Getting Kids Ready for Senior High and Beyond

 

It was a Wednesday night, the first week of school in January, and our partner CCET-SL’s Community Learning Center was thronged with Rotifunk-area kids. Over 80 9th and 12th graders returned to a classroom at night because they’re eager to continue learning.

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Come July, they’ll be sitting for their senior high and college entrance exams. They are intent on using their education as a path to a better life. But first, they must pass the West African standardized school completion exams, and they want to pass the first time.

Eighty-three students quickly signed up for CCET-SL’s new Tutoring Program. These 9th and 12th graders attend evening classes three times a week to review the full junior high or senior high curriculum, and make sure they’re prepared for the school completion exams.

Alima Kanu JSS3 tutoring student (2)Alima, left, is one student who signed up. We introduced Alima last year and the formidable challenges she’s faced to stay in school. When her older parents couldn’t pay for any more schooling, they sent to live with her aunt. She had to walk five miles each way to her Rotifunk school.

With a SFSL-funded scholarship, the bright 14-year-old has progressed to the 9th grade. We were delighted to see she’s joined the tutoring program.

Alima was able to move from her aunt’s village into town this year. She’s determined to go to college and told us here why she comes for extra evening tutoring.

 

IMG-20180129-WA0013 (2)Thanks to a $5,000 Beaman Family Fund grant, the Tutoring Program is being offered free of charge to both girls and boys.

The grant pays for five part-time local teachers, a sixth full-time teacher to coordinate the program for 2017, and teacher and student learning materials.

Gibril Bendu, above, the only Science teacher in town, is leading the Tutoring Program for CCET-SL.

Introducing computers — All participating students must also complete an introduction to computers. By the end of term, they will have learned basics of Windows, Word for Windows and Excel.

IMG-20180131-WA0012Paramount Chief Charles Caulker visited the first week and immediately called us in Cincinnati. We heard all the noise in the background of kids getting into the preloaded computer games, as their first effort in learning how to navigate a PC and use the mouse. He said it made him so proud.

“Just think, there are 80 children in my chiefdom now learning how to use a computer!”

Rural education challenges — The unexpected Beaman Family Fund gift is giving rural children the opportunity to succeed in the modern world, just as city kids have.

For over 20 years, no Bumpeh Chiefdom student passed the West African standardized junior high or senior high completion exams, the BECE and WASSCE, or met university entry requirements.

In 2016, the first three candidates (all with Sherbro Foundation scholarships) passed the WASSCE senior high exam with university requirements, and are currently attending college.

More Bumpeh Chiefdom students now are progressing to junior high, many with Sherbro Foundation scholarships. But they face serious limitations in advancing to senior high and beyond. Schools have inexperienced teachers, many unqualified in their subject matter, especially at the senior high level. It’s difficult to get teachers with four-year degrees to live in a rural community.

IMG_2038 (2)Students don’t have textbooks and must copy limited notes teachers write on the blackboard.

Poor school policies advance students who fail exams to the next grade, where they don’t catch up. Poor discipline may mean students don’t complete the full curriculum.

When students go home after school, they don’t have a suitable study environment. Most live in crowded conditions with distractions, noise and no lighting. They lack the support and coaching important to reach goals no one around them has achieved.

Filling in the gaps — Kids will never make it to college or vocational school if they don’t first learn what they should in junior high.

IMG-20170927-WA0002Working to fill this gap is CCET-SL’s Tutoring Program, the brainchild of Managing Director Rosaline Kaimbay, left. As a former school principal, she ran year-end study camps where 9th graders had intensive all-day review classes for four weeks. The result was 100% of her students passed the junior high BECE completion exam, uncommon for any school, let alone a rural school.

At CCET-SL, Mrs. Kaimbay is turning her approach into a three-day-a-week evening program open to students from all Bumpeh Chiefdom schools. With the Tutoring Program, kids can achieve the knowledge level needed to be successful in senior high. Dropouts are reduced and the likelihood of advancing to college or vocational school improved. Graduating seniors will get prepped for their college entrance exam.

Pride of the chiefdom — Chief Caulker said the program is already much admired in the chiefdom.

Adama Kamara JSS3 tutoring student (2)Girls like Adama, left, feel pride that they’re joining a group of chiefdom academic elites, studying with the best local teachers in a first-class environment complete with solar light and computers.

They arrive early and leave talking with their friends in English about what they just learned. Chatting in English doesn’t normally happen in a rural environment, Chief said. It’s strictly Krio, the country’s vernacular.

Parents are overwhelmed by all the efforts being made for their children, he said, and that it’s all free of charge. For a chiefdom with 70% illiteracy, moving 80 kids to academic proficiency at the senior high level is a very big deal. A real source of pride.

 

More needs — Still, there’s more to do. Some students attending the program live in villages 3-6 miles away, and were valuing their education over even food.

IMG-20180122-WA0003 (4)It’s too far for them to walk home from school for their main (and sometimes only) daily meal and return again for evening classes. Some had not eaten since heading to school at 7 a.m.! And it’s too dark for girls to be walking home that distance at 7:30 p.m.

CCET-SL arranged to feed these students in the short term, and teachers taxi them home with CCET-SL motorcycles. Most students are inadequately fed and will perform better with an evening meal to fuel their brains.

Our next goal for these dedicated students is to raise additional funds for a meal program for the whole class and fuel costs to ensure girls are safely taken home at night.

In the meantime, classes are on and it’s a full house.

SFSL Founder Receives Prestigious Award

SFSL Founder Receives Prestigious Award

Sherbro Foundation is delighted to announce that founder and Executive Director Arlene Golembiewski was named Humanitarian of the Year by the worldwide P&G Alumni Network.

The biennial award goes to “the individual who has made a significant contribution to the human condition through their time, effort or expertise, whether this was a single event or a lifetime of work,” according to the organization. “This award is intended to recognize actions that go well beyond efforts in a single community or location and serve mankind as a whole.”

Arlene accepts the award from Ed Tazzia, P&G Alumni Network Chairman.

Arlene received the honor at the recent P&G Alumni Network Global Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio for former P&G employees.  Most attendees have gone on to new careers in many industries as CEOs, CFOs, marketing, advertising, finance, manufacturing and HR leaders.

In her acceptance speech, Arlene noted that in its first four years, Sherbro Foundation has funded 1,250 secondary school-fee scholarships for impoverished girls in Bumpeh Chiefdom, Sierra Leone. The Foundation is awarding its first college scholarship this year for a deserving village girl.

“For many, conditions in Sierra Leone can seem hopeless. But I found there were simple and practical things I could do that would have an immediate impact on improving the lives of the some of the world’s poorest and most inaccessible people,” Arlene said.

“These weren’t my ideas, and I couldn’t do any of this on my own living in the US. You need a strong community partner, and we have a remarkable one in the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation. CCET-Sierra Leone is led by Board Chairman Paramount Chief Charles Caulker and supported by his chiefdom council. The work is all community led – so it’s moved quickly.”

“I share this award with my friends in CCET-Sierra Leone,” Arlene said.

