What Your Scholarship Really Buys a Sierra Leone Girl

What Your Scholarship Really Buys a Sierra Leone Girl

Mabinty’s math teacher says she’s quick to answer questions and tries to understand new material. Competitive, she sits in the front row of class. She loves to rub it in when she beats the top boys for the best grades in class.  At fifteen, she just finished the 10th grade with her second SFSL scholarship.

Mabinty Fofanah SS1

Mabinty is one of 460 Bumpeh Chiefdom girls waiting for her chance to return to school in September. You can give her that chance with a $30 Sherbro Foundation scholarship.

Mabinty doesn’t know her father who left the family soon after she was born. Her mother remarried and her stepfather raised her with three of her siblings and two other children.

School is important to Mabinty.

“When you get an education, you become someone in society,” she says.  She wants to be a lawyer.

With a $30 scholarship, you give a girl much more than a year in school. With a new-found sense of self-worth, girls set goals for themselves and work hard to prepare for wage-paying jobs and real careers. They avoid pregnancy and early marriage that would end their dreams. They’re choosing careers that contribute to society and help develop their country.

Sherbro Foundation scholarships target the vulnerable Bumpeh Chiefdom children – orphans or those with single parents and the lowest income families struggling to send children to school. We strive to improve their their odds in the lottery of life.

The self-esteem that education brings will boost girls into promising futures. That sums up why we work so hard to send Sierra Leone girls to school. Education is the foundation for self-esteem in a country where the majority of women remain uneducated and often illiterate, treated as the lowest caste in society.

Salamatu Conteh BASS JSS3 Aunt orphan Siama Rd 3 (5)

Salamatu, 17, in 9th grade, comes from a distant Bumpeh Chiefdom village. Her father died during Sierra Leone’s war, and her mother died soon after of an illness.

Salamatu’s aunt has raised her and her two siblings for the past 13 years. Her hard-working aunt is a trader, reselling things she buys in villages at Rotifunk’s weekly market – peppers,  palm oil and charcoal.

Salamatu Conteh BASS JSS3 Aunt orphan Siama Rd. 4 (4)

With that income, her aunt cares for 10 children, eight in secondary school. This year will be Salamatu’s third on scholarship, which her aunt says are vital to keep her in school. At 17, many girls are force to drop out and start earning a living, often as market traders like Salamatu’s aunt

Salamatu wants to become a nurse “to serve mankind and for nation building.”

She’s one of 100 9th graders now in our partner CCET-SL’s study camp preparing for their senior high entrance exam in late July. After ten months of after-school tutoring classes and now the study camp (all SFSL funded), we expect the ranks of senior girls to grow in September. That’s our goal.

With your support, we’ve grown every year. In 2018-19, 170 senior girls were awarded scholarships; 460 secondary school girls in total.  You can help more girls keep on their education journey to graduation and higher education for just $30 each.

Aminata Kawa BASS stepmum Magazine SS3 5 (3)Aminata, 18, is finishing senior high with her third SFSL scholarship. Her stepmother cares for six children. Her meager earnings as a market trader helped Aminata complete school. They depended on SFSL scholarships to ease the growing cost burden on the struggling family.

Aminata went to CCET-SL’s tutoring classes for senior high students preparing for their college entrance exam. A very small group of students has made it this far.

Aminata Kawa BASS stepmum Magazine SS3 3 (3)“The tutoring classes improved my studies,” Aminata said.

“But I wish there was a science laboratory because I want to become a medical doctor.” 

We always have another goal to reach for!

Your $30 scholarship provides a full package. A girl gets a new school uniform – for many the only school clothes they may have for the year. Schools have no texbooks. We provide notebooks for students to copy notes teachers write on blackboards. These things cost more than the secondary school fees the Sierra Leone government is now paying for the first time.

This year we’re adding a washable and reusable menstrual hygiene kit that gives girls the freedom to attend school every day of the month. It gives girls the confidence to fully participate in school, like writing on blackboards, standing in front of class or at lunchbreaks, and participating in sports without the shame of exposing stained clothes.

Your scholarship provides so much for a girl. That’s all it takes to relieve subsistence-level families of the major financial burden to send their girls to school – and keep them in school until graduation.

