Why 2017 was such a great year – in pictures

Why 2017 was such a great year – in pictures

2017 was a banner year for our projects in Sierra Leone. Our hats off once again to our local Sierra Leone partner, CCET-SL, for all their work making this happen. Here’s what made the year so great – in pictures.     —– Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director


January:  Five years in the making, CCET-SL’s new Education & Computer Center was open and buzzing with activity. Three levels of Adult Literacy classes filled the main hall, followed by evening computer training. My favorite group is first level literacy, or the ABC group, where women start by learning the alphabet and how to add. One typical student, Jeriatu, thinks she’s about 35 and is the mother of 12 children, one on her back in class. She grows peanuts and wants to be literate to improve her small business, by counting change correctly and figuring her profit.

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February: Visiting small villages participating in our projects, like Village Orchards, is always a trip highlight. Villages have received hundreds of fruit tree seedlings to plant as community orchards. Income will go to children’s education and development projects. I asked Nyandahun village chief, Madam Bendu, above left, how her village would use income from their village orchard. She immediately said, we’ll send our children to school.

vlcsnap-error358 (2)March – We started our 3rd group of Women Vegetable Growers, where another 75 women can double their incomes in a few months growing peanuts and vegetables. Emma, above, was in last year’s program. She tells me and Paramount Chief Caulker that with her peanut harvest she paid her children’s school fees and didn’t have to take out a high interest loan. She kept some peanuts as seed to plant this year, too. A success for her, and one of our most successful projects.

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April – With a global Rotary Club grant, CCET-SL developed a 15 acre “baby orchard” that will fund children’s education savings accounts. Seven Rotary clubs led by the Ann Arbor club joined the Rotary International Foundation and a Rotary District in a grant that paid to clear overgrown bush and plant over 1100 fruit trees. CCET-SL raised all trees locally from seed, including 450 coconuts and 480 citrus. While the trees mature, annual crops of rice, peanuts, corn and couscous were inter-planted, producing income to pay workers. The $49,500 grant paid for the orchard and several other projects.

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May –  SFSL won a $12,235 Procter & Gamble Alumni grant, enabling CCET-SL to complete equipping their Education & Computer Center. The Center’s first color printer arrived in May, giving CCET-SL an income generating service with the only public color document and photo printing within a 2-3 hour drive. Students can now get computer training on 17 new laptop computers up-to-date with Windows 10 also funded by the grant.

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June – JulyCCET-SL updated their chiefdom Birth Registration program that records newborn babies at the small village level. Government registrars can’t reach rural areas, jeopardizing children’s proof of citizenship and birthrights to family land, medical care and other services. The Rotary grant funded training for new chiefdom birth recorders and bicycles to cover their assigned villages. CCET-SL grows their own fruit trees from seed, and gives newborn parents three fruit trees to raise for their child’s welfare and education. The mothers above collected their fruit trees with their babies carried on their backs. See the little feet around their waists.

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AugustA second group of Women Vegetable Growers got the opportunity to raise peanuts as a cash crop. Subsistence farmers, they use most everything they normally grow to feed their families and barter locally for other needs. They can’t afford a $30 bale of peanut seed to expand their farms and earn more money. This group of 85 women was funded under the Rotary Club grant. They happily line up above with Rosaline Kaimbay of CCET-SL, right, to collect peanut seed, a drying tarp and 100 lb. of rice to feed families before their harvest – worth $80 in all. Within five months they’ll be harvesting. We’ve reached 300 women to date.

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September460 girls returned to school with school fee scholarships from Sherbro Foundation. A $17 scholarship keeps them in school for a full year, avoiding early marriage and early pregnancy – and makes for brighter, more productive futures for every year of education they get. Compassionate donors funded uniforms for all 120 senior high and 290 junior high girls, as well. For the first time, 100 girls can study at night with solar study lanterns, and we awarded the first college scholarship. It’s very impressive. I’ve never seen any organization giving so many awards and paying for so many things,” said Alice Conteh Morgan, managing director of Reliance Insurance Co. in Freetown and Rotifunk native. Above, she presents scholarship awards to Bumpeh Academy principal Rashid Conteh.


Octoberrice planted in the Baby Orchard was ready to harvest by October. The orchard is really a working plantation with supplies, tree seedlings and acres of harvests to be transported throughout the year. Now a necessity, the SFSL Board made the gift of a used truck, one built to withstand unpaved rural roads. The rice had to be threshed by hand by beating the sheaves to loosen rice grains – using the chief’s palaver house, above, as a workspace. Year by year we’ll make improvements as we can pay for them.


November – Reliable power for CCET-SL’s Center had become a major problem, interrupting classes and jeopardizing income generating services like printing that fund the center operations. Our prayers were answered when the Beaman Family funded a complete 6000 Watt solar power system for the Center.  Printing, charging computers and evening classes and meeting space are now available whenever needed. Thank you, Beaman Family!

IMG_2190December – Planning for 2018 is underway. CCET-SL’s Tree Nursery is central to several projects. 12,000 tree seedlings, all started this year from seed, are nearing transplanting stage. They’ll go to planting the next baby orchard, supplying “baby trees” for 2018’s newborns and their parents, and for sale to generate income to keep propagating more trees. 2018 will also be the start of a new local forest reserve system, a first of its kind at the chiefdom level to protect mature forests and sources of village drinking water.

Hundreds of Girls Scholarships Thrill Bumpeh Chiefdom

Hundreds of Girls Scholarships Thrill Bumpeh Chiefdom

We thought this year’s Girls Scholarship Campaign was highly successful. More than doubling donations over the previous year is definitely a success.

How do the 460 scholarship students and their community see it? They are thrilled.

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After the recent Bumpeh Chiefdom scholarship awards ceremony, “parents were singing and dancing with happiness because their girls can stay in school,” reported Rosaline Kaimbay, managing director of our local partner, The Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation – Sierra Leone.

IMG-20171124-WA0010 (3)And special guests repeatedly said they’ve never heard of a larger – or more complete – scholarship program anywhere in the country. Ibrahim Coker, left, area supervisor of schools for the Sierra Leone Ministry of Education said: “I’ve never seen such a number of scholarships together with a total package including uniforms, exercise books and solar study lights.”

With $US17,900 from Sherbro Foundation donors, CCET was able to provide 460 school fee scholarships to young women in four secondary schools. And this year, we added 310 uniforms for girls entering junior high and all 120 senior high students.

PLUS, for the first time, 100 students studying for 9th or 12th grade graduation exams received portable solar lights – never seen before – so they can study in Africa’s long dark evenings. AND, we started the first college scholarship.

Scholarship awards CCET bldg 2 (3)“It’s very impressive. I’ve never seen any organization giving so many awards and paying for so many things,” said Alice Conteh Morgan, left, managing director of Reliance Insurance Risk Co. in Freetown. Conteh Morgan, a Rotifunk native, attended to encourage the girls: “With your educations, you can achieve everything.”

In comparison, Plan International, a large UK-based charity, awards fewer than 50 scholarships annually in Bumpeh Chiefdom for girls already enrolled in an older program. Most of our awardees don’t qualify. That’s why Sherbro Foundation’s work is so appreciated.

Scholarship money, like any school fee, goes into the schools’ operations and to make school improvements.

“CCET-SL has paid for all (160) girls in our school. We appreciate it so much. May god richly bless you and all the donors,” was the message from Daniel Koroma, vice principal of Bumpeh Academy Secondary School. The school immediately began applying scholarship funds to build classrooms, since many of its classes are held in partial structures with no walls.

IMG-20171127-WA0000The awards ceremony was covered by the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Co., the country’s only TV station and a regional radio station. Paramount Chief Charles Caulker said he continues to receive phone calls congratulating him on Bumpeh Chiefdom’s big news.

Likewise, Rosaline Kaimbay’s phone kept ringing. “It made me so proud to hear from friends around the country saying they saw news of our impressive program.” Above, she presents an Ahmadiyya Islamic school student with her uniform, exercise books and solar study light, together with school principal Mr. Tarawallie.

And Then There Was Light – CCET-SL’s new Solar System

And Then There Was Light – CCET-SL’s new Solar System

Just when we thought we were ending a banner year – our best yet – it got even better.

When our partner CCET-SL’s new Community Education Center opened in 2015, we knew we would need solar power to meet the center’s promise of computer and adult literacy classes, chiefdom meetings, NGO-led educational workshops and other services. But we never dreamed this critical chiefdom resource would have its own 24-hour solar power system today.

Then it happened – quickly.  All thanks to a donor we have never met! From the very first email contact in early September to final installation of the new solar system in November was only 11 weeks.

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The Center can now operate late into the evening, seven days a week as needed, and power all equipment for its growing printing service and computer training.

The gift from the Beaman Family Fund (the actual donor wishes to remain anonymous) was made after another thoughtful donor recommended the work of Sherbro Foundation Sierra Leone and our Bumpeh Chiefdom partner, the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation (CCET-SL).

The funding installed a 6,000-watt solar power system, including a little extra capacity for the future. We had to carefully plan out all energy use, and still ration hours per day of usage. With solar, you can’t use power faster than you can make and store it.

For perspective on how far 6000 watts will go, a standard women’s hairdryer uses 1875 watts and a basic microwave is 1000 watts. Two simple devices would use half the available power. While solar equipment continues to get cheaper, installing a system to cover all energy needs is still expensive.

With a 6000-watt system, CCET-SL can:

  • Operate the printing service, with a low-energy duplicator and color printer. The only such public service in Moyamba District of 300,000, it’s expected to keep the center self-supporting.
  • Light the building with 26 LED bulbs and cool with 16 small ceiling fans and standing fans.
  • Run computer classes with up to 20 laptops at a time for a maximum four hours a day.
  • Run equipment for two profit-making services – a small canteen and public cell phone charging.

CCET-SL’s Center started as a burned-out shell of a building destroyed during the rebel war. But it was a central site, and local labor transformed it into a 2,600-square-foot multifunctional space, all built during the Ebola crisis when the chiefdom was under isolation order for months.

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Now look at it! The center is not just a bright place for evening classes, to get a photo printed or a copy, hold a meeting or enjoy a cold drink. It’s a model for the entire country on self-supported community education. It’s lighting the way for market women to learn to read and for high school students to use a computer for the first time.

We can’t thank the Beaman Family Fund enough for their generosity in funding the solar power system. Thanks also to all of you who supported us along the way. It’s been a four year journey, but with your help, we’ve reached the finish line.

SFSL Founder Receives Prestigious Award

SFSL Founder Receives Prestigious Award

Sherbro Foundation is delighted to announce that founder and Executive Director Arlene Golembiewski was named Humanitarian of the Year by the worldwide P&G Alumni Network.

The biennial award goes to “the individual who has made a significant contribution to the human condition through their time, effort or expertise, whether this was a single event or a lifetime of work,” according to the organization. “This award is intended to recognize actions that go well beyond efforts in a single community or location and serve mankind as a whole.”

Arlene accepts the award from Ed Tazzia, P&G Alumni Network Chairman.

Arlene received the honor at the recent P&G Alumni Network Global Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio for former P&G employees.  Most attendees have gone on to new careers in many industries as CEOs, CFOs, marketing, advertising, finance, manufacturing and HR leaders.

In her acceptance speech, Arlene noted that in its first four years, Sherbro Foundation has funded 1,250 secondary school-fee scholarships for impoverished girls in Bumpeh Chiefdom, Sierra Leone. The Foundation is awarding its first college scholarship this year for a deserving village girl.

“For many, conditions in Sierra Leone can seem hopeless. But I found there were simple and practical things I could do that would have an immediate impact on improving the lives of the some of the world’s poorest and most inaccessible people,” Arlene said.

“These weren’t my ideas, and I couldn’t do any of this on my own living in the US. You need a strong community partner, and we have a remarkable one in the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation. CCET-Sierra Leone is led by Board Chairman Paramount Chief Charles Caulker and supported by his chiefdom council. The work is all community led – so it’s moved quickly.”

“I share this award with my friends in CCET-Sierra Leone,” Arlene said.

Arlene also thanked the P&G Alumni Foundation for their grant this year of $12,235 for CCET-Sierra Leone’s new education and computer center in Rotifunk. The money went to finish equipping the center, including 17 more laptop computers and a color printer for the first and only printing service in a district of 300,000 people.

Arlene, left, with Chief Charles Caulker and CCET-SL Executive Director Rosaline Kaimbay in their new computer center.

The P&G Alumni Network has 37,000 members in chapters around the world, all former employees of the Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co.  Arlene retired from P&G as Associate Director of Global Health, Safety and Environment after a thirty-year career developing HS&E programs around the world and assessing new product introductions for the world’s largest consumer product company.

Inspiring girls to come to school

Inspiring girls to come to school

While we were busy wrapping up this year’s successful Girls Scholarships campaign, CCET-SL’s Rosaline Kaimbay was making the rounds of the four Bumpeh Chiefdom participating secondary schools.


She’s been visiting each school to check their enrollment of girls. And telling girls to tell their friends at home who didn’t report to school to come back. If they can’t pay school fees or buy a uniform, we will help them.

Mrs. Kaimbay is an inspiring role model for these girls, having been born and raised in the chiefdom. We’re fortunate to have her at the helm of CCET-SL.

Mrs. Kaimbay and Bumpeh Academy Secondary School students, left. BASS has both junior and senior high classes and their enrollment of girls is growing.

We doubled our scholarship campaign goal this year!

Our partner, CCET-SL, is now distributing 466 school fee scholarships to the girls that need them most. We added uniforms this year, and have 360 to combine with scholarships.

We expect that every Bumpeh Chiefdom girl who wants to attend senior high will receive a scholarship and a uniform! Helping girls progress through senior high is our goal.


When girls see such a successful woman as Mrs. Kaimbay coming from among their ranks, they think, I can do this, too. And it starts with going to school.

Rotifunk’s Ahmadiyya School, left, is a junior secondary school.  Mrs. Kaimbay’s visit is motivating and encourages girls to come to school.

Rotary Clubs make “Growing a Community’s Future” reality

Rotary Clubs make “Growing a Community’s Future” reality

Paramount Chief Charles Caulker toiled for years to develop community-led agriculture programs that would help eliminate poverty in his chiefdom and make people self-reliant.

Now, seven cooperating Rotary Clubs are providing the critical boost — the “fertilizer” — to expand and firmly root “Growing a Community’s Future,”  his innovative programs in Bumpeh Chiefdom.

Thanks to Rotary Club of Ann Arbor leadership, a multifaceted Rotary Global Grant totaling $49,500 will improve the lives of thousands.

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Paramount Chief Charles Caulker on the hand-pulled ferry crossing that’s the gateway to his chiefdom. 

Helping a struggling community transform its economy
The Rotary-funded project called “Growing a Community’s Future” will do just that using the only things Bumpeh Chiefdom has in abundance to bolster its economy — fertile land, plentiful water and agriculture traditions.

