How a small, rural nonprofit becomes self-reliant

How a small, rural nonprofit becomes self-reliant

MVI_2260_Moment(5)Mr. Bendu, a primary school head-teacher, came into the new printing service at the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation (CCET) to get some UN Children’s Feeding Program forms printed. He walked out of the new Community Computer Center 20 minutes later with his copies.

It was effortless. It would have taken less time if I hadn’t stopped to interview him. Four months ago, it could have been a 2-day trip.

IMG_2795CCET’s new printing service in Rotifunk is scoring a home run for their customers and for themselves.

CCET’s mission is to help community members become self-reliant. But they can’t keep assisting residents unless they themselves become self-reliant.

Left, CCET staff Oliver Bernard, Sulaiman Timbo, Rosaline Kaimbay

The first few years in the life of a small nonprofit are tricky. You’re getting projects off the ground, and need a little cash to fall back on when the unexpected happens. Donors are just learning who you are. Grant applications are often a year-long process before you see any funding – IF you’re approved.

Grant givers ask for your sustainability plan, which can feel like wishful thinking. How can you ensure the future success of your programs when you’ve just started to deliver something using donor money?

vlcsnap-error688It takes a paradigm shift.  You can help people while you earn income offering needed services that fit your nonprofit mission.

Left, CCET Managing Director Rosaline Kaimbay at CCET’s new Center

Our Sierra Leone community partner, the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation, laid early groundwork for self-sufficiency with new, much needed community services that earn income to fund their nonprofit programs.

IMG_4244Only four months earlier, to get anything printed Mr. Bendu faced an all-day or an overnight trip to the capital, crammed into a minivan bus or on the back of a motorcycle taxi on treacherous roads. His transportation costs alone would have been 10 to 20 times the cost of the printing. The time wasted is just accepted, a common inefficiency holding back developing countries like Sierra Leone.

Today, there’s a win-win in Rotifunk. Mr. Bendu and other Bumpeh Chiefdom customers no longer waste their time and money. Instead CCET provides local printing and other services people need. And CCET is making money to fund their nonprofit programs like computer training and adult literacy.

The Rotary Club of Ann Arbor, the Procter & Gamble Alumni Network and Sherbro Foundation funded CCET to start their new services.

img-20160820-wa0000-1These three grant makers were happy to invest in projects giving this rural community services they never had before, knowing income goes to support nonprofit programs.

CCET’s printing service can make simple photocopies or print 500 school report cards or church memorial service programs.

IMG_4916 (3)Sulaiman Timbo, left, and below left, is printing service and IT manager

Sulaiman can prepare custom layouts and type up forms and documents for customers, and then immediately print them.

A color printer is on its way that will expand the business, offering full-color election posters and event flyers, and color photos. More business opportunities.

No one else in their district of 300,000 people provides a printing service like this.

IMG_2018Cell phones are now a way of life, and this means daily charging in a rural town with no electricity.

CCET charges phones in a secure drop-off service seven days a week. People may now bring a battery pack to charge as well.

NGO training session Mar 2017The CCET Center rents meeting and workshop space for NGO and government programs during the day, when no classes are in session. It’s the only place in town and for miles around with a facility to hold professional meetings for 20 to 100 people.

The building’s solar power lets participants use their computers. And they can print meeting materials right there. It’s also a good venue for wedding receptions and other special parties.

IMG_2016.JPGNext on the list to introduce is a small canteen for cold drinks, snacks and catered meals. The room next to the main hall, left, is ready.

Across the street is the only small hospital within a two-hour drive. Staff and visitors want meals and refreshments in a comfortable sit-down space — as well as market day visitors, teachers and NGO workers.  A refrigerator is coming soon to kick off this service.

IMG_2248There’s also a growing need for internet service. People may not own their own computer, but they want to be connected to the world around them by email and Facebook.

The local professional community of teachers, religious leaders, chiefdom authorities, nurses and health care technicians, and NGO reps needs to communicate with organizations around the country and beyond.

CCET plans to start a small pilot internet service and grow from there, based on demand.

So, when a small, rural nonprofit wonders how to become self-reliant, leaders should ask who are their customers, and what do they need?