Click here and send a Bumpeh Chiefdom girl to school with a scholarship. It feels great.

Thank you!

— Arlene Golembiewski

P.S. Your gift includes another intangible treasure: building a girl’s confidence that she can excel in school and in life. That’s priceless.

P.P.S. You can help more. Pass this on to a friend.

 

 

All Dressed Up – and Now Someplace to Go

All Dressed Up – and Now Someplace to Go

Fatmata, Umu and Safi have done something no one else in their Sierra Leone families have done. Or almost anyone in their community. They graduated from high school. But then what happens?

CHN students (3)The three Rotifunk graduates are among the first Bumpeh Chiefdom girls to finish high school in more than 20 years since Sierra Leone’s war.

They’re now embarking on new careers in community health nursing with the second college scholarship Sherbro Foundation introduced last year.

With three deserving young women, the scholarship is split three ways among them.

You can help these young women continue in college another year with your gift – and on to careers in health care, one of Sierra Leone’s most dire needs.

Getting this far It was a struggle for Fatmata, Umu and Safi to get this far, coming from subsistence farming village families, some with single parents. No one in their families finished high school, let alone college. Local schools have also been on a long path to rebuild after the war and attract trained teachers to this rural setting. The young women didn’t have the benefit of a strong academic start.

None met the requirements to enter a four-year or two-year college degree program. Very few Rotifunk students have. Discouraged and at a loss for what to do, they volunteered at Rotifunk’s mission-run hospital as nursing aides. They liked the work, and the hospital found them hard working with potential for health care careers.

20180712_184459 (2)Rotifunk’s education godmother 

Enter Rosaline Kaimbay, our Rotifunk partner CCET-SL’s managing director and former high school principal.

Rosaline, left center, has been like a godmother to so many Bumpeh Chiefdom children, encouraging them to start – or return – to secondary school, and finding what minimal resources she can to help them on their way.

Rosaline’s new task is helping girls with career counseling and identifying higher education options that fit their interests and abilities. Imagine coming from an illiterate rural farming family and trying to figure out what to do with your life. Girls have little idea of jobs to prepare for, let alone how to make it happen.

Win – win solutions Sherbro Foundation strives to support students in higher education fields that can benefit Bumpeh Chiefdom and its development. Students with family connections are more likely to return to the chiefdom to work – if there’s available jobs.

Health care is an area with rural jobs. It’s also one of Sierra Leone’s biggest priorities, in a country with one of – or the highest – infant, Under-Five and maternal mortality rates in the world.

The Sierra Leone government needs trained nurses to staff community health clinics in the rural areas where 60% of the country’s population lives, especially those who speak local tribal languages and know the culture.

CHN AdamaCommunity health nursing is a great entry point for young women like Fatmata, Umu and Safi. Nurses like Adama, above, run small village-based Public Health Units, where they treat common infectious disease like malaria and dysentery, stitch wounds and perform other first aid. They give women basic pre and post-natal care, serve as midwives at birth and offer well-baby care, including checking infants for stunting.

They’re important in identifying more complicated maternity cases and chronic illness like diabetes and hypertension that need higher professional treatment. I’m told nurses with local connections like rural assignments, where the standard of living is low and their salary goes further.

A good educational value For $750 we can send a young woman to a year of training for this critical job, including tuition, lab practicals, supplies and weekly transportation home for 36 weeks.

Aminata Kamara 2019 (3)

 

Meet our college students

Last year you met our first college scholarship awardee Aminata Kamara, left, who continues to do well. She’s finishing her second year of a B.A. degree in Banking and Finance at the University of Sierra Leone, and is ready to start her third year in September.

Now meet the three nursing students on scholarship.

Our goal is return all four young women to college in September.

CHN student Fatmata J Sesay, daughter Women Veg Grow spokesperson (2)

 

Fatmata Sesay lost her father ten years ago and her mother has struggled to raise her and her brother.

Her mother is a small farmer and participant in our Women’s Vegetable Growing program to grow peanuts as a cash crop. But that won’t put a girl through college.

A high school dropout, her mother values education and volunteers her free time as a local kindergarten teacher.