For isolated Bumpeh Chiefdom, one of the poorest places in the world, the opportunity is huge. “This grant will ensure we can fully implement our program to grow our community’s own future.  We’ll be able to fund children’s education, community development and protect the environment,” explained Chief Caulker.

Sherbro Foundation helped connect the seven Rotary Clubs with our chiefdom partner, the nonprofit Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation, CCET, which will carry out the project.

“Little did I know, a chance meeting with Ann Arbor Rotarians would lead to a grant of this size that will have such major development impact on the chiefdom of 40,000,” said Arlene Golembiewski, executive director of Sherbro Foundation

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Chief Caulker, right, talks with residents of Motobon village.

International partnerships make it happen
The Ann Arbor Rotary Club contributed $10,000 and coordinated grant contributions from six other Rotary Clubs: Ann Arbor North, Dexter and Ypsilanti in Michigan; plus Cincinnati, Wilmington, N.C. and Pune, India. Rotary District #6380 and the Rotary International Foundation provided matching funds for this two-year global grant.

Rotary grant kick-off Hawa Samai, Chief May '17 (2)A partnership between Ann Arbor Rotary and the Freetown Rotary Club in Sierra Leone will oversee the project’s progress.

Hawa Samai of Freetown Rotary Club, right, visits Rotifunk to kick off the project with CCET and Chief Caulker, left.

“It is a privilege to support the efforts of an extraordinary leader like Paramount Chief Charles Caulker who is working tirelessly to help his Chiefdom recover from an 11-year civil war and the recent Ebola epidemic,” said Mary Avrakotos, Ann Arbor Rotary Club lead for the Sierra Leone project.

“His expansive goals for long-term economic development and to assure that every child in his chiefdom receives a secondary education are exemplary of visionary leadership.”

Multifaceted grant
Rural villages will now be able to develop large fruit orchards on a commercial scale, earmarking income for children’s education and village development, like digging wells and building schools. Also, a women’s vegetable growing program is teaching subsistence rice farmers they can earn more money by diversifying crops and adding fast-growing peanuts and vegetables.

Grant funds will expand the chiefdom’s first birth registration program. And parents of newborns will receive fruit trees to grow for income they can save for their child’s education, reviving an old tradition with a modern goal.

A unique provision of the grant is creation of seven forest preserves to protect drinking water sources, wildlife and trees to benefit of future generations. These will be the first locally organized preserves in Sierra Leone, as Bumpeh Chiefdom strives to protect its all-important natural environment and counteract climate change.

Ashish Sarkar of the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor emphasized, “Projects with the greatest potential are ones like this where the vision is local and our role is simply one of empowerment.”


Sherbro Foundation wins P&G Alumni grant to expand the Computer Center

Sherbro Foundation wins P&G Alumni grant to expand the Computer Center

Sherbro Foundation is awarded a P&G Alumni Foundation 2016 grant



The $12,235 grant is awarded on behalf of our Sierra Leone partner, the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation (CCET), and will help expand their computer center.

Left, Oliver Bernard, CCET volunteer facility manager at the Center




Former Procter & Gamble employees fund their alumni foundation with the mission of economically empowering those in need.

DSC04545Sherbro Foundation Executive Director and P&G Alumna Arlene Golembiewski, left with Sulaiman Timbo, submitted the proposal. She said, “CCET’s new Center offers practical education programs, before unavailable in this community, that improve student earning potential, like computer training and adult literacy.

They are preparing impoverished people to find wage-paying jobs in the formal economy. And providing skills to develop small businesses.”

The Computer Center has a slate of education programs and community services that satisfied all three Alumni Foundation objectives for the grant. 

MVI_2758_MomentHigh school students like Zainab, left, get practical job skill training on computers. 

She wants to become an accountant and knows she must be able to use a computer to get a job.

IMG_2031 (2)Adults develop small business skills. Left, Francis Senesie teaches petty market traders and farmers math and business basics like computing profit.

Adult computer students apply their own small-business examples with instructors available to guide them.  

MVI_2260_Moment(7)The Center itself is a new entrepreneurial venture, offering previously unavailable services like copy & printing that fund its nonprofit education programs.

The grant will pay for adding new computers to the Center and a color printer for the new printing service. CCET will buy remaining equipment the Center needs, like a generator to back-up their solar power service and a chest freezer to expand a canteen service.

The grant will also be used to pay initial operating costs while the new Center develops its customer base for copy and printing and other Center services.

The Computer Center is bringing the first and only IT technology access and training to rural Bumpeh Chiefdom’s 40,000 people. It’s the only place in Moyamba District with 300,000 people to get an IT certificate covering all Microsoft Office software programs.

The grant required a P&G alum to participate in the project. Arlene Golembiewski, Sherbro Foundation founder and Executive Director, was a 30-year P&G employee and is a member of the global Alumni Network.

Breaking the cycle of poverty takes only peanuts

Breaking the cycle of poverty takes only peanuts

Emma Sesay used to take out a loan at a high interest rate to send her children to school. Emma is the mother of six children. Six survive of the eight she gave birth to. Getting six children through school is tough for a poor rice farmer in Mobainda village.

Arlene Golembiewski, SFSL, Emma Sesay, Bumpeh Chiefdom Paramount Chief Charles Caulker

Emma was part of Sherbro Foundation’s Women’s Vegetable Growing project last year that helped her grow peanuts. Asked how the project helped her, she said, “I usually need to take loans. I no longer need a loan at high interest to pay for my children to go to school. I sold my peanuts when I needed to pay the school fees.”

Sherbro Foundation just funded a third group of women vegetable growers for the spring 2017 growing season with money raised in our year-end fundraising.

Rice farming is traditional in Mobainda village. It’s a labor intensive, taking 10 months of back breaking toil, but you make little money.

Rice farmers are often forced to take a loan from a local lender at interest rates of 50% and more to send their children to school. These informal village lenders can charge this much because villagers usually have no other option for a loan.

Lenders collect as soon as a farmer harvests. To pay off the loan, farmers are forced to sell their rice at low prices when the market is flooded with lots of other newly harvested rice.

The family then eats what’s left of the rice harvest as their staple food in the coming months, leaving little to nothing as seed for the next crop. They often run out of rice before the next harvest. It’s called the “hungry time.”

Junior high is when most children drop out of school. By this age, eating must take priority over paying for a child to continue in school.

The family may need to take out another loan just to buy rice seed to plant their next crop. And so the cycle of debt and poverty continues.

The Women’s Vegetable Growing project is starting to break this cycle of poverty.

This year’s project again supplied 75 women with 2 bushels of peanut seed, 100 lb. of rice as food before the harvest, and a drying tarp to improve their crop yield. With these supplies worth about $80 each, women are producing income double and triple what they make in rice farming. And they can continue to grow rice and fish in local rivers and streams.

Emma harvested twelve bushels of peanuts from her two bushels of seed last year.  She saved a bushel as seed to plant this year. She is still doing her normal rice farming, so she could wait until the price of peanuts went up after the harvest, and then sold hers to pay her children’s school fees.

Asked how they spent money earned growing peanuts, each woman in the program immediately said, I can pay for my children’s education.

Yata Williams, left, shows the two bushels of peanuts she saved for seed from her ten bushel harvest. She said, “The project helped with many things. It solved our problem of paying school fees. There was money left to buy a market.” Yatta buys things she sells as a small front porch business or neighborhood “market.” Soft drinks, sweets, soap, cigarettes – small luxuries you’d have to travel to a bigger town to buy. The family now has a another income source.

Fula Musu Mansaray, below, in Nyundahun village joined the 2016 project and had a good harvest. She and husband, Musa, also sold peanuts to pay for their children’s education.

L to R, Lupe Bendu, village chief, Fula Musu, Chief Caulker, Musa, Arlene

They are making the most of Fula Musu’s participation in the Women’s Vegetable Growing program. They saved eight bushels of peanut seed from their harvest. They will plant four times as many peanuts in 2017 as she received last year, and grow their small business.

Fula Musa was one of eight women in the project from this small village of 25 houses.

The project will expand to cover another 20 families this spring. So every family in Nyundahun will benefit, a huge economic boost for a tiny village like this.


The Women’s Vegetable Growing project is teaching villages they can diversify their farming by adding peanuts and make more money.

Last year was a bad year for growing rice with prolonged drought and grasshoppers eating crops. Families could fall back on their peanut harvest and have some money to spare.

Before the Vegetable Growing project, a $30 bale of peanut seed was out of the reach of these women.

Now, they’re showing what they can do with this small investment and taking their first steps to self-sufficiency. It only took peanuts.

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


Adult Literacy – Never Too Late to Improve Lives

Adult Literacy – Never Too Late to Improve Lives

Adult Literacy is the simplest of programs Sherbro Foundation has supported. And one of the most gratifying. Seeing women I recognize, below, resuming classes in October in the new Computer Center made me smile, amid some happiness tears. They were back to eagerly learning after a long hiatus caused by the Ebola crisis and its aftermath.

img-20161025-wa0010-copyThe Adult Literacy program was a fast start and one of our first. Only committed students, dedicated volunteer teachers, a classroom and a blackboard required. No cajoling needed.

Women in the community came to Mrs. Rosaline Kaimbay, Prosperity Girls High School principal, not long after she arrived to start the new high school. They leaned on her, pressing for their own chance to learn to read and write.

In 2013, I saw Mrs. Kaimbay after her school day, leading lessons for the women with a blackboard on her small house’s porch. As PGHS grew and she hired more teachers, they were willing pitch in and teach after-school classes. Sherbro Foundation provided supplies, and adult classes moved to a primary school at 4:30 p.m., after the day’s work. Class was over by 6 when it was too dark to see with only open brick grids as windows.

The women now have a comfortable place to learn in CCET’s new Community Computer Center — new adult-sized tables and chairs, ceiling fans and solar lights.

One thing hasn’t changed — volunteer teachers, including some new instructors. Some retired primary school teachers in the community want to help the new learners.

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Mr. Francis Senesie, PGHS teacher, left, leads a stretch break for the ABC Group, learning the alphabet.

Mr. Stalin Caulker, right, tutored schoolchildren struggling to learn to read for many years as a second career in Freetown. Here, he’s teaching addition to a Rotifunk group. Like many retirees, he finds it satisfying to help.

img_3388I remember the women I met in 2013 and why they wanted to start learning now.  Kadiatu, left,  was chief instigator and lobbied for classes for two years. She was her family’s breadwinner and head of Rotifunk’s women trader’s union, otherwise known as market women.

These petty traders sell by the tray and bushel in markets everywhere. She was tired of representing the group at district meetings and workshops and could only use her thumbprint to sign a document.

I talked with over 30 women one on one, and their stories were much the same.  Most were single heads of household, struggling to earn a living as market traders while raising their children. Some were also raising children sent by relatives in small villages to go to school in a bigger town, or children whose parents had passed away.

Some women wanted to learn to read and write their names for the first time, and to count so they wouldn’t be cheated in the market. They knew they could better run their small businesses with practical skills like figuring best prices and sales profits. Others had finished primary school, and after a long break, wanted to resume learning GED style.

All wanted to monitor their children’s progress in school and help with homework, learn more about children’s and their own health, and better run their households.

I wondered why they were so committed to study at the age of 30 and 45. I learned they were getting something priceless: Self esteem. No one is lower in society’s informal caste system than an illiterate woman.  She is belittled, taken advantage of, often abused.

With education, they’re holding their heads higher and not letting others take advantage.

Some of the best news — some women are progressing to other job training programs.

img_4317-copyimg-20161005-wa0000Magdelaine, with me on my far left, took a co-op style nurse’s aide training program in the district capital. Back home in Rotifunk, she works at the hospital.

Mariatu, near left,  is part of a more advanced group preparing for primary school teacher training program entrance exams.

First Computer Training Class Starts – Finally Joining the 21st Century

First Computer Training Class Starts – Finally Joining the 21st Century

October 24 was one of my happiest days since founding Sherbro Foundation. It was just days more than five years ago that I formed my first goal, with one of the Rotifunk high school principals, to start a computer training program for students. We had no building, no computers and no electricity, only the determination realize this dream.

Our goal was simple: to give high school students and adults (especially dropouts) computer skills that will make them more competitive in the growing job market.

That grew into teaching adults how to use computers in their jobs, and to start or further develop small businesses. People with computer skills in the community also will help attract new business to the area.

img-20161031-wa0000On October 24, students took their seats for the first evening computer training class in the new Computer Center building. With two months left in the year, it’s a self-paced evening class for adults. An afternoon class for high school students will follow in the next term.

Many of the first adult students are teachers in town. They may have been exposed to computers in college, but without owning one themselves, their practical skills are limited.

img-20161031-wa0008Our Rotifunk partner, the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation, CCET, hired their first full-time employee to lead computer training classes and run the new printing service.

Sulaiman Tumbo, standing left, had been a local teacher and CCET volunteer. His IT skills and demonstrated commitment made him a great choice for the computer program.

Paramount Chief Charles Caulker, standing right, has championed computer training and the Computer Center concept.

He took on constructing the 2,600-square-foot building from the burned out ruins of a war-torn building during the height of the Ebola crisis. The chiefdom was under an isolation order, so he used that time to build the building that now houses computer and Adult Literacy classes and a new printing service.

The transformation shown below is nothing short of remarkable.

computer-class-open-nov-1-2016The Center can handle 20 computer students in a class. A long table lines a wall so students can plug into wall outlets now powered with solar energy.

Students will complete four training units leading to an IT certificate CCET will issue. With little hands-on experience, they start with Windows, learning to navigate the programs and Apps available, and to create and find documents. They’ll then master basics of Word, Excel and Powerpoint.

Chief Caulker ensured the viability of the program with the Center’s new copy and printing service. Its profits will go to funding  nonprofit education programs in the building, including computer training and Adult Literacy.

I’ll never forget the words of one the adult computer students I talked with. “Arlene,” he said, “I feel like we’re joining the 21st Century.”

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

First Printing Service Will Fund Rural Education

First Printing Service Will Fund Rural Education

Bumpeh Chiefdom’s new Community Computer Center opened for business in September with the area’s first printing service and its new workhorse copying machine, called a Riso duplicator.

riso-applauseThe economical high-volume, low-energy copier was met with cheers at the Rotifunk facility.  With good reason – it’s the only printing service within several hours drive. Printing once meant a trip to the capital Freetown.

The center now offers faster and cheaper printing and copying for a wide area.

We’re cheering from a distance because the printing service will make money to support nonprofit education programs in the multi-use center, more than four years in the making.

img-20160407-wa0000Now, the computing center — built from a war ruin — is being used to instruct students and adults on computer use. It also hosts adult literacy classes for the many whose educations were cut short by the war. The solar-powered building is available to rent, the only modern building for miles suitable for meetings and community events of 20 – 100. Primary school teacher training, above, was the first rental customer.