First Computer Training Class Starts – Finally Joining the 21st Century

First Computer Training Class Starts – Finally Joining the 21st Century

October 24 was one of my happiest days since founding Sherbro Foundation. It was just days more than five years ago that I formed my first goal, with one of the Rotifunk high school principals, to start a computer training program for students. We had no building, no computers and no electricity, only the determination realize this dream.

Our goal was simple: to give high school students and adults (especially dropouts) computer skills that will make them more competitive in the growing job market.

That grew into teaching adults how to use computers in their jobs, and to start or further develop small businesses. People with computer skills in the community also will help attract new business to the area.

img-20161031-wa0000On October 24, students took their seats for the first evening computer training class in the new Computer Center building. With two months left in the year, it’s a self-paced evening class for adults. An afternoon class for high school students will follow in the next term.

Many of the first adult students are teachers in town. They may have been exposed to computers in college, but without owning one themselves, their practical skills are limited.

img-20161031-wa0008Our Rotifunk partner, the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation, CCET, hired their first full-time employee to lead computer training classes and run the new printing service.

Sulaiman Tumbo, standing left, had been a local teacher and CCET volunteer. His IT skills and demonstrated commitment made him a great choice for the computer program.

Paramount Chief Charles Caulker, standing right, has championed computer training and the Computer Center concept.

He took on constructing the 2,600-square-foot building from the burned out ruins of a war-torn building during the height of the Ebola crisis. The chiefdom was under an isolation order, so he used that time to build the building that now houses computer and Adult Literacy classes and a new printing service.

The transformation shown below is nothing short of remarkable.

computer-class-open-nov-1-2016The Center can handle 20 computer students in a class. A long table lines a wall so students can plug into wall outlets now powered with solar energy.

Students will complete four training units leading to an IT certificate CCET will issue. With little hands-on experience, they start with Windows, learning to navigate the programs and Apps available, and to create and find documents. They’ll then master basics of Word, Excel and Powerpoint.

Chief Caulker ensured the viability of the program with the Center’s new copy and printing service. Its profits will go to funding  nonprofit education programs in the building, including computer training and Adult Literacy.

I’ll never forget the words of one the adult computer students I talked with. “Arlene,” he said, “I feel like we’re joining the 21st Century.”

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

First Printing Service Will Fund Rural Education

First Printing Service Will Fund Rural Education

Bumpeh Chiefdom’s new Community Computer Center opened for business in September with the area’s first printing service and its new workhorse copying machine, called a Riso duplicator.

riso-applauseThe economical high-volume, low-energy copier was met with cheers at the Rotifunk facility.  With good reason – it’s the only printing service within several hours drive. Printing once meant a trip to the capital Freetown.

The center now offers faster and cheaper printing and copying for a wide area.

We’re cheering from a distance because the printing service will make money to support nonprofit education programs in the multi-use center, more than four years in the making.

img-20160407-wa0000Now, the computing center — built from a war ruin — is being used to instruct students and adults on computer use. It also hosts adult literacy classes for the many whose educations were cut short by the war. The solar-powered building is available to rent, the only modern building for miles suitable for meetings and community events of 20 – 100. Primary school teacher training, above, was the first rental customer.

There’s two other money-making services inside. The canteen serves as a community hub with drinks and snacks for people visiting the nearby market, hospital and church. And a cell phone charging service can charge 30 phones at a time for a small fee.

center-commissioning-4-oct-10The large duplicator was purchased with a $3,750 grant Sherbro Foundation received from the Ann Arbor (MI) Rotary Club and its District Rotary group. We purchased and shipped the duplicator to our Sierra Leone partner, the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation (CCET), which operates the Center.

Freetown Rotary Club members, left, joined Paramount Chief Charles Caulker, right, in October for an official Center commissioning ceremony. The Rotarians said this was the most impressive project they have ever reviewed!

Starting the duplicator took two technicians from opposite ends of the country, with Arlene making international phone calls to relay start-up codes and setup information from our Cincinnati Riso distributor, Bernie Reagan of DSC Office Systems of Blue Ash. (He contributed a deep discount on the equipment.) It’s a newer model and declared “more powerful” than others in the country. Sierra Leone is used to getting outdated technology to save money. This duplicator will serve Bumpeh Chiefdom for many years to come.

img-20160820-wa0000-1Customers soon lined up for the unique service, which spares them an eight hour round-trip to the capital, Freetown. Many are teachers from Bumpeh’s five secondary and 40 primary schools, who need to print reading materials (students have few textbooks), exam papers and report cards.

