for our needs and to serve as a tool for developing our chiefdom.”

After completing their HTC, teachers are required to continue teaching in a Rotifunk school at least one year for every year of scholarship support they receive.

“Our Girls Scholarship program encouraged chiefdom families to send their girls to school and let them progress into senior high,” Chief Caulker said. “They’ve come to value education more and are proud of their girls getting an education.”

“We now need to make sure girls – and all our students – get a quality education that will carry them into new lives where they prosper, and in turn, Bumpeh Chiefdom prospers.”

Sherbro Foundation is excited to take our education mission to the next level with this change. When a teacher’s skills improve, students learn more, test scores improve and they gain admission to higher education – with opportunities for a new life.

You can help develop a teacher by donating towards a $675 scholarship. Click here.

You’ll be investing in both a teacher and in the hundreds of students they teach. Thank you!

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

Watch for future newsletters about our three other scholarships and their goals: community health nursing, vocational training and supporting our first university student to complete her final year.

Celebrating a Life of Service

Celebrating a Life of Service

For a Sierra Leone community, a resident trained physician is a privilege. To have one in rural Bumpeh Chiefdom in 1950 was a blessing. A huge blessing. For women and their babies, it often meant life over death.

Winifred examining patient, Manjama, Sierra LeoneWe’re celebrating the life of Dr. Winifred Smith Bradford (October 20, 1922 – July 19, 2020), a remarkable woman who dedicated herself to serving women and children around the world.

Sherbro Foundation dedicates this year’s community health nursing scholarships to Dr. Bradford for her long medical career, beginning in an outpost clinic in Rotifunk, Bumpeh Chiefdom in 1950. 

Winifred Smith was born in Enid, Oklahoma just two years after women got the vote in the US. Imagine the vision and determination of a young woman from small town middle America who set her goal to become a doctor. In the latter days of the Great Depression and during WWII, she managed to put herself through college and medical school.

Dr. Smith was one of first women to graduate from York College of Medicine. With the goal of being a medical missionary to China, she continued on to Yale to study Chinese. But the Communist Chinese regime soon made clear they no longer wanted American missionaries.

Winifred and newborn, Red Bird Mission, 1946 or 47 (2)Dr. Smith’s time at Yale wasn’t for naught. There she met the love of her life and partner in service, Lester Bradford, a forestry major. Her goal of being a missionary doctor was undeterred and just changed geography to Africa – Sierra Leone, West Africa. The United Brethren in Christ (UBC), an arm of the Methodist Church, first sent her to prepare at the London School of Tropical Medicine.

Dr. Smith, left, delivering a baby before departing for the London School of Tropical Medicine

Lester had to be satisfied with letters until, her training completed, Dr. Smith began practicing in the UBC clinic in Rotifunk. He joined her and they were married in the historic Martyrs Memorial Church in Rotifunk.

That was the first of the Bradfords’ many joint assignments in developing countries around the world – she practicing medicine and he leading agriculture development projects.

During their 16 years of service in Sierra Leone, Dr. Bradford delivered thousands of babies and treated thousands of children. A working mom herself, she and Lester had five children of their own.

On their return to the US, Dr. Bradford did a second medical residency and continued in the baby business, now in Mt. Vernon, Washington. She helped women who wanted the option of home births and founded the Mount Vernon Birth Center.  Her compassionate approach to birthing revolutionized the whole birth industry in Skagit County.

Retirement was anything but retiring for Dr. Bradford and her husband. He took overseas assignments carrying out projects in South Sudan and Pakistan, and she continued her medical work there. Above left, she started a birthing center in Juba, Sudan and counseled families in Pakistan, above right. 

Today, the need for health care professionals in rural Bumpeh Chiefdom and Sierra Leone remains as great as ever. Devastated by its 11-year rebel war, Sierra Leone was struggling to rebuild the country and its health care services when in 2014 it was hit by Ebola.

It only had 136 physicians for a population of 6,000,000 at the start of the outbreak, and those mostly in cities. By the end, Sierra Leone lost 11 physicians, among its most senior, or 8% of its medical ranks. Many more of the 1000 nurses/midwives also succumbed to Ebola.

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Sierra Leone remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for a woman to give birth. And one in ten young children never see their fifth birthday.

In 2018, Sherbro Foundation started community health nursing scholarships to help build health care capacity in Bumpeh Chiefdom. Three young chiefdom women are now preparing to serve in small community health units that since Dr. Bradford’s time provide first level primary health care.

CHN AdamaBumpeh Chiefdom’s government-run health units are staffed by a community health nurse, usually operating alone, who diagnoses and treats common infectious disease like malaria and diarrhea, provides pre/postnatal care for pregnant women and serves as midwife to deliver babies. They vaccinate babies and monitor for malnutrition. They can provide family planning services, basic first aid like stitching wounds and screen for chronic disease for referral, like hypertension and diabetes.

Nine government-run health units serve Bumpeh Chiefdom’s 208 villages and 40,000 people. For most villagers, this is their only source of health care.

This year, we dedicate the community health nursing scholarships to Dr. Bradford and her legacy of serving Sierra Leone people – especially its mothers and children.

Three young women, Fatmata, Umu and Safiatu, above, will soon enter their second year of a three-year nursing program. Each $1100 scholarship covers tuition, practicals (when they’re placed in a Freetown hospital for hands-on experience), supplies, food and transportation for the year.

Join us with your gift here and return Fatmata, Umu and Safiatu to nursing school. You’ll keep them on a path to soon be caring for Bumpeh Chiefdom’s mothers and children – and all its people.  Thank you!  

 

Where There’s Community Will, There’s a Way – Fighting Covid in Sierra Leone

Where There’s Community Will, There’s a Way – Fighting Covid in Sierra Leone

It’s July and we’re four months into the Covid pandemic. Sierra Leone and Bumpeh Chiefdom are living the same massive human health experiment we all find ourselves in.

But they’ve fared better than us for the same point in time after the pandemic reached each of our borders. Confirmed cases in Sierra Leone (per 100,000 population) are 50-fold fewer than the US to date, and mostly contained in the capital, Freetown and the surrounding area.

Thanks to your support, Bumpeh Chiefdom used Sherbro Foundation funding to take early and aggressive action. As of July 9, it can still report no confirmed Covid cases.

Following its Ebola experience, most of Sierra Leone’s 1584 confirmed Covid cases to date transferred to government isolation centers for the course of their infection – where they don’t infect more people. Contact tracing led to over 9000 people quarantined, with about 8000 released after 14 days with no infection.