Giving Fatmata the chance for higher education and the career she didn’t have is her hope. 

 

CHN student Umu Bangura June '19 (3)

Umu Bangura’s parents are farmers in a small Bumpeh Chiefdom village. Her mother has elephantiasis in both legs and can no longer do much. Her father, in his 50’s and after a hard life of physical labor, is limited in how much farming he can still do.

Umu is the first girl in their family to complete high school.  She’s excited to be among the first Bumpeh Chiefdom girls to have the opportunity to continue into college and a real career in nursing.

Umu passed three of her introductory nursing classes “with distinction” above 85%.

 

CHN student Safiatu Bendu downriver mother (2)Safi Bendu comes from a small village “downriver” some distance from Rotifunk. She had to leave home to go to secondary school.

She got pregnant, but returned to complete her high school education. Safi now appreciates another opportunity to continue her education. She’s determined to become a nurse and get a job that enables her to care for her child.

Fatmata, Umu and Safi all successfully completed their introductory nursing classes in May with Sherbro Foundation college scholarships. They now have two years of courses in front of them, and a third year where they’ll be placed in a government hospital to gain practical experience.

Help send these young women to college. Fatmata, Umu and Safi are now proudly dressed in their nursing student uniforms and have someplace to go – nursing school.

You can help these young women complete a year of their nursing degrees. $750 gives each of them a full year of training so they can join the ranks of trained nurses Sierra Leone so greatly needs.

Our total goal for 2019-20 college scholarships for all four young women is $4000. This includes $1750 to return our first college student Aminata to her third year at University of Sierra Leone with tuition and living expenses.  

This year we combined fundraising for college and high school scholarships into one campaign.  If you wish to specify your gift be used for college scholarships, please note that on the “special  instruction line” with your donation HERE. Or you can let your gift help all girls return to school from Jr. High to Sr. High to college students.

College is an opportunity still uncommon in Sierra Leone and cherished by its students. Thank you for supporting Bumpeh Chiefdom girls in reaching for their dreams.

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

 

 

 

 

The Barrier Girls Face Going to School We Forgot

The Barrier Girls Face Going to School We Forgot

Year by year Sherbro Foundation has worked to remove the barriers girls face going to secondary school, starting with school fee scholarships.

When the Sierra Leone government began paying school fees in 2018, we shifted our scholarships to buy school uniforms. No textbooks? We provided notebooks for students to copy notes teachers write on blackboards.

Girls have trouble passing the senior high entrance exam? We helped our partner CCET-SL run an after-school tutoring program preparing 9th graders for the exam.

Emory WSMSS SS1 math 18 (3)But we forgot one important barrier to girls regularly attending school.

We were thinking of school as a program or a project.

We weren’t thinking about the girl.

Girls have menstrual periods.

If a girl can’t afford a $25 school uniform – or three meals a day – she can’t afford Western style feminine hygiene products.

When I started asking about this, the stories came out. Girls use rags or whatever else they come up with for their periods in place of feminine pads. If they have a heavy flow or painful day, girls stay home and miss school. Every month.

Think of the girls like Humu who walk many miles and have long days away from home. How can you walk 7 miles with menstrual cramps? And on a road where there’s no place to deal with their makeshift “pad.” Staying home from school is too often the solution.

IMG_4363 (4)Schools at best have a few latrines. Some schools don’t have on-site water – there’s no well or the pump doesn’t work. Forget sinks or wash stations at the latrines.

I asked the Ahmadiyya Islamic school principal, with an all male staff, what they encounter with girls and their periods. Yes, it can be a problem, Mr. Sesay said. As the only local Islamic school, most girls walk 3 miles to school, and some as far as 7 or 8 miles each way.

Every woman can relate to being caught away from home and unprepared when their period starts. If a girls starts her period unprepared at the rural Ahmadiyya school, she has to inform a male teacher who takes her to a stream to wash herself.

Sierra Leone students already miss enough school: bad weather; they’re needed at home on the farm for planting and harvesting; they’re sick. Think of how a girl can get further behind in classes if she misses school every month for her period.

All these things chip away at a teenage girl’s self-esteem – and her confidence and commitment to continue her education. She’s at risk of dropping out.

