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.

And Then There Was Light – CCET-SL’s new Solar System

And Then There Was Light – CCET-SL’s new Solar System

Just when we thought we were ending a banner year – our best yet – it got even better.

When our partner CCET-SL’s new Community Education Center opened in 2015, we knew we would need solar power to meet the center’s promise of computer and adult literacy classes, chiefdom meetings, NGO-led educational workshops and other services. But we never dreamed this critical chiefdom resource would have its own 24-hour solar power system today.

Then it happened – quickly.  All thanks to a donor we have never met! From the very first email contact in early September to final installation of the new solar system in November was only 11 weeks.

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The Center can now operate late into the evening, seven days a week as needed, and power all equipment for its growing printing service and computer training.

The gift from the Beaman Family Fund (the actual donor wishes to remain anonymous) was made after another thoughtful donor recommended the work of Sherbro Foundation Sierra Leone and our Bumpeh Chiefdom partner, the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation (CCET-SL).

The funding installed a 6,000-watt solar power system, including a little extra capacity for the future. We had to carefully plan out all energy use, and still ration hours per day of usage. With solar, you can’t use power faster than you can make and store it.

For perspective on how far 6000 watts will go, a standard women’s hairdryer uses 1875 watts and a basic microwave is 1000 watts. Two simple devices would use half the available power. While solar equipment continues to get cheaper, installing a system to cover all energy needs is still expensive.

With a 6000-watt system, CCET-SL can:

  • Operate the printing service, with a low-energy duplicator and color printer. The only such public service in Moyamba District of 300,000, it’s expected to keep the center self-supporting.
  • Light the building with 26 LED bulbs and cool with 16 small ceiling fans and standing fans.
  • Run computer classes with up to 20 laptops at a time for a maximum four hours a day.
  • Run equipment for two profit-making services – a small canteen and public cell phone charging.

CCET-SL’s Center started as a burned-out shell of a building destroyed during the rebel war. But it was a central site, and local labor transformed it into a 2,600-square-foot multifunctional space, all built during the Ebola crisis when the chiefdom was under isolation order for months.

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Now look at it! The center is not just a bright place for evening classes, to get a photo printed or a copy, hold a meeting or enjoy a cold drink. It’s a model for the entire country on self-supported community education. It’s lighting the way for market women to learn to read and for high school students to use a computer for the first time.

We can’t thank the Beaman Family Fund enough for their generosity in funding the solar power system. Thanks also to all of you who supported us along the way. It’s been a four year journey, but with your help, we’ve reached the finish line.

Inspiring girls to come to school

While we were busy wrapping up this year’s successful Girls Scholarships campaign, CCET-SL’s Rosaline Kaimbay was making the rounds of the four Bumpeh Chiefdom participating secondary schools.

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She’s been visiting each school to check their enrollment of girls. And telling girls to tell their friends at home who didn’t report to school to come back. If they can’t pay school fees or buy a uniform, we will help them.

Mrs. Kaimbay is an inspiring role model for these girls, having been born and raised in the chiefdom. We’re fortunate to have her at the helm of CCET-SL.

Mrs. Kaimbay and Bumpeh Academy Secondary School students, left. BASS has both junior and senior high classes and their enrollment of girls is growing.

We doubled our scholarship campaign goal this year!

Our partner, CCET-SL, is now distributing 466 school fee scholarships to the girls that need them most. We added uniforms this year, and have 360 to combine with scholarships.

We expect that every Bumpeh Chiefdom girl who wants to attend senior high will receive a scholarship and a uniform! Helping girls progress through senior high is our goal.

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When girls see such a successful woman as Mrs. Kaimbay coming from among their ranks, they think, I can do this, too. And it starts with going to school.

Rotifunk’s Ahmadiyya School, left, is a junior secondary school.  Mrs. Kaimbay’s visit is motivating and encourages girls to come to school.

Why not them? Young mothers want to return to school.

Why not them? Young mothers want to return to school.

“Hawanatu is 22 and the mother of two children, but she is desperate to go back to school.”

Bumpeh Academy Vice Principal, Daniel Koroma told me about girls and young women, many now mothers, forced to drop out of school. They come to him looking for help to return. Hawanatu, left,  dropped out after the 8th grade.

The picture Daniel sent of Hawanatu shows her with a plaintive look on her face and a T-shirt emblazoned with “School” across her chest. People buy discarded used clothes from piles sold in the market, and I thought her choice was not coincidental.

Hawanatu is typical of girls pushed into early marriage by the age of 16 or 17 by parents who can no longer feed and care for them. Few local men go beyond primary school. Girls marry someone of their own background, and soon they’re pregnant.