But by the end of May, Covid moved around the country to all but one district beyond the Freetown area. Still, a ban on inter-district travel without a limited essential travel pass managed to keep over 60% of confirmed cases to the Freetown area.

20190131_105028Rural areas like Bumpeh Chiefdom have reported few, if any, cases. Life largely takes place outside where breeze offers natural dilution.

Population density is lower and 60% are young, under twenty-five years of age.

Of course, there’s little access to testing to verify how widely the virus actually spread. We now know youth is no protection, and young people are probably active asymptomatic spreaders of the virus.

Taking early action
Bumpeh Chiefdom’s Paramount Chief Charles Caulker’s didn’t wait to take action. He formed a chiefdom Covid committee in March and reinstated procedures successfully used to quell Ebola, while adding others.

IMG-20200620-WA0018Chiefdom meetings now take place with distancing and masks.

Checkpoints started monitoring nonresidents trying to enter the chiefdom in midMarch, before even a single case was confirmed in the country. This kept most people from high infection areas out. Local people also wrongly feared being quarantined if they traveled away from home, discouraging movement within the chiefdom.

Chief Caulker passed chiefdom bylaws in May, requiring social distancing and use of face masks in public – before the government took action. But just setting standards doesn’t mean people will follow them, or even hear about them or understand them.

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Safety teams for community-led prevention
In early June, 13 safety teams comprised of local leaders from across the chiefdom were trained on their Covid bylaws. Local health professionals and chiefdom Covid committee members went to every part the chiefdom, training 350 local leaders: section and village chiefs, heads of men’s and women’s societies, imams, youth leaders, checkpoint workers and others.

Picture5Trainers emphasized practical demonstrations, with participants practicing proper handwashing and mask use.

The safety teams were charged with teaching fellow residents how the Covid virus is transmitted and how social distancing, wearing masks and hand washing protects them.

Teams continue to monitor and enforce Covid procedures.

Taking training to the people in remote villages seldom happens. Rumors and myths about this unknown disease called Covid proliferated without TV, radio, newspapers or internet. Villagers didn’t know how the virus transfers or how to protect themselves.

Using locally known trainers speaking their own language invoked a level of trust. Health care trainers could convey much more understanding that in turn encourages more voluntary compliance.

Trainers explained people have the power to stop the virus through their own behavior. It’s in their hands.

Small group community training made people believers for an epidemic that has largely only been in cities. “Be an example now to your community,” trainers admonished.

Covid Safety team trg attendee VID-20200603_Moment (2)        Covid Safety team trg attendee woman VID-20200603_Moment(6)

“We learned so much for fighting against Covid-19. Especially about the interior (rural areas),” a youth leader, above left, said. “The interior is a problem with commitment of people. Not all people believe the sickness is in existence. Thank god brought you to communicate and explain how Covid-19 can come right into the interior.”

Asked what she learned, the woman, above right, said, “We learned about social distance and to not encourage ‘strangers’ (nonresidents who could be infected). And to wash our hands with soap and water to protect our families.”

Picture10 (3)Over 9000 Sherbro Foundation funded masks were distributed so residents can comply with chiefdom (and now government) requirements.

Picture3 (3)195 hand washing stations and soap were also given to village leaders for their public places. With no running water and few wells, this encourages handwashing where people convene.

Chief Caulker extends his “profound thanks” to all Sherbro Foundation donors for funding the program.

20200419_140951 (2)“I am very much delighted for the completion of the training of our section safety teams. I followed the process with keen interest and I am tremendously satisfied with the accomplishments. My section chiefs and their people constantly called me and expressed appreciation for the exercise while it was on.”

“They confessed that the training was the best ever conducted in the Chiefdom and it came out clearly … that participation was enormous and constructive. More importantly, they admitted acquiring the knowledge, skills, and tools to take on Covid ‘one on one’ for self-protection.”

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Community-led training brings value, as well as results. 350 local leaders comprising thirteen safety teams for every corner of the chiefdom were trained for less than $600! Trainers gave their time. Costs were mainly for participant and trainer transportation.

Sherbro Foundation encourages the chiefdom to build on the momentum of the safety teams with follow-up sessions. Community-led prevention is a powerful concept not only for Covid, but for prevalent and debilitating disease like malaria. Malaria weakens the immune system making people more susceptible to Covid, especially pregnant women and small children. Future sessions can reinforce Covid practices, and also empower villages to eliminate standing water and sleep under bed nets to avoid malaria.

Reopening the country
Like everywhere, Sierra Leone could only stay shut down so long. The majority of people live day by day, earning a dollar or two today so their families eat tomorrow. The pressure to resume local trading and international traffic is overwhelming. Sierra Leone is “reopening” its economy and borders this month. Increasingly, it gets pulled into the direction all West African countries are taking.

The inter-district travel ban was removed June 24, taking away Bumpeh Chiefdom’s main line of Covid defense. Flights and land borders will be opened shortly. Large outdoor markets and gatherings remain banned, including religious services, much to the objection of mosques and churches.

The back to school question
Sierra Leone now joins countries around the world in the massive experiment of sending school children back to school before the pandemic is stamped out.

School reconvened July 1 for three grades due to now take their national exams needed to move to the next level: 6th graders to junior high; 9th graders to senior high; and 12th graders seeking entry to higher education or to meet employer requirements for school completion exam scores.

facebook_1594170883672_6686437314070105164Our partner CCET-SL resumed its special all-day 12th grade school in its education center July 1, preparing Rotifunk’s graduating students for their national exam. Masks and distancing required.

Students will get a few weeks of classes before exams take place over July and August. The West African standard exams must be administered using the West African Examinations Council procedures and schedule – or risk the students losing a whole year until exams are offered again next year.

We’re awaiting word on how and when Sierra Leone schools will fully reopen in the fall.

Stay tuned for the next newsletter on Sherbro Foundation’s direction for the coming school year. You’ll see new things as our partner CCET-SL strives to keep improving the quality of education in the chiefdom. We’ll need your support more than ever.

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

How Do You Keep Coronavirus Out of Rural Sierra Leone

How do you keep the Coronavirus out? If you’re a country, you shut down flights and land borders and isolate yourself. If you’re a rural Sierra Leone chiefdom, you set up border checkpoints to keep all nonresidents out, too, and staff them 24/7 with your own local volunteers.

Bumpeh Chiefdom learned from the Ebola epidemic that people will try to cross their remote chiefdom borders undetected, bringing the Ebola virus with them. They are fleeing infected cities for a rural place they think safer. It’s also a place for people from Guinea to try to illegally enter the country “through a back door” – bypassing  Freetown and Waterloo by boat and making their way up the Bumpeh River from the ocean.

