Sherbro Foundation wishes everyone the happiest of holidays and a wonderful new year. Thanks so much for making our 2019 a great year!
Sherbro Foundation wishes everyone the happiest of holidays and a wonderful new year. Thanks so much for making our 2019 a great year!
The future of education in Bumpeh Chiefdom has been growing by leaps and bounds – with more acres of fruit trees and annual crops flourishing in the Orchards for Education project. With a second Rotary Club Global Grant, our partner CCET-SL’s project has blossomed into 60 acres of orchards and a new vegetable growing effort. Here’s a six-month update.
The latest $69,000 phase of Orchards for Education has been completed, with innovative changes along the way, thanks to CCET-SL’s new agriculture manager, Ibrahim Rogers. He saw opportunities to optimize Rotary’s two-year $142,000 investment and generate cash income sooner.
Instead of interplanting vegetable crops in the new orchards and carrying water over tens of acres there, Mr. Rogers advised growing vegetables in raised beds in a swampy area. There, water is plentiful to grow intensively year-round.
A large berm, below, was built around a 7-acre swamp to contain and control water from a stream that naturally floods the area. In the heavy rainy season when 120 inches of rain would wash out raised beds, the project converted to growing rice.
Annual crops will be more productive in an inland valley swamp, or IVS. And that extra money will provide more income to support orchard operations while fruit trees mature.
Seven acres of IVS rice, above, were just harvested in what proved to be a bumper crop.
The rice harvest was manually cut into sheaves. A borrowed power thresher, left, cut the time-consuming chore of separating out rice grains. Hand-winnowing, below, is still needed to clean the rice and remove chaff.
The rice will be sold to the Sierra Leone Ministry of Agriculture as seed rice for their program to increase rice growing in the country. Half the rice now consumed in Sierra Leone is imported — the cheapest, least nutritious white rice.
The Ministry will distribute the seed rice to district small farmers to improve their yields and expand their farms so Sierra Leone can feed itself again.
So, our rice project will support both chiefdom education programs and making Sierra Leone self-sufficient in rice-growing!
The IVS is now being converted back to vegetable growing for the dry season. Ten thousand pepper plants grown in seedbeds will soon be transplanted in newly prepared raised beds. Below are last season’s peppers mulched with rice straw. Okra will also soon be growing gangbusters.
The project will start experimenting with other crops, like bell peppers, carrots and watermelons, to see what does well. A strong market is nearby. Freetown with its 1.5 million urban people only 55 miles away depends on rural farmers for fruit and vegetables.
Paramount Chief Charles Caulker donated the IVS land conveniently located next to the fruit tree nursery. To launch this extra project, $9,000 came from Sherbro Foundation donors and Foundation board members.
CCET-SL’s agricultural projects are already paying dividends as a source of employment for the community with rare wage-paying jobs. The project employs 21 full-time orchard workers, 20 part-time women, plus about 100 seasonal workers (men and women). The part-time women, below, tend the vegetable crops in the IVS, leaving them time to work on their own garden plots and double their earnings.
Meanwhile, fruit trees in the project’s orchards have been soaking up five months of the rainy season’s heavy rains and going through another seasonal growth spurt. The year-by-year progress is now clear to see.
The third, most recent orchard was planted in June-July of this year with coconut saplings on newly cleared ground. These will take five to six years to fully fruit.
Rows of limes and guava that will fruit in three years alternate with coconuts.
Trees in the second orchard, left, planted in 2018 are strong, sprouting up with two rainy seasons of growth.
Avocados, sour sop and oil palm (a local diet staple) were added to coconuts, together with more guava and lime.
The ground still tries to revert back to bush in Year Two and needs to be regularly whacked back. Cassava were planted among some coconuts as drought resistant short-term crops. Tubers are harvested in two to three years, with plants easily replaced with sticks cut from the parent plant.
The first orchard planted in 2017 is now in its third year.
Coconut saplings are now trees, many taller than a 6-foot man. Limes and guava are approaching this height.
Old trees and bushes have largely been beaten back and the ground is becoming grassy.
Guava and lime trees planted in 2017 in the first orchard are sporadically fruiting, and will yield a good harvest next year.
The early guava, left, took first place in the country’s annual agriculture fair in October.
Thanks to the Rotary Club grant, much-needed capital investment was made in the project. A storage building and concrete drying floor at the IVS were completed, below, including an office/meeting room and a night guard’s sleeping quarters. A second storehouse is under construction at the orchard.
A simple, portable and flexible approach to watering was purchased — a minitruck equipped with a tank will carry water around the orchards to keep fruit tree saplings watered throughout the dry season. After two or three years, trees no longer need hand watering. The minitruck is available for other uses, like carrying the rice harvest, below.
Note, the new truck driver, Zainab, is a woman, in keeping with the project’s objective to hire women wherever possible. Who said this isn’t women’s work?