OK, we now got it. We’re adding Days for Girls menstrual hygiene kits to this year’s scholarship package.

DfG 3 (2)Every girl will get a kit in a colorful bag with 2 washable shields, 8 washable pads of an absorbent flannel type material and zip lock bags to hold soiled pads.

They can be reused for 2 or 3 years.

 

Days for Girls is a global organization addressing girls and menstrual hygiene in developing countries.

They help local groups hand-make the menstrual hygiene kits with materials proven effective after years of experience. And they supply educational materials on menstruation and sex education.

To understand more of what African girls face in handling this every-month reality of life, watch this Days for Girls video.

period-end-of-sentence_710x400xtIf you have Netflix, you’ll want to see the 2019 Oscar winner for short documentary, Period. End of Sentence. It’s an uplifting film on how rural Indian women took charge of their menstrual dilemma and turned it into a cottage industry business, hand-making feminine pads for their community. 

More good news. Just as we were grappling with how to pay for the Days for Girls kits for our 460 scholarship girls, Schools for Salone contacted us. Another former Peace Corps Volunteer-led nonprofit for Sierra Leone, they started a workshop in Freetown making the DfG menstrual kits.

DfG 2 (3)Through their own fundraising, Schools for Salone offered us a steep discount on the kits. They know Sherbro Foundation has a successful grassroots program that will ensure the kits get to the kind of rural Sierra Leone girls we both work to serve.

We’re grateful to partner with Schools for Salone and enable Bumpeh Chiefdom girls to be beneficiaries of their successful fundraising efforts.

What can you do? Now that you get it, send a Bumpeh Chiefdom girl to school with a $30 scholarship that includes a Days for Girls menstrual hygiene kit.

You’ll not only send a girl to school, you’ll help keep her in school every day of the month.  Thank you.

How People Give – Let Us Count the Ways

How People Give – Let Us Count the Ways

I broke into a smile even before I opened the envelop in last week’s mail from Grace Lutheran Church. It was another annual check from a small-town church in Maine; this one for $421. They’ve donated the proceeds of their church’s winter crafts fair four years running.

IMG-20171204-WA0015 (4)Sherbro Foundation knows no one in Auburn, Maine. But someone there had hosted an exchange student from Sierra Leone. During the 2014 Ebola epidemic, they wanted to help at the grassroots level where they felt their money would be put to good use directly helping a rural Sierra Leone community. They found us on a Google search and have been giving ever since.

Americans are giving and generous. They see a compelling need and just give. I’ve never spoken with Grace Lutheran Church. There’s only been a couple short emails exchanged when I contacted them to understand who was being so generous in their help. Year by year, I inform them how their money has been used, and they keep giving.

After six years of operation, there’s been many different ways people give to Sherbro Foundation in support of our mission to empower rural Sierra Leone through community-led education and agricultural development.

Let us count the ways people give. Church and Faith-based Outreach like Grace Lutheran is only one way.

On-line giving The most common way people donate is on-line through our website. Two-thirds of our donors prefer this convenience using their credit card. The other one-third send checks. We greatly appreciate either mode.

Tax-deferred accounts – More people are using the benefits of donating from tax-deferred accounts. They’re charitable and tax-savvy at the same time. We receive a number of checks from donor-advised funds, holding assets our supporters have already donated for charitable purposes. Fidelity Charitable funds are commonly used. Charles Schwab has others. We’ve also received donation checks as direct IRA distributions. When a check is sent from an IRA account directly to a 501c3 charity, the donation can qualify as part of a minimum IRA distribution and be subtracted in full from that year’s taxable income.

Facebook fundraisers – A fun and easy way to involve others in learning about Sherbro Foundation is a Facebook fundraiser. In lieu of gifts for your birthday or other occasion, ask them to send girls to school instead. Designate Sherbro Foundation as the target charity on your FB page and invite friends to donate with a modest fundraising goal.

In-honor-of gifts – We’ve received a number of memorials in honor of a loved one. It can be comforting to celebrate a loved one’s life with the life-affirming gift of sending girls to school or planting trees that will fund education in Sierra Leone for a generation to come.