Once the virus gains entry, we know how it spirals out of control. Keeping it out in the first place is the name of the game. Checkpoints saved Bumpeh Chiefdom during the Ebola epidemic. It’s working now again – despite Bumpeh’s vulnerable position as a coastal chiefdom near Freetown and its suburbs.

The chiefdom was ready this time when Covid-19 was first confirmed in the country. They know the places around their borders to patrol and immediately set up checkpoints, like the one above at a river “bus stop.” Boats act as buses, carrying residents and goods up and down the Bumpeh River to Rotifunk.

How can you help Bumpeh Chiefdom keep the virus out? Join us in supplying all checkpoints with locally made face masks and handwashing stations and soap.

> $20 pays for a local tailor to make 50 cloth face masks for checkpoint volunteers.

> $25 buys three covered handwashing stations with spigots, like the one above, where all residents passing through a checkpoint are required to first wash their hands.

Sherbro Foundation is paying for small daily stipends for checkpoint volunteers to buy food and water from villagers during their 12 hour shifts away from home.

We also bought solar lights for checkpoint night shifts, sitting in these remote places in the dark.

We talk about unsung heroes in this crisis who do the jobs that protect the rest of us. In Bumpeh Chiefdom, it’s the men who sit all night keeping watch at these distant checkpoints.

By sitting in the dark all night, they’re keeping the virus out of the chiefdom – and saving lives.

In this global epidemic, none of us are safe for long unless we’re all safe. We’re all in this together.

Giving Tuesday is now – May 5th. Help equip these guys with face masks and handwashing stations so they can protect everyone else. www.sherbrofoundation.org/donate

Thank you so much!

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

Help Bumpeh Chiefdom fight Covid19 on May 5 – Giving Tuesday 2020

We can’t wait for Giving Tuesday in November to support charitable organizations as part of our Thanksgiving festivities.

If ever we needed a day to give, it’s now, while we’re all fighting Covid-19. The 2020 Giving Tuesday is moved up to May 5. 

Screenshot (131)Bumpeh Chiefdom, Sierra Leone, took immediate action in April against Covid-19 before any confirmed case reached them — and has kept the virus out so far. But it’s quickly spreading all around them.

Here’s how you can help Bumpeh Chiefdom in their fight to keep Covid-19 out:

>>  $20 will pay to locally make 50 face masks for chiefdom residents, especially market women. These women, like the one at left, are one of the most at-risk groups — like grocery workers here.

>> $25 buys 3 hand-washing stations for border checkpoints and public places. With no running water, water must be hand-carried to covered buckets with spigots for hand-washing.

>> $50 buys a no-touch infrared thermometer to take temperatures, important in a place with no Covid-19 testing ability.

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This month the chiefdom will require face masks to be worn in public, and to observe 6-foot social distancing.

They want to supply 10,000 masks to make it easy for residents to comply. They have local tailors busy making them.

Bumpeh Chiefdom must keep the Covid-19 virus out. They don’t have a health care facility that can treat this disease. There’s only one ventilator for the whole country!

Chiefdom leaders understand what’s needed to stop transmission of the virus. They need our help.

We’ve learned in this global pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe. The virus must be stamped out around the world.

On May 5th — Giving Tuesday 2020 — support Bumpeh Chiefdom’s Covid-19 fight if you can. It’s a day for global unity.  www.sherbrofoundation.org/donate

We deeply appreciate your help. Thank you!

We Knew It Couldn’t Last – Covid-19 enters Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone had its first confirmed Covid-19 case on March 31.

With falling virus dominoes encircling the world, it was only a matter of time. Sierra Leone was one of the last countries the virus invaded.

Sierra Leone’s government used its hard-won experience with the deadly Ebola virus to quickly react. But its directives are very difficult to apply in rural areas and no help has been forthcoming to Bumpeh Chiefdom. Once again, the Chiefdom is on its own.

We’re proud to report that Bumpeh is the first, and perhaps the only, chiefdom to implement a rural Covid-19 control program, led by Paramount Chief Charles Caulker. And Sherbro Foundation is proud to support it, with a $6,000 grant sent in March.

See the source image We know Covid-19 is a stealth virus and hard to control. But Bumpeh Chiefdom has a head start, learning from its Ebola ordeal. Covid-19 starts as a traveler’s disease, first carried in by air travelers from infected countries. Sierra Leone has only limited flights and directly quarantined all arriving air passengers in Freetown throughout March; starting in February, for passengers originating in China.

First cases The first confirmed Covid-19 case was a traveler who briefly went to France and returned to Sierra Leone. At the end of his 14-day quarantine period, he started feeling Covid symptoms and tested positive.

By April 16, Sierra Leone had 15 confirmed Covid-19 cases. Seven of the first ten cases were quarantined air travelers. Two more cases appear to have been in quarantine after coming through Guinea’s land border. Border countries Guinea and Liberia have growing number of cases, especially Guinea. This is the biggest risk with Sierra Leone now closed to commercial air travel.

Community spread My own first few weeks of Covid-19 experience in Ohio were flooded with Ebola flashbacks. Now, watching Sierra Leone felt like a disaster movie unfolding where I know the plot. Ebola was first carried across an isolated land border with Guinea. As sick people sought treatment, health care workers were infected.

See the source imageSierra Leone’s second confirmed Covid-19 case was a hospital doctor who recognized early symptoms and immediately went for testing. With her positive result, the doctor’s contacts were asked to quarantine, including two university staffers who later tested positive. A hospital nurse in contact with the doctor also tested positive.

To its credit, the Sierra Leone government was ready after its Ebola experience to trace and quarantine contacts of identified or suspect Covid-19 cases in cities and district headquarters. Some 1,550 people have been quarantined to date, with 1034 discharged.

Emergency operation centers are in place for district surveillance and response. A lab technician in Kenema in the east, said to have recently worked in another Freetown hospital, just tested positive. Government teams are reported to have created a “ring” around his contacts to isolate and monitor them for a 14-day period.

No photo description available. But the April 17 report shows nearly a doubling of cases from 15 to 26. Most new cases are reported linked to the second case; they worked at the same hospital. But the doctor’s husband rightfully said it’s time to concentrate on community transmission. She appears to have been infected by community transfer. Her family, housekeepers and close hospital work associates have tested negative, while hospital nurses with little to no contact with her tested positive this week. They could have been community-exposed as the doctor was. As was the lab technician.

Those of us living the epidemic know what comes next. We can assume there are many more asymptomatic and untested cases now in the community, starting in Freetown and beginning to move around the country. There’s no defined plan to respond in rural areas.