Arlene also thanked the P&G Alumni Foundation for their grant this year of $12,235 for CCET-Sierra Leone’s new education and computer center in Rotifunk. The money went to finish equipping the center, including 17 more laptop computers and a color printer for the first and only printing service in a district of 300,000 people.

Arlene, left, with Chief Charles Caulker and CCET-SL Executive Director Rosaline Kaimbay in their new computer center.

The P&G Alumni Network has 37,000 members in chapters around the world, all former employees of the Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co.  Arlene retired from P&G as Associate Director of Global Health, Safety and Environment after a thirty-year career developing HS&E programs around the world and assessing new product introductions for the world’s largest consumer product company.

So how do you grow a coconut?

How do you grow a coconut? What’s the seed?

vlcsnap-error366As a biologist myself, I had to stop and think, it’s the same as with any other fruit. In nature fruit drops from a tree and will start growing where it falls.

That’s true for coconuts, too. In a fertile place, they will grow where they fall –  shell, husk and all.

IMG_1988Bumpeh Chiefdom is lowland tropical rainforest, perfect for growing coconuts.  The Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation (CCET) is growing them commercially by the hundreds in a coconut nursery.

Coconut seedlings will go to their own nonprofit project orchards and some to sell to private growers. Private sales help pay for ongoing nursery operation and fund growing all the fruit trees they raise for village orchards and baby orchards.

vlcsnap-error787 (2) Coconuts, shell and all, are planted about a third of the way into loose soil and covered with straw mulch.

Two or three months later, they’re sprouting. By six months, they are ready to transplant.

A mature coconut tree will fetch $30 in fruit income. And CCET just planted 450 of these in the new Baby Orchard!

IMG_1993CCET’s nursery manager, Pa Willie, grows project coconuts in a protected nursery to keep thieves from stealing them. It’s a fenced in and locked pen right behind his house he keeps an eye on.

Pa Willie developed his growing skills when he worked for a Liberian rubber plantation  near the border with Sierra Leone before the rebel war. He had to flee for his life with only the shirt on his back when rebels infiltrated the plantation. Thankfully today. he can tend to the nursery from the peace of his own backyard.

Trivia question – where did the rubber for making tires come from when Henry Ford started making cars a hundred years ago, and before the days of petroleum based synthetic rubber? Ford funded plantations in Liberia growing natural rubber trees. Some are still growing today.

 

 

 

Rotifunk Leads Unique Community Ebola Prevention Effort

Rotifunk Leads Unique Community Ebola Prevention Effort

Dear Friends,

I thought I would be writing now to ask your support for Sherbro Foundation Sierra Leone’s girls scholarship fund. With the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, school is indefinitely suspended. Instead, I’m asking for your help on getting Ebola prevention supplies to the rural Sierra Leone area we work with.

CCET Exec. Director Rosaline Kaimbay demonstrates the hand washing station.

CCET Executive Dir. Rosaline Kaimbay demonstrates portable hand washing station filled with disinfectant solution.

In the last two weeks, SFSL has had to shift our focus from education to helping Rotifunk and surrounding villages fight the Ebola epidemic.  A second and bigger wave of Ebola is now moving through Sierra Leone.  Neither the Sierra Leone government nor any NGO’s have reached rural areas beyond the outbreak epicenter with Ebola prevention supplies.  Yet, it’s in these kinds of rural places the Ebola outbreak started.

The majority of Ebola cases continue to be in two areas in eastern Sierra Leone. A national state of emergency was declared last week, and these two areas have been blockaded. Everyone is effectively quarantined in place for 21 days, the Ebola incubation period. Only food, water and essential supplies are allowed in.

This is a necessary public health step to control the Ebola outbreak. But the disease had already started spreading around the country.  People who became sick in the hot spot areas feared they would get Ebola if they went to a hospital. Before the blockades went up, sick people ran to the care of relatives in other districts. Some of these sick people had Ebola and transferred it to other parts of the country, including Moyamba district where Rotifunk is.  This district now has four confirmed cases and fifty being tested.  This is how epidemics spread.  A frontline Scots aid worker describes the many direct and indirect effects the epidemic is having on an already fragile country.

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CCET, our local partner, prepares to deliver hand sanitizing stations.

There’s a misconception that the Ebola outbreak is being managed for the whole country by large nonprofit organizations like Doctors WIthout Borders (MSF). MSF is heroically fighting the battle to save people’s lives already ill with Ebola in the two epicenters, and tracing their contacts for quarantine there. But they are not involved in prevention activities to stop the spread of Ebola in the rest of country. The Sierra Leone Government’s actions have been limited to reactive steps and mainly within their fragile health care system; not preventive steps across the country.

Sherbro Foundation is equipping Rotifunk and surrounding villages with portable hand sanitizing stations.  This deadly disease can surprisingly be killed with soap and water and hand sanitizers.  People are being trained to frequently wash their hands, especially when in public places like markets, churches, mosques and health clinics.

Hand washing station delivered to the health clinic waiting area.

Hand washing station delivered to health clinic waiting area.

Rotifunk, like most of the country, has no running water.  There is nowhere to wash hands.  Preventive steps like hand sanitizing stations in public places are not set up in rural towns and villages outside the two Ebola hot spots.

SFSL sent money last week to set up over forty hand sanitizing stations like this one and a supply of disinfectant. Our Rotifunk local partner, the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation (CCET)informed us today they need to reach more villages and have more disinfectant to go around. Prices on buying these portable sanitizing stations have gone up 50% in the last week, as goods are in short supply.

CCET Executive Director, Rosaline Kaimbay informed me today they are being seen as unique in Sierra Leone with this kind of grass roots community-led effort on Ebola prevention.  While towns across Sierra Leone are still waiting for Government and NGO assistance, they are taking charge on the fight against Ebola.

It’s understandable that limited resources are first going to the epicenters of the emergency.  But unless towns in the rest of Sierra Leone like Rotifunk are equipped for preventive actions to fight Ebola, the epidemic can continue to spread across the country – and beyond.  More lives will be lost.

Time is of the essence. Can you help stop this tragic epidemic for the cost of a dinner out or one concert ticket? To donate online, just click here: Donate   We accept all major world currencies. To send checks, contact us at sherbrofoundation@gmail.com.

You can help even more by passing this on to a friend.

Thank you!

Arlene Golembiewski
Founder & Executive Director

The Extra Gift Adult Literacy Brings

Adult Lit classI wondered why the group of adult literacy students were so motivated to come to class at the end of their busy day.  They are mainly working women who are single mothers, too.  They come three afternoons a week to enthusiastically join in lessons in a dim, hot primary school classroom on a hard wooden benches that sit low to the ground. 

Adult studentsBabies share the space with their mothers, quietly nursing or getting passed around to fellow students to hold for a while.  Small children play outside, waiting for their mothers to finish. Lessons go from 4:30pm until 6:00pm when it’s getting too dark to read in the unlit classroom in Rotifunk, a small rural town in Sierra Leone with no electricity.  Day after day, week after week they come, filling two classrooms. 

After spending time with them, I found there was a gift they received that went beyond learning to read and write.  A special gift.