There’s two other money-making services inside. The canteen serves as a community hub with drinks and snacks for people visiting the nearby market, hospital and church. And a cell phone charging service can charge 30 phones at a time for a small fee.

center-commissioning-4-oct-10The large duplicator was purchased with a $3,750 grant Sherbro Foundation received from the Ann Arbor (MI) Rotary Club and its District Rotary group. We purchased and shipped the duplicator to our Sierra Leone partner, the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation (CCET), which operates the Center.

Freetown Rotary Club members, left, joined Paramount Chief Charles Caulker, right, in October for an official Center commissioning ceremony. The Rotarians said this was the most impressive project they have ever reviewed!

Starting the duplicator took two technicians from opposite ends of the country, with Arlene making international phone calls to relay start-up codes and setup information from our Cincinnati Riso distributor, Bernie Reagan of DSC Office Systems of Blue Ash. (He contributed a deep discount on the equipment.) It’s a newer model and declared “more powerful” than others in the country. Sierra Leone is used to getting outdated technology to save money. This duplicator will serve Bumpeh Chiefdom for many years to come.

img-20160820-wa0000-1Customers soon lined up for the unique service, which spares them an eight hour round-trip to the capital, Freetown. Many are teachers from Bumpeh’s five secondary and 40 primary schools, who need to print reading materials (students have few textbooks), exam papers and report cards.

School sports competitions need programs and fliers; churches and mosques need hundreds of weekly service and wedding/funeral programs. A steady stream of hospital staff and small business owners in town and from surrounding chiefdoms are coming to print their documents.

Paramount Chief Charles Caulker says the chiefdom’s record-keeping will greatly improve and better serve residents, starting with printing a backlog of 1,000 land registrations. Chief Caulker is also chairman of the National Council of Paramount Chiefs. Most chiefs have no email, so he’s using the service to print documents going to all 149 chiefdoms in Sierra Leone.

Four years ago this was all a dream. Now, the printing service is the mainspring of a busy community center, bringing a town into the 21st century.





US Caulker Family Sends Bumpeh Chiefdom Girls to School

Sherbro Foundation sends a big thank you to U.S. members of the Caulker family for donating to Sherbro Foundation’s Girls’ Scholarship Fund. Family members at this year’s annual reunion donated $1050.

Their generosity means 63 Junior Secondary School girls are returning to school as the new school year starts! Their donation amounts to nearly 20% of this year’s scholarship campaign goal.

20160730_235449Members of the Caulker Descendants Association at their July 2016 family reunion – their 17th reunion.

The Caulkers are one of the oldest ruling families in Sierra Leone. They are the descendants of paramount chiefs from two branches of the Caulker family in Bumpeh Chiefdom and Kagboro Chiefdom.

This remarkable family traces their heritage back to Thomas Coker, one of the earliest British traders in Sierra Leone who set up a trading post for the Royal African Company in 1684. Coker, himself Irish, was the British company’s agent. He married a daughter of the one of kings in the coastal area of today’s Kagboro and Bumpeh chiefdoms. Their progeny were the start of the Caulker clan.

The Caulker Descendants Association formed in 1999 to teach and celebrate their family history and heritage. They’ve been meeting annually for seventeen years.

20150801_105739 The Caulker Family tree documents their 350 year history starting at the base of the tree with Thomas Coker, born 1667 in Ireland. The tree was constructed by Imodale Caulker Burnett after many years of research into the family’s history she then chronicled in The Caulkers of Sierra Leone: The Story of a Ruling Family and Their Times.  Fascinating reading.

20160730_232654A family reunion wouldn’t be complete without a sheet cake to serve a crowd. But how many families can decorate their cake with a family coat of arms dating to the 1600’s. 

20160730_220831Arlene Golembiewski, Sherbro Foundation Executive Director, accepts the Caulker family Scholarship Fund donation from Enid Rogers, a Caulker grandchild, at their reunion banquet dinner.

Many extended Caulker family members remain in Bumpeh Chiefdom, including teenage girls who will benefit from Sherbro Foundation’s Girls’ Scholarship Program.

The Caulker family has long placed a premium on education. Sherbro Foundation is grateful for their support for girls education in Bumpeh Chiefdom. We hope this remains the basis for a strong partnership between the Caulker Descendants Association and Sherbro Foundation.


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.

20160416_191027   DSC_0398

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.




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.

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

Paramount Chief Caulker’s Message to the US

Paramount Chief Caulker’s Message to the US

Paramount Chief Charles Caulker brought a focused message on his first visit to America this month:

Sierra Leone has no social safety net for its children — not even ensuring they can go to school. So, he is creating his own.

He’s doing it using the only resources his chiefdom has, the natural ones of land, water and sun.

20160406_191637 - CopyDuring an April 6 public program Sherbro Foundation hosted in Cincinnati, Chief Caulker told the rapt gathering about the stark realities of life in Bumpeh Chiefdom. Conditions actually have worsened in the last 20 years. The partial recovery following a brutal 11-year rebel war was dealt a big setback with the recent Ebola epidemic. People are struggling to feed their families.

When Paramount Chief Caulker took the podium in his flowing embroidered blue robe, you knew this man didn’t just have the title of paramount chief. He’s clearly a leader with presence that commands your attention. Maybe it’s his 32 years as paramount chief of Bumpeh Chiefdom, where he’s the second-longest serving traditional ruler in Sierra Leone. And his leadership as the chairman of the National Council of all 149 paramount chiefs in Sierra Leone. And his 40 years of experience in various senior government roles.

Chief Caulker’s darkly intense eyes have seen much sadness in those 32 years as chief. But his face lit up as he told the April 6th group he brings them a traditional African greeting, addressing them as “my dear friends.”

Chief Caulker with village children.

Chief Caulker and village children.

His face also lights up when he talks about the children of Bumpeh Chiefdom. Protecting children and striving to give them a better life has become his life’s work. A better life starts with education, and Chief Caulker spoke of how widespread illiteracy in his rural chiefdom weighs on him.

Only 40% of children there attend poorly equipped primary schools. Many drop out before secondary school, which only exist in the main town of Rotifunk. Most families live in small villages miles away.

Distance and cost (just $US30 a year for school fees!) are insurmountable roadblocks for most families.

For 20 years, this remote area waited for government and foreign nonprofit organizations (NGOs) to bring aid that never came. The chiefdom of 40,000 must take charge of its own development, Chief Caulker said, and find sustainable “roots” for education.

“We set a goal that, in 12 years, every baby born [in my chiefdom] will have access to secondary school education.”

Mother bring her baby to register education savings account.

Mother brings her baby to open education savings account.

“To do this, we are opening education savings accounts for each newborn baby. To date, we have opened 2,000 baby accounts,” Chief said.

How? By helping his villages raise fruit trees. He has an innovative program for expanding their subsistence agricultural tradition into profitable local businesses.

Fruit trees are raised from seed and given to rural villages to plant in community orchards. The orchards will produce income for their children’s education for years to come. And they’ll also fund village development projects like digging wells and building roads, primary schools and health clinics.

Chief Caulker said the program is becoming a model for community-led development in Sierra Leone. “We have accomplished big things in a short time under difficult circumstances,” he said. “We are confident about building a prosperous future as we fight to break barriers to development.”

Bumpeh Chiefdom’s program has grown in two and a half years to include two tree nurseries that have raised over 40,000 fruit tree seedlings — with seed from local fruit. Six villages have planted 15,000 trees in their community orchards. Families of newborn babies have been given over 4,000 seedlings to raise in their backyard gardens. Some seedlings are being sold to private farmers to raise funds to expand the program. And 2,000 babies have their education savings accounts. Ebola delayed but did not derail the program.

Chief Caulker has plans to cover the chiefdom with fruit orchards that will support new fruit-based cottage industries and create wage-paying jobs. He intends to transfer his knowledge to help other chiefdoms start their own self-sustaining programs.

Chief Caulker ended his presentation saying, “We are also confident that you’ll be by us since we share a common aspiration to serve mankind.” Read the full text of his speech here: April 6 PC Caulker – Cincinnati

Sherbro Foundation assists Bumpeh Chiefdom in their goal of giving every child access to education with our “Growing a Baby’s Future” program. We funded the first fruit tree nursery and helped the chiefdom create their own birth registration system, as no government system exists for rural areas. We’ve funded 1,200 of the newborn education savings accounts to date.

You can also “grow a baby’s future” by donating here. For $20, Sherbro Foundation will:
• Open a newborn baby’s education savings account
• Give families three fruit trees of their own to help fund their baby’s education savings.
• Help families secure their baby’s birth certificate.

100% of donations to Sherbro Foundation go directly to fund Bumpeh Chiefdom programs. We pay our own administration costs. Chief Caulker’s US trip was privately funded and with accommodations from family and friends.

Happy Birthday to us. Number 3 and growing.

Happy Birthday to us. Number 3 and growing.




Happy Birthday to us! 

happy_birthday_268662It was three years ago today Sherbro Foundation  got our certificate declaring we are a State of Ohio nonprofit corporation.

With a huge  backlog, it was then another eighteen months before the IRS notified us our 501(c)(3) tax exempt status was approved. It sometimes felt we’d never get through the process of organizing as a nonprofit.

But that was nothing compared to going through the Ebola crisis.

Now those things are all behind us. They say working through a big challenge only makes you stronger. It’s true. Stronger and smarter.

I won’t repeat here what we’ve accomplished in our first three years. I’ve recently written on this, given a 2015 year-end update and shared the latest news on the community computer center.

I just wanted to savor the moment. And take a moment to thank our Sierra Leone community partner, the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation. It’s their hard work that makes things happen. They’re the heroes of this three year story.

And give thanks to our donors and supporters. You were there early when we – when Sierra Leone – needed you. I hope you feel satisfaction in the role you’ve played in fighting Ebola, in sending girls to school, in giving villages a new future by growing trees. You’re changing people’s lives, and we could not have done it without all of you.

Well, time to get back to pedaling again. Running a young nonprofit is still hard work. But it doesn’t feel quite so monumental any more.

Arlene Golembiewski
Founder & Executive Director


And then there was light – and fans

And then there was light – and fans

And then there was light. Solar, that is. Rotifunk’s new Community Computer Center is nearly ready to open with power from a nearby solar system. Sherbro Foundation just funded wiring to bring the solar power to the new center.

Feb 2016 2 - CopyThe pieces are falling into place for Rotifunk’s first computer center, a project over four years in the making.  When we first identified a proposal to teach computer literacy in 2011, we had no computers, no building and no power. Nor did we know where we’d get any of these. No one in town had a computer, and only three teachers had any PC skills.

And we never imagined Ebola would throw us a big curve for over a year.

But the need was compelling – to introduce computer literacy as a way of giving job skills to students and adults in rural Bumpeh Chiefdom. So, you just get started.

With an unexpected and generous donation of fifty laptop computers late in 2013, we actually did start the project.

Computer class at CCET officeOur local partner, the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation, CCET, started teaching adults in the living room of a borrowed house. There was only room for ten students at a time, but it was a start. Then Ebola hit in mid-2014 and all public gatherings were banned. Classes stopped.

Paramount Chief Caulker made good use of the Ebola period when all travel in and out of the chiefdom halted to build the new computer center building. He donated land that had the shell of an old building burned by rebels during the war. It was in the center of town with a good concrete slab. The transformation was no less than amazing. Built with mud bricks and local lumber and labor, then stuccoed and painted inside and out – and voila, a new 40×60 foot computer center.

Computer Lab 6      Computer Center 9-15-14



But there still was no power. Operating with a generator would be costly, noisy, unreliable and spewing pollution. Estimates for a limited solar system for this building were $30,000+.

As luck would have it, a nearby community solar system had been installed and had excess capacity. It was feasible to wire power over. Last month wire was laid in conduit between the two buildings and buried in the ground.

Feb 2016 6

Feb 2016 5 - Copy Feb 2016 3


I did a dance last week when I got word it’s connected and we finally have power!

LFeb 2016 4est you think we’re now all set, well, not quite. I’ve learned a lot about solar systems and their capacity. The parent system we’re drawing from, shown here, is considered large at 5000 Watts. We’ll be able to use 3000 – 4000 Watts on most days. But this will just cover basic operation of the computer center running 25 laptops at a time, a twenty 11 W LED lights, six small ceiling fans and a desktop printer.

Running larger printers for the printing service we plan to start will still require a generator for the excess power needed.

I learned my lesson on power use when I tried to use a standard women’s hairdryer in a house with a generator. I asked first if it was OK, and then proceeded to shut down the generator. No wonder. Our hair dryers are 1875 W – for one hair dryer! As Westerners, we take for granted having all the power we want.

The computer center’s solar power is based on having sunny days. In the rainy season, we may use power faster than the solar batteries can recharge. A back-up generator is still a necessity.

But today, I’ll put those things aside.  I’m celebrating. The building is built. And the lights are on.




“Why Africans Cannot Get Depressed”

“Why Africans Cannot Get Depressed”

“This is why Africans cannot get depress…Only white people suffer from depression. Africans are always joyful…They have a community oriented. Every one comes to the festival.”

Snapshot 20 (12-24-2015 10-58 AM)I just had to share this recent comment on my YouTube Devil Dancing video from someone in the UK, obviously African.

And my comment back: “Thanks.  I couldn’t agree with you more. People in Sierra Leone manage to find joy in everyday life with their community. It’s expressed in dance and music that’s irresistible – and joyful. Westerners need to take lessons here.”

It’s a bit of a stretch this year in Sierra Leone to be joyful with the post- Ebola economic crisis. But I know its music and dance that people are relying on there today.

So, on this Christmas Day, I hope you’re finding joy wherever you may be.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

PS: The YouTube video captures a Rotifunk event with a local dance troupe. It shows them marching into town from their nearby village and getting the devil ready for his dance.  To skip this and get to the main event, skip to about 1:20 on the video.  There’s over 30,000 views on YouTube. Check it out.

Growing Self-Sufficient Futures – Dec 2015 newsletter

Growing Self-Sufficient Futures – Dec 2015 newsletter





Growing Self-Sufficient Futures:  Dec 2015 Newsletter

  • We’re helping people raise fruit trees and grow self-sufficient futures.
  • The new Community Computer Center is a four year dream now coming true.

IMG_0175 - Copy (2)

Give a holiday gift that keeps on giving

Give a holiday gift that keeps on giving

XmasSome gifts you remember.
Some gifts keep on giving.

Growing a Baby's Future 2












Change a Sierra Leone child’s life.

Empower a family to save for their child’s education by raising fruit trees.

When did a $20 gift feel this good?

Do good. Feel good. Give a gift here.

Order a gift by Dec 22, we’ll send a gift notice by Dec 24.

Need more – read it here.