Sierra Leone has more test kits than most US states started with. But logistically, it will be hard to test where and when needed. A lot harder for 60% of the population, in remote rural areas with little to no health care.

Community control The Sierra Leone government instated an initial three-day country-wide lockdown April 4-6. But too many people both in cities and villages must go out daily for food and to collect water.

The government’s control program now limits travel to within each of its 16 districts, set a 9 pm to 6 am curfew, limits public-sector business hours (the largest employer) and stresses staying at home wherever possible. Hand washing and social distancing are emphasized. They continue contact tracing and quarantines, but that will soon outstrip capacity to handle new cases.

This all sounds like reasonable guidance for urban areas and for literate people bombarded with Covid-19 information daily from TV, radio and internet. Now imagine the remote villages of Bumpeh Chiefdom with no communication other than a few people with only simple mobile phones for calls and bad connections.

Imagine people who line up daily to carry every bucket of water from a distance to wash. Imagine people who have no cash to stock their houses with food and supplies to stay at home for a week or more. People go to crowded local markets to sell goods to make enough money to buy the food needed for the next day or two.

These are people who need to take precautions to socially distance. To date, they’ve had no confirmed Covid-19 cases in their area. They’re disbelieving, never seeing or hearing of the illness. It’s all unreal to them. It was to us. Ebola attacked Bumpeh Chiefdom quickly, and it was deadly and ugly. Covid-19 has been a limited far-away city disease and only for the last 20 days.

In the back door With land borders to Guinea closed, people are finding ways to enter Sierra Leone through a back door – Bumpeh Chiefdom. Fishing boats coming from Guinea bypass the Freetown peninsula, stopping at the mouth of the Bumpeh River, the first settlements along a swampy coastline where passengers can find a way to move inland.

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Three weeks ago, a boat coming from Guinea stopped at Samu village to let out passengers. One didn’t make it off. A man died on the boat of unknown causes. A local chief quickly came to keep passengers from leaving. With Paramount Chief Caulker’s direction, they were ordered to quarantine. A few slipped away and likely hopped a motorcycle taxi. It took two days before police and the community health officer arrived at the remote village to investigate. By then, the body was buried after being carried to the next chiefdom (by motorcycle taxi). Chiefs there were alerted to quarantine those involved in the burial. After three weeks, none of those quarantined are showing any symptoms.

Bumpeh Chiefdom Covid-19 program By then, Paramount Chief Caulker had already started the chiefdom Covid-19 control program, as described in our last newsletter. With their Ebola experience still fresh, Chief quickly instated checkpoints at strategic chiefdom entry points with mandatory handwashing, and is now expanding those. This is the most effective means of monitoring for outsiders bringing in the virus.

IMG-20200322-WA0013Social distancing is initially hard to get used to. The weekly women’s small grant meeting, above, spread out, but not quite six feet. Chief not only stopped gatherings, but leads by example, applying the six-foot rule in his own interactions. Our partner CCET-SL leaders do the same. Hand-washing stations are set up in public places, and people urged to wash hands at home.

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They’ve adjusted past Ebola practices for this virus that’s less lethal, but more contagious. Chief and CCET-SL leaders, above, are introducing use of face masks when in public, starting with themselves. A project to make cloth face masks hopefully will start soon. Market women, who are “essential workers” in providing a supply of food, are priorities for masks.

The Samu village experience – and Ebola — showed small remote villages need close monitoring. This can only be done by the chiefdom’s own grassroots authorities. As during Ebola, Chief Caulker is organizing village chiefs to monitor their own villages, regularly checking door-to-door for strangers and for residents who may be sick. They can isolate the sick and ask for help to send people for health care, as needed.

Once again, it will come down to the paramount chief orchestrating his own chiefdom authorities down to small villages to control this epidemic. This chief has immediately gone into action.

Developing countries with limited health care and Covid-19 testing have to rely on local human surveillance. Until simple and cheap Covid-19 test kits are available in quantity for rural areas without electricity, this will be the primary way to contain the virus.

Sherbro Foundation is watching how the epidemic unfolds in Sierra Leone and is prepared to help again as needed.

Today’s good news: Six of the first confirmed Covid-19 cases, including the index case who was hospitalized and the doctor, have been released.

More frequent Bumpeh Chiefdom Covid-19 updates will be on our Facebook page: click here.

  • Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

COVID-19: What About Sierra Leone? Sherbro Foundation’s Response

Does lightning strike twice in the same spot? Does Sierra Leone have the ridiculous luck of seeing two major global epidemics of life-threatening viruses within six years?

Sierra Leone is one of ten or so countries with the highest — or lowest -– rankings demographers measure. Mortality, life expectancy, literacy. Sierra Leone is again the country with an extreme. But this time that’s good. Very good.

As I write this (March 27), Sierra Leone doesn’t have a single confirmed case of COVID-19.

It’s one 10+ African countries (perhaps 20 globally) still with no confirmed COVID-19. Sierra Leone does have testing capability, in the capital and a couple cities where cases are most likely to first appear.

Sherbro Foundation just wired money this week for our Bumpeh Chiefdom friends’ COVID-19 prevention program. But first, here’s what’s happened leading up to this.

Quick response
I never thought I’d say Sierra Leone’s deadly Ebola experience was good for something. But Sierra Leone kicked into gear and, week by week, instituted early COVID-19 protective measures as they saw the rest of the world reel around them. The government and the people remember well the practical steps of managing Ebola and have responded quickly for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Air travel is the source of COVID-19 transmission for now, and Sierra Leone only has one international airport. Passengers on flights arriving from countries with 50 or more reported cases were put into automatic 14-day quarantine. This started in February 3 with passengers originating from China. Only a few airlines normally fly to Sierra Leone. Some European airlines started canceling flights in March.

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As of March 23, the Sierra Leone government banned any flight from entering the country, and President Bio, above, declared a national state of emergency. 500 previous air travelers were still in quarantine.

During Ebola, the rest of the world isolated Sierra Leone and tried to keep its travelers out. Now the tables have turned. Sierra Leone is keeping the world out of its country.

With cases starting to grow in neighboring Liberia and Guinea, Sierra Leone’s land borders are closed as of March 27. Essential commodities can still pass through with strict supervision.

Ebola 2.0
So far, so good. Sierra Leone has a basic pandemic preparedness plan. Its health officials say strategies being used by coronavirus-affected countries emanated from their Ebola outbreak. And they have to be prepared for return of Ebola or Lassa Fever anytime.

The government has been working with WHO and other supporters to improve their health care capability since the Ebola epidemic, including developing three laboratories with virus testing capability. They have 370 COVID-19 test kits, and it’s stated they could get 20,000 more within 24 hours.

