Arlene’s House. Unbeatable. My name was emblazoned on banners and T-shirts for a school sports meet in Rotifunk, Bumpeh Chiefdom.
I was honored to have one of four Bumpeh Academy houses organized for the meet named after me. It’s really for all you Sherbro Foundation supporters who have helped send their girls to school with scholarships for the last five years.
School sports meets are a huge deal across Sierra Leone, but especially in rural towns like Rotifunk with little to entertain and amuse. Students march onto the sports field in brightly colored T-shirts for their house’s color, while a DJ blasts out music with massive speakers (thanks to a generator for power).
Announcers calls out the competitors in their various track & field events and give the volleyball play-by-play account. Winners in individual events get certificates. Houses will parade around town with trophies boasting of their overall meet results.
The town turns out and throngs the field. Honored guests take seats under a palm palapa built for the event to escape the peak-of-the-dry-season sun beating down.
My colleagues from our partner CCET-SL turned out to support Arlene’s house. Each house comes with its own masked “devil,” a nod to their traditional societies. These devils compete in a wildly gyrating dance competition where spectators vote by tossing money in their basket.
I smiled when I saw the motto for Arlene’s house: Unbeatable. They strived to be unbeatable in this meet. I strive to be unstoppable. You’d best not undertake any serious mission in Sierra Leone if you give up when inevitable barriers throw you a curve.
Bumpeh Academy knows about being unstoppable. Until this year, this school taught half its classes in classrooms without four walls. Some with dirt floors. They used our school fee scholarship money year by year to buy zinc for a roof and cement to make block bricks for classroom walls. In my recent February visit, I saw at least three walls around each of their six classrooms, and the fourth started.
But Bumpeh Academy is also the school that got the best 2018 senior high entrance exam results in three adjoining chiefdoms. And in February, they became the first Bumpeh Chiefdom school to become government approved to teach at the senior high level since before their rebel war began over 25 years ago.
Unbeatable. Unstoppable. Set your goal and be relentless until you meet it. This is how you achieve in Sierra Leone.
Congratulations, Bumpeh Academy, on this weekend’s sports meet – and on all you’ve achieved.
“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.
So many things to show from my Sierra Leone trip last month. Where to start? Here’s where we started our Orchards for Education work with Mike’s Orchard – the first one we planted in 2016 for our dear Peace Corps friend we lost a few years ago.
Bumpeh Chiefdom Paramount Chief Caulker, above, shows one of over 1000 pineapples planted in the rains of July 2016 that are doing well and starting to sporadically fruit.
It was in 2016 we decided with our Sierra Leone partner CCET-SL to start planting fruit orchards as a means of creating sustainable income to run their education programs for Bumpeh Chiefdom. Chief Caulker doesn’t want to keep asking donors to pay for scholarships for girls to go to secondary school, and now to college. We want to keep running the new Tutoring program that prepares students for their senior high and college entrance exams without hand-out’s.
As a rural agricultural area, starting fruit orchards became our plan. It’s a long-term strategy and requires work to carve them out of wild bush and get fruit trees established. But then they reliably produce fruit and income for years to come. We’ve added short term crops to fill in between trees, like pineapple, cassava, peanuts and corn.
The Sherbro Foundation Board stepped in to start the Mike Orchard ourselves, in recognition of our Peace Corps friend Mike and all he did for Sierra Leone over 35 years during and after he left the Peace Corps. You must clear land and plant in Sierra Leone in synch with the rainy season. Or wait another year. So we decided in short order in 2016 to just get started with eleven acres Chief provided near his family farm.
Since then, Orchards for Education is blossoming into another 45 acres, all planted for children’s education in Bumpeh Chiefdom. More on that later.
For now, our first effort is bearing fruit. Literally. Not enough to earn real income this year, but we’re on our way. Watch over us, Mike. The next year should be a good year.
Come January, 63 girls will be starting on a path few Bumpeh Chiefdom girls ever reach. They’ll eagerly begin senior high school.
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.
Why 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.
And 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.
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.
We 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
2017 was a banner year for our projects in Sierra Leone. Our hats off once again to our local Sierra Leone partner, CCET-SL, for all their work making this happen. Here’s what made the year so great – in pictures. —– Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director
January:Five years in the making, CCET-SL’s new Education & Computer Center was open and buzzing with activity. Three levels of Adult Literacy classes filled the main hall, followed by evening computer training. My favorite group is first level literacy, or the ABC group, where women start by learning the alphabet and how to add. One typical student, Jeriatu, thinks she’s about 35 and is the mother of 12 children, one on her back in class. She grows peanuts and wants to be literate to improve her small business, by counting change correctly and figuring her profit.