Giving Thanks in Sierra Leone

Giving Thanks in Sierra Leone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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


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

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


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

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

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

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

——- Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

Girl Scholarship Students Dream Big – I Want to Become President

Girl Scholarship Students Dream Big – I Want to Become President

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

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

“I want to become a president.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—– Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

WSSS scholarshipsWalter Schutz Memorial Secondary School students





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



Ahmadiyya scholarshipsAhmadiyya Islamic Secondary School students






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




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

Back from a month in Sierra Leone

Back from a month in Sierra Leone

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

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

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

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

—- Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

Growing a Baby’s Future

Growing a Baby’s Future

They say money doesn’t grow on trees. But in Bumpeh Chiefdom in rural Sierra Leone, new parents are banking on it.

Through Sherbro Foundation’s Growing a Baby’s Future project, impoverished families in remote villages have a chance for the first time to save for their child’s education. Our grassroots partner, the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation (CCET), is reaching places foreign aid – or even government funding — never reach.

Chief Caulker with village children.

Paramount Chief Caulker with Bumpeh Chiefdom village children.

The chiefdom is creating a living trust fund for the next generation by planting trees. And they’re doing it by relying on the Chiefdom’s only resources – its fertile land, water and agricultural skills.

Paramount Chief Charles Caulker realized the chiefdom can’t wait for outside help; for “someone” to create a social safety net for children. In a country devastated by both the Ebola virus and a long civil war, the wait is endless. He and CCET organized a major fruit tree planting project for the chiefdom, trees raised themselves from seed.

Only $20 will Grow a Baby’s Future in three steps:

  • Three fruit trees are planted for each newborn baby. The income from fruit sales will go into an education savings account for each baby at the new community bank.  By age 12, there will be money to pay the child’s secondary school fees.
  • Sherbro Foundation is seeding the bank accounts by paying the $3.50 minimum deposits.
  • And to make every child count, we are also is helping the chiefdom start a birth registry. Rural areas today have no birth registration. Without birth certificates, people can be denied birthrights of land ownership, voting and health care.

Two tree nurseries hold 40,000 seedlings grown from seed, maturing for next year’s rainy season planting.

CCET and the people of Bumpeh are determined to raise thousands of citrus, mango, avocado, coconut, cashew and teak seedlings for newborn babies and their future education. Families will reap their bounty for years to come.

CCET plans to expand their tree nurseries – already boasting 40,000 seedlings – to sell to local farmers, too. This will generate income for the program to become self-sufficient.

Growing a Baby’s Future is facing a backlog of 1,000 babies after it was interrupted by the yearlong Ebola crisis.

CCET only needs our seed money to secure a baby’s future. You can help – donate here.

Growing a Baby’s Future

Growing a Baby’s Future

Baby snip it 2

Join Sherbro Foundation’s fall campaign – sponsor a baby   

Only 30% of children in Sierra Leone can afford secondary school.  Without education, children are born into poverty and never escape. The post-Ebola economic crisis has made getting an education even harder.

Growing a Baby’s Future empowers Bumpeh Chiefdom parents to start saving for their child’s secondary education right after birth by providing 3 income-producing fruit trees to raise.

We also open a bank account for the child, paying the minimum balance. The program combines an old tradition of planting a tree with the baby’s umbilical cord and the new practice of education savings accounts.  Parents learn a culture of saving for the future – and gain a living safety net.

To make every child count, we are helping the chiefdom start a birth registry.  UNICEF reports “one in three children doesn’t exist.” In Sierra Leone, even fewer births are registered. Without birth certificates, people can be denied birthrights of land ownership, voting and health care.

For $20, please help parents secure their child’s future


Do good with good value

How We Spent Your Money

How We Spent Your Money

Sherbro Foundation Board members get annoyed with organizations we only hear from when they want money from us. We don’t want to be one of those organizations.

Rather, we want to let you know how we spent the money you already sent.  Below is a newsletter covering key projects over the last fifteen months.  You can judge if it was well spent, and whether you want to support us again. Or start supporting us.

If you’d like to subscribe for future e-news, please send an email with “Subscribe” in the title to sherbrofoundation@gmail.com . We only plan about three each year and the occasional special message.  We won’t flood your inbox.   (Likewise, send an “Unsubscribe” message to stop receiving them.)

Are you now thinking now, oh, they haven’t spent my money because I haven’t sent any. You can easily remedy that at http://www.sherbrofoundation.org/donate .

Thank you. Together, we are making a real difference in the lives of people in rural Sierra Leone.

Arlene Golembiewski
Executive Director




Eliminating poverty through education and economic empowerment
August 2015
Veg project distribution ceremony May 2015 - Copy






Click here:  Sherbro Foundation Newsletter August 2015


Getting to Zero – But Staying There?

Village quarantine released - from BBC

Village quarantine released – from BBC

The last chain of Ebola transmission is almost stamped out. This means the set of contacts exposed to the last confirmed Ebola case are accounted for.

It was one year ago August 10 that Ebola was becoming a runaway train and WHO declared a global emergency.

Here’s the key points from Sierra Leone’s National Ebola Response Network report for the week ending August 16:

  • For the first time since the disease worsened a year ago, the country has gone 12 days with no EVD reported case. The country’s last case was recorded on 7th August.
  • There are only two patients undergoing treatment – at IMC Makeni. One has tested negative and will be discharged in the next day or so. The other is responding to treatment.
  • 585 contacts from Massesebeh village near Makeni were discharged from a 21-day quarantine on August 14.  A rapid response team quickly responded to one of the last confirmed Ebola cases, and quarantined the entire village. A few households and contacts remain under quarantine after cohabiting contacts tested positive.
  • There were 79 remaining potentially exposed contacts in the country. If no cases are recorded, the last set of quarantined contacts will be discharged on 29th August.
The important thing for Sierra Leone now is no new cases have been confirmed that can’t be traced to another previously confirmed case. For over a month, there have been no new chains of transmission.
To declare the country Ebola free, it needs to go 42 days with no new Ebola cases after the last case is discharged from treatment and the last quarantine ended. The clock would start on August 29. 42 days are two sequential 21-day Ebola incubation periods.
The ban on public gatherings was released last week, allowing crowds to enjoy Freetown’s beaches and throng bars and nightclubs for the first time in a year.
Liberia’s had a new case pop up over three months after being declared Ebola free. WHO is now considering whether a 90 day Ebola free period is a more prudent criteria to declare a country Ebola free.
So – not out of the woods yet.  But getting close.
A US physician working in Liberia and treated for Ebola says, not so fast. Getting to zero is not good enough; you need to stay at zero.  He notes: “there were more physicians on staff at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, where I was treated for Ebola, than were practicing in the three most affected West African countries combined. The dearth of health care professionals means that for many responders, there has been little respite. And since the start of the epidemic, nearly 7 percent of health care workers in Sierra Leone and more than 8 percent in Liberia have died from Ebola.”
We’re all not safe from Ebola he says, until health care systems in the three Ebola affected countries are expanded and adequately staffed.
Concept to Harvest in 5 Months –  the Women’s Vegetable Growing Project

Concept to Harvest in 5 Months – the Women’s Vegetable Growing Project

Just shy of five months from our first March phone call on the Bumpeh Chiefdom Women’s Vegetable Growing Project, women are harvesting their first crops.

I got the pictures of the peanut harvest Sunday.  It’s a good crop, Mrs. Kaimbay told me. She leads our partner organization, the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation (CCET), who organized and started this first time project.

She and local teachers Mr. Sonnah and Mr. Phoday got the vegetable project started in April – at the same time they were restarting school that had been closed for nine months because of Ebola.

Veg - Groundnut harvesting3

Now in late July, these women in the project’s first group of farmers were harvesting their groundnuts. The corn in the background will be ready soon, together with okra and cucumbers.

It was only in early March that I first asked, what can Sherbro Foundation do to help people whose incomes were slashed during the Ebola crisis.  Help women farmers start fast growing cash crops was the answer. Peanuts and vegetables.

Veg - grountnut harvesting 2What we call peanuts are groundnuts in Africa. That’s because they grow in the ground. They’re actually legumes, not nuts. They’re an important source of protein in the African diet, commonly ground into a paste for soups and stews.
Or eaten straight up, after roasting in a pan. Groundnuts are also enjoyed boiled in the shell.

Veg - groundnuts growing

Here’s what groundnuts look like when they’re harvested.  They grow as nodules among the roots of the plant. You dig them up like harvesting potatoes. Then spread them out in the sun to dry.

Veg - drying groundnuts

The Women’s Vegetable Growing project will continue to expand and add new groups of farmers. The thirty five women in this first group will donate seed back to the project for the next group of farmers – a bag of groundnuts and a cup of seed from each of their three vegetable crops.

The women will still net at least three to four times our initial investment of $75 in each farmer. They’ll be ready to start their second crops in September themselves, followed by a third crop in their first year.

In the meantime, new groups of women farmers will be given their start.  In the project’s first twelve months, we should be able to have groups of 30+ farmers producing crops six times.

Workshop on erosion control.

Workshop on erosion control.

The women selected for the project are single heads of large households. They get the use of community land set aside in the chiefdom for special projects. They get training on topics like planting and erosion control, and ongoing support.

Importantly, they now know what empowerment feels like. They’re farming themselves and becoming self sufficient.

Sherbro Foundation and our partner CCET take on practical projects that are simple to implement and which quickly benefit the poorest people in the chiefdom.

We don’t wait years to see lives improved while bureaucracy and overhead are created. We do it within months.

Show Us the Money: How Ebola Crisis Money Was Spent

Show Us the Money: How Ebola Crisis Money Was Spent

Here’s an issue I’ve been waiting to see made public: how global aid money was spent in the Ebola emergency.

Amy Maxman’s recent Newsweek story will change the way you look disaster aid. Maxman managed to spend enough time in Sierra Leone and probe in the right places to illuminate some of the Ebola crisis’s most exasperating issues. I posted her February story on how the capital Freetown’s new Ebola case rate was not going to zero. She astutely noted Freetown has no traditional leaders with authority to lead the fight in their own communities, as they effectively did in the provinces.

Now she’s written about how global Ebola aid money was spent in Sierra Leone during the epidemic’s peak. Again, she’s spot on. How is it possible only 2% of foreign aid reached frontline Ebola workers?  Read on.

It’s hard for outsiders responding to an emergency to know how to donate efficiently — quickly and with the highest impact. Foreign governments and major foundations want to send money, but not actually spend it. They have to trust other organizations with local connections to act on their behalf.

Actually, foreign governments and foundations pledged Ebola aid money. The wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly, emergency or no emergency. Less than half the $3 billion aid pledged reached the affected Ebola countries by the end of 2014 when the crisis peaked and was declining.

Big Aid may have been frustrated in the past by immature and ineffective African government systems, and sometimes out-and-out corruption. So, many foreign governments and foundations bypassed the Sierra Leone government, and gave Ebola aid funds to the World Health Organization and Western nonprofit organizations. Some sent a few experts, like the US Center for Disease Control, to advise and train Sierra Leone government agencies or do diagnostic tests.

Most individual donors don’t understand how aid organizations actually spend money.  I didn’t until I got personally involved with a rural Sierra Leone community.

Crises don’t happen in convenient places. Aid organizations either don’t have staff in the affected country, or in the remote places they’re needed. And in the Ebola emergency, they didn’t have the right kind of staff. Infectious disease ward nurses, sanitation crews, burial teams and community mobilizers were needed — all speaking local languages and able to respond to local customs on life and death matters.

IMG-20150115-WA0000Ebola started and spread in remote villages. To reach these places, foreign aid organizations would be confronted with a total lack of familiar infrastructure. It takes 3-5 hours to drive 50 miles on impossible roads to reach small villages – with the right 4×4 vehicle. They’d find nowhere to stay or eat, difficulty buying bottled water or petrol, no electricity, no toilets, no internet connection, of course, and unreliable cell phone coverage. There’d likely be no Sierra Leone government presence, and therefore, no local host or suitable building to work in.

They might find no one to be go-between with the community. They wouldn’t speak the local language and could encounter suspicious, even hostile, villagers they’re trying to serve.

So, unless you’re Doctors Without Borders experienced in setting up mobile MASH units, you subcontract your work to locally based nonprofits. These nonprofits may in turn need to hire more local, but inexperienced, people to deliver emergency services.

Most local nonprofits are not rurally based. They typically are in Sierra Leone cities, and they don’t necessarily have rural relationships or speak tribal languages. But they are at least in-country. These nonprofit workers drive to a town or village for a few hours and leave, having limited impact. But they spend lots of money nonetheless on staff, new employees, training, new vehicles and travel expenses.

The funding pie quickly shrinks. Every time work and funding are handed off to another government, another agency within a government, or from a global aid organization to country and regional groups, a slice of the funding pie is eaten up.

Maxman found less than 2% of the billions of Ebola aid money made it to frontline Sierra Leone health care and sanitation workers. She found a UK report that only 7% of EU funding for a Liberian Ebola program reached frontline workers. This is not exceptional. Before the Ebola outbreak, I asked Bumpeh Chiefdom Paramount Chief Caulker about development aid distribution. He said it’s common for only 10% of aid money to reach people in his chiefdom as actual goods and services. Twenty percent would be good for non-emergency aid distribution.

Where did the rest of the Ebola aid money go? Much of donated money is going to highly paid foreign aid organizations and their employees. Or to pay for military flown in to build treatment centers that took so long they were hardly used. Salaries of foreign aid workers sent over – that could be 6-figures – are counted in the emergency aid figures. And they may get extra hazardous duty pay. They fly in, stay in expensive city hotels designed for foreigners, and travel in air-conditioned SUVs. Some were flown by helicopter daily to field centers. And they seldom engaged directly in what we thought we donated our money for – caring for people sick with Ebola.

In emergencies, spending money efficiently is not the prime objective, as Maxman found. Speed is. But without established programs, that speedy spending in the Ebola emergency led to many mistakes and missed objectives. And cost many lives.

A vicious circle continues. With the crisis over, foreign organizations pack up and go home. Under-developed local health care services are no better off. They can’t self-support the next crisis because we keep relying on foreign emergency aid organizations, instead of investing in building Sierra Leone’s health care capability. Yet we quickly forget how expensive emergency aid is.

What’s the moral of the story? Certainly, you should understand the organizations to which you’re donating in an emergency. What is their track record in the country you’re trying to help?

Consider small nonprofit organizations doing grassroots work in a country like Sierra Leone; don’t be automatically dubious. Find their websites and check what they’re doing.

Sherbro Foundation was able to quickly fund life-saving programs for 40,000 people with very few US dollars.

We funded 90% of the Ebola prevention work that Bumpeh Chiefdom led itself, with chiefdom leaders and volunteers.  They focused on prevention, not waiting for people to get sick. We sent $9,000 USD by wire transfer, and they directly received $9,000 in local currency within days after we agreed on objectives.