Sierra Leone is focusing on standard strategies to clamp down on early stages of epidemics: case management and preventive action.

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President Bio washes his hands, left, before entering Lungi International airport terminal during a recent inspection visit. In a country with little running water, even in cities, buckets fitted with spigots introduced for handwashing during Ebola have now returned.

“We have one of the best contact tracing and surveillance [systems],” said the Deputy Health Minister. “Before Ebola, we had no epidemiologists. Now we have 176.” An isolation ward is ready in a military hospital, and more could quickly be set up. People who set up and ran MASH-style Ebola treatment centers around the country are still there.

All is critical in a country with few ICU units, let alone ventilators, and only in the capital.

Prevention in Bumpeh Chiefdom
When the dominoes started quickly falling in the US two weeks ago, Bumpeh Chiefdom leader Paramount Chief Charles Caulker called together his chiefdom council. Rural areas like Bumpeh Chiefdom must interpret and apply government guidance largely defined for urban areas. The chiefdom council quickly agreed to proactive steps that aren’t new for them. The next day they were in effect.

Chief Caulker fell back on their past Ebola program, with appropriate changes. Like us, they’re emphasizing social distancing and hand washing.

Per the government’s order:
> Religious services, sports events and other gatherings were closed.
> All schools close as of March 31, when current exams end. National exams for 9th and
12th grades are canceled until further notice. Same for colleges and vocational schools.
> Our partner CCET ends its education programs like after-school tutoring March 31.

Chief Caulker also set up chiefdom border controls to monitor for possible infected travelers, especially those coming from cities and larger towns. But it’s not as stringent as during Ebola when no traveler or returning resident could enter.
> Checkpoints with handwashing stations verify a traveler’s residency or business purpose at all places vehicles enter. Travelers must wash their hands before passing through.
> The old customary practice of “strangers” (nonresidents) reporting to the local chief was reinstated, including stating who their local hosts are.

Youth are being mobilized to educate villages on COVID19, going door to door and avoiding village meetings. Handwashing is emphasized, with washing stations set up in public places.

Bringing home delivery to Rotifunk
Social distancing at the big weekly market was the most problematic. Throngs of buyers and sellers crowd Rotifunk every Saturday.

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It’s the town’s lifeblood, serving as the grocery, Walmart, Target and Ace Hardware for locals.

20190119_104700 (3)Outside traders bring in fish, the main protein source for most.

Villagers sell their produce to outside traders who supply Freetown and other cities. Outside traders could bring in COVID-19, but closing the market would be devastating.

When solving a problem, Chief Caulker tries to maximize the solution’s benefits. Kill two birds with one stone. Or three or four birds, if possible.

He needs to get essential food safely into Rotifunk and area villages. But he didn’t want to close the market, just thin the crowds.

First, he told chiefdom residents to use the market seven days a week and bring their goods to sell any day in the usual daily market, below; not just on Saturday.

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With business spread out over seven days, fewer outside traders come now. They can’t make as many sales on any one day so it’s not worth the long trip. Local villagers also get better prices for their wares with less competition.

But the biggest gain comes by taking the market to the people. Think of it as home delivery.

With Sherbro Foundation funding, Chief Caulker is expanding the Women’s Small Grant and Savings Program to add 40 more women traders. The women will use $100 grants to buy chiefdom fish or produce and sell them in designated neighborhoods, avoiding market crowds altogether. Creating job and income opportunities for the most impoverished local women is one of Chief’s ongoing priorities.

It’s a win-win all around. Outside traders who could be carrying in COVID-19 are reduced. Forty women are empowered to expand their trading businesses with capital and dedicated customers. Market customers and villagers who normally come to sell are protected by avoiding market crowds.

This solution will also keep more money in the local economy. Outside traders won’t take money outside the chiefdom. Rotifunk’s and the chiefdom’s overall economy will improve as the women traders succeed and use their increased purchasing power locally.

Pivoting for a compelling need
Sherbro Foundation is delighted to fund the 40 women traders with $100 grants.

 

IMG-20200322-WA0014 (2)They also become part of the savings plan of the new Women’s Small Grant Program, where women deposit part of each week’s earnings, left.

At the end of the year, their total savings will be like getting a new grant.

Sherbro Foundation is also contributing to daily food stipends for the checkpoint volunteers.

Bumpeh Chiefdom and Sierra Leone are hardly out of the woods with COVID-19. But, like us, they’re buying time until therapeutic drugs or the ultimate vaccine are found.

Sherbro Foundation pivoted from other issues and helped Bumpeh Chiefdom fight Ebola in 2014-15. Being a small organization, we can respond quickly. As in 2014, within two weeks of my first phone call with Chief Caulker on their COVID-19 plan, they will have our funding in hand and start acting.

Next week, women traders will introduce food home delivery to the chiefdom. Who knows where this goes long term?

One more thing the whole dreadful Ebola experience taught me: I know we’ll get through COVID-19. On the upside, a whole new program with the potential to transform Bumpeh Chiefdom may blossom – strengthening struggling women as successful small entrepreneurs.

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

 

Still Good News in the World

Still Good News in the World

There still is good news to be found in the world. Sierra Leone has had more than its share of bad news and hardship. But it’s where I’m finding things to brighten my outlook now, thanks to our Bumpeh Chiefdom partner, the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation (CCET-SL).

Twenty “market women” come together each Sunday at the CCET-SL building after the big weekly Saturday market to discuss what they bought and sold that week. But these small traders aren’t gossiping. They’re getting help to grow their small businesses. And every week they deposit part of their earnings they can save in an iron lock box the group manages.

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The group buzzes with talk on the week’s prices for palm oil, dried fish, peanuts and other things they buy and sell – and what they expect prices to be in the coming weeks.

Growing and Saving
The women are part of CCET-SL’s new Women’s Small Grant & Savings Program funded by Sherbro Foundation. Each participant received a small grant of one million leones. They now have enough money to buy new goods to sell in their small trading business. They earn more to better feed their families. And importantly, they save each week.

The women are hardly millionaires. One million leones is today worth only about one hundred US dollars. But these are women who never before held that much cash in their hands at one time.

The group serves as a peer network where they exchange what they know about trading and offer each other current advice. Such as: recently harvested peanuts will be worth far more two or three months from now when the harvest glut is down.

The experienced women advise, hold the peanuts and your bigger future profit will likely more than make up for slow weeks now. Things like peanuts and locally produced palm oil, the mainstay cooking oil, are commodities to be held as a reserve and sold when prices rise.