Sherbro Foundation has helped 450 girls go to junior and senior secondary school with school fee scholarships over the last four years.

Many girls had repeat scholarships keeping them in school. Now, we’re emphasizing helping girls stay in senior high – when drop-out rates are highest – so they can graduate.

We include young mothers who want to return to school and improve their lives.

Young mothers like Hawanatu soon understand the way to make a better life for their kids is to complete their own education. They also want to be able to help their children with their studies.

IMG_4224 (2)Hawanatu’s husband, an “unqualified” primary school teacher, didn’t complete high school. He has the opportunity now to get basic teacher training, but it means he’ll be away from home and can’t support his family.

Both Hawanatu’s parents are dead and she stays with her in-laws in a village outside Rotifunk. To earn money, she makes coconut cakes and a treks five miles each way to sell them in the Rotifunk market.

Bumpeh Academy is happy to accept young women like Hawanatu back into school if they can find the money for school fees. But there isn’t much to spare selling coconut cakes for pennies apiece.


Bumpeh Academy 11th grade class, left

Local young women who are drop-outs and mothers see a few professional woman visiting Rotifunk, like government officials and nonprofit organization workers. And they see Rosaline Kaimbay, former high school principal and now managing director of our local partner, CCET.


“They admire them so much, “ Daniel says. “They know they themselves are intelligent, and say ’if this woman can do this, why not me.’ ”

Exactly. Why not them?

There’s more young mothers like Hawanatu anxious to return to school who need a second chance.

You can help these young women get back into school for a full year and put their lives back on track with a $17 scholarship. Amazing.

They’ll be expanding their lives. They’ll raise healthier children and see they are educated. And they’ll break the cycle of subsistence living that’s held their families back for generations.

Add a school uniform to the scholarship for a new 10th grader and it’s only $35 to let a young woman return to school for a whole year.

It’s easy. Just click here: I’ll send a young woman to school.

Open up her world. Give a girl a scholarship.

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Isatu is a remarkable girl.  She’s an orphan determined to stay in school.  With help from Sherbro Foundation scholarships, she has made it to her senior year!

Each day is a challenge in Bumpeh Chiefdom, Sierra Leone. Isatu lost both her parents as a young girl. She lives with her aunt, a farmer, in their small village of mud houses outside Rotifunk. There’s no public transportation. Isatu and her friends get up before dawn and walk six miles to school.

After school, Isatu walks six miles again home, and then helps her aunt in the field, tending cassava, rice and greens. They grow their own food, but have little left to sell for income for school fees. Darkness comes by 6:30 year-round near the equator. Isatu can’t afford a lamp to study in the evening.

Yet Isatu has big plans. She wants to become a lawyer. She learned in Civics class that lawyers use the law to protect people. “I want to fight for my colleagues and people in the village against violence” and for better conditions, she says.  If Isatu hadn’t received a Sherbro Foundation scholarship, she wouldn’t be in school, and wouldn’t be learning about a world of jobs and careers.

Bumpeh Academy students – Isatu, left, Hellen and Alima

More Bumpeh Chiefdom girls than ever are in school. Nearly 900 girls were enrolled in the area’s five secondary schools at this term’s end.

But hundreds more want to go to school and don’t have $17 to pay the annual fee! Their families are struggling to earn $1 per day to put food on the table. Sierra Leone’s economy went into freefall after Ebola and has not recovered. Families can’t continue to support teenage girls, and many are pushed to marry at 16 and 17. They get pregnant too early. The cycle of poverty continues. Teen pregnancy keeps Sierra Leone’s maternal and infant mortality rates among the world’s highest.

In four years, Sherbro Foundation’s scholarship program has helped 450 girls enter – and stay – in school.

Girls with scholarships work harder in school in order to keep them. They know there’s competition. They now have bigger goals, and pregnancies are reduced to only a few.

Some graduates will go on to vocational training. Some like Isatu are determined to go to college. They want to become the nurses, doctors, teachers, accountants, policewomen and lawyers their country desperately needs. With education, they all can move beyond the cycle of subsistence life that has long trapped their families.

But our scholarships have only helped a third of the girls enrolled. Even more want to go to school.

Now is a crucial time. With the new school year starting soon, you can give more of these girls the gift of attending school. You can:

  • Ensure 350 girls have the chance to go to school this year with a $17 scholarship.
  • Help girls progress into senior high and bring new 7th graders into junior high.
  • Provide a new uniform for 7th graders and 10th graders starting in new schools.

