Unbeatable. Unstoppable.

Arlene’s House. Unbeatable. My name was emblazoned on banners and T-shirts for a school sports meet in Rotifunk, Bumpeh Chiefdom.

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I was honored to have one of four Bumpeh Academy houses organized for the meet named after me. It’s really for all you Sherbro Foundation supporters who have helped send their girls to school with scholarships for the last five years.

IMG-20190413-WA0002School sports meets are a huge deal across Sierra Leone, but especially in rural towns like Rotifunk with little to entertain and amuse. Students march onto the sports field in brightly colored T-shirts for their house’s color, while a DJ blasts out music with massive speakers (thanks to a generator for power).

IMG-20190414-WA0006Announcers calls out the competitors in their various track & field events and give the volleyball play-by-play account. Winners in individual events get certificates. Houses will parade around town with trophies boasting of their overall meet results.

The town turns out and throngs the field. Honored guests take seats under a palm palapa built for the event to escape the peak-of-the-dry-season sun beating down.

IMG-20190414-WA0003My colleagues from our partner CCET-SL turned out to support Arlene’s house. Each house comes with its own masked “devil,” a nod to their traditional societies. These devils compete in a wildly gyrating dance competition where spectators vote by tossing money in their basket.

I smiled when I saw the motto for Arlene’s house: Unbeatable. They strived to be unbeatable in this meet. I strive to be unstoppable. You’d best not undertake any serious mission in Sierra Leone if you give up when inevitable barriers throw you a curve.

Bumpeh Academy knows about being unstoppable. Until this year, this school taught half its classes in classrooms without four walls. Some with dirt floors. They used our school fee scholarship money year by year to buy zinc for a roof and cement to make block bricks for classroom walls. In my recent February visit, I saw at least three walls around each of their six classrooms, and the fourth started.

But Bumpeh Academy is also the school that got the best 2018 senior high entrance exam results in three adjoining chiefdoms. And in February, they became the first Bumpeh Chiefdom school to become government approved to teach at the senior high level since before their rebel war began over 25 years ago.

Unbeatable. Unstoppable. Set your goal and be relentless until you meet it. This is how you achieve in Sierra Leone.

Congratulations, Bumpeh Academy, on this weekend’s sports meet – and on all you’ve achieved.

— Arlene Golembiewski

Come celebrate six years in Sierra Leone

No fooling,  it’s Sherbro Foundation’s sixth anniversary!

Join us April 4 at 7 pm in Cincinnati to hear all we’ve accomplished with our Sierra Leone partner CCET – and where we’re going next.

Screenshot (29)One program in 2013 has grown to six today, and they’re expanding.

I’m just back from five weeks in Sierra Leone with lots of good news to share. 

Pass this on and feel free to bring friends.

Hope to see you there:

Church of the Redeemer 
2944 Erie Ave. at Paxton
Cincinnati OH 45208

—– Arlene Golembiewski

How an Orchard Grows From a Swamp

“Grow vegetables in a swamp.”

That was the advice from our Sierra Leone partner CCET’s new agriculture manager. After one meeting, I quickly saw this was the voice of experience. Practical experience.

Ibrahim Rogers listened closely to our plan for expanding CCET’s Orchards for Education Program from 30 to 45 acres in 2019.

20190119_183930 (3)Our goal is for the orchards to produce annual income to run CCET’s education programs. In the meantime, we need annual crops to fund orchard operations until fruit trees mature and begin producing a few years from now.

“Vegetables will bring the most money in the shortest time,” Mr. Rogers said. “If you have water you can grow most anything and produce two and three crops a year.”

Mr. Rogers came to us from the Ministry of Agriculture in Moyamba District with more than 25 years of experience.

He’s a man who likes to be in the field. He’s passionate about growing things and using organic methods. We were soon talking about making our own compost (a four foot pit was quickly dug), and using neem as a natural pesticide. All music to my life-long gardener’s ears.

But first we had to prepare our Inland Valley Swamp, or IVS, and start vegetables. The growing season was in full swing when I was there in January – February, so we jumped in. With Mr. Rogers’ direction, the project broke ground on January 29, and in three days, the transformation was amazing.

Paramount Chief Charles Caulker, CCET board chairman, above left, stands in front of a three acre rice field with last year’s cut-back stalks.  Three days later, it was transformed into a sea of raised beds. Our Inland Valley Swamp was half the size of a football field and not yet finished.

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Thirty village men came, bringing mammoth hoes used make these raised beds. In an area with no mechanized farming, it’s an annual routine to manually turn over every field and the remains of the previous season’s harvest. They cut a swath of decaying plants with the hoe’s edge; then lift and pile it in front of them, making raised beds as they go.

Water pooled in the trenches they left. Even as the dry season progresses, the water table in the swamp is high and the beds stay moist. Later, a berm will surround the field and a small dam built to control the flow of water.

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This isn’t a stagnant swamp. It’s the flood plain of the small river snaking through Rotifunk that later enters the Bumpeh River. It’s black soil, fertile with silt carried as the river swells and floods in the rainy season. It’s further enriched by turning over the remains of many rice crops – all composting in place.

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I smiled to see men using their big hoes as stools to sit on while eating on break.