Olivia Bendu, 47 yrs, 6 children, in Advanced group and proud to be learning again.

Olivia Bendu, 47 yrs, 6 children, proud to learn again in Advanced group.

This day’s lesson for the level one class was two letter words.  At, to, in, on, by.  They drilled on spelling each word, then using it in a sentence.  Each student took their turn standing at the chalk board with a pointer reciting and spelling each word.  If anyone stumbled on a word, their fellow students encouraged her on. It was support group as much as it was classroom. 

After classes, I interviewed each adult student. I had told them I wanted to talk with each of them and hear their personal story.  They came willingly, and spoke candidly about their lives and personal situations.  In fact, they followed me around town if they had missed class, stopping me to have their interview.

Zainab Caulker, 28 yrs, market trader, wants to become a nurse.

Zainab Caulker, 28 yrs, market trader, wants to become a nurse.

Many were abandoned by boyfriends and husbands after having one or more children. This often came after dropping out of primary school years before because their father had died or left, or because the family just couldn’t pay for school.  Without money, teenaged girls often get involved with an older man (older than them with a little money) and become pregnant.  More likely than not,  the man doesn’t stay with them for long. Or perhaps they have a husband who dies.  Then it’s repeated again with another man.  

Kadiatu Sillah, 15 yrs, father died; no one can to pay for school; wants to learn  to be a seamstress and support her mother.

Kadiatu Sillah, 15 yrs, father died, no one to pay for school; wants to be a seamstress and support her mother.

To care for and feed their families, the women become market traders, buying rice or palm oil or vegetables from village farms to re-sell in bigger town markets. Or food vendors, selling food they cooked. These are some of the only options available to an illiterate woman.  They make up the informal economy, where people buy and sell just enough to scrape by, never managing to get ahead. They have to eat most of the day’s profits.

Some of those who had husbands were the wives of teachers, one of the only paying jobs in town.  Once they became mothers, they never managed to pursue or finish an education because there was no option for adults.

Victoria Koroma, 31 yrs, five children and no husband; sells donuts, wants to be a nurse.

Victoria Koroma, 31 yrs, 5 children, no husband; sells donuts she makes; wants to be a nurse.

Whether fifteen or fifty years old, the women had similar stories. So, why go through this extra effort of starting school now.  Some students were learning the alphabet for the first time, the teacher’s hand held over theirs, guiding them as they repeatedly traced four letters at a time, A – B – C – D.

They told me they were coming to school to learn to read and write and learn numbers so they could get a job.  Or, so they could better manage their market business.  If their daughter was sent to sell the donuts they made, they needed to better keep inventory.  They wanted to count how many they gave them, and were any lost and unaccounted for at the end of the day. They wanted to count change accurately, and know they weren’t cheated. 

Importantly, they wanted to follow their children’s progress in school and check that their lessons were done.  Or help tutor them when needed.

But after thirty five interviews, something more became apparent to me.  Another theme emerged that was a big underlying factor in motivating these adult students to come to school. 

By coming to school, they were gaining self esteem.

Zainab Caulker, two children, wants to follow her children's lessons and learn to be a secretary.

Zainab Caulker, two children, wants to monitor her children’s lessons and learn to be a secretary.

The lowest person in society’s informal caste system is the illiterate woman.  Illiterate men may find jobs as farmers and laborers, and by virtue of being paid, their stature goes up a notch.  Uneducated men can be village leaders.  But no one is lower in stature than an uneducated, illiterate woman.

I heard stories repeatedly of men leaving them, often for a woman with some education.  An educated woman likely contributes to the family in a bigger way – perhaps by finding a paying job, or by better building their own farm or market business. They have knowledge to better bring up their children, taking care of their health and monitoring their school work.

And an educated woman has more self esteem.  It’s unspoken, but you can see it.  They think better of themselves, they hold their heads higher, and men find that attractive. 

Zainab Kamara 39 yrs, 5 children, friends who can read and write inspired her to come to school; wants to learn to build her business.

Zainab Kamara 39 yrs, 5 children, friends who can read and write inspired her to come to school; wants to learn to build her business.

Women who have been told directly and indirectly that when they can’t read and write they are lacking and worth less than others, are ashamed of themselves.  And that shows in how they conduct themselves. They let themselves be taken advantage of, and are discarded for someone the man perceives as better.

In the Adult Literacy classes, the women were being shown they are worth something and that they have a future in front of them.  The teachers encourage them and invest their time in them.  Their fellow students support them.  This American woman (this white woman) is taking an interest in them, and “sponsoring” them to learn. 

Lucy Manley, 35 yrs, 4 children, no husband; wants to learn nursing and  midwifery.

Lucy Manley, 35 yrs, 4 children, no husband; wants to learn nursing and midwifery.

And week by week, they can see they are learning things.  Things that make them proud and encourage them to learn more.

One lesson the students seemed to get into was greeting people in English.  Hello, my name is Lucy.  How are you?  I hope you are well today.  Each student got up and practiced her greetings in front of the class.  They laughed and joked, and made sure each person had their turn. 

When I asked Lucy after class what she learned that day, she broke into a huge smile.  I learned to give greetings in English, she said, and I felt civilized.  I can give a speech – in English.  This made me proud!

Aminata Otterbein, 60 yrs, saw other educated people her age and wants to learn herself.

Aminata Otterbein, 60 yrs, saw other educated people her age and wants to learn herself.

This response felt priceless to me. So, what was the actual cost of building this kind of self esteem in forty five women and five men?  A few hundred dollars to buy exercise books and pens for each student to copy the day’s lesson, and to run off copies of lessons and tests for the advanced class like math problems.

Fortunately, the teachers at the Center for Empowerment & Transformation continue to volunteer their time for the Adult Literacy program.  They are the heroes of this story. The teachers come to patiently teach again at the end of their long school day to help develop their sisters and brothers, as they call them.  It’s reinforced by students who really want to learn. 

I was seeing empowerment take place right in front of me, and the transformation in these adult students was visible.  It was palpable.  This really was priceless.

Sherbro Foundation is proud to have contributed the cost of exercise books and learning materials to launch the Adult Literacy program. 

Growing a Baby’s Future in Sierra Leone – The Newborn Baby Project

“Children born today have no provision that will guarantee they survive.” — Paramount Chief Charles Caulker, Bumpeh Chiefdom, Sierra Leone.

Every newborn life holds the promise of tomorrow.   Yet, Chief Caulker’s recent comment is reality in Sierra Leone. 

But maybe you can grow a baby’s future.  Literally.

Planting a tree for a newborn infant is an old Sierra Leone tradition.  Now, the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation (CCET) in Rotifunk is kicking off a new program to plant an income-producing fruit tree for each newborn in Bumpeh Chiefdom.

And they’re taking it to the next level by opening a bank account for the newborn where income from selling the tree’s fruit can be deposited and grow. In 12 years, it will fund the child’s education.  Simple.  And that’s why it should work.

Being a newborn baby in rural Sierra Leone is tough.  The proverbial deck is stacked against them, but it’s slowly getting better.  Sierra Leone is no longer among the countries with the top ten infant mortality rates.  It’s No. 11, and, that’s a post-war low of 75 infant deaths per 1000 births in 2013 — a 50% drop in ten years.  