With a strong U.S. dollar, giving is a great bargain. Your $50 will sponsor three junior-high students to make the important leap to secondary school. Or ensure that three older girls can focus on graduation.

$35 will send a girl to school for an entire year AND outfit her with a school uniform. Where else can $35 do as much good as educating a girl?

More good news:  Our Board pledges to match each gift. You’ll help twice as many girls!

It’s easy to donate online: Click here. We welcome checks sent to: Sherbro Foundation, 3723 Sachem Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45226.

Bumpeh Chiefdom’s girls tell us: “We’re ready to learn.”

You’ll open up their world to new possibilities by giving girls a scholarship.

Thank you!

Arlene Golembiewski, Chris Golembiewski, Cheryl Farmer and Steve Papelian

— The Sherbro Foundation Board of Directors

P.S. Isatu and her fellow students are so grateful to you for expanding their world. Won’t you help a few more of her friends? If you do so now, they can be ready for school in September!

 

The Embrace of Sierra Leone

The Embrace of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone doesn’t just say hello. It embraces you in a rush of sights, sounds, crush of people, heat, humidity, smells, women’s clothes the colors of tropical birds, drumming, music, throngs of kids with smiles from ear to ear. Life spills out onto the street and the village front porch. Here’s some of my images and impressions in returning to Salone after 14 months.

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In Freetown, you invariably find yourself on Siaka Stevens St., the center of town, in a crush of traffic with the famous 200-year old cotton tree in front of you. The winter’s harmattan dust was hanging in the air, making it hazy all day, but much of that haze is now diesel exhaust pollution.

USD cash exchangeI have two visual barometers for the Salone economy. Freetown’s beaches were empty. No tourists, which adds to unemployment. People can’t afford to go to their own gorgeous beaches.

The other is how big a pile of leones you get when exchanging dollars. 5,000 and 10,000 denominations are used, and so devaluated, they’re only worth $0.70 and $1.40 each. 

The leone devalued about 25% during 2016. Petrol prices soared. People say the economy is at its worst in years.

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Leaving the highway for small feeder roads to Rotifunk is entering another world. The Ribbi ferry is virtually unchanged since I used it 40 years ago as a Peace Corps Volunteer; a platform on pontoons and you’re manually pulled across. A crowd of small children collect on the other side chanting, Ah-bey, ah-bey, ah-bey — Temne for chief. They know Paramount Chief Caulker is coming bringing them sweets. He started this during Ebola and continues it with every crossing. “I can’t do much to really improve their lives, but I can at least make them smile for a couple hours.”

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Our first week included a trip down the beautiful Bumpeh River to Mamu village to celebrate the opening of new primary school. Taking a big boat with the Paramount Chief, front right, for an official visit is not an everyday activity. So, it’s a party on a boat. Gliding down this unspoiled river, pure joy.

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Bundu devils from the women’s society join drummers and singers to welcome the chief to Mamu village. Traditions in a small village like Mamu are very much alive and well. Opening a new school is a happy day, this school built with donations from young Norwegians.

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Back in Rotifunk, there’s simple pleasures of seeing friends again and meeting new friends.

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Early evening is a favorite time of day to stroll down the hill to see vegetable gardens being planted and tended in the rich flood plain of the Bumpeh River. Raised beds of various leafy greens, a diet staple, and peppers were coming to life. Kids “fished” in a field well, bringing up salamanders from the mud. They’re probably added to the pot for dinner.

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Another moment of joy was walking into our partner CCET’s new education center at 5 p.m. when it was abuzz with activity. Three adult literacy classes and the first regular high school computer class, all going on in the main hall. Most adult literacy students are single parents. Babies are welcome.

IMG_2109This mother of twelve shows us it’s never too late to learn your ABCs for the first time, and how to “carry over” when adding three digit numbers.

Women have graduated from Adult Literacy and entered other vocational training as primary school teachers, nurse aides, a policewoman and one ready to start as a surveyor’s assistant.

 

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Computer training classes for Bumpeh Chiefdom students and adults was a dream five and a half years in the making. It grew from offering classes in one school to a full education center in its own 2,600-square-foot building built during Ebola. I learned to dream big; then it happens.

vlcsnap-error383   IMG_2036For Bumpeh Academy, one of the Chiefdom’s newer schools, progress happens in small steps. Very small steps. Senior high classes, previously run “second shift” in a primary school, moved to the main school addition, still in progress as funds are available. In 2015, a concrete slab was poured for three classrooms. In 2016, a zinc roof and partial walls between rooms were added, and classes started. I was happy to hear from Vice Principal Koroma, above, SFSL funded part of the addition with the school fee scholarships we paid for girls. They used the money to buy bags of concrete. Still, children at Bumpeh Academy are in school learning. 98% of Academy students taking the 2016 senior high entrance exam passed! And they have a new Peace Corps teacher, Ethan Davies, above, right corner.  

