How Do You Keep Coronavirus Out of Rural Sierra Leone

How Do You Keep Coronavirus Out of Rural Sierra Leone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you so much!

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG-20200422-WA0009 (4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

We deeply appreciate your help. Thank you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1871 (2)

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

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

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

IMG-20200415-WA0000 (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director
COVID-19: What About Sierra Leone? Sherbro Foundation’s Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

w1240-p16x9-Pres. Bio at Covid-19 Press conference (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

bio-lung1-400x240

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2624 (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

20180709_093626 (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

 

Still Good News in the World

Still Good News in the World

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

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

IMG-20200119-WA0017

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2621 (2)

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

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

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

Peppers 3-6-19 (7)

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

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

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

IMG-20200209-WA0002

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20180709_095042 (2)

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

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

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

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

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

IMG-20200119-WA0015

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

20191220_191727 (2)

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

20191220_154208 (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20191220_175651 (3)

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

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

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

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

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

20191220_183721 (2)

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

 

20191220_190254

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

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

20191220_190631 (2)

20191220_190728

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

20191220_190917

 

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

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

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

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

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

– – Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

 

 

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

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

Screenshot (51)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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