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?

 

Our Lives Have Been Transformed: Women Vegetables Growers

Our Lives Have Been Transformed: Women Vegetables Growers


“We are sure and proud that what is happening in Bumpeh Chiefdom is not happening in any other chiefdom.”

Before we reached the CCET Center to meet women from the Women’s Vegetable Growing project, we could hear them. Bumpeh Chiefdom women greet visitors with a welcome done in song. See video. (It may take a moment to load.) Their distinctive style with voices in harmony sounds like a minor key. They’re singing as one with syncopated clapping. You feel embraced by their warmth.

As we took our seats inside, the hall was thundering with the women’s song and clapping.

Their welcome song is one they sing among themselves while working as teams in each other’s gardens. They sang that if they are united and help each other, together, they will all individually benefit. There’s a Sherbro word for unity and working together: Lomthibul.

They gathered to thank us for helping them grow groundnuts (peanuts) in a project they say is not found in any other chiefdom.  

Started in 2015 as an Ebola relief effort, Women’s Vegetable Growing is now entering its fifth year. Sherbro Foundation funded it for three years, with Rotary Clubs stepping in last year.

The women are proud to be part of the program, as they should be. They receive a modest grant of two bushels of groundnut seed, a drying tarpaulin and a 100 lb. bag of rice. With that, they grow enough groundnuts to sell for income and keep seed for another harvest. For once, they have their own discretionary income they use to feed and care for their families.

In 2018, the program started supporting women for two harvests to give them a strong enough base to then keep planting and gain self-reliance.

As we sat together, their spokesperson Hawanatu Sesay (above) explained, income in this rural area is dependent on agriculture. “Our only means of survival is though agriculture.”

These were representatives of the last group of 106 women selected for the project because they’re mature and vulnerable. “Most of us are widows. Some lost their husbands, and other men are not able to work now; they’re too old. Some [don’t take] responsibility for our welfare.” Hawanatu herself is a widow. She has more education than most, dropping out of junior secondary school to marry when she became pregnant. Her husband died and left her with two young children. She depends on her garden for income to feed her children.

When women first join the project, Rosaline Kaimbay, director of CCET-SL (the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation) (above, right), explains the goal is to help them transform their own lives. They’re being helped with funding from Sherbro Foundation and now Rotary Clubs.

Today, the women told us, “Indeed, it’s a reality. Our lives have been transformed and we’re happy!”

They no longer need to rely on men to feed their families. “When we don’t have money, we take a few groundnuts [we grew] and sell them in the market and buy what we need to cook.”

“Before this time, ” Hawanatu continued, “our children were forced into early marriage because we don’t have much to give them. They go to school hungry. Because of this, they’re prone to getting boyfriends who give them money [and get them pregnant]. Now, we’re able to feed our children and they don’t get into early marriage.”

The women are also grateful to be beneficiaries of other CCET-SL programs. “You’ve given our children [in the girls scholarship program] uniforms and books. Through your help, some of our children are now at university with the college scholarships you’ve given them.”

“Through the efforts of CCET-SL and the Adult Literacy program (above), most of us are now able to sign our names. Before, we were unable to read the [school] results of our children. Now we can look at their [report card] and see whether they passed their exams or not.”

The women also appreciate their 9th grade children could participate in the after-school tutoring program preparing for them for the senior high entrance exam, the BECE. They saw their children being fed three times a day in the intensive study camp before the exam – while they only have money to feed once or twice a day. “Because you did this, most of our children passed their BECE exam and we’re grateful.” All these things “are a big lesson to us.”

By now, tears were rolling down my face as I recalled the dark days in early 2015 when Ebola was nearly over, but a 3-year economic crisis just starting. We asked Bumpeh Chiefdom’s Paramount Chief Charles Caulker what Sherbro Foundation could do to help. Fund women to grow vegetables as a quick way for them to earn income, he said. The women today rightfully said Chief Caulker is “the brains behind this program.”

Women’s Vegetable Growing has grown from the first group of 30 to 106 women last year. By investing in them with several programs, CCET-SL enables the women to focus on growing groundnuts and maximize the seed they save to grow another and larger next crop. Nearly 400 women in total have been supported to move towards self-reliance. With families of five and more, the community impact is significant.

The women are proud to also contribute to the success of the program. It’s become a tradition spontaneously started by the first group of grateful women growers that they donate some seed back to help the next group.

“Because we are united, that is why the groundnuts you’ve given us we’re able to reproduce them and help other women. We’re happy and proud to help other women.