Targeting women with the least
These women are part of the program because they’re among the poorest women in the community. Most market women, below, have so little to sell, their weekly income is a pittance. It’s barely enough with which to eat and purchase another small lot of goods for the next week’s market. Or they sell things from small family farms and gardens or from trading with other villagers. Most can only bring what they can carry on their heads walking.

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There’s little cash flow among these women, and no capital to invest in a small business that could reliably return more income. They just scrape by week to week.

The women needed a boost to get ahead. A small grant. One with no ties attached.

Women’s Small Grant & Savings Program
The program  was conceived in January because of another dilemma CCET-SL faced. The twenty women in the new grant program were hired last year as part-time workers in CCET-SL’s Swamp Vegetable Growing project, below. They transplanted pepper and okra seedlings into raised beds, weeded and watered, and later harvested the vegetables. They continued to work their own small gardens and trade in the market. The women were excited to have their first wage-paying jobs, even if part-time and seasonal.

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But the vegetable project doubled in size since last year, and was planting 12,000 pepper plants this year. With seven acres of peppers to now water, it became clear having women hand-water would never work. The area was too big, and carrying water buckets all day too heavy for the women. A way of watering with pressurized hoses was identified that needed to be handed over to men.

Paramount Chief Caulker was adamant the women would not be fired. He considers one of CCET-SL’s agriculture projects’ successes to be job creation for the neediest chiefdom people.

CCET-SL Managing Director Rosaline Kaimbay offered another solution. Let the women focus instead on growing their small trading businesses with small grants. I was with them in January, and we worked out the terms of the program that Sherbro Foundation immediately funded. They began in February. At the meeting below, CCET-SL accountant Sulaiman Timbo records everyone’s savings deposits as the group is illiterate.

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Each participant starts with a small grant. This is not the usual microfinance program giving loans with high interest and short payback schedules. These women are the lowest tier of a desperately poor rural economy, and too poor to pay back a loan within months. Or if they tried, they’d use up the little income they produce. They’d never be able to put more money into their business and get ahead.

IMG-20200209-WA0003 (2)Under the Small Grant and Savings Program, women should be able to increase the size of their trading business with their small grant and the resulting income they earn. And with required savings, they’ll have another windfall at the end of the year.

To participate, women are expected to save some of their earnings every week that will be distributed back to them after 12 months.

The iron lock box, left, is made for small savings clubs. Built with three locks, it can’t be opened unless three people come with keys for the three locks. This encourages group self-management, as well as security for the savings.

Group savings clubs are popular for the poor because it’s an easy way to protect their savings. If left at home, it would invariably go to another immediate need or family demand. Banks are a one- to two-hour drive away, and their fees too high for the tiny amounts the women save.

Yeama’s business portfolio
Yeama was one of the hard-working women from last year’s Swamp Vegetable Growing group. She’s about 40 and a single parent with two children. Her husband left her for another woman, and kicked her and the children out of their house. She returned to Rotifunk, and had to start doing any available work to feed her family, which for women usually means farming.

In the new program, Yeama was advised to use her Le 1,000,000 grant to buy a diversified “portfolio” of things to trade. With half the money, she chose to buy various women’s toiletries and personal items in Freetown to set up a table in the market. It’s like the women’s aisles in Target or Walmart with skin creams, hair balm, toothpaste, soaps, nail polish, combs, etc. Below, a typical market table of women’s products.

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She also bought a large bale of peanuts for Le300,000 that’s already gone up to Le350,000. She’s holding this as her fall-back reserve. It could rise to Le500,000 or even Le550,000.

Sierra Leone, West Africa foodsWith her remaining Le200,000 from the grant, Yeama bought cassava, a starchy tuber, and made foo foo, left, traditionally eaten on Saturday with a meat soup.

She “added value” to the cassava by pounding it and turning it into balls of foo foo. She sold them in Freetown at a higher price and made even more profit.

Yeama is already making money to put back into her trading business, or to buy another seasonal crop to sell.

Like most of the women, Yeama can only save Le10,000 to Le20,000 a week now, or $1 to $2. But if they do this each week, by the year-end, it will be like receiving another grant of Le500,000 to Le1,000,000, or more as they’re able to save more. The support – and competition – of the peer group encourages more savings.

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Only several weeks old, the Women’s Grant and Savings Program is already very popular. Women not in the initial grant group come to sit in on the weekly Sunday meetings to observe and learn from the group. CCET-SL Director Rosaline Kaimbay, above, hands raised, facilitates the weekly meetings.

Paramount Chief Caulker has had a parade of women from the group coming to thank him for starting the program. Others come pleading to also join.

For Sherbro Foundation donors, our total investment to start the program was $2050. That feels like an incredible bargain to help 20 women get more economic security in their lives and contribute to their building their local economy.

Chief Caulker says he believes this program will continue to be a real winner. I agree. Time will tell just how big of a winner it turns out to be – but the women themselves are now the drivers.

 

 

 

Saluting a Sierra Leone Paramount Chief’s 35 Years of Service

Sherbro Foundation celebrates its seventh anniversary next month. To understand this success, just look to the head of the community-led program with whom we partner in Sierra Leone. We’ve been honored to work with Paramount Chief Charles Caulker since 2013 and support his chiefdom development efforts. And now we salute his 35th anniversary as paramount chief!

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Nearly 2,000 cheering people packed the celebration of Paramount Chief Charles Caulker’s dedication to traditional rule of Bumpeh Chiefdom. He is the second longest serving paramount chief in Sierra Leone. I knew I wouldn’t see a traditional ceremony of this significance again anytime soon. I went to Sierra Leone in December to witness it myself – and now share it with you.

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“You have stood tall to achieve unity in this chiefdom and brought development … [that has] no boundaries between your rivals and your allies. May our god continue to keep you on your throne for 10 years, 20 years and even more.”  –Bumpeh Chiefdom-born businesswoman Alice Conteh-Morgan at Chief’s celebration

Chief Caulker’s feat is not just one marked by length of service, but by 35 years of uninterrupted peace and unity in his rural chiefdom. Sierra Leone’s highly centralized government is far away in the capital Freetown. It’s the paramount chief who keeps law and order on a day-to-day basis, and maintains peace and stability.

20191220_174350 (2)Ms. Conteh-Morgan, right, with Chief, far right, continued, “It’s not easy for someone to rule for 35 years without his people rising against him.”

Chief Caulker has served through a dynamic period in the ’80s of the country’s still-young democracy, an 11-year rebel war, five presidencies with alternating and hotly competing political parties, and the Ebola crisis. Imagine a U.S. governor retaining office with strong support over 35 often tumultuous years.