Baby Abraham is a healthy baby.

Baby Abraham is a healthy baby.

Little Abraham is one newborn in Rotifunk awaiting his tomorrow and what it will bring.  Born to a single mother, he crossed his first milestone by successfully reaching his first month’s birthday. A healthy baby delivered in a safe delivery, he now faces the challenge of moving beyond the poverty of his peer group.

Children survive only to be stuck in a cycle of poverty as they become adolescents.  Breaking this cycle in rural villages is a tough nut to crack.  In subsistence agriculture environments like Bumpeh Chiefdom, there’s very little left over after feeding and clothing your family for things like schooling.

It’s clear to all that education is one of the biggest keys to escaping the poverty cycle.  Yet, sending your kids to the local primary school may be as big a stretch as you can make.  Secondary school – often in another town involving room and board – can be an impossibly high hurdle.

The Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation has kicked off a new program designed to help Bumpeh Chiefdom parents prepare well in advance for clearing this hurdle.  The Newborn Baby Project combines the old tradition of planting a tree for a newborn infant with a new opportunity:  savings accounts in a newly opened rural community bank.

CCET is reinstating Bumpeh Chiefdom’s practice of newborn tree planting by providing fruit trees that will produce $100 of income a year for years to come.  They will also initially pay the minimum balance to open an account for the infant in the community bank.  Parents are then expected to add to the account with income from selling the tree’s fruit and other savings over time. 

By the time the child is twelve or fourteen years of age, they should have money to fund their secondary school education and, hopefully, additional money to help their start in life as a young adult.

Two mothers at their babies' naming ceremony.

Two mothers at their babies’ naming ceremony.

CCET is using another old tradition, the Naming Ceremony, to initiate the program.  Parents gather family and friends a week after the child’s birth to officially announce the child’s name and seek blessings for the infant.  This is the time to plant the infant’s tree, and allow the child and the tree to grow up together. 

The innovative part of CCET’s program is to open a bank account for each newborn in their first weeks of life, paying the required minimum balance, and then have income from the child’s tree added over time.  Parents are encouraged to add to the account when they can. 

In the West, we take savings and bank accounts for granted.  In October, Rotifunk opened its first-ever bank, a rural community bank.  This bank operates more like a credit union does here in the US.  Account holders are seen as members and shareholders of the bank.  Money held by the bank is invested in conservative investments and income is paid out to shareholders. 

As a community bank, accounts can also be opened for a small minimum deposit – as small as Le15,000 or about $3.50 USD.  Having a safe and accessible place to save small amounts of money has long been a barrier to the world’s lowest-income people saving money. 

They want to save.  But the amount of money they can set aside for saving is usually so small, traditional banks don’t want to bother with this kind of account.  Traditional banks also impose transaction fees that can be as large as the deposit or withdrawal the saver wants to make.  Add to that, problems with access.  Traditional banks are usually located far from small village savers in bigger population centers. 

With the new community bank in Rotifunk, the Newborn Baby Project will now start providing for the infant’s future within their first weeks of their life.  The symbolism of a child and their tree growing up together will be expanded with an income producing tree and a bank account to grow that income.

Growing a child’s future – that’s what this project aims to do.   Sherbro Foundation is happy to be part of this program by providing initial money to open newborn bank accounts.

 

Joining the Rest of the World – Rotifunk’s First Computer Students

Joining the rest of the world – this is how two of Rotifunk’s first computer literacy students described the way they feel about starting computer lessons.  They know the world is computerized, and they have, to date been left out of the opportunities and the knowledge afforded by computers.

Computer class at CCET office.

Computer class at CCET office.

Computer literacy and regular access to using a computer are among the most coveted resources in today’s Sierra Leone.  People know this is their link to gain valuable job skills, better manage their work, and communicate with the rest of the world.

The Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation received 50 laptop computers in August from American donors Schneider Electric and TIP Capital. They lost no time in building tables and benches with local lumber and creating a practical manual for students who have never used a computer.  Lesson One started in Sept – October with how to turn it on and find the Word software.

The first students are community teachers and other adults with a need to use a computer.  They will form the core group to serve as trainers for high school students and others in the community. Only three or four of the 30+ secondary school teachers in area had any computer proficiency.  Some had been exposed in college to manuals with screen shots of computer monitors as introduction, but never had access to using one themselves.

Here’s a profile of some of Rotifunk’s first computer students.

Samuel Caulker at his computer lesson.

Samuel Caulker at his computer lesson.

Deputy Paramount Chief – Samuel Caulker stands in as the ranking chiefdom authority for his brother, the Paramount Chief when both the Chief and his Chiefdom Speaker are out of town.  Samuel says the world has gone computerized, but until now, Rotifunk was not part of this.  This is his first opportunity for computer lessons and he wanted to take advantage of it.

He was embarrassed when going to training workshops outside the chiefdom, and he had to say he did not know how to use a computer.

Soon he can see computers in the Chiefdom Administrative Office.  Records can be kept and accessed when needed on computers, like amount of taxes collected for the year and who paid in each Section.  They can maintain land transfer records and avoid land disputes; they can keep names of all 208 villages in the chiefdom and the responsible headmen. Importantly, they can maintain minutes of Chiefdom Council meetings and other key chiefdom events.

Samuel is not finding using a PC as difficult as he may have thought.  They have excellent tutors from CCET committed to teaching them.  It would go faster if they had more time to practice. They come at 5:00pm at the end of their work day.  Lack of electricity and cost of running a generator limit the time of the class to 6:30pm when it’s too dark to see.  Today they had to stop when the battery on the computer ran down.

Samuel wants to thank Schneider Electric and TIP Capital for the opportunity to learn to use a computer and will make good use of his class. He also appreciates the low cost of CCET classes.  They are paying Le30,000 (~$7.50 USD) for classes that would cost Le150,000 in Freetown.

Secondary School Teacher – Emanuel Mbasy teaches at Walter Schutz Secondary School.  Emanuel sees technology quickly changing and wants to be part of it.  With computer literacy for himself, he can then also teach his children.  He can create his own documents and quickly find them, like class lessons, exams and other documents.  Files get missing at school, and he could better maintain them.

Practical computer instruction manual designed by CCET.

Practical instruction manual designed by CCET: how to boot a computer.

The CCET teachers are good and he’s not finding it too hard to learn, if you concentrate and practice.  Practice is unfortunately limited to a few hours of classroom time each week, and students like him do not have their own computer to practice on at home.  They do have a good manual CCET prepared for them they can take home and review.

Emanuel wants to give his special thanks to Schneider Electric and TIP Capital for allowing him to join the rest of the world with learning computers.  May God bless them.  More computers for their personal use would be great. 

Muslim Missionary and Imam – Osman Sesay is a young Imam with the Amaddiyah Islamic mission present in Rotifunk. Technology is improving, and the Amaddiyah mission has a computer, but he didn’t know how to use it.  He’s glad for the chance for lessons now.  He wants to be able to keep speeches on the computer, as well as lessons and exams for the Amaddiyah school.  They conduct marriages and need to issue marriage certificates. 