For $9,000, the chiefdom got results. They kept Ebola out for over 50 days, while it was raging all around them. After two isolated cases at Christmastime, the chiefdom again remains Ebola-free.

That $9,000 would have paid the hotel bill for a single foreign aid worker “consulting” in Freetown for only a month and staying at the Raddison Blu for $270 nightly.

Grassroots organizations like Sherbro Foundation are not involved in Sierra Leone for the short term.  We’re continuing the work of community development.

Empowering Women Post-Ebola – the Vegetable Growing Project

Empowering Women Post-Ebola – the Vegetable Growing Project

Veg project distribution ceremony I was excited to get the first pictures of the Women’s Vegetable Growing Project that’s just started in Bumpeh Chiefdom. Thirty women farmers are being empowered to grow groundnuts (peanuts) and vegetables that will quickly generate income in post-Ebola Sierra Leone.

Rosaline and veg farmer

CCET Executive Director, Rosaline Kaimbay and vegetable farmer receiving her seed & rice.

The project, designed and led by our local partner, the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation (CCET), will jump start women’s efforts to get back on their feet after Ebola.  “Vulnerable” women were selected who are experienced farmers and low income, most single heads of household. I could recognize some faces among village participants receiving their seed and fertilizer in the distribution ceremony photo.

I still have trouble contemplating people living so close to the edge, they can’t afford $50 to maintain a business that’s their very livelihood. The Ebola crisis slashed small-holder farmer incomes – already tiny – in half. Women farmers were especially hard hit. They tend vegetable gardens requiring less back breaking manual labor, but resulting in smaller incomes. The Ebola epidemic then put the chiefdom under isolation orders, preventing farmers from taking crops to city markets where they can sell more and get higher prices.

Inception The Vegetable project had its inception during a phone call with Bumpeh Chiefdom Paramount Chief Caulker in early March about getting projects back on track. Ebola had sharply declined, but the full economic impact of the epidemic was now clear. I told Chief I couldn’t in good conscience myself, or ask Sherbro Foundation donors to return to our computer literacy project right now when I knew people were hungry.  That could wait.

Mature vegetable garden

Mature vegetable garden

The best way to help short term in his agriculture based chiefdom, Chief Caulker said, was to sponsor a vegetable growing project. You can grow a lot of vegetables like peppers in a small area and harvest in 3-4 months, fetching good prices. Farmers can quickly earn enough to feed their families, and then save seed and money to buy fertilizer themselves for the fall growing season.

The project would have to be started right away to be able to harvest when the heavy monsoon rains peak in August. CCET would run the project, but half its members were not yet in Rotifunk. They’re community teachers who volunteer to run CCET projects. They would return the first of April with the formidable task of first re-opening school closed for nine months by the Ebola epidemic.

I’ve seldom met a more dedicated and community-minded group than the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation. They keep focused on their vision of empowering the most vulnerable in Bumpeh Chiefdom to become self-sufficient, and they just get to work. Within a month, school reopened and was in full swing, and women in small villages were planting vegetable gardens.

“Felt need assessment” CCET first talked directly with project participants to identify the most viable income generating crops right now. Peppers will earn more, the women said, but only in the dry season when supply is low.

It’s better now with the start of the rainy season, they said, to plant fast growing groundnuts, corn, okra, cucumbers and some pepper. These will bring higher market value in July-August, the peak hunger period when farmers have not yet harvested, and school is starting. Parents face the most economic stress then, striving to feed their farm family, and to pay their children’s school fees in September.

Veg project - women breaking ground2 May 2015Target Participants Thirty women were selected: 25 from  rural villages and five groups of two each from Rotifunk Township. Village women experienced in vegetable production and who are single parents with many children were given priority. In Rotifunk, women in the CCET–run adult education program who are single parents and interested in learning vegetable cultivation were identified.

Getting started CCET bought recently harvested, high quality seed that is more potent and can sprout easily. It’s common to find imported seed in Sierra Leone past its expiration date, with poor yield. To further  motivate participants, each got a 25 Kg (~ 55 lb) bag of rice to help feed their family now.

Veg project women breaking ground 5-15Clearing a field manually is really hard work. It’s typical in slash-and-burn agriculture to fell the biggest trees, and burn the rest of a field for planting. I’ve watched women farming  in Sierra Leone before. But sitting in the comfort my home looking at these pictures of bare foot women breaking ground in a hard, burned-out field with little hand-made hoes pulls at my heart strings. They’re determined to provide for their children and get on with their lives. And they somehow do, by sheer will – and hard labor.

Sustainability To make the project sustainable and continue providing support to other women, participants signed a memorandum of understanding. They will each give back a bushel of harvested ground nut equivalent to 50kg, and a cup each of corn, okra and cucumber seed to be redistributed to the other groups of vulnerable women in successive seasons. It also reinforces the women working together and supporting each other as a community.

CCET has already identified project improvements for the next planting season. They want to keep as much income as possible within the community. Instead of buying imported bags of rice for participants, they will arrange to buy rice from local rice farmers. Likewise, they will procure as much groundnut and vegetable seed as possible from local growers.

I can’t wait to see the next pictures. With the rain starting and growing advice from CCET project managers, these women should be weeding fields green with groundnuts and tall with okra soon.

The need to get Sierra Leone farmers producing again after Ebola is great.  The Women’s Vegetable Growing Program is one we definitely need to expand.  If you’d like to help, please go to Donate.

Arlene Golembiewski
Executive Director

What Do Mothers Want on Mother’s Day?

What Do Mothers Want on Mother’s Day?

It’s nearly Mother’s Day. So, what do mothers really want on their special day?

It would be the rare mom — or grandmother, or aunt, or godmother, or wife — who wouldn’t say, “I just want to enjoy time with my children.” Cherishing time with family is more important than gifts. They already have enough “stuff.”

Here’s a simple way to make this Mother’s Day truly special: Give her the satisfaction of knowing she’s sending a deserving Sierra Leone girl to school. A gift to the Sherbro Foundation Girls Scholarship Fund will have happy ripple effects for a struggling West African family for a long time to come.

IMG_0097Can an American mother empathize with a Sierra Leone mother? If they could meet and chat, I think they would find much in common. They want the same things for their children — good food, shelter, a safe and healthy childhood. And importantly: an education and the opportunity to do as well or better than they did.

I asked mothers in Sierra Leone what they want. Here’s what they told me:

IMG_1642Thirty-year-old Mary Bendu was born in the same small village of 200 people as her mother and grandmother. They had to abandon their farm and home during the civil war, and hide from rebels for a year. They lived in the bush, sleeping on the ground and surviving on wild bananas and coco yams and catching mud skippers.

She now lives by the work women usually do – selling things in the market. She collects firewood, smokes fish caught in the river and grows sweet potatoes. She would make more money if she could take these to a bigger market, but she can’t afford to pay for public transportation.

Mary has five children, from five to 15 years old. What makes her most proud is sending them to school. She wants her children to have the education she never had. These are the kind of girls for whom Sherbro Foundation scholarships make secondary school possible.

Zainab Caulker, 28 yrs, wants to become a nurse.Zainab Caulker, 28, has 7- and 9-year-old children in school. She herself went through primary school but the war interrupted her education. She’s opened a small business buying farm goods in small villages and reselling them in the Rotifunk market. She used micro-finance loans of $60 – $100 to start her business. She was able to repay them, but with the high interest rates, she could see she was never getting ahead.

She wanted to learn more and help her children with their studies, so she decided to start Adult Literacy classes Sherbro Foundation sponsors in Rotifunk. “I knew nothing before Principal Kaimbay encouraged me to come back to school. Now, I can get up in public and represent myself.”  She’s also helping board some teenage girls from nearby villages who attend secondary school with Sherbro Foundation scholarships. Her dream is to become a nurse.

IMG_3280Zainab Sammoh lives in Rotifunk with her two children, 10 and 6. Her husband wanted to go away to college, so she stayed home with the children. He then left her and married an educated woman. Zainab started Adult Literacy classes so she can follow her children’s progress in school and make sure they’re doing what they should.

“I want to be able to ask them, ‘what did you learn in school today,’ and know what it means.” The day I met her she was learning to write her name. She hopes to get a job as a secretary.

Despite their overwhelming struggles, these mothers prize education as the key to a better life for their families.

You can help them create better tomorrows. And make Mother’s Day special for the special woman in your life.

A $30 donation to the Sherbro Foundation Girls Scholarship Fund will send a girl to school – making a powerful difference in the lives of girls and women in Sierra Leone for years to come.  

Click here to make a gift in the name of your special woman. Include her email address, and we’ll let her know she’s helping another mother give her daughter a good start in life.  Or if you’d rather personally deliver it, we’ll send you an acknowledgement of your thoughtful gift in her name.

We’ll make it more special.  We’re matching all donations until May 15, doubling the impact of your gift.

You’ll make a difference in your family, too. Show Mom she taught you well in helping make the world a better place.

Think your help doesn’t matter? Think again.

Think your help doesn’t matter? Think again.

People often think, how can I, as one person, make a dent in the world’s problems?  Well, I’ve found change starts with one person here making a difference in the life one person somewhere else.

The first step is to get involved. Just take one positive step.  Many small  positive actions add up to real change. That’s what movements are all about.

Not sure what kind of positive action you can take? Sherbro Foundation supports girls’ education and addressing extreme poverty in Sierra Leone.  Here’s a list of actions you can take to help us help the people of Sierra Leone.

Help promote Sherbro Foundation’s work in your personal network

  • Like us on Facebook. Then share a SF news item to your Friends saying you support this work.
  • Like a post on www.sherbrofoundation.org. Send a Comment on why this work is important.
  • If you use Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Stumbleupon, etc. – share a Sherbro Foundation post
  • Speak out: Letter to the Editor or article – your organization newsletter or local media

 Connect us with others that might want to support a project    

  • Advocate for us with: Churches doing mission & outreach work;  School public service projects; Civic & Professional groups funding nonprofit projects; Clubs holding charity Walks & Runs
  • Host a Club program or salon for your circle of friends
  • Investigate your Company’s corporate Foundation for nonprofit projects & how to apply         Employee sponsorship usually needed
  • Find used or in-kind donations for schools and children:
    • Collect used baby clothes
    • School supplies
    • Sports shoes & sports equipment – a big need
    • Educational videos (National Geographic, Planet Earth, etc.), Math tutorials, etc.

Be a Sherbro Foundation Volunteer

  • Write a guest Blog post – why you care about Girls Education or other development issues
  • We can use your skills
    • Advise us on Nonprofit Marketing & Fundraising
    • Consult with us on our Website – especially on use of WordPress & SEO
    • Advise us on optimizing use of social media
    • Produce a short video for our website

Donate to Sherbro Foundation projects   www.sherbrofoundation.org/donate/

  • Send a girl to school with a uniform – $30
  • Sponsor a vegetable farmer to get back on her feet with fast growing cash crops – $50 
    • Seed & fertilizer for a half acre vegetable garden + bag of rice to feed family now
  • Give in honor of someone special – birthday, Mother’s Day, memorial, special day
  • Support other projects www.sherbrofoundation.org/about-us/projects/
Blaming the Victims – Pregnant Girls Banned from Sierra Leone Schools

Blaming the Victims – Pregnant Girls Banned from Sierra Leone Schools

There will be a number of Sierra Leone girls who want to come back to school when they reopen that won’t be allowed to.

Pregnant girls are being banned from school.  From an outsider’s point of view (mine), this smacks of blaming the victim.

Fatu is one of the Bumpeh Chiefdom girls who should have been taking the senior high entrance exam last week.  Instead, she’s waiting to give birth as a single mother.

Walter Schutz Secondary School studentsWhen Sierra Leone President Koroma first made his announcement in February that schools would reopen, he publicly stated all children should return. He specifically encouraged pregnant girls and young mothers to come back to school.

The Ministry of Education recently recanted this, saying pregnant schoolgirls are a bad moral influence on other students.  They will not be allowed to attend school while “visibly pregnant.”

These pregnant girls were victimized once, and now they’re being made to pay again.

It’s been estimated as many as 30% of Sierra Leone schoolgirls became pregnant during the Ebola crisis. I doubt there was a sudden lapse in morals in this many girls in the last nine months. There have been many reports of an increase in sexual violence across Sierra Leone triggered by the Ebola crisis. Men lost employment and girls were home, out of school. Constant stress from fear of Ebola, lost income and restricted movement is fuel for sexual predators, as described in this BBC interview.

There’s many variations on this, from rape to coercion, from “transactional sex” to misplaced emotions. Emotions were running high for all during the Ebola crisis, including teenage girls. When you’re bored, depressed and feeling hopeless, it can be easy to seek comfort in the wrong place. Add to this the lack of health care services and contraception during the Ebola crisis. Needing money to cope financially or seeking to boost self esteem resulted in terrible consequences for many girls.

Behind the statistics there’s real people, and their life stories are not simple.

Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation Executive Director, Rosaline Kaimbay told me about some of these girls in Bumpeh Chiefdom who won’t be returning to school in April.

Fatu finished JSS3 (junior secondary school 3) last July and was ready to start senior high. Her mother separated from her stepfather when he made it clear he wanted to take another younger wife; a girl of eighteen, not much older than Fatu. He abandoned the family, including his own five year old son, Fatu’s stepbrother.

Fatu’s stepfather is actually her uncle. He was a local warrior called a Kamajor that fought to save Rotifunk when it fell under rebel control during Sierra Leone’s long civil war. His entire family was killed by rebels, including his younger brother – Fatu’s father.

He took Fatu’s mother as his wife, which is common. A widow needing support and protection often becomes the wife of her brother-in-law. Now over ten years later, he wanted another young wife of his choosing. It would be easy to cast him the villain, but he’s led a difficult life. He’s been a victim, too.

It’s not clear how Fatu became pregnant. Girls like Fatu are ashamed to talk with Principal Kaimbay about what happened and hide their pregnancy as long as possible.

Fatu lost her father; then she was abandoned by her stepfather and the father of her baby.  Now she’s forbidden to take the one route that could be a way out for her and her baby – returning to high school to complete her education at a high enough level to give her job skills.  She’s banned at least until after the baby is born.

What are her options? If her mother can manage to take of the baby – supporting another child – Fatu could return to school after she gives birth.  If they live in town where the schools are, or have friends where she could stay, she may be lucky and pick up again on her education. These are big if’s.

If not, she would be another statistic among the five out of six girls who don’t complete high school. Another who remains stuck in a cycle of rural poverty so hard to escape.

Sherbro Foundation’s girls scholarship program focuses on helping the most vulnerable students like Fatu who are serious about their education. As more girls progress into senior high, we especially want to help senior girls stay in school and graduate. This includes young mothers.

Fatu fits the profile in all respects. Mrs. Kaimbay calls her a brilliant student. She could do well.

There’s hope for Fatu and girls like her if she can make her way back to school. She needs our support, not blame.