February: Visiting small villages participating in our projects, like Village Orchards, is always a trip highlight. Villages have received hundreds of fruit tree seedlings to plant as community orchards. Income will go to children’s education and development projects. I asked Nyandahun village chief, Madam Bendu, above left, how her village would use income from their village orchard. She immediately said, we’ll send our children to school.
March – We started our 3rd group of Women Vegetable Growers, where another 75 women can double their incomes in a few months growing peanuts and vegetables. Emma, above, was in last year’s program. She tells me and Paramount Chief Caulker that with her peanut harvest she paid her children’s school fees and didn’t have to take out a high interest loan. She kept some peanuts as seed to plant this year, too. A success for her, and one of our most successful projects.
April – With a global Rotary Club grant, CCET-SL developed a 15 acre “baby orchard” that will fund children’s education savings accounts. Seven Rotary clubs led by the Ann Arbor club joined the Rotary International Foundation and a Rotary District in a grant that paid to clear overgrown bush and plant over 1100 fruit trees. CCET-SL raised all trees locally from seed, including 450 coconuts and 480 citrus. While the trees mature, annual crops of rice, peanuts, corn and couscous were inter-planted, producing income to pay workers. The $49,500 grant paid for the orchard and several other projects.
May – SFSL won a $12,235 Procter & Gamble Alumni grant, enabling CCET-SL to complete equipping their Education & Computer Center. The Center’s first color printer arrived in May, giving CCET-SL an income generating service with the only public color document and photo printing within a 2-3 hour drive. Students can now get computer training on 17 new laptop computers up-to-date with Windows 10 also funded by the grant.
June – July – CCET-SL updated their chiefdom Birth Registration program that records newborn babies at the small village level. Government registrars can’t reach rural areas, jeopardizing children’s proof of citizenship and birthrights to family land, medical care and other services. The Rotary grant funded training for new chiefdom birth recorders and bicycles to cover their assigned villages. CCET-SL grows their own fruit trees from seed, and gives newborn parents three fruit trees to raise for their child’s welfare and education. The mothers above collected their fruit trees with their babies carried on their backs. See the little feet around their waists.
August – A second group of Women Vegetable Growers got the opportunity to raise peanuts as a cash crop. Subsistence farmers, they use most everything they normally grow to feed their families and barter locally for other needs. They can’t afford a $30 bale of peanut seed to expand their farms and earn more money. This group of 85 women was funded under the Rotary Club grant. They happily line up above with Rosaline Kaimbay of CCET-SL, right, to collect peanut seed, a drying tarp and 100 lb. of rice to feed families before their harvest – worth $80 in all. Within five months they’ll be harvesting. We’ve reached 300 women to date.
September – 460 girls returned to school with school fee scholarships from Sherbro Foundation. A $17 scholarship keeps them in school for a full year, avoiding early marriage and early pregnancy – and makes for brighter, more productive futures for every year of education they get. Compassionate donors funded uniforms for all 120 senior high and 290 junior high girls, as well. For the first time, 100 girls can study at night with solar study lanterns, and we awarded the first college scholarship. “It’s very impressive. I’ve never seen any organization giving so many awards and paying for so many things,” said Alice Conteh Morgan, managing director of Reliance Insurance Co. in Freetown and Rotifunk native. Above, she presents scholarship awards to Bumpeh Academy principal Rashid Conteh.
October – rice planted in the Baby Orchard was ready to harvest by October. The orchard is really a working plantation with supplies, tree seedlings and acres of harvests to be transported throughout the year. Now a necessity, the SFSL Board made the gift of a used truck, one built to withstand unpaved rural roads. The rice had to be threshed by hand by beating the sheaves to loosen rice grains – using the chief’s palaver house, above, as a workspace. Year by year we’ll make improvements as we can pay for them.
November – Reliable power for CCET-SL’s Center had become a major problem, interrupting classes and jeopardizing income generating services like printing that fund the center operations. Our prayers were answered when the Beaman Family funded a complete 6000 Watt solar power system for the Center. Printing, charging computers and evening classes and meeting space are now available whenever needed. Thank you, Beaman Family!
December – Planning for 2018 is underway. CCET-SL’s Tree Nursery is central to several projects. 12,000 tree seedlings, all started this year from seed, are nearing transplanting stage. They’ll go to planting the next baby orchard, supplying “baby trees” for 2018’s newborns and their parents, and for sale to generate income to keep propagating more trees. 2018 will also be the start of a new local forest reserve system, a first of its kind at the chiefdom level to protect mature forests and sources of village drinking water.