Imam Sesay really wants to learn to use a computer. It’s difficult, but he will learn.  He’s not fortunate to have his own personal computer, and would really like to have one.

Computer lesson.

Computer lesson: teachers give 1:1 help.

Construction Contractor – Abu Bakar Conteh is a contractor building new buildings at the Prosperity Girls High School.  As a contractor, he needs to give bids and estimates and keep them. Offices with files are a luxury in rural Sierra Leone, and his work keeps him on the move anyway.  A computer would help him organize his work and keep it available, as well as make calculations easier.

A computer would also allow him to advertise his business through the internet.

Abu Bakar enjoys computer lessons very much and is finding it easy, despite this being his first class.  He’s learned to write and save some documents, and he’s become familiar with the keyboard.

He would like to thank Schneider Electric and TIP Capital so much.  They find it difficult to get computer lessons in Sierra Leone, especially in a rural place, and these companies have made it so easy and inexpensive for him.

DSTV Satellite Dish Operator – Sembu Fallah maintains DSTV service for the area. We are living in a computerized world where knowledge has advanced, he says, and he would like to know it better.  He wants to be a perfect man and learn enough to teach others as an additional job.

He could also use a computer to join the DSTV signal to a computer for viewing sports games here in Rotifunk as an additional source of income.

Sembu wants to thank Schneider Electric and TIP Capital for what they’ve done for them.  He really appreciates it, and prays they will bring more.  If he had his own computer he would continue to practice at home and not be limited to three 90 minute classes a week at the CCET office.

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August 28, 2014 update: I see people continue to read this post, so I wanted to direct you to the latest up on Rotifunk’s computer program.  We are turning a town tragedy into a triumph.  A community computer center is being built as I write this from the ashes of a rebel burned building. You can read about it here: https://sherbrofoundation.org/2014/08/25/computing-center-roof-is-up/

 

Computer Lab Project: First Pictures

The Computer Lab project is now reality! The Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation (CCET) in Rotifunk is the proud owner of a computer lab with 50 modern laptop computers with Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2010. And the first pictures are in.

We wish to once again thank the U.S. donors, Schneider Electric and TIP Capital for taking the lead in outfitting the computer lab with up-to-date computers.  We hope you enjoy now watching the transformation of this community as both adults and high school students acquire their first computer skills.

The computer “lab” today is still temporary quarters in a house Chief Caulker has loaned them for now.  Building a new classroom building for the computer lab open to the community will be the next step in the project.  Installing a solar energy system to power lighting for evening classes and to charge computers is also part of the plan.

But with tables and chairs made by local carpenters and computers in hand, computer classes have begun.

Teacher and CCET leader, Mr. Sonnah earlier explained the Center’s logo to me and how it symbolizes what they plan to accomplish.  A man and a woman are together holding one torch light.  Light brings about transformation, and men and women are equally balanced in holding one light.  They are surrounded by olive branches depicting them rescuing the chiefdom from its past traumas.  They are transforming the chiefdom to be a better place.  Mr. Kamara, another teacher and CCET leader said in his quietly confident manner, we are developing our brothers and sisters, and we know with our work today, tomorrow will be a brighter day.  We see our future as bright.

High school computer students, L - R: Bumpeh Christian Academy, Walter Schultz Sec. School, Prosperity Girls HS

High school computer students, L – R: Bumpeh Christian Academy, Walter Schultz Secondary School, Prosperity Girls High School

I, too, see their future getting brighter each day.  I think you can see it in the pictures that follow.

High School students practice on front porch of the CCET offices

High School students practice on front porch of the CCET offices

Adult students get computer instruction

Adult students get computer instruction

CCET teacher instructs adult students.

CCET teacher instructs adult students.

Teachers and adult computer students

Teachers and adult students in front of the temporary computer lab quarters.

Women in adult literacy class in an afternoon lesson

Another CCET program: Women in an adult literacy class in an afternoon lesson

Scholarship program celebrates girls’ education in Rotifunk

I admit it. I sometimes thought my sister Arlene was a bit crazy for trying to start a non-profit organization all by herself to help people with such great needs on the other side of the globe.

But when you look at what’s been accomplished in its first six months, I’m amazed and proud – and my faith is being restored in the generosity of people coming together to improve life for others. We are linking with strangers around the world, interested in what is happening. (And of course, I volunteered to help.)

The Sherbro Foundation’s first round of scholarship awards to young women in Rotifunk’s four secondary schools is the latest point of pride.

2012-13 Girl Scholarships awards - Prosperity Girls High School (blue shirts), Walter Schutz Secondary School (white shirts)

2012-13 Girl Scholarships awards – Prosperity Girls High School (blue shirts), Walter Schutz Secondary School (white shirts)

First, it’s amazing that Prosperity Girls High School, a four-year-old school, achieved an impressive feat last fall when 100% of their students who took the West African standardized senior high entrance exam passed it – a feat for which they received special recognition from the national Ministry of Education for exceptional results!  Each girl passed on her first try AND the school had complete success on its first time sending girls for the exam.

It’s amazing that an impoverished rural community created its first all-girls secondary school. It’s amazing that Rotifunk’s new nonprofit, the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation, voluntarily formed by teachers at the new Prosperity Girls High School, is administering the scholarship program as a foundation partner. It’s amazing that 138 girls benefited from this year’s scholarship program ranging from 7th to 10th grades.

So it was time to celebrate. To read Teacher Osman Kamara’s account of the recent scholarship presentation ceremony for the young women is heart-warming. It would convince anyone that the Foundation must keep growing.

“The activities of Sherbro Foundation have become visible and the people of Bumpeh Chiefdom are hopeful and have the belief that their lives (are improving) and the burden of their children’s education has been lessened with the involvement of Sherbro Foundation,” he said.

“The people of Bumpeh Chiefdom were very happy and appreciative of the scholarships.”

The celebration was attended by 200 parents and guardians and many community leaders of Moyamba District. Master of Ceremonies S.P. Gibril pointed out that it was the first time in the history of the District that so many female students in all the secondary schools of Bumpeh Chiefdom received scholarships.  He also thanked Paramount Chief Charles Caulker for connecting Arlene with the community.

Chief Caulker and Arlene were fellow teachers more than 35 years ago, when she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Rotifunk.

2012-13 Girl Scholarship awards - Bumpeh Academy (green) and Ahmaddiya Islamic School (white)

2012-13 Girl Scholarship awards – Bumpeh Academy (green) and Ahmaddiya Islamic School (white)

Principals of each school nominated their own students from the junior high and senior high levels. It was decided that female students at all of the community’s schools should benefit. The count:

* Prosperity Girls High School, 41 students

* Bumpeh Academy Senior Secondary School, 20 students

* Walter Schutz Memorial Secondary School , 30 students

* Ahmadiyya Muslim Secondary School, 30 students

* Children of adult literacy students, 17 students

Four categories of students were awarded scholarships:

* Vulnerable students (low income, single parents, orphans, students who had to leave their village and board in town to  attend secondary school)

* Academic achievers

* At least six female football (soccer) players from each school

* Pupils whose parents are students themselves in the new adult literacy program operated by CCET, who are mostly single parents

Home visits were required in most cases, in order to verify economic status and school enrollment.  In a remarkable approach to trimming red tape and ever-present bureaucracy, parents were directly awarded the scholarship money. This was done because this first round of scholarships was awarded for the just-completed 2012-2013 school year. Most of the parents and guardians anxiously awaited the funds because either they could not afford to pay the school fees, or had taken loans for which they still owed.