You can support girls like Fatu.  Donate to Sherbro Foundation’s Girls Scholarship Program.

Remember – Sherbro Foundation is all-volunteer. So everything donated goes to the Scholarship Program.

Back to School, but Not Back to Normal

Back to School, but Not Back to Normal

How do you reopen Sierra Leone schools closed for seven months by a country-wide health epidemic? What do you do when the Ebola epidemic is still not completely over, and you’re afraid to send your children back to school?

Sierra Leone schools reopen in April. But it won’t be like just turning a faucet back on. Teachers and students scattered when Ebola suspended school last year to be with family in home towns and villages. Getting students back will be a process.

ebola hug

Rotifunk teachers returning to school demonstrate an Ebola hug.

Ebola is not yet gone.  It continues to ebb and flow in the capital and three northern districts. Another three day countrywide shutdown starts today, Friday, March 27 to try to stamp out remaining Ebola cases. Everyone is ordered to stay home Friday through Sunday. They continue to observe the strict “no touch” policy of the last eight months and no public gatherings.

Then, Monday, March 30 last year’s ninth graders are the first to come back to school to take their senior high entrance exam. The exam was canceled last July when Ebola escalated.

What are parents to do?  Keep your child at home where you believe it’s safe, or safeguard their future and let them test their way into senior high?  Skip Monday’s test and they’ll be waiting months again for another chance.


Community Empowerment & Transformation project leader and local teacher, Abdul Phoday

I texted Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation volunteer and local teacher Abdul Phoday to hear what’s going on. “Everyone is still scared of one another,” he said. “People do gather, but with some distance because of the virus. Some of the girls who are supposed to be present for [this week’s exam review] are absent because of teenage pregnancy. They have been idling so long, they were confused by some bad boys, and are now pregnant.”

“The few who are present are not enthusiastic as usual, for they were a long time out of school. But we are doing our best to bring them on board, even though it’s not easy.”

Phoday and other teachers only have one week to prepare their students for the senior high entrance exam. They normally spend a whole month in a concentrated study camp.  His school has been the exam’s district champion for the last two years. “So, we want to keep the title,“ Phoday said. “Really, it’s out of love [we do this] as we are still getting fluctuational Ebola results so everyone is still scared.”

Principal Rosaline Kaimbay attended a workshop last month to prepare principals to reopen schools. She said she’s satisfied the Ministry of Education has considered the risks and made provisions for these.  Still, getting everything needed in place and implemented locally will be a big effort.

Safety first  The first order of business is making the physical environment safe after Ebola.  Fortunately, none of Bumpeh Chiefdom schools were used as temporary Ebola holding centers needing decontamination.

IMG_1908Maintaining the Ebola “no touch” policy is still needed. This means enough classroom space to keep students separated by three feet. Primary schools often pack young children in classrooms with 2 or 3 kids to a desk. They are to get additional desks to spread students out.

Sanitation at rural schools is a real dilemma. Students need to regularly wash their hands. But most schools have no water sources on-site. There’s usually no clean water nearby; not even a well. Schools are lucky to have latrines, let alone toilets. Hand washing provisions were never made. “Policy makers in Freetown don’t come upcountry and don’t know sanitation conditions here,” lamented Paramount Chief Charles Caulker.

Bumpeh Chiefdom schools will have to resort to the public handwashing stations used during the Ebola epidemic  –  buckets fitted with a faucet and chlorinated or disinfectant treated water that will need to be carried there. Supervising 200+ children washing their hands each time they come on-site will be a time consuming chore for teachers.

taking temps at school Conakry

Liberian teacher takes daily student temperatures.

Likewise, teachers will need to take each student’s temperature every day with no-contact thermometers they’ll be supplied with. Will morning assembly songs and announcements be replaced with the hand washing – temperature taking regimen to keep on schedule?

Stress management  Teachers are getting training on stress counseling for students. Those who are Ebola survivors, or who lost one or both parents or other family members are still traumatized.  Being stigmatized as an Ebola family further adds to their stress. They may not yet be fully accepted by the community. These children need extra support, and their peers need more education that they pose no risk to the community.

The epidemic has put everyone under great hardship and economic stress. Then, there’s chronic stress from constant fear of the invisible enemy called Ebola.

Making up for lost time  Everyone may need stress management with the school regimen they’re being asked to follow. To make up lost time, school will be held six days a week, including Saturdays, for 25 weeks. School will push through July and August, the heavy rain months when many students are normally back home helping plant rice on family farms.

I remember as a Peace Corps Volunteer trying to teach during the rainy months. We’d have to stop during an especially heavy downpour when it sounded like horses galloping over the metal roofs and you could hear nothing else.  Walking miles to school on muddy roads in downpours is miserable.

Back to school campaign  Our Rotifunk partner organization, the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation (CCET) plans a back-to-school and public health campaign. Made up primarily of local teachers, CCET will be going door to door in Rotifunk and village to village in the chiefdom, encouraging parents to send their children back to school.

IMG-20150105-WA0001The way to answer parents’ questions on Ebola and the remaining risk is to reach out to them in their villages.  CCET will continue public health messages on recognizing Ebola and other common disease symptoms, and what to do if you believe someone is sick.  Local nurses will join in and assure people of the safety of community health clinics.

Pregnant girls and new mothers especially need counseling on seeking medical care. They’re still afraid of getting Ebola if they go to hospitals and health clinics to deliver and for pre and postnatal care. They’ve been delivering at home. More lives across the country are being lost in childbirth and from complications after birth than from Ebola.

Young mothers and their parents need to be encouraged on the girls returning to school.  Becoming a mother does not need to end their education. Rather, they and their babies need the benefits education brings more than ever. But village girls face the dilemma of leaving their new baby with parents in order to go to Rotifunk for secondary school.

The Ebola epidemic has been incredibly hard. Getting life back to some semblance of normal is far from easy.

Arlene Golembiewski
Executive Director

She is why we do what we do

She is why we do what we do

School is slated to reopen in April across Sierra Leone. It won’t come any too soon for both teachers and students weary of the seven month limbo they’ve been in since the Ebola crisis closed schools last September.

Zainab Bangura 2 - PGHS scholarship awardeeZainab is one of the girls I’ll be watching for. She’s gone to one of Rotifunk’s secondary schools with scholarships from Sherbro Foundation.

Last year, I talked with Zainab and found she has a big dream.  It’s a dream we want to help her achieve.

Zainab has had a difficult time completing secondary school.  I worried she might be one of those not returning.  At 19, she’s a young woman, and it’s hard to find the means to stay in school. The longer teenagers stay out of school in Sierra Leone the less likely they are to return, especially the girls.  Ebola has only made that worse.

Village on road heading to Freetown

Zainab comes from a small village like this one on the road leading to Freetown.

Zainab comes from a small village about seven miles outside Rotifunk.  It’s ten mud houses, she told me, with an emphasis on “mud” houses. Her mother is a very poor farmer and old. When she told me her mother’s age, I laughed and said, “Well, that makes me old, too.”  “But you are strong,” was her reply.  Strong in Sierra Leone means healthy.  It also means I’m privileged to have the means to be this strong at my age.

Zainab attended junior high in a nearby town.  Four years ago when she was ready for senior high, her aging mother could no longer afford $30 to send her to school.  So, she sat home for a year.

An older man then persuaded her mother to let Zainab move in with him in Rotifunk.  He promised to help her finish school and then marry her. Zainab’s mother thought this was the only way to ensure her future. But he didn’t pay her school fees and didn’t marry her.  He was already married. He forced her to work for him by selling goods in the market. I’ll let you fill in the rest.

IMG-20150103-WA0011 - CopyPrincipal Rosaline Kaimbay seeks out village girls like Zainab and encourages their parents or guardians to send the girls to high school.  Zainab started senior high with Sherbro Foundation scholarships two years ago. A teacher heard of her living situation and convinced her to leave the man and move to a friend’s home.

Zainab has now completed 10th and 11th grades, a real accomplishment.  Only one in six Sierra Leone girls is able to complete high school.  Zainab’s school will be starting its first twelve grade class this year. Zainab should be one of the first seniors in that class.

10356312_349283451885472_4392104421503392972_n[1]I want to become a doctor.

I spoke with Zainab last July before Ebola suspended  school.  Principal Kaimbay had told me she’s interested in studying science. When I asked Zainab why she likes science, she said with no hesitation, “I want to go to college and become a doctor.”

Not a nurse or a teacher, the usual responses. But a doctor. When I asked why, she immediately replied, “I want to save lives.”  She’s no doubt seen lives lost in her short life because there’s so little health care available.

With school now reopening, my thoughts returned to Zainab. I asked Principal Kaimbay if she’s been in contact with her, and will she be returning to school. Zainab has been living with her mother now. Mrs. Kaimbay regularly stopped by to see them since their village was near one of the Ebola check points on the way to Freetown. They’ve been scraping by, growing a few vegetables to sell.

IMG-20141120-WA0000Mrs. Kaimbay is more than a dynamic principal and a gifted teacher. She’s an advocate for girls like Zainab, and a champion for girls and women everywhere in Bumpeh Chiefdom. During this long Ebola crisis, she’s made a point to connect with girls and their families whenever she could. She resorted to the back of a motorcycle to monitor and support the chiefdom Ebola control program — and visit village girls. She encourages and motivates the girls to stay focused on their education. School will reopen; we want you to come back. We’ll help you wherever we can.

Now she told me, yes, Zainab is ready to return to school.

Last July, I asked Zainab if she had any questions for me. She immediately asked: will I be helping with university scholarships? With girls like Zainab finishing high school in Rotifunk and determined to go to college, that’s something to be planning for.

God knows Sierra Leone needs more doctors and nurses. Now, they need to replace those who sacrificed their lives in the Ebola crisis caring for others.

Zainab gave me a message last July to bring back here:

“Thank you for helping us. We come from poor homes, but we are ready to learn. Without scholarships, we should drop out.”

Girls like Zainab are the reason I started the girls scholarship program. I think how many other bright, determined girls like Zainab won’t achieve their dreams without getting through that first formidable hurdle in their lives — secondary school. And the hurdle amounts to just $30 a year.

Zainab is the reason Sherbro Foundation does what we do.

You can help Zainab and other girls come back to school now.   http://www.sherbrofoundation.org/donate

Today Everyone in Sierra Leone is an Ebola Victim

Today Everyone in Sierra Leone is an Ebola Victim

People now ask me if the Ebola crisis is over. It’s certainly dropped out of the media here in the US.

But the answer is, no. The outbreak stubbornly hangs on in Freetown and three northern districts.  Getting to zero is proving to be more difficult than imagined. This is about changing human behavior on deeply seated traditions like burial practices.  Consistent behavior change across the country remains an elusive goal.

Today, March 18, the daily new Ebola case report had only one new case. That’s the lowest ever since the epidemic began. But yesterday was 14 new cases, and the last seven day total is 50. Ebola is not gone.

But much of the country is hanging on to their zeros. Bumpeh Chiefdom has now gone nearly 90 days without a new Ebola case. Their district, Moyamba District, is now 22 days Ebola free.

DSCN0453Today, however, everyone in Sierra Leone should be considered an Ebola victim.

The tragedy won’t end with eliminating the infectious outbreak. The economic and social impact on the country has been nothing less than disastrous. The majority of families’ livelihood is subsistence agriculture, and they are devastated. They depend on today’s market sale for tomorrow’s food.

The entire country’s economic growth has fallen by two-thirds. Mining and tourism are the two largest industries that brought foreign investment and cash into the country. Tourism is of course at a standstill. Little mining goes on.

IMG_0413For Bumpeh Chiefdom, incomes of farmers and small traders were cut in half when they couldn’t get crops to city markets. The three month chiefdom isolation order caused some people to just abandon farms and businesses. Others lost some of their harvest when seasonal laborers fled the chiefdom.

Prices for food, fuel and staples at the same time increased 30%. Feeding their families is now the priority. Things like sending kids to school is a luxury for many.

Bumpeh chiefdom has enough food to avoid starvation.  But the poorest families rely on cheap starchy foods like rice and yams. Not a balanced diet. This can cause developmental problems over time in small children like stunting.

Sierra Leone had the highest maternity and under-five mortality rates in the world even before Ebola hit.  In 2012, free health care for pregnant and nursing mothers and children under five started to change this. But with health care overwhelmed by Ebola, families avoided clinics and hospitals.

IMG_0097Many more people have likely become ill or died of common untreated illnesses like malaria, dysentery and typhoid than from Ebola, especially small children. Women and babies died because pregnant women did not seek health care, or they were turned away by health care workers fearful of the Ebola risk. The UN Population Fund estimated the Ebola epidemic may have caused 120,000 maternal deaths in the 3 countries affected by Ebola by late October when Ebola had not yet peaked. Children are not being vaccinated against dangerous diseases like small pox. HIV goes undiagnosed or untreated.

Schools have been closed for seven months and more than 60% of the population is school age children. Keeping kids out of school will have a long term effect on the country’s development.  The longer teenagers stay out of school, the less likely they will return.

Teenaged girls are especially affected. Pregnancy rates climbed during the Ebola crisis with over 30% of schoolgirls estimated pregnant nationwide. Sierra Leone President Koroma is calling for pregnant girls and new mothers to come back to school and complete their education.

IMG-20150108-WA0001So is all lost in Sierra Leone? No! The people are resilient. The world development community learned hard lessons from Ebola on the importance of targeting local solutions and local leadership.  And Sierra Leone mobilized thousands of young people eager to help their country who stay connected with social media.

IMG_2005Sherbro Foundation goes back to our mission of supporting practical grassroots projects that quickly benefit the poorest people. Bumpeh Chiefdom’s Paramount Chief Caulker said his top two priorities now  are restoring income for hungry people and sending girls back to school. So we are helping them with two urgent programs for these.

The first is a vegetable growing program, so farmers can raise fast growing cash crops like peppers and quickly earn income again.

Our second urgent program is helping girls get back in secondary school.  School is slated to reopen April 14. The Sierra Leone government has a grant that will cover school fees this year for all secondary school children. But the $30 school uniform and school supplies will still be barriers for most poor families.

Sherbro Foundation’s goal this year is to buy school uniforms for 300 girls.

More on both these programs in future posts.

You don’t have to wait to help Bumpeh Chiefdom. You can donate now at www.sherbrofoundation.org/donate. Your money helps restore livelihoods and build self sufficiency.

Arlene Golembiewski
Executive Director

Ebola: When Culture Confronts Science

Ebola: When Culture Confronts Science

Respect people’s deeply seated cultural beliefs on things like burial during an emergency? Seek to understand and make some accommodation when the family is grief stricken and at their most vulnerable?

I’m posting a link to the second of National Geographic reporter Amy Maxmen’s articles on Ebola, people and culture.  This one gives a good overview of burial practices in Sierra Leone and why people have been so unwilling to give these up.  Even when confronted with the risk of death themselves.