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Visiting Bumpeh Chiefdom’s small villages is always a trip highlight. Nyandahun, one of the oldest and smallest villages with 25 houses is the birthplace of Chief Caulker’s grandmother. It has a long tradition of women village chiefs. Chief Lupe Bendu, above left, definitely has a chiefly demeanor. By tradition, she’s considered the queen of Nyandahun. Asked how their village orchard will help them, she immediately replied, “It will help our children and we’ll use it for their education.” 

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Passing village homes like this one, I’m reminded why our Women’s Vegetables Growing and Village Orchard programs are so important. They’re simple to implement, following local agriculture traditions, income can be earned quickly, and it goes directly to families that need it the most.  With cash income, their children can go on to secondary school in Rotifunk.

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There’s little for a village child to look forward to without education. But we don’t want them to be leaving their villages. We want to teach schoolchildren and their parents they could be earning a good living growing coconuts like these, and guava and cashews. Make agriculture a small business.

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Developing the local village economy includes having cash to set up a small front porch shop for neighbors. A dilemma is not losing your small profits to transportation costs of going to Rotifunk or Freetown to buy cheaper goods to sell. There’s little public transportation from a village like Mosundu.

IMG_2190  IMG_2168In full swing, CCET’s fruit tree nursery grows a variety of trees from seed: orange, grapefruit, lime, avocado, guava, cashew, mango. Three workers plant seeds collected from local fruit, and water and nurse them for a year+ until ready to plant in the Village Orchard program. Some go to newborn parents, restoring the tradition of “baby trees.” Some will be sold for income to continue to operate the nursery. Abdul learned to write and make signs in Adult Literacy class.

IMG_1992  IMG_1988Bumpeh Chiefdom is a prime coconut growing area. Pa Willie personally raises coconut seedlings in a closed pen behind his house to keep out thieves. The coconut, husk, shell and all, is embedded in soil until it sprouts. It’s a longer-term venture taking two years, but they’re worth more. Pa Willie’s tree-growing skills date back to working in a Liberian rubber plantation before the war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sherbro Foundation wins P&G Alumni grant to expand the Computer Center

Sherbro Foundation wins P&G Alumni grant to expand the Computer Center

Sherbro Foundation is awarded a P&G Alumni Foundation 2016 grant

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The $12,235 grant is awarded on behalf of our Sierra Leone partner, the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation (CCET), and will help expand their computer center.

Left, Oliver Bernard, CCET volunteer facility manager at the Center

 

 

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Former Procter & Gamble employees fund their alumni foundation with the mission of economically empowering those in need.

DSC04545Sherbro Foundation Executive Director and P&G Alumna Arlene Golembiewski, left with Sulaiman Timbo, submitted the proposal. She said, “CCET’s new Center offers practical education programs, before unavailable in this community, that improve student earning potential, like computer training and adult literacy.

They are preparing impoverished people to find wage-paying jobs in the formal economy. And providing skills to develop small businesses.”

The Computer Center has a slate of education programs and community services that satisfied all three Alumni Foundation objectives for the grant. 

MVI_2758_MomentHigh school students like Zainab, left, get practical job skill training on computers. 

She wants to become an accountant and knows she must be able to use a computer to get a job.

IMG_2031 (2)Adults develop small business skills. Left, Francis Senesie teaches petty market traders and farmers math and business basics like computing profit.

Adult computer students apply their own small-business examples with instructors available to guide them.  

MVI_2260_Moment(7)The Center itself is a new entrepreneurial venture, offering previously unavailable services like copy & printing that fund its nonprofit education programs.

The grant will pay for adding new computers to the Center and a color printer for the new printing service. CCET will buy remaining equipment the Center needs, like a generator to back-up their solar power service and a chest freezer to expand a canteen service.

The grant will also be used to pay initial operating costs while the new Center develops its customer base for copy and printing and other Center services.

The Computer Center is bringing the first and only IT technology access and training to rural Bumpeh Chiefdom’s 40,000 people. It’s the only place in Moyamba District with 300,000 people to get an IT certificate covering all Microsoft Office software programs.

The grant required a P&G alum to participate in the project. Arlene Golembiewski, Sherbro Foundation founder and Executive Director, was a 30-year P&G employee and is a member of the global Alumni Network.