When starting a new program, you hope it will be embraced by the community and beneficiaries helped in a measurable way. It’s a priceless reward to now hear these women as a group say their lives have been transformed.

Let me thank all who have supported Women’s Vegetable Growing over the years. I hope you, too, now feel rewarded by your generosity.

We hope to expand Women’s Vegetable Growing with new funding to help the most successful of these women entrepreneurs develop their gardens into small businesses. They can then hire workers, creating local wage-paying employment.

Women farmers have great potential to become a driver of local economic development. As they said, they are united.

—- Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

Eat. Pray. Learn.

Eat. Pray. Learn.

Come January, 63 girls will be starting on a path few Bumpeh Chiefdom girls ever reach. They’ll eagerly begin senior high school.

IMG-20180724-WA0006 (2)Girls in CCET’s tutoring program waiting to start their senior-high entrance exam.

Last January, our partner CCET started their first after-school tutoring program for 9th grade girls. Extra classes fill learning gaps schools can’t provide and help girls successfully pass their senior-high entrance exams — and be well prepared for senior-high learning.

Eighty-one girls from four local schools started the program, coming to 4 pm classes three days a week, including their first computer training. Seventy-five continued for 7 months, finishing in July just before the national exam.

img-20180722-wa0002.jpgWhy the title Eat. Pray. Learn?

Tutoring ended with a 3-week study “camp”, where girls lived 24/7 at CCET’s education center. They had intensive review, drilling on practice test questions, study time and generally got pumped up to take the exam together.  Students, left, in study camp evening classes.

Thanks to funding from the Beaman Family Fund, we were able to feed these young scholars three meals a day during the camp. Below, students take a lunch break outside.

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img-20180722-wa0003-2-e1544378321317.jpgAnd prayer in all faiths, left, is part of the camp day. At day’s end, tables were pushed to the side and girls spread out on the floor to sleep dormitory style.

The experience of living and studying together in a focused environment with the support of their teachers and peers – and good nourishment — helped push girls over the finish line for the exam.

We weren’t sure what to expect from the new Sierra Leone government on this year’s exam. The nature of the questions didn’t change, but they applied more rigorous exam monitoring and scoring. They are emphasizing improving education and eliminating corruption at all levels, including on national school exams. Exam results were reported in November.

Sixty-three passes among girls completing the tutoring program is very good. For perspective, only 120 girls in total were enrolled in all grades of senior high last year. So, these 63 girls will be a strong group of new 10th graders, prepared to thrive in senior high.

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On average, the girls in the tutoring program outperformed local schools as whole.

They also did better on average in math and science scores, areas targeted in tutoring classes, left.

 

img-20180606-wa0003-3.jpgWe especially want to congratulate Bumpeh Academy who had the highest exam results (all students, boys and girls) among schools in 3 adjoining chiefdoms.

Some of their classrooms lack four walls, yet they deliver good results.

Girls from the tutoring program, left, made up about half the school’s students taking the exam.

Girls from the tutoring program were also among the top positions for all local 9th graders taking the exam — both boys and girls. Congratulations to Hellen Bangura for coming in first of any Bumpeh Chiefdom student. Adama Mansaray of Walter Schutz Memorial Secondary School and Isatu Conteh of Bumpeh Academy were among those in second and third positions. You make us proud.

The tutoring program is one example of the education programs our partner CCET provides for the benefit of the whole community. Led by a former school principal and staffed with teachers, they do a great job of identifying needs and designing practical, low-cost solutions that maximize use of limited resources for students in all local schools.

Sherbro Foundation is helping CCET create a sustainable solution to keeping the girls scholarship and tutoring programs funded and improving into the future. Orchards for Education plants fruit trees, long-term income from fruit sales for CCET’s education programs.

Please consider an end-of-the-year gift and see it grow by 50%, matched through a Rotary Club grant! Help plant fruit trees and you’ll keep sending girls to school for years to come. Gifting by December 25 will help us meet Rotary’s deadline for the grant request.

Many thanks to all of you for supporting Bumpeh Chiefdom programs and making 2018 a blessed year. We’re grateful for your generosity and outpouring of support!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season,

— Arlene Golembiewski and the Sherbro Foundation Board of Directors: Chris Golembiewski, Cheryl Farmer and Steve Papelian

 

 

 

Sherbro Foundation Executive Director receives National Peace Corps Association’s 2018 Shriver Humanitarian award

Sherbro Foundation Executive Director receives National Peace Corps Association’s 2018 Shriver Humanitarian award

We’re proud to announce Sherbro Foundation Executive Director Arlene Golembiewski received the National Peace Corps Association’s 2018 Sargent Shriver Humanitarian award for her work in Sierra Leone.  The Shriver award is NPCA’s highest award for a returned Peace Crops volunteer and recognizes their continued public service.40137733_1958865257469111_4284494628134060032_n (2)Arlene received the Shriver award at the NPCA annual conference. L to R with Sherbro Foundation Board members: Chris Golembiewski, Arlene, Cheryl Farmer, Steve Papelian.