Maxmen reports with both facts and sensitivity. Maybe it takes National Geographic and its long legacy of studying and reporting the world’s cultures to bring this kind of understanding behind the headline news.

Culture confronts Science  “The problem was that the people handling the intervention only looked at this as a health issue; they did not try to understand the cultural aspects of the epidemic.”

from National Geographic - adapting burial practices

from Nat’l Geographic – adapting burial practices. Start with prayers. Use white, the Muslim color of mourning.

Sierra Leone people are deeply spiritual, and there’s different tribes and subcultures. The escalating Ebola crisis was really about confronting cultural beliefs and changing unsafe behaviors. Outside health care and aid workers calling the shots came armed to fight Ebola only with science. There was no time for culture.

Yet for Sierra Leoneans, it was all about culture. With death – unexpected, tragic death – you automatically index to your most fundamental cultural beliefs.

When it became clear Ebola wasn’t ending quickly, respect and cultural accommodation finally came into play. The right things started to happen, and the Ebola epidemic started to decline. Families began to accept burial by strangers who had before seemed like anonymous body snatchers, throwing their loved ones in the back of a truck like trash. People started trusting health services more and calling for help.

Could this whole tragic episode have been shortened and lives saved with a different mindset?  Who knows. Read the whole National Geographic article and decide what you think.


Time to Get Girls Back in School

It’s time to send Sierra Leone girls back to school.  The Ebola crisis has kept schools closed for the 2014-15 school year.  Schools finally re-opened April 15 after being closed for nine long months.

Sherbro Foundation sent over 200 girls to school last academic year with our Girls’ Scholarship program. This year we want to send 300 girls back to school.

The longer kids stay out of school, the less likely they will come back.  Teen-aged girls in particular are a real casualty of the Ebola crisis.  Pregnancy rates have soared to over 30% nationwide  with girls being out of school.  Family incomes plummeted when Ebola forced markets to close and put districts under travel bans. Parents who previously found paying $25 annual school fees a hardship will now have more trouble than ever sending their daughters back to school.

final poster

Sherbro Foundation has been affected by the Ebola crisis, too.  Money we were collecting for our girls scholarship fund went to help Bumpeh Chiefdom fight their battle against Ebola.

We’re proud to have played a role in keeping Ebola out of Bumpeh Chiefdom. But now we have to start again raising money for girls’ scholarships. We want to get girls back in school as soon as they reopen.

The Sierra Leone government is paying school fees this year in a bid to return children to school. But that won’t be enough for most girls from poor families living on $1 a day. Sherbro Foundation scholarships will focus on buying $30 school uniforms that girls will wear for more than a year. We’re starting with girls moving from primary to secondary school

You can make a difference in the life of a Sierra Leone girl.  Send a girl back to school with a uniform for $30.

For the price of a Superbowl pizza, you can send a girl to school.   Please Donate Here.

“Investing in girls education may well be the highest-return investment available to the developing world.”  — the World Bank

Sierra Leone Schools to Reopen in March

No sooner did I post yesterday on schools opening in Guinea and Liberia, than the Sierra Leone government made their announcement.  They plan to re-open schools from in March.

Moyeamoh primary schoolIt’s no wonder the pressure has been on to get children back in school.  Students will have lost eight months of this school year come March.  The longer kids in Sierra Leone are out of school, the less likely they are to return. Especially teen age girls. I’ve seen various reports of the pregnancy rate for girls out of school rapidly rising in recent months.

When 60% of your population is under the age of 25 and out of school, you’re literally holding up the country’s development and future success.

Good news in the Ministry of Education’s announcement is the government will pay school fees for secondary school boys as well as for girls.  Their program to pay junior high school fees for girls was just getting off the ground before Ebola struck. This was to incentivize parents in keeping girls in school beyond primary grades.  Primary school is free.

With the big economic hit families have just taken with the Ebola crisis, the decision was made to pay secondary school fees for boys, too. It wasn’t made clear if this includes senior high students.

Most people outside Africa aren’t aware that public secondary schools across the continent are typically not free. Student fees pay for much of day to day operating expenses. For families living on $1 and $2 a day and with multiple children, $25 annual school fees are a big hit.

A large cast of government and donor players attended the yesterday’s announcement: ministers of Finance, Health, Education, Social Welfare, Energy, Water Resources, CEO of NERC and donor partners including US Embassy, CDC, Red Cross, World Vision, WFP, UNDP, WHO, UNICEF and DFID (UK Dept for Int’l Development).

Hopefully, this means promises on paying schools fees and providing sanitation services for schools will be kept and delivered promptly.

For the whole announcement, see the Sierra Leone State House website.

Arlene Golembiewski, SFSL executive Director


Connecting the Dots: Sierra Leone – US Shared History

Connecting the Dots: Sierra Leone – US Shared History

Today is Martin Luther King Day in the U.S. to honor Dr. King.  Soon it will be African American History month in February. When I think of these dates now, I think of the shared history between Sierra Leone and the U.S.

I thought I would repost an article I wrote last year. Click here: “Connecting the Dots: Sierra Leone – US  Shared History.”

Unloading rice to the threshing floor

Unloading rice harvest Bumpeh Chiefdom – Nov 2013

I sometimes ponder the events that would have taken place in Bumpeh Chiefdom where Sherbro Foundation works. It’s a coastal area involved in the slave trade long ago in the 18th century.

But I think about more than just the slave trade. I’m thinking again today about the deep connections between our two countries – connections most people have no knowledge of.  Last year I wrote:

When I now travel down the Bumpeh River and visit traditional rice farms and villages, I remain mindful that there is a special link between Americans and the people of Sierra Leone.  Our people are kin.  Whether black or white, our histories and cultures are inextricably linked.”

A number of African Americans who have tested their DNA have found they’re of Sierra Leone descent. DNA can be matched to various tribal group in Sierra Leone. I keep reading of more people, like Maya Angelou and Colin Powell who found they are DNA – Sierra Leoneans.

I hope when tourism resumes in Sierra Leone, more people will make a trip to Sierra Leone to learn about our shared history. People of all races will find it fascinating to learn about where and how this whole story started.

My own journey changed the way I think of our two countries today, not just in the past. We are connected – and should remember that.

From Ebola Hotspot to Zero

From Ebola hotspot to zero new cases. This isn’t a dream.  It’s reality today in a number of  parts of Sierra Leone.

The media was blasting news through December about a country out of control with rising Ebola numbers.  Yes, the capital Freetown and northern cities like Port Loko have had high levels of new cases making Sierra Leone now the hardest hit country in the Ebola epidemic. They also put the whole country at continued risk because people continue to travel between districts.

So, am I an optimist talking about zero? I drafted this story a week ago and hesitated to post it for concern people would think this is just wishful thinking.  It isn’t.  In the last month, numbers have been steadily coming down. The Sierra Leone Ministry of Health’s daily postings of new Ebola cases have gone from 72 cases per day December 1, to 55 cases per day December 24, to 29 cases January 2.  January 12  was 19 new cases – for the entire country.

Eight of 12 districts in the country have achieved zero new Ebola cases for varying lengths of time.

So, what’s going on? I’m in weekly phone contact with Bumpeh Chiefdom in Moyamba District. I hear what Paramount Chief Caulker and paramount chiefs around the country have been doing in the last month. “Christmas was canceled.” Instead chiefs and other local leaders visited all parts of their chiefdoms with the task of influencing those resident behaviors that have been so resistant to change. In Sierra Leone’s culture, it’s the chiefs who have the authority to give people the difficult expectations on Ebola, like no traditional burials with washing of dead bodies  And chiefs can hold their people accountable.  More on this in another post.

Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Hon. Diana Finda Konomanyi celebrates 42 days without Pujehun district recording a single new case of Ebola.

Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Hon. Diana Finda Konomanyi celebrates 42 days without Pujehun district recording a single new case of Ebola.

Today, many parts of Sierra Leone have learned how to control Ebola, and they have achieved zero new cases.  Quarantines are lifted after 21 days. To be declared “Ebola free,”  the magic number is zero new cases for 42 days.

Pujehun District was just declared the first Sierra Leone district Ebola free, now more than 42 days.  Pujehun is in the southeast corner, away from current outbreak areas.  They’ve only had 31 cases total to date. But they note they share a border with Liberia, and only their strict procedures have kept Ebola out of the district.

Kailahun and Kenema districts are the two original Ebola hotspots in the East where the disease first crossed over from Guinea. They both declared themselves with no new Ebola cases for 21 days or more. A few cases returned, but with fast reporting and treatment facilities available, they’ve been able to stop further spread. Five other districts are at or near zero for a number of days.

This Reuters story describes where Kailahun district is today and how they did it.  The last 21-day quarantine on a home was lifted on December 30.

Opening new check point between Bumpeh & Ribbi chiefdoms

Opening new check point between Bumpeh & Ribbi chiefdoms

Bumpeh Chiefdom, where Sherbro Foundation does its work in Moyamba District, lifted a 21 day quarantine last week, leaving them today with no Ebola cases.  They had gone more than 42 days Ebola free.  Then a family in the remote SW corner of the chiefdom crossed back and forth between Bumpeh and neighboring Ribbi chiefdom, carrying Ebola with them. It resulted in two deaths in early December in Bumpeh Chiefdom, and more in Ribbi Chiefdom.

The village homes involved were quarantined. New chiefdom led check points were set up to stop movement between the chiefdoms with 24/7 monitoring .  Bumpeh Chiefdom’s Paramount Chief Caulker had no choice but to arrest and fine the Section chief and village chief involved for not reporting these Ebola cases.

This was the first instance in the country of chiefs being arrested for not carrying out their duties under the new Ebola by-laws.  They’re subject to six months imprisonment. It’s this kind of strict accountability that will stamp out Ebola.

It’s now been about 21 days and surprisingly, no new Ebola cases came out of the Bumpeh Chiefdom village quarantine.  Chief Caulker speculated that perhaps all the earlier sensitization training paid off. Perhaps villagers involved in the burial understood they could become infected and improvised ways to protect themselves.


“In two months, we’ll ensure Ebola becomes a thing of the past”

“In two months, we’ll ensure Ebola becomes a thing of the past”

Here’s one of the most under-reported stories in Sierra Leone’s Ebola saga – and potentially one of the most impactful.

“The chairman of the Council of Paramount Chiefs, PC Charles Caulker has said that within the next two months [paramount chiefs] will ensure that Ebola will become a thing of the past.

“He made this statement at a meeting with the Deputy Minister of Local Government …. at the Bo District Council Hall on December 3.” (ExpoTimes – Dec 6)

Chief Caulker (blue sports suit) inspecting chiefdom checkpoint.

Chief Caulker (blue sports suit) inspecting chiefdom checkpoint.

How can Chief Caulker make such a bold statement?  He can because he has done just this in his own Bumpeh Chiefdom. He’s sustained no new Ebola cases now for nearly 60 days, despite Ebola present all around in neighboring chiefdoms. 

Why have more paramount chiefs not had a greater impact to date in eliminating Ebola? A clear game plan was needed describing the few high impact activities to control Ebola. The chiefs have pooled their collective experience in facing Ebola and defined this plan through the National Council of Paramount Chiefs (NCPC). They call it “Breaking the Chain of Ebola Transmission.” The plan leverages the chiefs’ unique responsibilities and local authority at the village and neighborhood level to stop the virus from being transmitted person to person.

The other gap has been lack of funding to implement the necessary activities in all chiefdoms.  On December 3, the government finally addressed this with $1.2 million in funding for the 149 chiefdoms across the country provided by the World Health Organization.

The Spectator newspaper reported: “The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC), Major (Rtd.) Alfred Paola Conteh, on Wednesday 3rd December, 2014, disclosed that US$1.2 million has been sourced by his office for the 149 Paramount Chiefs in the country. … the CEO maintained that Paramount Chiefs are very instrumental in the fight against Ebola.

The money, according to Major (Rtd.) Alfred Paolo Conteh, is meant to get the Paramount Chiefs up and running in their continued fight against the Ebola disease …”

The National Council of Paramount Chiefs (NCPC) Chief Caulker leads developed a concept paper that outlined steps he and other paramount chiefs have used to keep Ebola out of their chiefdoms. The paper serves as a template for each chiefdom to enact byelaws on this chiefdoms use as their local “law.”

Bumpeh Chiefdom launches Ebola program.

Bumpeh Chiefdom launches their Breaking-the-Chain-of Transmission program.

The NCPC used the paper to co-author a “Breaking the Chain of Ebola Transmission” document with the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD). Changing long held beliefs and customs on burials and caring for the sick has stymied ending the Ebola epidemic.  MLGRD Minister Diana Konomanyi-Kabba said, “solutions to end Ebola need to be fashioned out of and implemented within the framework of local leadership.” (Awareness Times)

In a second meeting last week in Kenema launching this initiative, the Kenema mayor declared Ebola eliminated from Kenema District. Two months ago Kenema city was plastered in the news as one of two early epicenters out of control, with hospitals overflowing and bodies in the street.  Mayor Keifala said, “they had encouraged local authorities to form taskforces in their respective chiefdoms to coordinate activities for the eradication of Ebola.” Politico – December 6

Deputy Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Hadiru Kalokoh, who came to Kenema to launch the paramount chiefs’ project there said, “his government recognised the role of Paramount Chiefs in ensuring development in their localities. He said the president was convinced that the chiefs were the answer to the fight against Ebola.

What will paramount chiefs actually do to eradicate Ebola from their chiefdoms? They are leading a four-prong approach:

  1. Daily door-to-door home visitations by village headmen to check for sick people and isolate them from the rest of the village. Immediate calls to district health teams will initiate Ebola testing to confirm and move cases for treatment.
  2. Safe burial procedures with immediate reporting of all deaths to chiefdom authorities. Paramount Chiefs have the authority to take custody of dead bodies in their chiefdom and ensure Ebola testing and safe burial teams are arranged.
  3. Checkpoints at chiefdom borders manned 24/7 to monitor all movement in and out, and turn away people who are not residents or who appear sick. Checkpoints are strategically placed for vehicle, river and foot traffic.
  4. Continuing sensitization of residents to reinforce Ebola symptoms and actions to protect themselves.
Bumpeh Chiefdom volunteers educate in small villages.

Bumpeh Chiefdom volunteers educate in small villages.

$1.2 million for this program may sound like a lot of money.  But divided among 149 chiefdoms, it averages only $8000 per chiefdom.  This is far less to achieve far more than funding for large NGO programs to “sensitize” the population.  Short one-time visits to towns and villages by NGO staff unfamiliar with the people will not change deep seated behaviors. Many inaccessible villages will be missed.

