Still Good News in the World

Still Good News in the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Who Said This Isn’t Women’s Work

Who Said This Isn’t Women’s Work

Zainab is now a Bumpeh Chiefdom truck driver. You won’t see another woman driving a truck in the chiefdom, and I doubt anywhere in Moyamba district or most of Sierra Leone’s rural districts.

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It’s a mini truck, but a vital part of our partner CCET-SL’s Orchards for Education project, carrying loads and workers from project fields to town in Rotifunk. Importantly, it’s a full time wage-paying job – another rarity in the chiefdom for man or woman.

Orchards for Education will create income for chiefdom children’s education. Another objective is to create local employment, with women hired wherever possible. When a truck driver was needed, the project’s response was, who said this isn’t women’s work?

IMG-20191025-WA0025 (2) The mini-truck, locally called a keke, is an easy and economical way to carry small loads the short distance from the project fields back into town. Here it’s being loaded with newly harvested rice sheaves.

Zainab was one of the first woman seasonal workers hired at the new vegetable growing swamp project, or IVS. Vegetables or rice are being grown year-round for income to operate the orchards before fruit trees mature and bear fruit

While at the IVS, Zainab did well, taking responsibility and showing initiative. She was the women workers leader, responsible for sharing work assignments with the other women. She was good at monitoring them to ensure that work was done effectively and efficiently. And, she voluntarily sold the IVS produce at the weekly market.

Paramount Chief Caulker is a strong women’s advocate. When the project bought the mini-truck, locally called a keke, he said hire a woman driver. Zainab was the clear choice for the vehicle, a motorcycle pulling a small flat-bed.

IMG-20191025-WA0024 (2)Loaded with rice and workers, Zainab carries all back from the fields to town.

Zainab had never driven any vehicle, motorcycle or otherwise. She started her training on a regular motorcycle a week before the keke’s arrival. She quickly moved on to the keke. Last week the keys were handed over to her and she is now the project’s first full-time female worker.

Who said women can’t drive a truck? Zainab showed they can. After the rice harvest, she’ll be carrying a water tank on the keke around the orchard keeping young fruit tree seedlings watered throughout the coming dry season.

 

Every Day Is Earth Day in Bumpeh Chiefdom, #SierraLeone

Every day is Earth Day in Bumpeh Chiefdom, as our partner CCET-SL grows fruit trees in their own tree nursery for local planting. CCET-SL grows tens of thousands of fruit tree seedlings every year, year round, to plant in local orchards to fund children’s education. .

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They’re showing they can protect the environment, be sustainable using their own resources – AND earn money to send chiefdom children to school.

IMG-20180421-WA0006 (2)CCET-SL grows orange, lime, grapefruit, African plum, cashew, avocado, guava and coconuts, all with seed they collect from locally purchased fruit.

Tree seedlings are nearing maturity to transplant in CCET-SL’s “baby orchards” when the rains start in June. These orchards will fund an education savings program for babies, providing money for their future education.

Mission of Hope: Rotifunk volunteer, left, inspects this year’s tree seedlings while visiting their hospital project.

CCET-SL also gives three fruit trees to parents of newborns to plant in their backyard gardens. They are reviving an old tradition of planting a tree when a baby is born.

Today’s new parents are learning they can produce fruit in their own backyards that can pay for their child’s welfare and education.

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Tree seedlings that will be soon planted were grown with funds from a 2017 Rotary Club grant led by the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor. Sister club Rotarians, above, from Freetown, Jennifer and Theodora, made a site visit in January to inspect the project, seen here with Paramount Chief Charles Caulker, CCET-SL board chairman.

IMG-20180119-WA0024CCET-SL grows some specialty trees like African plums, left.

They sell tree seedlings to local farmers to earn income to help maintain the tree nursery and make it sustainable long term.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Starting an orchard the traditional African way

Starting a new 15-acre orchard is big job anywhere. Starting an orchard this size the traditional way– reclaiming overgrown tropical bush with only manual labor — is huge.

The first priority for the Rotary grant is planting a new 15-acre “Baby Orchard.” This forward-thinking project will ensure Bumpeh Chiefdom children go to secondary school for years to come, with orchard income funding newborn baby education savings accounts. Hence the name, Baby Orchard.

IMG_2412.JPGWork is underway and on a tight schedule, as the annual rains started in May. Here’s the step by step process.

