Starting an orchard the traditional African way

Starting an orchard the traditional African way

Starting a new 15-acre orchard is big job anywhere. Starting an orchard this size the traditional way– reclaiming overgrown tropical bush with only manual labor — is huge.

The first priority for the Rotary grant is planting a new 15-acre “Baby Orchard.” This forward-thinking project will ensure Bumpeh Chiefdom children go to secondary school for years to come, with orchard income funding newborn baby education savings accounts. Hence the name, Baby Orchard.

IMG_2412.JPGWork is underway and on a tight schedule, as the annual rains started in May. Here’s the step by step process.

First, suitable land was acquired in February. You can’t purchase and own land outright in Sierra Leone. It belongs collectively to the people of a chiefdom. You get rights to rent land from the family who has traditional rights to using it.

Paramount Chief Caulker, left blue shirt, negotiated the land for the new orchard shown here from a family in the tiny village of Roponga, just outside Rotifunk.

It will be easily accessible and serve as a demonstration orchard for visitors. Chief said this extended family did a lot of work for his father fifty years ago. They’ll now be rewarded with rental income for the land and jobs working in the orchard for years to come.

The Roponga orchard land has been part of shifting agriculture, where land is farmed for two or three years, then left fallow when fertility drops. This land hasn’t been used for some years, and is considered “strong bush.” To not waste its fertility and to produce short-term income, annual crops of rice and peanuts were inter-planted with fruit trees seedlings.  With fruit trees spaced 25-30 feet apart for their eventual mature size, there’s plenty of room to raise other crops between them.

March 14 first Roponga clearing     vlcsnap-error685

The land was first manually “brushed” in March, the dry season. Dozens of men spent two weeks cutting back all the small trees, bushes and weeds they could with machetes. A guy with a chain saw followed, cutting down medium-sized trees. All was left to dry for 4 weeks.

Burning Mar 30 '17With no mechanized equipment to clear the land, it must be burned. This land dried well for a “good burn” in April. If farmers brush too late, or rain comes too early, they are not so lucky.

Chief sighed on the phone when I said people here will object to burning. “We’d be here for the rest of the year with a small army trying to remove all the trees and brush from 15 acres if we couldn’t burn,” he said. At least, for an orchard, it will only be burned once. Fruit trees once planted will be maintained for the next 25 years or more.

Mar 22 Mike's Orchard water well project 2A well was dug in April to reach the lowest dry season water level.  If you dig after the rains start, you won’t get deep enough, and will run out of water come next dry season. This well was dug by hand 7 or 8 meters deep — over 20 feet. A guy is down in the hole filling buckets with dirt and stones hoisted up with a chain over the strong bamboo frame. The well will be lined with concrete so it won’t collapse, and a hand pump installed to keep young tree seedlings watered during coming dry seasons.

IMG-20170430-WA0002Men cleared the orchard land again, using a chain saw to cut remaining small trees and tree limbs that didn’t burn.

Roponga orchard making charcoal 5-11-17Little goes to waste in Bumpeh Chiefdom. To make extra income for the orchard, these cut trees were collected to make charcoal. It’s an in-demand product in a country where the great majority of people still cook outside on wood or charcoal, even in cities. They produced 1,000 bags of charcoal that will offset costs to start the orchard.

Roponga orchard planting groundnuts 5-11-17 7 (2)

By mid-May, the orchard was finally ready to plant. Five acres of peanuts and five acres of rice were planted. This is back- breaking work, where the now bare soil is broken with small hand hoes. Peanut seed held in makeshift waist pouches is dropped in the soil and covered again as they go.

Planting rice May 24, '17 (2)

Upland rice followed, planted the same way.  The yield is less than rice planted in swamp water, but grows nonetheless in the area’s heavy monsoon rains peaking in July – August.

Within ten days, the peanuts and rice were germinating.  In five months, they’ll be ready to harvest.

june-14-4-2.jpgJune is tree planting time and coconut and fruit tree seedlings went in. 450 coconuts and 700 citrus and guava raised by the project from seed were planted.

The land is “pegged” with posts driven into the ground every 25 – 30 feet to space trees for their future mature canopies.

This is lowland tropical rainforest, where coconuts grow at their best. Within 5 years, they’ll be producing a bounty of coconuts.

L-R, Chief Caulker, CCET Managing Director Rosaline Kaimbay, Stalin Caulker and Kalilu Sannoh admire one of 450 coconuts just planted.