School sports competitions need programs and fliers; churches and mosques need hundreds of weekly service and wedding/funeral programs. A steady stream of hospital staff and small business owners in town and from surrounding chiefdoms are coming to print their documents.

Paramount Chief Charles Caulker says the chiefdom’s record-keeping will greatly improve and better serve residents, starting with printing a backlog of 1,000 land registrations. Chief Caulker is also chairman of the National Council of Paramount Chiefs. Most chiefs have no email, so he’s using the service to print documents going to all 149 chiefdoms in Sierra Leone.

Four years ago this was all a dream. Now, the printing service is the mainspring of a busy community center, bringing a town into the 21st century.

 

 

 

 

And then there was light – and fans

And then there was light – and fans

And then there was light. Solar, that is. Rotifunk’s new Community Computer Center is nearly ready to open with power from a nearby solar system. Sherbro Foundation just funded wiring to bring the solar power to the new center.

Feb 2016 2 - CopyThe pieces are falling into place for Rotifunk’s first computer center, a project over four years in the making.  When we first identified a proposal to teach computer literacy in 2011, we had no computers, no building and no power. Nor did we know where we’d get any of these. No one in town had a computer, and only three teachers had any PC skills.

And we never imagined Ebola would throw us a big curve for over a year.

But the need was compelling – to introduce computer literacy as a way of giving job skills to students and adults in rural Bumpeh Chiefdom. So, you just get started.

With an unexpected and generous donation of fifty laptop computers late in 2013, we actually did start the project.

Computer class at CCET officeOur local partner, the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation, CCET, started teaching adults in the living room of a borrowed house. There was only room for ten students at a time, but it was a start. Then Ebola hit in mid-2014 and all public gatherings were banned. Classes stopped.

Paramount Chief Caulker made good use of the Ebola period when all travel in and out of the chiefdom halted to build the new computer center building. He donated land that had the shell of an old building burned by rebels during the war. It was in the center of town with a good concrete slab. The transformation was no less than amazing. Built with mud bricks and local lumber and labor, then stuccoed and painted inside and out – and voila, a new 40×60 foot computer center.

Computer Lab 6      Computer Center 9-15-14

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But there still was no power. Operating with a generator would be costly, noisy, unreliable and spewing pollution. Estimates for a limited solar system for this building were $30,000+.

As luck would have it, a nearby community solar system had been installed and had excess capacity. It was feasible to wire power over. Last month wire was laid in conduit between the two buildings and buried in the ground.

Feb 2016 6

Feb 2016 5 - Copy Feb 2016 3

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I did a dance last week when I got word it’s connected and we finally have power!

LFeb 2016 4est you think we’re now all set, well, not quite. I’ve learned a lot about solar systems and their capacity. The parent system we’re drawing from, shown here, is considered large at 5000 Watts. We’ll be able to use 3000 – 4000 Watts on most days. But this will just cover basic operation of the computer center running 25 laptops at a time, a twenty 11 W LED lights, six small ceiling fans and a desktop printer.

Running larger printers for the printing service we plan to start will still require a generator for the excess power needed.

I learned my lesson on power use when I tried to use a standard women’s hairdryer in a house with a generator. I asked first if it was OK, and then proceeded to shut down the generator. No wonder. Our hair dryers are 1875 W – for one hair dryer! As Westerners, we take for granted having all the power we want.

The computer center’s solar power is based on having sunny days. In the rainy season, we may use power faster than the solar batteries can recharge. A back-up generator is still a necessity.

But today, I’ll put those things aside.  I’m celebrating. The building is built. And the lights are on.

 

 

 

Why I Give to Sherbro Foundation

GT_SunglassesMy #Unselfie for Giving Tuesday
Why do I give to Sherbro Foundation Sierra Leone?

I want the girls and women of Sierra Leone to have the same opportunities for education I had.  With education, they’ll lead their community and country to prosperity.

I had help along the way. They deserve no less than I had. With that help, they’ll do as much as the women in the US have done. I’m sure of that.

Students have their first computer lesson.

Students have their first computer lesson.

Top on my helping hand list to Sierra Leone is computer literacy and IT skills.  With those skills, the girls and women of Sierra Leone will lead their country into a 21st Century economy, build a middle class and a bridge to stability.