First, suitable land was acquired in February. You can’t purchase and own land outright in Sierra Leone. It belongs collectively to the people of a chiefdom. You get rights to rent land from the family who has traditional rights to using it.

Paramount Chief Caulker, left blue shirt, negotiated the land for the new orchard shown here from a family in the tiny village of Roponga, just outside Rotifunk.

It will be easily accessible and serve as a demonstration orchard for visitors. Chief said this extended family did a lot of work for his father fifty years ago. They’ll now be rewarded with rental income for the land and jobs working in the orchard for years to come.

The Roponga orchard land has been part of shifting agriculture, where land is farmed for two or three years, then left fallow when fertility drops. This land hasn’t been used for some years, and is considered “strong bush.” To not waste its fertility and to produce short-term income, annual crops of rice and peanuts were inter-planted with fruit trees seedlings.  With fruit trees spaced 25-30 feet apart for their eventual mature size, there’s plenty of room to raise other crops between them.

March 14 first Roponga clearing     vlcsnap-error685

The land was first manually “brushed” in March, the dry season. Dozens of men spent two weeks cutting back all the small trees, bushes and weeds they could with machetes. A guy with a chain saw followed, cutting down medium-sized trees. All was left to dry for 4 weeks.

Burning Mar 30 '17With no mechanized equipment to clear the land, it must be burned. This land dried well for a “good burn” in April. If farmers brush too late, or rain comes too early, they are not so lucky.

Chief sighed on the phone when I said people here will object to burning. “We’d be here for the rest of the year with a small army trying to remove all the trees and brush from 15 acres if we couldn’t burn,” he said. At least, for an orchard, it will only be burned once. Fruit trees once planted will be maintained for the next 25 years or more.

Mar 22 Mike's Orchard water well project 2A well was dug in April to reach the lowest dry season water level.  If you dig after the rains start, you won’t get deep enough, and will run out of water come next dry season. This well was dug by hand 7 or 8 meters deep — over 20 feet. A guy is down in the hole filling buckets with dirt and stones hoisted up with a chain over the strong bamboo frame. The well will be lined with concrete so it won’t collapse, and a hand pump installed to keep young tree seedlings watered during coming dry seasons.

IMG-20170430-WA0002Men cleared the orchard land again, using a chain saw to cut remaining small trees and tree limbs that didn’t burn.

Roponga orchard making charcoal 5-11-17Little goes to waste in Bumpeh Chiefdom. To make extra income for the orchard, these cut trees were collected to make charcoal. It’s an in-demand product in a country where the great majority of people still cook outside on wood or charcoal, even in cities. They produced 1,000 bags of charcoal that will offset costs to start the orchard.

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By mid-May, the orchard was finally ready to plant. Five acres of peanuts and five acres of rice were planted. This is back- breaking work, where the now bare soil is broken with small hand hoes. Peanut seed held in makeshift waist pouches is dropped in the soil and covered again as they go.

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Upland rice followed, planted the same way.  The yield is less than rice planted in swamp water, but grows nonetheless in the area’s heavy monsoon rains peaking in July – August.

Within ten days, the peanuts and rice were germinating.  In five months, they’ll be ready to harvest.

june-14-4-2.jpgJune is tree planting time and coconut and fruit tree seedlings went in. 450 coconuts and 700 citrus and guava raised by the project from seed were planted.

The land is “pegged” with posts driven into the ground every 25 – 30 feet to space trees for their future mature canopies.

This is lowland tropical rainforest, where coconuts grow at their best. Within 5 years, they’ll be producing a bounty of coconuts.

L-R, Chief Caulker, CCET Managing Director Rosaline Kaimbay, Stalin Caulker and Kalilu Sannoh admire one of 450 coconuts just planted.

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Trees raised from seed in the nearby project tree nursery. Chief Caulker, above, stands among 5,000 orange seedlings planted for next year. Other trees like cashew and avocado will be added to the orchard, as well as banana and plantain.

Guava is like a large bush and fast growing. It will be producing fruit within 18 months of planting, and fruits twice a year. Banana and plantain will produce a year after planting, and keep sending out offshoots for year-round fruit. More short term income for the project.

Chief Caulker plans to use the program for demonstration, showing visitors how they, too, can start low-cost community-led projects. And grow their own way to a new future.