IMG_2225

Trees raised from seed in the nearby project tree nursery. Chief Caulker, above, stands among 5,000 orange seedlings planted for next year. Other trees like cashew and avocado will be added to the orchard, as well as banana and plantain.

Guava is like a large bush and fast growing. It will be producing fruit within 18 months of planting, and fruits twice a year. Banana and plantain will produce a year after planting, and keep sending out offshoots for year-round fruit. More short term income for the project.

Chief Caulker plans to use the program for demonstration, showing visitors how they, too, can start low-cost community-led projects. And grow their own way to a new future.

 

 

 

Save

Growing a Community’s Future benefits thousands

Growing a Community’s Future benefits thousands

Many will directly benefit from Growing a Community’s Future within the two-year Rotary grant period. But the real beauty of the program is its long-term and enduring benefits. It’s designed to enable the chiefdom to use its own resources and capabilities to grow a self-reliant future.

More than 3,000 people will be positively impacted through the Rotary Global Grant. The project will continue to generate results for years to come and improve many more lives.

In a chiefdom now 70% illiterate, educating children and moving to literacy is a major goal underpinning the entire project.

Roponga pegging orchard 6-13-17 (3)A Baby Orchard will fund newborn education savings accounts for 500 children annually. These accounts will grow to pay secondary school educations.

A variety of 1,200 fruit trees is being planted on 15 acres. In five years, the orchard will produce sustainable income, all going towards educating children.  Short-term crops — peanuts, rice and bananas — are also being planted for annual income while trees mature.

The orchard will keep producing fruit income for 20 years and more.

IMG_2562 (2)
Village Orchards
  Three villages averaging 300 people each, 900 people total, will grow commercial size community orchards.

These orchards will make villages self-reliant in funding their children’s educations and development projects that improve their quality of life. They can dig wells for clean drinking water, improve roads, build primary schools, etc. Orchards can in five years produce $12,000 in annual income year after year.

IMG-20170402-WA0001Women’s Vegetable Growing 170 women can double their incomes growing peanuts in 2017-18 and take steps to becoming small commercial growers. With families averaging five members, 850 people will be positively impacted with expanded income.

Women like Emma Sesay, in last year’s program, was able to stop taking high-interest loans to send her children to school and save seed to grow more peanuts this year.

IMG_2192Job Creation The grant creates 14 full-time jobs maintaining two baby orchards, a tree nursery and supervising all agriculture programs. These are the only wage- paying jobs in subsistence agriculture villages. With families of at least five, 70 lives will be significantly improved with steady income year round.

To sustain these jobs, orchards are growing short-term crops like rice, peanuts and pineapples for annual income. The tree nursery grows more than 15,000 fruit tree seedlings each year and sells some to private farmers to pay workers and grow next year’s seedlings.

DSC04587Birth Registration About 1,200 newborns will have their births registered each year and receive chiefdom affidavits.

This ensures their access to government services for documented citizens, including immunizations and free health care for children under five. It also provides chiefdom birthrights, like access to land. Outside of government hospitals in a few cities, there’s no other system to register births.

In addition, the program gives newborn parents three fruit tree seedlings to grow for income to fund their child’s education. The popular program renews an old tradition with a new goal, teaching parents they can save for their child’s future.

IMG_2394

Chiefdom Forest Reserves Seven forest reserves will be created ensuring chiefdom natural resources of land, drinking water and wildlife are protected today and flourish for future generations.

These will be the first locally protected reserves created in the country. Eventually 23 forest reserves will be created and protected through chiefdom by-laws.

Villages throughout the chiefdom will benefit from streams that maintain clean water and don’t dry up in the dry season, wildlife stock that expands and hardwood trees with economic value protected for future generations.

CCET also recognizes by planting and protecting trees – large tropical trees – they are doing their part to reduce global warming and fight climate change.

 

 

 

Save

Save

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.

IMG_4887 (2)

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

Motobang 5 (2)

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.”

Save

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.

vlcsnap-error035
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.

Do More Good Than You Can Imagine

Do More Good Than You Can Imagine

branchandbulb1‘Tis the Season
Give for Good!

Do more good than you can imagine – all year round.

women-veg-grow-nov-16-c

300 women are waiting.

You can give them their chance.

All donations welcome!

Read more: Women’s Vegetable Growing project

We’ll even double your gift. Twice the good!

Now how good does that feel?

Thank you!  Happy Holidays,

Letterhead

 

 

 

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

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

Save

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.

.img-20161025-wa0007  oct-24-2016-1st-adult-lit-uncle-stalin-teaching-2

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.