Paramount chiefs are elected, and then serve for life. But Chief Caulker feels he needs to periodically face his people and seek their support for continuing in office, as he did on this day in December.

The day began with people coming to salute their chief with drumming and the deafening vuvuzela-style horns African soccer fans love.

20191220_145638 (3)Amateur “devils” entertained the gathering crowds, as people found their seats under temporary shelters of bamboo and palm to escape the sweltering tropical sun.

People were invited from across the chiefdom, as well as friends and national and district government officials from Chief’s 45 years in public life.

Poro, the men’s secret society, led the traditional part of the ceremony. They serve the paramount chief, and also act as checks and balances on their chief’s rule.

They offered symbolic gifts, below, reaffirming they want this chief to continue as their paramount chief.

20191220_170858 (2)The conchama, above, took the lead. She is a special sub-chief in Bumpeh Chiefdom and one of the stalwart keepers of its oldest traditions. The conchama has been a female chief for as long as anyone can remember, and is unique among women. She was initiated into Poro and participates as a leader in the men’s society.

One symbolic gift was a jug of honey, representing all the sweetness of their chiefdom they give to Chief Caulker and entrust him with protecting.

The conchama said she was repeating the tradition she performed ten years ago at Chief’s 25th anniversary. With their symbolic gifts, Bumpeh Chiefdom was now handing over the chiefdom to Chief Caulker’s care for another 50 years!

20191220_172417 (3)The day was a mix of the traditional and the contemporary, just like the man himself.

Chief Caulker, right, gave a state-of-the-union type of address, and told of what he’s accomplished and what he yet plans to do. The people roared their support.

Chief told me the thing he’s most proud of is uniting his chiefdom and keeping peace for 35 years, an accomplishment that’s been impossible elsewhere in Sierra Leone.

Bumpeh Chiefdom is diverse with seven often competing tribal groups in one area. Chief assumed his office in 1984 after a local violent conflict, followed by a highly contentious election. He was young to take office as a paramount chief — only 35 — and untested. But he made peace and reuniting the chiefdom his objective.

He did it by balancing the rights of all tribes and not allowing any one group to achieve dominance. His family tribe, the Sherbro, is now outnumbered in their own homeland. But he insisted all tribes would sit together in governing the chiefdom, with no one group favored over the other. Everyone has equal rights and deserves equal opportunity in his mind.

Speakers bore this out in their testimonials for Chief. “He is a man with a clean heart,” said the District Officer, the ranking district government official. “No matter what you do, he’ll never get angry. He embraces everyone and forgives all. After the rebel war, he came and worked with the government and NGOs to restore hope and joy to his people.”

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Mr. Tamba Lamina, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development recalled how Chief Caulker advised five successive governments on local governance and represented the paramount chiefs of his district in parliament for 12 years after the war. Most recently, Chief was part of a 12-member transition team in 2018 for the newly elected Maada Bio government. Lamina said, “I consider Chief Caulker a benchmark for rural development, and use him in assessing other chiefdoms in the country.”

20191218_114108 (2)Some of the strongest praise came from the man who actively opposed Chief in that paramount chief election 35 years ago.

“I believe I’m going to die and leave you on the throne to bring more development [to our chiefdom],” Alie Bendu, far left, declared.

“Today we are handing over these [symbolic] items to you as a sign we are happy with you and want you to govern us more.”

Then it was the people’s turn to celebrate their chief with traditional music and dancing.

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The women’s society led off with their Bundu devils and colorful Sampa dancers, above and below.

 

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The athletic Ojeh society dancers, above and below, are from the Temne tribe.

The masked Nafali dancer, below, is often sent ahead to announce the men’s society devil, the Gboi, will follow him. Other dancers joined the Nafali.

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No cultural show is complete without the main devil from the men’s Poro society, the Gboi, below, a huge whirling dervish of raffia.

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The official cultural parade ended by late afternoon. But the dancing DJ-style went on late into the night, or I should say into morning. A day-long fete fitting for a 35-year paramount chief.

This was just one of five days not only honoring Chief Caulker’s 35 years of public service, but also his 70th birthday. Family members came from the UK and the US to celebrate with Chief.

20190131_085813 (3)Thirty-five years in service, but in no way is Chief Caulker retiring. He seems to just be picking up speed, with plans for the coming years pouring out.

The challenges in Bumpeh Chiefdom still loom large. But we can’t think of anyone more up to tackling them – and showing other chiefdoms the way –  than Paramount Chief Caulker.

For those of you who join Sherbro Foundation in supporting Bumpeh Chiefdom’s community-led programs – thank you. There’s much more yet to come!

– – Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

 

 

#GivingTuesday: This Year, Change a Sierra Leone Girl’s World

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With education, the world opens for a Sierra Leone girl.

You can give the most rural girl from a family living on less than $2 a day the gift of education – and change her world.

She’ll marry later and avoid early pregnancy.  When ready, she’ll have fewer, healthier children and send them to school with the higher earning power her education brings.  She may start a business or become a community leader – or go on to lead her country. The circle of positive impact from education only keeps growing. 

It can start with only $30 for a secondary school scholarship that helps a girl complete high school.

$50 pays a local teacher’s monthly stipend for teaching after-school classes that prepare 9th and 12th graders for their national exams – the entry to senior high and higher education.

$100 pays annual tuition for a student to attend vocational school and advance to a wage-paying job.

$375 pays annual tuition for a college scholarship at the University of Sierra Leone.

This Giving Tuesday, change a Sierra Leone girl’s life. Give her the gift of education.  And you’ll feel great!
www.sherbrofoundation.org/donate

Orchards for Education Grow by Leaps and Bounds

Orchards for Education Grow by Leaps and Bounds

The future of education in Bumpeh Chiefdom has been growing by leaps and bounds – with more acres of fruit trees and annual crops flourishing in the Orchards for Education project. With a second Rotary Club Global Grant, our partner CCET-SL’s project has blossomed into 60 acres of orchards and a new vegetable growing effort. Here’s a six-month update.

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The latest $69,000 phase of Orchards for Education has been completed, with innovative changes along the way, thanks to CCET-SL’s new agriculture manager, Ibrahim Rogers. He saw opportunities to optimize Rotary’s two-year $142,000 investment and generate cash income sooner.

Instead of interplanting vegetable crops in the new orchards and carrying water over tens of acres there, Mr. Rogers advised growing vegetables in raised beds in a swampy area. There, water is plentiful to grow intensively year-round.

A large berm, below, was built around a 7-acre swamp to contain and control water from a stream that naturally floods the area. In the heavy rainy season when 120 inches of rain would wash out raised beds, the project converted to growing rice.