While we were busy wrapping up this year’s successful Girls Scholarships campaign, CCET-SL’s Rosaline Kaimbay was making the rounds of the four Bumpeh Chiefdom participating secondary schools.
She’s been visiting each school to check their enrollment of girls. And telling girls to tell their friends at home who didn’t report to school to come back. If they can’t pay school fees or buy a uniform, we will help them.
Mrs. Kaimbay is an inspiring role model for these girls, having been born and raised in the chiefdom. We’re fortunate to have her at the helm of CCET-SL.
Mrs. Kaimbay and Bumpeh Academy Secondary School students, left. BASS has both junior and senior high classes and their enrollment of girls is growing.
We doubled our scholarship campaign goal this year!
Our partner, CCET-SL, is now distributing 466 school fee scholarships to the girls that need them most. We added uniforms this year, and have 360 to combine with scholarships.
We expect that every Bumpeh Chiefdom girl who wants to attend senior high will receive a scholarship and a uniform! Helping girls progress through senior high is our goal.
When girls see such a successful woman as Mrs. Kaimbay coming from among their ranks, they think, I can do this, too. And it starts with going to school.
Rotifunk’s Ahmadiyya School, left, is a junior secondary school. Mrs. Kaimbay’s visit is motivating and encourages girls to come to school.
We are excited to announce the results of the Girls’ Scholarship campaign. Thanks to your generosity, the campaign collected $15,800, including the Foundation Board’s $6150 matching funds. Nearly double our original target!
We can help our local partner CCET greatly expand the program. We’ll support more Bumpeh Chiefdom girls – and offer more to make it easier for them to stay in school.
410 girls will receive school fee scholarships for a full year of junior or senior high.
We’re also adding to this year’s awards.
All 410 girls will receive notebooks and pens. In schools without textbooks, students copy notes teachers write on blackboards – another student expense.
260 of these girls will also get a school uniform – those entering 7th grade at new schools and girls in senior high.
We believe we will be able to offer every chiefdom girl who wants to attend senior high a scholarship, a school uniform and notebooks!
One campaign goal is to keep more girls in school and help them advance through senior high. We need to confirm actual enrollment numbers this month at the two participating senior highs. But we’ve targeted for our estimate of covering all 120 senior high girls!
Your gifts effectively more than doubled the number of awards girls will receive compared to last year. Uniforms cost a little more than school fee scholarships, so this doubles the value of the award for 260 girls receiving both scholarships and uniforms. With 150 additional school fee scholarships, that’s equivalent to 670 awards this school year compared to 300 school-fee-only scholarships last year.
Uniforms are being sewn locally.
This keeps costs down. And it keeps money in the local community.
Our local partner CCET engaged Mr. Jalloh, left, a Rotifunk tailor, to sew uniforms production style. He started in August to have them ready when school opens.
There’s more good news. As your donations continued to come in, we recognized we could do still more. There are two other needs we’ve been wanting to address. Now you’ve provided the funding to start filling both.
We just shipped 100 solar lanterns for upper class girls – 9 th and 12 th graders who will study for graduation exams this year. Passing will allow them to enroll in senior high or college, respectively.
Girls informed us of their dilemma of no lighting when I was in Bumpeh Chiefdom last February. The sun goes down quickly by 6:30 p.m. year-round in the tropics. With no electricity in the chiefdom, girls have no lighting to study at night. Constantly replacing batteries for LED lights is a costly burden for students and their families.
I brought some on my last two trips as gifts. Two years later, people report they work great.
Left, Arlene presents an Imam a solar light for a village mosque.
Here’s perhaps the most exciting news. We are awarding our first college scholarship for a deserving girl!
The first chiefdom girls in the scholarship program are now graduating from high school. After carrying them this far, we want to keep the doors of opportunity open for girls to enter college.
We’re working out the costs for 4-year and 2-year college degrees in Sierra Leone. We plan to award one girl now for her first-year costs for tuition, room, board, books and transportation. This is about $1700 a year for a 4-year university. We have this first year covered, and will add college scholarships as a goal for future campaigns. Look for more on this year’s awardee in a future newsletter.
We can’t thank everyone enough who contributed to make all of this possible. You are amazing!
Donations came literally from across the country. From Alaska to Key Largo, Florida. From Maine to Los Angeles, and many places in-between.
We hope you’ve come to agree that educating a girl is one of the most important things we can do to make this world a better place.
On behalf of the girls of Bumpeh Chiefdom and our local partner The Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation, we all say – Thank you!