Arlene said of her award: “My early Peace Corps experience remains the foundation for everything I’ve done. This award really goes to Sherbro Foundation’s community partner, the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation, whose creative ideas and leadership have achieved so much. CCET hopes to encourage others on community-led rural development and share their examples. It’s been my privilege to work with them.”

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Arlene and Bumpeh Chiefdom’s Paramount Chief Charles Caulker, visiting with Emma, a participant in the Women’s Vegetable Growing project that helps women farmers move from subsistence to self-reliance.

 

 

 

For more on the award and Arlene’s work in Sierra Leone:  https://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/articles/announcing-the-2018-shriver-award-winner-arlene-golembiewski

Never Too Late to Return to School

Never Too Late to Return to School

Junneth is one of the most enthusiastic 10th graders you’ll meet. She confidently said she’ll pass to Sierra Leone’s 11th grade, and she just did.

Junneth is also a 27 year-old mother of three. She’s back in school again in Rotifunk’s Bumpeh Academy with a scholarship and uniform after a five-year absence.

Junneth had passed the senior high entrance exam years ago, but her single mother just couldn’t afford her school fees, and she had to drop out. She doesn’t know her father. Along the way, Junneth married, bore four children, and lost one.

Sherbro Foundation’s Girls Scholarship program makes it a priority to keep young women like Junneth from dropping out of school. We offer scholarships to advance them to senior high and on to graduation. At $25, it’s an incredible bargain.

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People tell me Junneth is one of the hardest working people they know. She gardens all around the house she lives in. Her landlady, above left, gave her a room rent-free because she works so hard to support herself and her children.

20180706_151933 (3)Junneth grows sweet potatoes, (left), corn, yams and eggplant to eat and to sell in the market for money to live on. You’ll see her in a nearby river after school catching fish to eat.

Her husband is an “unqualified” teacher in another town. He’s not credentialed to be paid by the government, so his income is meager. He has little to offer his family.

As time went on, Junneth became more and more motivated to return to school. “I don’t want to sit down and be a woman who be in the kitchen,” she told me. “If I don’t have education in my head, he [my husband] will leave me and go to another who has learned. So that give me the cause to return to school.”

20180706_152359_Moment(28)She explained, an educated woman can work and improve the community. People respect her. Men respect her. When a woman can earn a living and help the family, it helps her marriage. She said, “If I learn, I also [will] have something. He will give; I will also give.” A two-career couple is needed in Sierra Leone to move away from subsistence farming to a more middle class life, just as much as it’s needed in the US.

It also frustrated Junneth to watch many of her friends who completed high school do well with paying jobs. “Some of my sisters go to college. Some of them are teachers. Some are nurses right now… When I see them, I feel offended. I say, why? Some of them, I beat them [on the past senior high entrance exam].”

Junneth also knew that her children would fare better with an educated mother’s help. “When I learn, my children also learn.”

Last September, Junneth went to Rosaline Kaimbay, managing director of the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation, which administers Sherbro Foundation’s Girls’ Scholarship program. “I cry to her, please help me. And she did. I really appreciate it.”

20180706_152359_Moment(30)Mrs. Kaimbay arranged a scholarship, asked Bumpeh Academy to enroll Junneth in school and gave her a uniform. She became a proud 10th grade student, in her first year of senior high, picking up where she left off years before.

 “She’s doing very well,” Mrs. Kaimbay said proudly.

Her principal just confirmed that Junneth passed her first year despite her long absence, and is moving on to 11th grade. She’s become a role model for other girls in school – and for her children.

Junneth knows where she’s going.

“I want to do nursing. That is my plan.” 

My grandmother was a nurse and taught me many things. She called me, even during the night, when delivering a baby. I want to be higher than [my companions who are nurses] if I put my focus there.”  With a small hospital in Rotifunk and government health centers in villages around the area, there should be a job for Junneth when she’s ready.

Junneth’s story of determination to get an education despite the odds and life’s cruel detours is not unique. Many Sierra Leone senior high “girls” are really young women, 21 and 22 years of age or more by the time they graduate. Their educations were interrupted – maybe more than once – because their families couldn’t continue to pay. Often one or both parents died, became ill, left the home, or aged and stopped working.