That’s how Sherbro Foundation started. It was my desire to give girls in the rural community of Bumpeh Chiefdom a first class secondary school education – and cap it off with computer literacy.

We’re ready to get back to both of these – as soon as we can get through this Ebola thing. Teachers are anxious to get back to teaching. We’re starting to rebuild our girls scholarship fund after diverting money for community Ebola response.

The community computer center has been built with 50 computers waiting for students. It will have its grand opening when the schools reopen. (For now, Ebola dictates no public gatherings.) Next step is raising the balance of funds needed for a solar energy system. With solar, we can run into the evening, doubling the classes and offer adult literacy night school.

So, stay tuned for 2015. It looks to be a promising year.

Join us to kick-start the new year. Do some good.  You’ll feel very good.

sherbrofoundation.org/donate

Arlene Golembiewski
Founder & Executive Director, Sherbro Foundation Sierra Leone

Rotifunk’s Computer Center: building their future

Rotifunk’s Computer Center: building their future

Rotifunk’s Community Computer Center structure is now completely up.  Latest pictures are below.  See more of the full construction story here and read about plans for the computing center here.

September 16: The building’s exterior is finished with window frames in place. Ready to paint.

computer ctr sept 16 4     computer ctr sept 16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

computer ctr sept 16 3Work on the interior now proceeds.  We did a quick lighting and computer use plan 2 weeks ago to devise the electrical wiring plan. An electrician got to work on wiring so the interior finishing with wall plastering can proceed.  The drop ceiling is now in.

 

 

 

 

 

Compare with these pictures taken  June 24 a week after work initially started on from a burned out building shell.Computer Lab 2

Computer Lab 3

 

 

 

 

 

September 1: Rotifunk’s first Ebola cases appear in town.  Five deaths and 35 quarantined in five houses.  But the computer center construction proceeds on schedule.

August 25:  The roof is up on Rotifunk’s community computing center.  Ebola is not slowing down work on this center full of hope for the future.

10634313_720411201361353_1073541016_nThis (now) ugly baby will be beautiful as they plaster the walls and add a coat of paint.

Work has gone on in spite of August being the peak of the rain season. Remember 2011 when here in Cincinnati we got 73″ rain for the year and called it an all time record year. The average rainfall for the month of August alone  in Sierra Leone is 42″.  Throw in July and there’s 73″.

The next stage is raising funds for a solar energy system so the computing center can operate into the evening with classes and community computer access. They’ll offer small business services, too, like typing and copying for those without computers or printers.

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Good News from Sierra Leone – Computer Center Construction Progress

The entire country of Sierra Leone may be living in the grip of fear of Ebola.  But life does go on beyond the two epicenters of the epidemic. We need good news to share right now.  Here’s some. Construction on the Rotifunk community Computer Center is on track for its November debut.

10592057_711825275553279_1085342184_nThese pictures from August 3 show the roof tresses going up.  The sheets of metal roofing were purchased. If they arrived, the roof may be going on as we speak.

This project will provide a permanent building for computer literacy classes and small business services. We already have fifty five Windows 7 laptop computers in Rotifunk waiting for their new home and central access for the whole town.

The building is going up with private donations and  community contributions of the land, building shell, local materials and local unskilled labor.

You can read more about the project here.  I like to call it from tragedy to triumph.  When the computer center construction started, I was referring to rebuilding from the shell of a building burned by rebels during the war.

Today, we can also say despite the Ebola tragedy, the people of Rotifunk and Sierra Leone will triumph. They are still hard at work building a better future.

For now, enjoy these construction pictures.  I am.

Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

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Old exterior walls of the building shell were reinforced with an inner wall of new bricks.  Once the walls are plastered and painted inside and out, you won’t know it’s a building rebuilt from a fire.

 

 

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Deep roof overhangs are essential in a place with tropical rains over 120 inches a year.

 

 

 

10592057_711825275553279_1085342184_nYou can still the charred tops of the original inside pillars – evidence of the fire set by rebels during the war, trying to destroy the town.

Rotifunk today is about 60% rebuilt.  With recent construction like a large community hall, a rebuilt hospital, four secondary schools, a new rural community bank, and now a modern computer center, Rotifunk is putting itself back on the map.  It’s regaining its former position as a rural hub for education, health care and trade in southern Sierra Leone.