Paramount Chief Caulker intends Orchards for Education to be a demonstration ground to show the Sierra Leone government, NGOs and farming neighbors that productive agriculture projects can be community-led and used to reach nonprofit goals.
The Orchards for Education project is set up to fund Bumpeh Chiefdom education programs for the long term. It’s also providing employment and growing seed rice to help local small farmers. Other rural communities can decide how they want to grow their own futures. CCET-SL is showing them it’s all possible.
We send our deep thanks again to Sherbro Foundation donors who generously gave to this Rotary Club grant project with 2018 year-end donations. Your gifts were matched by Rotary International Foundation. You can now see how far your money already has grown on the ground!
You hit the target. With your generosity, Sherbro Foundation’s 2019-20 girls’ scholarship campaign reached it’s goal.
Actually, it’s 460 individual goals that were met. You helped 460 girls achieve their personal goal of returning to school another year and advancing to the next grade.
Bravo to these girls pursuing their education. And bravo to you, the ones that made it happen!
I always anxiously await seeing what happened to individual girls I’ve gotten to know. This picture of Fatmata proudly smiling in her senior high uniform made me smile, then left me teary thinking of her story.
Fatmata, now starting 11th grade, just received her fifth SFSL scholarship. She’s thriving and moving through senior high.
We wrote about Fatmata two years ago. She lost her father to Ebola, and her pregnant mother died shortly afterward. A relative enrolled her in a Rotifunk school because she could get a scholarship. She resisted her father’s family’s efforts to move her to another town where she would not get scholarship support. She wanted to be sure to stay in school. Now, a few years later, she’s nearly finished with secondary school.
There are many more Fatmatas also getting their chance for education.
We’re thrilled to repeat last year’s highwater mark of 460 scholarships, covering four Bumpeh Chiefdom schools of all faiths. And four young women will return to another year of college with their SFSL scholarships.
With your support, more and more chiefdom girls are staying in school each year. We’re grateful to you for your generosity in backing their growing numbers year after year.
We’re told no other community in Sierra Leone receives this number of scholarships — and all for girls!
Distributing scholarships is always a joyful day. Below, Bumpeh Academy students spill out of our partner CCET-SL’s education center after receiving their scholarship package of a school uniform and school supplies. Without textbooks, it’s essential students get notebooks for recording teachers’ blackboard notes.
Rosaline Kaimbay, CCET-SL Managing Director and former school principal, above, encouraged students and told them of their responsibility to learn and become successful. CCET-SL’s role she tells them, “is to help transform the lives of chiefdom people. When you are successful, you will transform our community.”
Mrs. Kaimbay reminded students of the college scholarships we have started. She told senior high students, “it’s now in your hands” to study hard and qualify for a future scholarship.
The Ahmadiyya Islamic school, above, is the chiefdom’s smallest secondary school. But the ranks of girls in the school keep growing year by year.
Walter Schutz Memorial Secondary School (WSMSS) is the chiefdom’s oldest school, and the one where I taught as a Peace Corps Volunteer many years ago. I remember feeling good back then to have 70 girls in all six grades of the town’s only secondary school. Today, the CCET-SL center, above, was overflowing with over 150 girls receiving scholarship packages in just one of four participating schools!
Pictures weren’t yet available for our fourth school, Ernest Bai Koroma Junior High, the newest school ten miles outside Rotifunk.
But what about the boys?
Every year when I visit Rotifunk schools and meet with student assemblies, I’m asked directly by boys, “What about us? We need help going to school, too.”
The fact is, they do. And with the scholarship program, the number of girls in Rotifunk secondary schools is catching up to their male peers.
As Westerners, we’ve had the notion that African families favor boys over girls for education. I’ve asked enough people in Bumpeh Chiefdom over enough years to now satisfy myself this is no longer true. Girls have caught up with boys in junior high, and now we’re helping girls do the same in senior high. It’s poverty that’s kept girls from progressing now, not favoritism, especially when village girls face the added expense of lodging in town suitable for an unaccompanied teenage girl.
The SF Board decided last year to start scholarships for boys at the modest level of 10% of the total given to girls. We paid for 46 additional scholarships for boys ourselves. This year we set the same target, and one Board member paid for all boys in full.
Student profiles show just how important it is to support boys as well as girls. Mustapha, left, is doing well now in 12th grade with his second scholarship.
He lost his parents during the early days of the Ebola outbreak when they were quarantined. They may have only become infected when kept in close quarters with those who had contracted Ebola. Now living with an uncle, Mustapha wants to become a lawyer “to stop too much crime.”
There are many disadvantaged boys who need our support.
Sallu, middle left, is disabled.
His education means everything to him, as he won’t be able to earn his living with physical labor.
We’ll continue to monitor this issue year by year.
Once again, we send our deepest thanks to everyone for making this year’s scholarship campaign another successful one!
— Arlene Golembiewski
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.
— Arlene Golembiewski
“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
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