Early marriage and children are the fate of too many young women forced to drop out like Junneth. Sherbro Foundation’s goal is to keep them in school, learning and preparing for careers where they can support their families and help develop their communities.

I’d say that’s a tremendous investment from a $25 scholarship. Paramount Chief Charles Caulker sends his thanks for everyone’s support in sending Bumpeh Chiefdom girls to school. Parents, he says, are taking advantage of the opportunity the Scholarship Program offers to educate their children.

“More girls here are learning and at a higher level than ever before.”

You can return Junneth to school in September and young women like her. Please help here: I’ll send a young woman to school. 

We’ll double your impact. Our matching funds are being claimed. But the Sherbro Foundation Board will match the next $4000 donated.

 Thank you!

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director 

Can $25 Be Life Changing? Send a Sierra Leone Girl to School.

Can $25 Be Life Changing? Send a Sierra Leone Girl to School.

Every girl in Sherbro Foundation’s Girls’ Scholarship Program — now more than 600 — has a story to tell. But even in this program for the neediest, Fatmata’s story is heart-wrenching.

We’re kicking off the 2018-19 Girls Scholarship drive, our sixth, with the story of one our first scholarship recipients and how $25 scholarships have changed her life.

Fatmata has received SFSL scholarships for four years, allowing her to finish the 9th grade at Bumpeh Academy. Soft spoken, Fatmata (white headscarf below) enthusiastically attends our partner CCET’s after-school tutoring program, prepping 9th graders for their national junior high completion exams. She breaks into smiles as she joins her classmates, all eager to prepare for senior high. Advancing girls to senior high is one our main objectives.

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Sherbro Foundation’s scholarship program gives priority to girls who are orphans or with single parents and from low-income families, even by local standards. Many from villages must leave their families to board in town to attend secondary school — another costly expense. Too many drop out after junior high without funds to continue.

20180712_184638 (3)Fatmata’s not sure how old she is. We estimate she’s 17. Her family was typical of many in Bumpeh Chiefdom. Her mother was the first of her father’s three wives. As the senior wife, she took the youngest wife’s child to raise with her own, a tradition. The child went missing and was found dead with no explanation.

Fatmata’s mother was held responsible and put in prison. Pregnant at the time, she delivered in prison and was released when the baby was a year-and-a-half. Fatmata had completed primary school, but her angry father gave no support for her mother or her children. Fatmata couldn’t start secondary school.

The Ebola epidemic hit when her father was home in adjoining Ribbi chiefdom. He was quarantined in a village with the virus, contracted Ebola and died. Fatmata’s mother now widowed with five children became involved with another man. While pregnant again, she had an uncontrolled infection. She and the baby died.

Fatmata’s father’s family wanted her to live with them in Ribbi Chiefdom. She resisted, “I was afraid in Ribbi I wouldn’t be able to go to school.” Another stepmother had enrolled her in junior high in Rotifunk where she received a SFSL scholarship and a uniform. Ribbi has no scholarship program.

20180712_184459 (2)“She made a good choice to stay here,” said our local partner CCET’s Managing Director Rosaline Kaimbay. “She’s determined to learn. We need to motivate her. I love the girl. So bold. I will follow her progress.”

Fatmata (green beret, left with Mrs. Kaimbay) and her two younger sisters (also left) live with their maternal uncle and grandmother in Rotifunk. I counted at least ten in their small house. Her uncle is very supportive of his three nieces. I never met her hard-working grandmother, always out in her small peanut farm.

20180715_171915 (2)During that tumultuous time, Fatmata had to repeat her first year of junior high. She’s continued to advance to the 9th grade with four SFSL scholarships.

Fatmata, left, at her home’s outdoor kitchen where they cook on a wood fire sheltered from sun and rain.

In two weeks, she’ll take her national 9th grade exams and has a very good chance of moving on to senior high. She’ll be part of a small elite group of rural girls working for high school diplomas.

Fatmata is the kind of success story we work hard to support with our scholarship program.

IMG-20180606-WA0004 (3)Many other bright girls are eager to keep learning, often after interruptions in their educations. 

Girls like Fatmata are the future of the country. A number of men and women alike have told me they support girls going to school: “When you educate a girl, you educate the country.  A boy just looks after himself.”

After telling me her story, Fatmata asked, “After school, who will take care of me?” We’ve helped her this far, but then what? She has no role models to follow.

I paused for a moment, and then told her, “You’ll finish school, go to college and get a good job. You’ll be able to take care of yourself and help your family, just as Mrs. Kaimbay and I have done ourselves.” 