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This rural area is strictly a cash economy, and the people illiterate. Almost none of the workers can sign their names.

To keep project payment records, men “sign” to receive their wages at the worksite with thumbprints.

 

Now it was the women’s turn to take over. One of our standing objectives is to create employment for women in Bumpeh Chiefdom, especially for illiterate, unskilled women with no prospects for wage-earning jobs. 

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Women are the traditional vegetable growers. With patience and an eye for details, they’re the ones to transplant and care for tender young vegetable seedlings. Twenty women were brought in for the IVS project.

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First, they worked compost into the beds in circular “pots” to receive seedlings. We started with peppers, a high yielding and profitable vegetable crop. Mr. Rogers had the women transplant young pepper seedlings at 4 pm in the afternoon to avoid the hot sun. They watered in each seedling from buckets of water collected at shallow pit wells that quickly fill up in this swampy field.

20190211_170919 (2)The women were happy to receive wages for their labor.

When they came to collect their pay, they were overheard laughing, “We never went to school, and now we’re being paid, like government workers.”

It’s hard to fathom that in 2019, Sierra Leone is a country where rural areas still have almost no wage-paying jobs.

 

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Women will continue to water and weed the Inland Valley Swamp, and then harvest the vegetables. Okra and onions have now been added. Peppers and okra can be picked more than once from the same plant. Next year, we’ll start earlier and harvest at least two crops.

By May, the first rains start. One hundred thirty inches of monsoon rain will fall here between June and November, beating down and washing out the raised beds just made. That’s the rice growing time, and the IVS will revert to a rice swamp again.

Come December, it will be time to prepare new raised beds again for vegetable growing. That’s the cycle of life in Bumpeh Chiefdom.

And now, the cycle of growing an orchard from a swamp has begun. Combined, the long term income to educate Bumpeh Chiefdom children is also on its way.

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

 

 

Come celebrate our 6th anniversary

Come celebrate our 6th anniversary

This week is Sherbro Foundation’s sixth anniversary!

I’m just back from five weeks in Sierra Leone. One program in 2013 has grown to six today, and they’re expanding.

Join us April 4 at 7 pm in Cincinnati to hear all we’ve accomplished with our Sierra Leone partner CCET – and where we’re going next.

This isn’t a fundraiser. We just want to share all our good news with you. Pass this on and feel free to bring friends. Hope to see you there.

—– Arlene Golembiewski

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Don’t Just Celebrate Women Today. Hire them.

Don’t Just Celebrate Women Today. Hire them.

Everywhere I turn today, women are being “celebrated” on International Women’s Day. Skipping this advertising opportunity would be a conspicuous absence for retailers and marketers.

Meanwhile, we’re hiring women. One of the best ways to celebrate Sierra Leone women is to give them the chance to earn actual wages for their labor – still uncommon in most of the country.

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The Inland Valley Swamp (IVS) project (above) we just helped our partner CCET start is growing vegetables. It hires women to care for tender young vegetable seedlings in raised beds built in a wetland area. It’s one of the only wage-paying job opportunities for these women who missed the chance for an education.

I’m hearing today women’s wages globally average sixty-three percent that of men. We pay 100%. The daily wage for these Rotifunk women workers is the same as wages for men workers.

The other way we’re celebrating Sierra Leone women is helping them grow their own peanuts. The Women’s Vegetable Growing project gives women a head start on becoming small farm entrepreneurs.

To celebrate women around the world, give them economic empowerment.  Everyone wins. What bigger boost to the economy is there than half the population producing to their full potential?

 

Sending Children to School with Fruit

So many things to show from my Sierra Leone trip last month. Where to start? Here’s where we started our Orchards for Education work with Mike’s Orchard – the first one we planted in 2016 for our dear Peace Corps friend we lost a few years ago.

Bumpeh Chiefdom Paramount Chief Caulker, above, shows one of over 1000 pineapples planted in the rains of July 2016 that are doing well and starting to sporadically fruit.

It was in 2016 we decided with our Sierra Leone partner CCET-SL to start planting fruit orchards as a means of creating sustainable income to run their education programs for Bumpeh Chiefdom. Chief Caulker doesn’t want to keep asking donors to pay for scholarships for girls to go to secondary school, and now to college. We want to keep running the new Tutoring program that prepares students for their senior high and college entrance exams without hand-out’s.

As a rural agricultural area, starting fruit orchards became our plan. It’s a long-term strategy and requires work to carve them out of wild bush and get fruit trees established. But then they reliably produce fruit and income for years to come. We’ve added short term crops to fill in between trees, like pineapple, cassava, peanuts and corn.

The Sherbro Foundation Board stepped in to start the Mike Orchard ourselves, in recognition of our Peace Corps friend Mike and all he did for Sierra Leone over 35 years during and after he left the Peace Corps. You must clear land and plant in Sierra Leone in synch with the rainy season. Or wait another year. So we decided in short order in 2016 to just get started with eleven acres Chief provided near his family farm.

Since then, Orchards for Education is blossoming into another 45 acres, all planted for children’s education in Bumpeh Chiefdom. More on that later.

For now, our first effort is bearing fruit. Literally. Not enough to earn real income this year, but we’re on our way. Watch over us, Mike. The next year should be a good year.