People have used many occasions to honor someone by supporting Sherbro Foundation programs: birthdays, Mother’s Day, anniversaries, holiday gift giving. They’re gifts that make a real difference in the world – and with benefits that keep on giving long after the occasion is past.

Estate gifts – We’ve been honored to receive gifts from a loved one’s estate. People have said their mother or other loved one would like the idea of their money going to help girls get educations that launch them on real careers and new lives.

Peer-to-peer fundraising – I need to call out my friend Ginny who has been masterful in encouraging friends to support one of our fundraising campaigns with her email blasts and messages of endorsement. Email, face-to-face contacts or however you do it, word-of-mouth with personal messages of support is one of the best ways for Sherbro Foundation programs to grow.

Retailer giving programs – Amazon, Kroger and other retailers encourage customers to designate a charity to receive a distribution from their charitable funds, based on the customer’s sales. Sign up on their website and name Sherbro Foundation, and we keep getting quarterly checks. Our charitable ID # is 46-2300190.  Amazon Smile   Kroger Community Rewards

Community Foundation grant – In the same vein, we received a grant from a community foundation fund after our programs were recommended to them by a community member.

Civic and Service Organization grants – Many civic groups like Rotary Clubs and Lions Clubs make supporting international development projects part of their mission. Our relationship with Rotary Clubs grew from an unplanned introduction to one Rotarian who made the connection with her club. If you are a club member or know one, contact us to talk about whether Sherbro Foundation programs may be a good match for the club’s support.

Returned Peace Corps Volunteer organization gifts – many cities have Returned Peace Corps Volunteer organizations that like to stay connected with grassroots community projects in countries the Peace Corps serves. Sherbro Foundation stays faithful to Peace Corps’ direction of supporting community-led development. The Cincinnati Area Returned Volunteers (CARV) has been generous in their support, as well as individual former volunteers. Help us get connected with your local Peace Corps group or its members with an introduction.

Corporate donations – One of our early “home-runs” was the gift of refurbished computers by a corporation with local Cincinnati area offices. Many businesses also have charitable funds that employees can tap by applying for grants for charitable projects they support. The employee typically needs to make the submission. Your company may have a charitable grant program.

Does this give you more ideas on how you can help? Please let us know of other ideas you have – or how we can help you act on any of these. Contact us at sherbrofoundation@gmail.com

Sherbro Foundation is deeply grateful for all the ways people have chosen to give in support of the children and women of Bumpeh Chiefdom, Sierra Leone. Thank you!

$142,000 Rotary Clubs Grant Propels Bumpeh Chiefdom into Growing Its Own Future

$142,000 Rotary Clubs Grant Propels Bumpeh Chiefdom into Growing Its Own Future

Bumpeh Chiefdom leader Paramount Chief Charles Caulker long dreamed of developing his chiefdom using its own agriculture traditions. He wanted to grow fruit trees in his verdant tropical chiefdom that would produce income for community development for years to come.

20190120_114736 (4)“If we could raise fruit trees on a big enough scale, we could grow our own community’s future.”

“We could move to eliminate poverty in the chiefdom ourselves and make people self-reliant,” he said.

But in Sierra Leone, too often it’s one step forward and two steps back. Barely had recovery from Sierra Leone’s brutal 11-year rebel war begun, when the Ebola epidemic hit in 2014. A three-year economic crisis followed with 40 percent devaluation of its currency. Just surviving was a struggle.

Now, a two-year $142,000 Rotary International Global Grant is changing that.

The Rotary Club of Ann Arbor worked collaboratively with Sherbro Foundation to secure the grant. Administered by the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation, CCET, it funds community-led agriculture projects designed to create income for children’s education and resident medical care, and to help women subsistence farmers achieve self-reliance.

P1000710 (2)700 coconut trees are flourishing in the first Rotary funded orchard, as well as lime, grapefruit, African plum, avocado, guava, soursop, oil palm and cassava. Most were grown in CCET’s tree nursery from local fruit seed.