Your $25 scholarship will keep Fatmata and girls like her in school and out of early marriage and teenage pregnancy. It will give them the chance to gain independence after graduating by getting a wage-paying job or entering vocational school or college. Teaching, nursing and the police force are traditional jobs. But we want to encourage girls to go into growing fields with jobs like accountants, IT support, lab technicians, floor tilers and electricians. 

We’re also proud to have started our first college scholarship program in 2017-18 for girls meeting college entrance requirements.

In just five years, you’ve made the Girls’ Scholarship Program a great success with over 600 girls getting the help they need to attend secondary school — and keep advancing. What’s happened to last year’s cover story girls?

IMG-20180529-WA0001 (3)Isatu, an orphan in senior high, just completed 12th grade. She’s awaiting the next national senior high completion exam. She could be a candidate for our new college scholarship program.

Alima, (2nd from left) a motherless girl, walked five miles each way to school from her aunt’s house. Now in the 9th grade and living with a Rotifunk relative, she gets CCET tutoring for her junior high completion exam and is in the computer training class, too. One of her school’s brightest, she was one of two students to represent the school in a local interschool quiz competition.

Our goal for this year is to at least match last year’s results and again award 460 scholarships to deserving girls. We continue to emphasize advancement into senior high. Your support has doubled the number of girls in senior high over the last four years!

We have great news from the newly elected Sierra Leone government. They will be paying school fees for all secondary students as part of their program to improve education.  

Sherbro Foundation’s $25 scholarship award this year will consist of a uniform and notebooks for each awardee. These supplies actually cost more than school fees and are a formidable barrier for most Bumpeh Chiefdom students. Uniforms hand sewn by local Rotifunk tailors help keep costs down.

We hope you’ll help send Sierra Leone girls back to school in September. Yes, $25 can be life changing for so many girls like Fatmata.  Please donate here: I’ll send a girl to school. 

We’ll double your impact. The first $5000 in gifts will be matched!

Thank you! 

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Years of Sending Girls to School   – By the Numbers

Five Years of Sending Girls to School – By the Numbers

We’ll soon kick off the campaign for our sixth year of the Girls Scholarship Program for Bumpeh Chiefdom. We thought you’d like to see what’s been accomplished in the first five years —  by the numbers.

Sherbro Foundation was founded in March 2013. We immediately funded scholarships for 67 junior-high girls in the 2012-13 school year already in progress. The numbers have been steadily increasing:

1250             Total number scholarships awarded

Over 600     Number of girls receiving scholarships, some for more than one year

  4                  Number schools participating — 2 Jr/Sr Highs and 2 Jr High only      

6X                 Increase in scholarships given annually — from 67 in 2013 to 410 in 2017

2X                 Increase in scholarship value in 2017 by adding uniforms for 2/3 of girls         

2X                 Increase in number of girls attending Senior High — from 58 to 120 in 2017

100               Percent of girls wanting to attend Sr. High in 2017 who received scholarships

 18                Number of 12th-grade awardees taking National exam (1st in 2016)

  3                 Number 12th-grade awardees meeting college entry requirements

  1                 College scholarship added in 2017

Here’s our five-year trend in scholarships:

 

5 yr scholarship data2 (2)

Only one in three Bumpeh Chiefdom teens have been able to attend secondary school. We started by ensuring more girls made the transition from primary school to junior high.

We focus on the most disadvantaged girls at risk of dropping out of school — orphans or with single parents, low-income families, and students who must leave home villages to attend secondary school in town. Often, a girl meets all the criteria.

The drop-out rate from junior to senior high is typically 50%. Our goal is to advance more girls to senior high and help them graduate. So, we expanded senior-high scholarships, while continuing to increase junior-high enrollment.

The short-term dip in 2015-16 came after the seven-month Ebola crisis, when many students from villages, especially senior high girls, returned to school late or not at all.

With your strong support, we doubled scholarships and the value of the awards (scholarship plus uniform) in each of the last two years.

In 2016, the first three scholarship recipients graduated from senior high.

And in 2017, we reached the ultimate goal by awarding the first college scholarship to one of first girls to meet college entrance requirements.

Now in January 2018, we added extra tutoring classes to help ensure 9th and 12th graders pass their junior and senior high national completion exams and advance to their next level of education. We’ll continue this program for the 2018-19 academic year.

Step by step, we’re reaching the goal we set of girls completing secondary school. And now we’re reaching beyond, to help girls advance to college and become leaders in their community and their country.