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Annual crops will be more productive in an inland valley swamp, or IVS. And that extra money will provide more income to support orchard operations while fruit trees mature.

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Rice threshing Oct '19_Moment(8)Seven acres of IVS rice, above,  were just harvested in what proved to be a bumper crop.

The rice harvest was manually cut into sheaves. A borrowed power thresher, left, cut the time-consuming chore of separating out rice grains. Hand-winnowing, below, is still needed to clean the rice and remove chaff.

The rice will be sold to the Sierra Leone Ministry of Agriculture as seed rice for their program to increase rice growing in the country. Half the rice now consumed in Sierra Leone is imported — the cheapest, least nutritious white rice.

The Ministry will distribute the seed rice to district small farmers to improve their yields and expand their farms so Sierra Leone can feed itself again.

So, our rice project will support both chiefdom education programs and making Sierra Leone self-sufficient in rice-growing!

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The IVS is now being converted back to vegetable growing for the dry season. Ten thousand pepper plants grown in seedbeds will soon be transplanted in newly prepared raised beds. Below are last season’s peppers mulched with rice straw. Okra will also soon be growing gangbusters.

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The project will start experimenting with other crops, like bell peppers, carrots and watermelons, to see what does well. A strong market is nearby. Freetown with its 1.5 million urban people only 55 miles away depends on rural farmers for fruit and vegetables.

Paramount Chief Charles Caulker donated the IVS land conveniently located next to the fruit tree nursery. To launch this extra project, $9,000 came from Sherbro Foundation donors and Foundation board members.

CCET-SL’s agricultural projects are already paying dividends as a source of employment for the community with rare wage-paying jobs. The project employs 21 full-time orchard workers, 20 part-time women, plus about 100 seasonal workers (men and women). The part-time women, below, tend the vegetable crops in the IVS, leaving them time to work on their own garden plots and double their earnings.

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Meanwhile, fruit trees in the project’s orchards have been soaking up five months of the rainy season’s heavy rains and going through another seasonal growth spurt. The year-by-year progress is now clear to see.

IMG-20190927-WA0021 (2)The third, most recent orchard was planted in June-July of this year with coconut saplings on newly cleared ground. These will take five to six years to fully fruit.

Rows of limes and guava that will fruit in three years alternate with coconuts.

IMG-20190927-WA0018 (2)Trees in the second orchard, left, planted in 2018 are strong, sprouting up with two rainy seasons of growth.

Avocados, sour sop and oil palm (a local diet staple) were added to coconuts, together with more guava and lime.

The ground still tries to revert back to bush in Year Two and needs to be regularly whacked back. Cassava were planted among some coconuts as drought resistant short-term crops. Tubers are harvested in two to three years, with plants easily replaced with sticks cut from the parent plant.

IMG-20190927-WA0013 (5)The first orchard planted in 2017 is now in its third year.

Coconut saplings are now trees, many taller than a 6-foot man. Limes and guava are approaching this height.

Old trees and bushes have largely been beaten back and the ground is becoming grassy.

IMG-20191001-WA0005Guava and lime trees planted in 2017 in the first orchard are sporadically fruiting, and will yield a good harvest next year.

The early guava, left, took first place in the country’s annual agriculture fair in October.

Thanks to the Rotary Club grant, much-needed capital investment was made in the project. A storage building and concrete drying floor at the IVS were completed, below, including an office/meeting room and a night guard’s sleeping quarters. A second storehouse is under construction at the orchard.

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A simple, portable and flexible approach to watering was purchased — a minitruck equipped with a tank will carry water around the orchards to keep fruit tree saplings watered throughout the dry season. After two or three years, trees no longer need hand watering. The minitruck is available for other uses, like carrying the rice harvest, below.

Note, the new truck driver, Zainab, is a woman, in keeping with the project’s objective to hire women wherever possible.  Who said this isn’t women’s work?

Paramount Chief Caulker intends Orchards for Education to be a demonstration ground to show the Sierra Leone government, NGOs and farming neighbors that productive agriculture projects can be community-led and used to reach nonprofit goals.

The Orchards for Education project is set up to fund Bumpeh Chiefdom education programs for the long term. It’s also providing employment and growing seed rice to help local small farmers. Other rural communities can decide how they want to grow their own futures. CCET-SL is showing them it’s all possible.

We send our deep thanks again to Sherbro Foundation donors who generously gave to this Rotary Club grant project with 2018 year-end donations. Your gifts were matched by Rotary International Foundation. You can now see how far your money already has grown on the ground!

 

Who Said This Isn’t Women’s Work

Zainab is now a Bumpeh Chiefdom truck driver. You won’t see another woman driving a truck in the chiefdom, and I doubt anywhere in Moyamba district or most of Sierra Leone’s rural districts.

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It’s a mini truck, but a vital part of our partner CCET-SL’s Orchards for Education project, carrying loads and workers from project fields to town in Rotifunk. Importantly, it’s a full time wage-paying job – another rarity in the chiefdom for man or woman.

Orchards for Education will create income for chiefdom children’s education. Another objective is to create local employment, with women hired wherever possible. When a truck driver was needed, the project’s response was, who said this isn’t women’s work?

IMG-20191025-WA0025 (2) The mini-truck, locally called a keke, is an easy and economical way to carry small loads the short distance from the project fields back into town. Here it’s being loaded with newly harvested rice sheaves.

Zainab was one of the first woman seasonal workers hired at the new vegetable growing swamp project, or IVS. Vegetables or rice are being grown year-round for income to operate the orchards before fruit trees mature and bear fruit

While at the IVS, Zainab did well, taking responsibility and showing initiative. She was the women workers leader, responsible for sharing work assignments with the other women. She was good at monitoring them to ensure that work was done effectively and efficiently. And, she voluntarily sold the IVS produce at the weekly market.

Paramount Chief Caulker is a strong women’s advocate. When the project bought the mini-truck, locally called a keke, he said hire a woman driver. Zainab was the clear choice for the vehicle, a motorcycle pulling a small flat-bed.

IMG-20191025-WA0024 (2)Loaded with rice and workers, Zainab carries all back from the fields to town.

Zainab had never driven any vehicle, motorcycle or otherwise. She started her training on a regular motorcycle a week before the keke’s arrival. She quickly moved on to the keke. Last week the keys were handed over to her and she is now the project’s first full-time female worker.

Who said women can’t drive a truck? Zainab showed they can. After the rice harvest, she’ll be carrying a water tank on the keke around the orchard keeping young fruit tree seedlings watered throughout the coming dry season.