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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

 

Still Good News in the World

Still Good News in the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

 

 

Orchards for Education Grow by Leaps and Bounds

Orchards for Education Grow by Leaps and Bounds

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.

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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.

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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.

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Rice threshing Oct '19_Moment(8)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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

IMG-20190927-WA0021 (2)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.

IMG-20190927-WA0018 (2)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.

IMG-20190927-WA0013 (5)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.

IMG-20191001-WA0005Guava 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.

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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!

 

460 Goals Met!

460 Goals Met!

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!

IMG-20191009-WA0001 (2)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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

Emory WSMSS SS2 math 3 (2)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.

Mustapha Kebbie SS2Student 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.”

Emory spelling bee team 2 Mabinty's and Sallu disabled foot (3)

 

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

Unbeatable. Unstoppable.

Arlene’s House. Unbeatable. My name was emblazoned on banners and T-shirts for a school sports meet in Rotifunk, Bumpeh Chiefdom.

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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.

IMG-20190413-WA0002School 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).

IMG-20190414-WA0006Announcers 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.

IMG-20190414-WA0003My 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