The paramount chiefs’ plan will not alone be the silver bullet to end Ebola. It has to work in concert with government services to isolate, transport and treat Ebola cases. More hospital beds are still needed. But it’s a major component that’s been missing to date. With Ebola so widespread across the country, a systematic way to identify any and all sick people and dead bodies, and immediately isolate them from the rest of the community has been needed. It’s also the most effective way to influence safe behaviors  countrywide using known and trusted community leaders and repeated contact.

This is why the chiefs call their plan “breaking the chain of transmission.” It goes to the source of the problem at the community level and stops further transmission.  Ebola started locally in a village. It will only end with comprehensive local action.

With Ebola now raging in urban centers in the west and north, the whole country remain at-risk. I asked Chief Caulker what can be done to control these areas. Handle them in the same way as a chiefdom, he said.

Divide a city like Freetown into sections and assign responsible section leaders to coordinate activities like chiefdom section chiefs. Further divide sections into neighborhoods for village equivalents. Use neighborhood leaders to do the daily home visitations and respond to suspected Ebola cases and deaths.

Sounds simple.  But it’s simple, strategic plans that usually works.  Chief Caulker, other Paramount Chiefs and Kenema District have shown what does works. With traditional leaders now fully engaged and funded, a major proven strategy is moving into place. Hopefully, the country can soon call Ebola a thing of past.

Sherbro Foundation is proud to have provided early funding for Chief Caulker’s Bumpeh Chiefdom Ebola program. It saved lives and allowed them to demonstrate the program’s effectiveness.

Arlene Golembiewski
Executive Director, Sherbro Foundation





P.C. Caulker interviewed on role of chiefs in Ebola crisis

Paramount Chief Caulker of Bumpeh Chiefdom talks about being a chief and their role during the Ebola crisis. As leader of the National Council of Paramount Chiefs in Sierra Leone, Chief Caulker was interviewed by Radio France Internationale.  Read the transcript here. 

Paramount Chief Charles Caulker

Paramount Chief Charles Caulker

Most Westerners don’t understand paramount chiefs are distinct from the Sierra Leone government.  They’re a separate form of governance that represents every Sierra Leone resident in every part of the country, and pre-dates colonial rule. They deal with local affairs and are the first level of action in addressing resident safety, including in time of disasters.  In a rural country with difficult roads and many remote villages, paramount chiefs are the first and often the only authority figure their residents will encounter.  Their role is critical for something like the current Ebola crisis.

Chiefdoms enact byelaws to document the customs and practices of the area. Two sets of byelaws on the paramount chief’s role in addressing the Ebola crisis were defined in recent months.  President Koroma has been admonishing paramount chiefs of late to fulfill their role in breaking the chain of Ebola transmission, as defined in the byelaws.  Chief Caulker discusses in the interview the need for adequate resources if chiefs are to deliver this role.

It’s working – No More Ebola Cases in Bumpeh Chiefdom!

December 8th Update:  55 Days & counting  –  No new Ebola Cases!

Chiefdom Ebola Task Force is doing a fantastic job – but they need our continued support.

There are no more Ebola cases in Bumpeh Chiefdom since they embarked on their Breaking-the-Chain-of-Transmission program  October 22nd. Even though they earlier lost 21 people to Ebola and the epidemic rages around them.

Setting up check point.

Setting up check point.

What’s changed? The single biggest intervention is rigorously managed checkpoints at the main roads to stop “strangers” from entering the chiefdom and carrying Ebola with them.  Village chiefs are the next level of defense going door to door daily to verify no one has taken ill and there are no unexpected visitors.  Reporting is real time with cell phones.

Imagine if every chiefdom in Sierra Leone mounted this kind of systematic offensive to identify and isolate Ebola cases for even 21 days.  It would literally break the chain of Ebola transmission and the outbreak would be on its way out.   Read the whole story here.

Sherbro Foundation continues to support Bumpeh Chiefdom in their Breaking-the-Chain-of- Ebola-Transmission program.  Without our donations, they could not have launched this comprehensive effort.

You can make a difference and help eliminate Ebola, too.  Join us and donate at www.sherbrofoundation.org/donate. We need your help to keep this effort going for the coming months.

You’ll know exactly where your money goes, and that it’s actually working to stop the spread of Ebola.

Bonus: 100% goes directly to the chiefdom Ebola program. Every penny. We’re an all-volunteer organization and our small administrative costs are paid by a separate donation.

2nd Bonus: It’s tax deductible for US residents. Sherbro Foundation is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization.

Help us even more – forward this to a friend.

Ebola – how life is unnecessarily lost

Oct 4  Sad update to this story: everyone, save three small children, in the three quarantined houses have contracted Ebola and passed away. 14 adults and the 17-yr old girl pictured here. The 3 children have reached the 21 day point with no symptoms, and are being released.

I was shocked to hear that all of Moyamba District was put under an Ebola isolation order last week, and Bumpeh Chiefdom was further isolated within the district. And worried about the welfare of my friends in Bumpeh Chiefdom where Sherbro Foundation does our work.

I soon learned more that shocked me, more than four months into the second and more rapidly growing wave of Ebola in Sierra Leone. My heart aches for these people so far away, and there’s so little we can do from here. But one important action is helping.

After a three-day national shutdown to try to contain Ebola cases, it may have seemed that the cities were starting to get a grip on the deadly virus, which is spread by contact with bodily fluids.

But there’s still no full logistical plan nor Ebola-equipped health care in rural areas –the majority of the country — to manage cases in new Ebola hot spots. What are the practical next steps, when there are so few resources, when there are so many obstacles in a subsistence society?

17-yr old gives birth aloneIsolation and quarantine are the government orders. But with no further plan and coordination of services, avoidable Ebola cases can happen — and more unnecessary deaths.

This 17-year old girl is another kind of Ebola victim.

Pregnant with her first baby and quarantined in a village just outside Rotifunk, she got no prenatal care in her last weeks. When the baby came, she was left to deliver on her own. Even her own mother was afraid to come to assist. The baby was stillborn. The young mother got no assistance to ensure the placenta was fully removed and she had no complications. She remains untended in quarantine.

“If there had been the opportunity of suing the state to court, I should have been the first person to do that,” Rotifunk Ebola task force team leader Ben Alpha’n Mansaray said via Facebook.

“Once you are quarantine, you are sentenced to death. They need care! They need hope!”

About 1.2 million people in the country are now under isolation orders in the Sierra Leone government’s efforts to stop the spread of the disease. Isolation means a cluster of new Ebola cases occurred, requiring a more drastic measure.  People can move around within the isolated area, but no one can come in or go out. Individual homes are quarantined to further isolate new cases.

Alpha Mansaray delivers hand washing stations and Ebola prevention message to villagers.

Alpha Mansaray delivers hand washing stations and Ebola prevention message to villagers.

Quick action by Bumpeh Chiefdom’s Paramount Chief Charles Caulker to quarantine contacts of the first Ebola case in early September has kept the disease contained to a small village on the outskirts of Rotifunk. Rotifunk itself, seat of the chiefdom of 40,000, remains safe.

Ten days ago, the dreaded virus emerged in new cases among the quarantined people. Eight people total have died, and two early cases made it to a treatment center.

Quarantine sounds like a straight-forward measure. You restrict people to their house who may have been exposed, and wait through the 21-day incubation period to see if they develop the disease. But in an impoverished rural area like Rotifunk, the logistics are anything but simple.

They are nightmarish.

  • There’s no local holding center to isolate new Ebola cases from those not sick until they can be carried to a treatment center. In close quarters of a quarantined house, the sick can quickly infect those not sick.
  • The few Ebola treatment centers (only in far-off cities) and ambulance service are beyond overloaded. Rotifunk made repeated calls for five days and got no response. With no Ebola-equipped local health care, the sick are left on their own. No one comes near. The sick only got sicker.  Three died waiting for an ambulance to arrive.  Three others made it to the district capital holding center — two hours to go only 17 miles on a pothole ridden dirt road  — but died waiting for a bed opening up in a treatment center.
  • Inexperienced ambulance teams that did finally appear are fearful even with some protective equipment, and wouldn’t assist Ebola patients into the ambulance. If sick patients could drag themselves 25 feet and climb in on their own, they were taken to a holding center. If not, they were left to die at the quarantine house.  One man died the following day.
  • People in quarantine have great difficulty getting adequate food or daily clean water. These are people who rely on their daily labor to buy their daily food. Some are lucky when family or friends send food. Others are at the mercy of generous local residents.
  • Water is especially important to keep the sick hydrated. When a water container is used in quarantine, it must be considered contaminated. Disposables are unheard of. If the quarantined are near a river, they can collect their own water. If not, they wait for a Good Samaritan to bring water and pour it into their container left outside.
  • Other medical emergencies like malaria, typhoid, maternity cases or increasingly common chronic conditions like hypertension get no care in quarantine – resulting in unnecessary complications or deaths.

When new Ebola cases appear in a quarantined house, the 21-day quarantine clock starts again for those showing no Ebola symptoms.  They could end up in quarantine for five, six or more weeks. When left in the same infected house, their likelihood of getting Ebola only grows.

The central government Health Service orders there be no movement of people under quarantine. Security (army or police) are stationed to enforce this. No safe houses have been provided despite repeated reports of Rotifunk’s situation. Some well people, like this pregnant girl, moved to an outdoor bathhouse (just concrete) in an effort to protect themselves while waiting out the remainder of their quarantine.

Bumpeh Chiefdom’s  isolation order came last week without notice, separating parent from children, farmer from fields needing planting, family from breadwinner who went to market and has the only money or food to feed the others.

When I read of whole villages being decimated by Ebola, I can now better understand why. Quarantine can lead to the sick quickly infecting those not sick with nowhere to go. Villages may self-impose quarantine to isolate the sick. With sick people and no indoor plumbing or easy to access water, houses quickly become filthy. Disease spreads. Mothers delivering babies and small children with malaria get no medical care.

How can this awful situation be improved?  One simple solution is to build temporary makeshift huts and pit latrines as local Ebola holding centers, to separate those becoming sick until they can be moved for treatment. With very minimal funding, these could be locally built. But they’re not forthcoming. Ambulance service calls need to be coordinated, and drivers trained and held accountable for delivering patients.

There is something important we in other countries can do: Help to buy simple hand-washing stations for Bumpeh ChiefdomSherbro Foundation paid for 200 such plastic stations and disinfectant in August. Forty stations were set up in public places around Rotifunk in one week.  160 more followed for chiefdom villages in August.  Chief Caulker said, “These have been very, very effective. You see them constantly in use with people washing their hands throughout the day.”

Chief Caulker would like 200 more hand-washing stations to supply remaining villages. Villagers get Ebola sensitization training and weekly reminders from Rotifunk volunteers on the importance of frequent washing to prevent Ebola and other diseases like cholera, typhoid and dysentery. Behaviors on personal hygiene and sanitation are changing.

Sherbro Foundation works directly with the Bumpeh Chiefdom Ebola task force to quickly send all donated dollars so they can buy these life-saving supplies. Please consider donating right now!  $20 buys one hand-washing station and two bottles of disinfectant.  Donate online here.

Nothing is easy about managing the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. But coordination and common-sense local solutions could help. When coordination between the central Sierra Leone government and rural traditional leaders during emergencies is missing, key opportunities are lost.

Innocent people are the losers when critical decisions aren’t made quickly. It means unnecessary and tragic loss of life.

Rotifunk’s Computer Center: building their future

Rotifunk’s Computer Center: building their future

Rotifunk’s Community Computer Center structure is now completely up.  Latest pictures are below.  See more of the full construction story here and read about plans for the computing center here.

September 16: The building’s exterior is finished with window frames in place. Ready to paint.

computer ctr sept 16 4     computer ctr sept 16








computer ctr sept 16 3Work on the interior now proceeds.  We did a quick lighting and computer use plan 2 weeks ago to devise the electrical wiring plan. An electrician got to work on wiring so the interior finishing with wall plastering can proceed.  The drop ceiling is now in.






Compare with these pictures taken  June 24 a week after work initially started on from a burned out building shell.Computer Lab 2

Computer Lab 3






September 1: Rotifunk’s first Ebola cases appear in town.  Five deaths and 35 quarantined in five houses.  But the computer center construction proceeds on schedule.

August 25:  The roof is up on Rotifunk’s community computing center.  Ebola is not slowing down work on this center full of hope for the future.

10634313_720411201361353_1073541016_nThis (now) ugly baby will be beautiful as they plaster the walls and add a coat of paint.

Work has gone on in spite of August being the peak of the rain season. Remember 2011 when here in Cincinnati we got 73″ rain for the year and called it an all time record year. The average rainfall for the month of August alone  in Sierra Leone is 42″.  Throw in July and there’s 73″.

The next stage is raising funds for a solar energy system so the computing center can operate into the evening with classes and community computer access. They’ll offer small business services, too, like typing and copying for those without computers or printers.

unnamed 5

unnamed 2












Imagine if you didn’t exist

Imagine if you didn’t exist

Imagine if you didn’t exist. No, it’s not a paradox. For millions of children around the world – including in Sierra Leone – their births were never recorded. Technically, they don’t exist. They’re invisible to their own governments.

IMG_0428.JPGSierra Leone is highly rural. Most live in small, hard to access villages, where there is no government birth registration.

Babies are only registered when born in government run hospitals in cities and a few district capital towns.

Most rural babies are born at home, or maybe in a small government health clinic without authority to register births.

Parents can later apply for a birth certificate, but will cost money they don’t have.

Bumpeh Chiefdom is changing this scenario with its own system to record births managed by CCET-SL 

Paramount Chief Charles Caulker set up recorders to regularly collect birth and death records in every section of the chiefdom.

Birth rights are important in Sierra Leone where most earn their livelihood by farming. Land is not personally owned. It can’t be bought and sold. It belongs communally to a chiefdom. You receive rights to use family assigned land – if you can prove your place of birth and that of your parents.

Birth registration also establishes citizenship, and access to critical services, like free health care for newborn mothers and children under five.

With no public transportation system, traveling to remote villages was initially a problem for the new birth recorders.  Some cover 18 villages miles apart.


Now the recorders ride – thanks to a global grant from the Rotary International Foundation and 7 Rotary Clubs, led by the Ann Arbor Club.

Rotary Clubs funded bicycles for 13 chiefdom recorders and their training workshop. They also paid for printing affidavits signed by the chief for the estimated 1200 babies born in a year. Parents can use this official record to obtain their baby’s legal birth certificate.

IMG-20170729-WA0002 Alicious Brewa CHO (2)The chiefdom cooperates with the government to collect information needed to secure government birth certificates for newborns.

The head government health representative, the Community Health Officer (CHO), helped train the birth and death recorders on required information.

Left, CCET Executive Director Rosaline Kaimbay and CHO Alicious Brewa conducted birth recorder training.


Now the birth recorders can cover the entire chiefdom and newborns are not “lost.” Babies are also enrolled in the chiefdom’s program for families to grow “baby trees” – fruit trees that can help feed the family and earn extra income. More on that in another post.