The nation’s Education Ministry for Moyamba District was also represented at the scholarship event.  Abdul Karim Kanu, who is the Moyamba District Inspector of Schools, commended the Sherbro Foundation.  He promised to report the CCET’s successes to the Education Ministry in the capital of Freetown. The foundation’s partner on the ground has the potential to become a model for the country.

Wish I could have been there.

— Chris Golembiewski

50 Computers Have Shipped Bound for Rotifunk

Fifty computers are on a container ship as I write this steaming its way from New Jersey to Sierra Leone and the grateful people of Rotifunk. These will be the first computers that allow The Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation to set up a computer literacy program and start teaching regular computer classes for Bumpeh Chiefdom.

This will not just provide computer skills, but skills to give the people of Rotifunk a shot at the 21st century job market. Skills to modernize school and chiefdom administration.  Skills to help people start or expand small businesses.

This is the dream that Prosperity Girls High School Principal Rosaline Kaimbay and I had two years ago when I made my first trip to Rotifunk in over 35 years and first met her.  Prosperity Girls was just finishing their second academic year after the school was founded in 2009.  She then had 67 girls in 7th and 8th grades – or as they say Junior Secondary School 1 and 2. The school now has four grades and triple the students. 

As Principal Kaimbay and I talked about her goals for the school in July 2011, we acknowledged that most of these girls were unlikely to go on to college.  They need vocational training programs in the school to give students practical job skills.  We quickly agreed computer training was top of the list.  Whether going to college or being a clerk in a shop, people today need computer skills to excel.

By next month at this time, our dream will become reality.

This dream has been made possible by two generous U.S. companies that I serendipitously met in Cincinnati – Schneider Electric and TIP Capital.

I went on the spur of the moment to a preview showing of the new PBS series, Half The Sky, about the plight of women and girls in the developing world that was given at the public library. Jenny Brady, Schneider Electric employee and CARE volunteer was leading the showing and a discussion afterwards.  She encouraged the audience to not just watch the video, but to find a real project to help a girl or a woman like those we had just seen.  Progress starts with one person here willing to help one girl/one woman somewhere in another country struggling to move her life forward.

OK, I said to myself, raise your hand and let people know you have such a project, and in Sierra Leone, one of the countries just profiled in the Half the Sky video. My “project” then was a discussion with a principal in a small town on the other side of the world, and a piece of paper she and her teachers prepared with their objectives for a computer lab for the school and the community. 

Teaching lab by day, Internet café by night.  Never mind they have no Internet service and no electricity. That was part of our dream for Rotifunk, too.

schneider elec_logoJenny liked this project herself.  She invited me to another Half the Sky showing where she brought the Schneider Electric HR manager, who I spoke with. She liked it, too, and took it back to Schneider Electric management as a proposal to send laptop computers to Rotifunk. 

The project now had legs.

This is an example of the kind of social responsibility effort I found Schneider Electric is globally known for as a multinational corporation in the world of energy management and sustainable development. They are recognized as one of the Top 100 World’s Most Ethical Companies.

TIP Capital logoSchneider leases their office IT equipment from an IT leasing company, TIP Capital.  They would get refurbished computers from TIP, who very generously agreed to sell these at cost and pay shipping charges to the New Jersey port. Giving up their profit on 50 computers was another very kind donation made by TIP.

As we were getting this underway, the Boston marathon tragedy occurred.  A horrific vicious circle of hatred where just two people wreaked incredible havoc and heartache.  How fortunate I remember thinking that I am instead involved in a circle of virtue, where one person’s desire to help on a compelling need enlists the help of another, who in turn draws in another person, and another.

Other donations have followed as people have heard of the project and seen it taking shape.  But a huge thanks goes out to the people at Schneider Electric and TIP Capital for the being the first ones to step up and say, I want to help on this.

A lot has happened in the last year and the project has grown.  More teachers have come to Rotifunk for the growing Prosperity Girls High School and formed an all-volunteer community development Nonprofit they call The Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation (CCET).  I found other worthwhile projects needing support in Rotifunk on a later trip, and formed the Sherbro Foundation. 

The computer lab project has already grown in anticipation of receiving 50 computers.  CCET and Sherbro Foundation decided we should open computer training to more of the community beyond one girls schools.  There are four secondary schools in Rotifunk with girl and boy students needing computer skills.  There are school graduates in town that would like the opportunity learn computer skills for their own career development. There’s other adults who want the chance to learn to use a computer, or who have basic skills, but no access to a computer in town.  People now have to go the capital or another larger town with an Internet café to use a computer.

Even the women in the adult literacy class who are just learning to read and write their own names are excited at the prospect of learning to use a computer.  If primary school kids learn to use them, why not these women?  I say more power to them.  In this way, I hope computer classes will serve as an incentive for all students, young and old, to continue in school and keep learning.

Computer based training via DVD’s can also be a boost for students trying to master basic subjects like math and English grammar.

Paramount Chief Caulker has given CCET a building to use for their office and classes.  Sherbro Foundation has contributed some money to pay for a local carpenter to build office furniture and tables to hold classes.  And, next month, they will be firing up their own computers.

It’s one thing to learn to use a computer, but what do people then do with a computer in rural Africa?  More on that in another post.

If you would like to become part of this circle of virtue going out to the small town of Rotifunk, Sierra Leone, you can by using the on-line donation button to the right of this website.  There’s still plenty to do. 

We need simple things.  $15 will buy a computer bag to store and carry laptops. $25 will buy five gallons of fuel to run a small generator for hours of charging time. Educational DVD’s will help, like math and typing tutorials and programs like National Geographic and PBS.  Used DVD’s you’ve outgrown are fine. Let us know on Contact Us for that.

Top of the list though is a long term plan to provide power for this new computer lab to charge computers and light classrooms at night.  Part of the initial dream is still on the table – to fund a solar power system for the computer lab and to run adult education classes at night.

We haven’t given up on that part of the dream. It’s still growing.

Tree Nursery – see them grow

CCET-SL volunteer and local teacher Mr. Sennessy (left, blue shirt) and Mr.s Kaimbay, CCET-SL Director and local principal, left, watch as a young volunteer prepares her seedling bag.

CCET-SL volunteer and local teacher Mr. Sennessy (left, blue shirt) and Mrs. Kaimbay, CCET-SL Director and local principal, right, watch as a young volunteer prepares her seedling bag.

It’s the rainy season now in Sierra Leone and planting time.  Rotifunk is busy planting tree seedlings to raise in their nursery for trees of economic value. 