Nonprofit Social enterprise  The grant creates a chiefdom social enterprise, one where agriculture projects generate regular income for nonprofit purposes. Thanks to Rotary Clubs, CCET’s Orchards for Education project is expanding to plant thousands of fruit trees to fund chiefdom education. An orchard will also be planted to feed a benevolent fund paying local hospital care costs residents cannot afford. And, women farmers are being funded to grow peanuts to fully feed and educate their children.

The Rotary Club Global Grant, the second developed for CCET, was spearheaded by the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor, Mich., lead club sponsor. The Wilmington, NC Rotary Club and 17 other Rotary Clubs contributed to the grant. The Rotary International Foundation and two Rotary Districts provided matching funds. It will be overseen by the Rotary Club of Freetown, Sierra Leone and administered by CCET.
20190119_121158 (3)Chief Caulker, center, and Rosaline Kaimbay, CCET Managing Director, right, accept the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor flag from Mary Avrakotos. Dale Smith, Wilmington, NC Rotary Club, left, led fundraising for the medical care component of the grant.

Grant impact A total of 60 acres of orchards with 4000 fruit trees will be developed through the two Rotary grants, as well as a tree nursery, a watering system and storehouse. In three to five years, the orchards will provide long-term fruit income for education and hospital medical care for Bumpeh Chiefdom’s 40,000 mostly illiterate residents.20190125_124723 (2)

 

 

Chief Caulker and project agriculture manager Ibrahim Rogers, right, inspect African plum tree seedlings grown from seed for the project. They’ll be planted now in the June rains.

Some 260 subsistence-level women farmers can double their incomes by growing peanuts with supplies they receive from the project. How can something as seemingly small as $50 for a bale of peanut seed and a drying tarp impact the women? The spokeswoman for recent participants said it best, “Indeed, our lives have been transformed.”

Their peanut harvests act as reserves, to sell as they need cash to feed their children. When annual school expenses or unplanned health care costs come up, the women can fall back on their peanut harvest to pay for them. They no longer need to take out high interest moneylender loans.

Bigger ripple effect The Rotary funded projects are having a bigger ripple effect in this rural community. The projects create 20 full-time jobs in a subsistence farming area with virtually no wage paying jobs. One hundred part-time and seasonal workers are also hired. Families’ lives improve with a regular wage-earner.

IMG-20190602-WA0000 (2)Full-time orchard workers display their protective gear purchased from the Rotary grant: rain suits for working in the rainy season and thick rubber boots for protection against injury and snakes.

In addition to being paid, Chief Caulker explained the bigger effect these jobs have on his chiefdom. The workers are learning improved growing techniques and skills under the direction of CCET’s agriculture manager, he said. They’ll take this home and apply it to their own farms and gardens. They’ll teach neighbors how to get better yields, too.

Chief Caulker said he himself is working to act as a role model to teach people by example. He’s growing his own fruit trees in different parts of the chiefdom and annual crops like cassava. When people see they can earn more money with fast growing fruit trees like guava plus cassava and vegetables than in traditional rice growing, they start diversifying and growing more crops themselves.

Empowering women From the project’s initial work, Chief said he feels best about empowering women subsistence farmers. By supplying women to grow peanuts as a cash crop and hiring others to grow vegetables and peanuts for the project, we “have brought hope to ending the growing economic and gender inequalities in our country,” Chief said.

“Women, who before now were relegated to the kitchen, can confess of becoming breadwinners in their families, sometimes above their husbands.”

IMG-20190522-WA0006 (2)Local women are hired as part-time workers where heavy labor is not needed. These are planting peanuts in an orchard to generate annual operating income. They’re paid wages equal to those of part-time male workers.

With Rotary Clubs’ generous support, growing its own community’s future is becoming reality in Bumpeh Chiefdom.

It’s a future they can direct themselves and multiply like seed from a harvest.

This project definitely took a village to launch – an American village. So many contributed to raising funds for a $142,000 grant. We send huge THANKS to all.

  • 19 contributing Rotary Clubs – with special thanks to grant sponsor, the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor and supporting club, Wilmington, NC Rotary Club
  • Rotary Districts 6380 and 7730
  • Rotary International Foundation
  • Fifty-five Sherbro Foundation donors – thank you!
  • Other private individual donors
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.

Peppers d 3-6-19 (2)

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