Thanks to cell phone pictures and Facebook, we can all now see the nursery taking shape and seedlings growing.

The tree nursery is a project of Rotifunk’s home grown nonprofit organization, the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation.  CCET-SL’s aim is to empower their community in development with projects like the tree nursery.  With these projects, they hope to transform lives of the average person in Bumpeh Chiefdom.

I shouldn’t say they hope to transform lives.  They plan to transform lives. With simple, concrete projects like the tree nursery that will have clear payback, this isn’t a leap of faith.  Next year, the trees will be ready for people to plant in their own gardens and farms to improve their family’s diet and gain income by selling their surplus.   Citrus, coconut and oil palm trees, as well as teak trees for future lumber sale.

Bumpeh Chiefdom is a rural area rich in agriculture.  So, economic development here starts with agriculture projects. To read the whole story about the Economic Tree Nursery,  click here to see an earlier post.  Sherbro Foundation has supported the nursery project with money to buy farm tools and young oil palm seedlings bred for early fruiting.

Filling polythene bags with soil that will allow seedling to form deep roots.  This looks like rich silty soil from the Bumpeh River floodplain.

Filling polythene bags with soil that will allow seedling to form deep roots. This looks like rich silty soil from the Bumpeh River floodplain.

Rotifunk community gets involved with preparing the bags to hold seedlings.

Rotifunk community gets involved with preparing the bags to hold seedlings.

Seedlings will be nursed in the nursery, watered and protected from hot tropical sun in the dry season til ready to plant next year.

Seedlings will be nursed in the nursery, watered and protected from the dry season’s hot tropical sun til ready to plant next year.  Families across Bumpeh Chiefdom are eligible to get trees at a token cost.

CCET-SL volunteers and local teachers Osmun Kamara and Phillip Komoh.

CCET-SL volunteers and local teachers Osmun Kamara and Phillip Komoh.  I’d guess these are coconut seedlings.

Growing trees with economic value

Let’s talk about the another part of the Sherbro Foundation’s work – helping to spur economic development in a rural community.

On my last two trips to Sierra Leone an idea was percolating in my brain that finally crystalized.  I recognized I wanted to do something beyond the cycle of donations for traditional nonprofit work supporting education, health, community services and the like.  Don’t get me wrong.  These are important and much needed.  These are a lot of what Sherbro Foundation is doing, too.

But I also wanted to do something else.  Something more.

The more is giving the chiefdom a boost in economic development, and their main economic livelihood is agriculture.  This chiefdom is blessed with fertile land for agriculture and rivers with which to irrigate.  It is lacking the means for most people to develop and expand beyond subsistence agriculture, or to further develop agriculture as a business.

Doing more is helping people expand and diversify their family farm crops, increasing their own food security and allowing them to sell a little excess for much needed cash.

Doing more is also helping spur small farming business that can expand, and in doing so, create paid jobs where none now exist. Getting jobs with regular paid wages can help people join the “formal economy” where they can then pay their own children’s school fees and buy their own mosquito nets.

I was astounded when Bumpeh Chiefdom Paramount Chief Caulker told me what typical cash incomes are in many small villages.  It may be as small as 50,000 Leones/year.  This is little more than $10 USD.  $10 per year, that is.  This is the bottom of the subsistence scale, an informal economy of barter.  You locally trade or sell small amounts of what you grow.  Otherwise, you live off the land, and the fish in the rivers.  Or small game you may be able to hunt.  Bush beef we called it.  You may be able to raise a few goats and chickens.

Tending a vegetable garden.  Day care on your back.

Tending a vegetable garden. Day care on your back.

The most disadvantaged are young adults, eighteen and up, ready to start out on the own.  Also women divorced or separated from husbands, left to fend for themselves and their children.  The families of these groups literally do not have any excess money to loan them to start their farms and vegetable gardens.  With no money for tools, seed, and fertilizer, these groups are stuck. Stuck in extreme poverty.

The Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation, Rotifunk’s all-volunteer group for community development is beginning to tackle this area by starting a tree nursery for trees of economic value.

The idea came up one day on my last trip when we needed to escape the heat of a tropical afternoon in the dry season.  Come on, said Chief Caulker, let’s go pick grapefruits.  We took chairs beyond his house and down a hill to an old citrus orchard started by his father fifty years ago.  I didn’t know citrus trees live 50+ years; maybe the non-hybridized kind.

Boys catch grapefruits being picked.

Boys catch grapefruits being picked in mature fruit orchard.

Picking fruit meant sending boys to shinny up a tree in their bare feet to drop grapefruits down to other waiting kids.  They hold out gunny sacks to break the fall of fruits and not squash them.  Then we divvy up the fruit so everyone gets some.  We sent someone to find bread and made “sandwiches” for the kids with groundnut paste – roasted peanuts you grind up with an empty bottle on a board.

We were enjoying the grapefruits and Chief Caulker reminisced about how he had had “his tree,” his birth tree, and how this is no longer being done.  Probably another casualty lost to the war. Your Tree is where your umbilical cord is planted after your birth together with a tree seedling.  It grows as you grow, and it’s Your Tree.  An old custom in many parts of Africa.

A charming and practical custom, I agreed.  We need more trees planted in this country.  I see fire wood being cut left and right.  How are trees being replanted?

This led to a conversation about how we should start planting trees and get the new community based organization – the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation, still an idea, but at least that day drafted on paper – to start this.

Four months later, as I write this, CCET volunteers are planting the Economic Tree Nursery.  The rainy season has started, and it’s time to plant trees.

CCET has started with fruit trees they are germinating from seed and growing themselves to seedlings.  Orange, grapefruit, lemon (we call lime) and mango.

CCET will transplant seedlings to small polythene bags and nurse them til next season, when local people can buy them at a small nominal cost for their farm or garden. Mr. Sonnah, agriculture teacher and CCET volunteer explained, people take things more seriously when they have to pay something for them.  Same thing at home, I said.  These small fees will go back to purchase materials to start new seedlings each year.

Mr. Sonnah said getting fruit trees will improve a family’s food security, giving them another food source and diversifying their diet.  Fruit trees are typically planted near rivers and streams, helping keep them watered.  As trees mature, they then protect the water catchment area. Trees are like sponges, taking up water, and their roots prevent run-off and erosion in the heavy tropical rains.  These water filled trees then help keep streams from easily drying up in the dry season.  People will need chiefdom permission to cut down economic trees and pay a small fee, as well as replant the tree.  This is to discourage trees being cut for firewood.  Acacia, a fast growing “weed tree” can be used for fire wood.

Village woman extracting oil from palm fruits in her canoe.

Village woman extracting oil from palm fruits in her canoe.

CCET is also starting to nurse oil palm seedlings they bought from Njala University’s agriculture school.  Oil palms are native to Sierra Leone, and the oil from the palm fruits is a mainstay of the local diet.  Palm oil is increasingly used globally for a variety of applications, and is a good cash crop.  The Njala seedlings are a new variety that will produce faster,  fruiting in about four years.

Nine hundred teak seedlings from another source have also been added to CCET’s tree nursery.  These need special care with careful pruning and cultivation as young seedlings.  Next rainy season they’ll be bigger and stronger, and ready to be sold and transplanted again for future lumber harvesting.

CCET will organize workshops and 1:1 training on how to plant and care for all the trees that will be sold.  With 60% of the country’s population under 24 years of age, these are skills that were lost in the war years and now needed for young adults and women needing to become farmers.

The custom of children getting “their tree” will start again, as well.  CCET will ensure each child has a tree planted at birth.  In this way, you will also be able to tell how many children were recently born in a village by counting the number of new trees.

This project is a good example of how a few people can make a big difference when they work together and just get going on a practical first step.

Many benefits follow this project: economic development, food security, environmental protection, protecting cultural traditions, empowering youth and women as farmers.

Sherbro Foundation is glad to have contributed the funding to buy farm tools for the tree nursery and the oil palm seedlings.

The Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation – another bright star

Trying to do good in another country is not always straightforward.  First, you need to find well-defined projects you believe will “do good” in the area you want to serve.  Then you need a trusted partner on the ground who shares your objectives and can effectively deliver the nuts-and-bolts work, and do it with integrity.

The Sherbro Foundation is fortunate to have found such a partner in The Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation.  CCET is a grassroots, all-volunteer nonprofit group of Sierra Leoneans organized for the development of Rotifunk and Bumpeh Chiefdom.

It’s quite a name and tells you right off what the vision of this group is. It’s no less than the empowerment and transformation of their community.

I was fortunate to have had an early and impactful learning from my old days in the Peace Corps that I’ve carried with me all these years.  To make lasting change or improvements, don’t show up with your pre-cooked “solution” and try to give it to people who aren’t sold on – or maybe even aware of – the problem you’ve selected for them. This is generally true anywhere, and even more true when working with a rural community of another culture. 

Still today, I see too many NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) trying to solve the problems of the world with their own “programs”.  They may not spend enough time in the developing country communities they want to serve to jointly set priorities and agree on approaches to use.

It was a stroke of luck that found me back in Rotifunk for my third return trip right as the concept for the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation was taking shape.  I was visiting more of the chiefdom and better understanding the extent of the needs there.   I arrived already frustrated in not finding existing nonprofit organizations in the U. S. interested in supporting the kind of small community projects I saw needed in Bumpeh Chiefdom.  Grant applications, even if successful, can take months if not a year or more to process. I was already toying with the idea of creating my own nonprofit.

At the same time Prosperity Girls High School had just started their first senior high class, and with that, hired several new teachers.  More competent and committed teachers joined those already at PGHS, ready to serve this rural community.   Within a month of their arrival, several of the new teachers joined up with existing teachers to form the concept for a community based organization.

The Center concept

I asked Mr. Sonnah and Mr. Kamara, PGHS teachers and thought leaders in the Center, how their concept had come about. Both relayed the same story.  Some old university friends of theirs representing an NGO had come to Rotifunk to do a survey.  They challenged them to create their own community-based organization.  Come on, they said.  You’re in this rural place with time on your hands; you have the education and potential to be doing more. 

Mr. Sonnah and his 7th grade class.

Mr. Sonnah and his 7th grade class.

The teachers had already seen how PGHS principal Rosaline Kaimbay was struggling to start adult literacy classes, holding intermittent lessons on the front porch of her house after school let out.  The majority of the adult students were women whose educations were interrupted, or maybe never started, because of the war.

The teachers agreed adult literacy would become the first core program for the Center to take on and they would do it on a volunteer basis.

Mr. Kamara in a moment of relaxing.

Mr. Kamara in a moment of relaxing.

More projects soon followed.  The Center’s current project portfolio includes:

  1. Adult literacy – starting with creating a curriculum of practical skills for small traders and farmers that are illiterate, mainly women.  
  2. Girls Scholarship program – paying school fees to keep teenage girls in Rotifunk’s four secondary schools at a time when drop out rates for girls climb and families have great difficulty paying for the cost of an education.
  3. Tree nursery for trees of economic value – nursing small teak tree and oil palm seedlings and starting citrus and avocado trees from seed to provide to the community at nominal cost.
  4. Computer literacy – building the computer skills of local teachers in preparation for organizing the community computer lab the Sherbro Foundation has facilitated with a donated shipment of fifty computers now on their way to Rotifunk.
  5.  Registration of chiefdom births and deathshelping set up a model process where none now exists in Bumpeh Chiefdom, or most of rural Sierra Leone.
  6.  Adult sports teams for women – organizing women’s football (soccer) teams to give women still traumatized from the war a physical outlet for stress and team building for a peer network.

Within five months of their initial conceptual discussion, the Center volunteers are busy planting trees, teaching computer skills, and developing lessons on basic computations for illiterate market women.

This is what I call empowerment.  They’re getting going on concrete, practical programs that can help transform their community using  the limited resources they have.

The Sherbro Foundation is proud to have helped with start-up costs for the Center.  We have donated money to pay fees for the Center to officially register as a nonprofit with several Sierra Leone ministries, making them eligible for local grant funds.  We have also provided money for classroom furniture to be locally built for the computer lab, and to purchase farming tools and oil palm seedlings for the tree nursery.  We will fund a one-day workshop where people will be taught how to complete the birth/death registrations.

More will follow on each of these projects.

Mr. Sonnah explained the Center’s logo to me and how it symbolizes what they plan to accomplish.  A man and a woman are together holding one torch light.  Light brings about transformation, and men and women are equally balanced in holding one light.  They are surrounded by olive branches depicting them rescuing the chiefdom from its past traumas.  They are transforming the chiefdom to be a better place.  Mr. Kamara said in his quietly confident manner, we are developing our brothers and sisters, and we know with our work today, tomorrow will be a brighter day.  We see our future as bright.

The Sherbro Foundation sees their future as bright, too, and we’re happy to be helping them on their way.

We work as partners

We work as partners

As a U.S. based all-volunteer nonprofit, we partner with Sierra Leone community organizations to complete projects.  We support locally based groups in achieving their goals to strengthen and develop their communities.

Founder Arlene Golembiewski’s work in Rotifunk and Bumpeh chiefdom started with the Prosperity Girls High School, the first all-girls secondary school in the chiefdom.  PGHS was founded in 2009 and was expanding quickly.  Her aim to encourage girls in secondary education found fertile ground by partnering with PGHS on specific mutually agreed objectives like a scholarship fund for school fees in 2011.

With formation of Sherbro Foundation, this has expanded to a scholarship fund that is eligible to girls from all four secondary schools in Rotifunk.  The Center for Community Empowerment and Development now manages the scholarship fund and other community development projects in Bumpeh Chiefdom.  The PGHS teachers founded this “community based organization” and are volunteering their efforts in the Center to improve the community.  Other competencies they’re working on are adult literacy and computer literacy.

Sherbro Foundation works closely with organizations to first understand community needs, and then define clear and achievable project objectives we can work on together. By partnering with well regarded local organizations to deliver projects, Sherbro Foundation is able to avoid overhead and ensure every dollar we contribute goes directly to grass roots rural development.