 

 

 

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Growing a Community’s Future benefits thousands

Growing a Community’s Future benefits thousands

Many will directly benefit from Growing a Community’s Future within the two-year Rotary grant period. But the real beauty of the program is its long-term and enduring benefits. It’s designed to enable the chiefdom to use its own resources and capabilities to grow a self-reliant future.

More than 3,000 people will be positively impacted through the Rotary Global Grant. The project will continue to generate results for years to come and improve many more lives.

In a chiefdom now 70% illiterate, educating children and moving to literacy is a major goal underpinning the entire project.

Roponga pegging orchard 6-13-17 (3)A Baby Orchard will fund newborn education savings accounts for 500 children annually. These accounts will grow to pay secondary school educations.

A variety of 1,200 fruit trees is being planted on 15 acres. In five years, the orchard will produce sustainable income, all going towards educating children.  Short-term crops — peanuts, rice and bananas — are also being planted for annual income while trees mature.

The orchard will keep producing fruit income for 20 years and more.

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Village Orchards
  Three villages averaging 300 people each, 900 people total, will grow commercial size community orchards.

These orchards will make villages self-reliant in funding their children’s educations and development projects that improve their quality of life. They can dig wells for clean drinking water, improve roads, build primary schools, etc. Orchards can in five years produce $12,000 in annual income year after year.

IMG-20170402-WA0001Women’s Vegetable Growing 170 women can double their incomes growing peanuts in 2017-18 and take steps to becoming small commercial growers. With families averaging five members, 850 people will be positively impacted with expanded income.

Women like Emma Sesay, in last year’s program, was able to stop taking high-interest loans to send her children to school and save seed to grow more peanuts this year.

IMG_2192Job Creation The grant creates 14 full-time jobs maintaining two baby orchards, a tree nursery and supervising all agriculture programs. These are the only wage- paying jobs in subsistence agriculture villages. With families of at least five, 70 lives will be significantly improved with steady income year round.

To sustain these jobs, orchards are growing short-term crops like rice, peanuts and pineapples for annual income. The tree nursery grows more than 15,000 fruit tree seedlings each year and sells some to private farmers to pay workers and grow next year’s seedlings.

DSC04587Birth Registration About 1,200 newborns will have their births registered each year and receive chiefdom affidavits.

This ensures their access to government services for documented citizens, including immunizations and free health care for children under five. It also provides chiefdom birthrights, like access to land. Outside of government hospitals in a few cities, there’s no other system to register births.

In addition, the program gives newborn parents three fruit tree seedlings to grow for income to fund their child’s education. The popular program renews an old tradition with a new goal, teaching parents they can save for their child’s future.

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Chiefdom Forest Reserves Seven forest reserves will be created ensuring chiefdom natural resources of land, drinking water and wildlife are protected today and flourish for future generations.

These will be the first locally protected reserves created in the country. Eventually 23 forest reserves will be created and protected through chiefdom by-laws.

Villages throughout the chiefdom will benefit from streams that maintain clean water and don’t dry up in the dry season, wildlife stock that expands and hardwood trees with economic value protected for future generations.

CCET also recognizes by planting and protecting trees – large tropical trees – they are doing their part to reduce global warming and fight climate change.

 

 

 

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Rotary Clubs make “Growing a Community’s Future” reality

Rotary Clubs make “Growing a Community’s Future” reality

Paramount Chief Charles Caulker toiled for years to develop community-led agriculture programs that would help eliminate poverty in his chiefdom and make people self-reliant.

Now, seven cooperating Rotary Clubs are providing the critical boost — the “fertilizer” — to expand and firmly root “Growing a Community’s Future,”  his innovative programs in Bumpeh Chiefdom.

Thanks to Rotary Club of Ann Arbor leadership, a multifaceted Rotary Global Grant totaling $49,500 will improve the lives of thousands.

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Paramount Chief Charles Caulker on the hand-pulled ferry crossing that’s the gateway to his chiefdom. 

Helping a struggling community transform its economy
The Rotary-funded project called “Growing a Community’s Future” will do just that using the only things Bumpeh Chiefdom has in abundance to bolster its economy — fertile land, plentiful water and agriculture traditions.

For isolated Bumpeh Chiefdom, one of the poorest places in the world, the opportunity is huge. “This grant will ensure we can fully implement our program to grow our community’s own future.  We’ll be able to fund children’s education, community development and protect the environment,” explained Chief Caulker.

Sherbro Foundation helped connect the seven Rotary Clubs with our chiefdom partner, the nonprofit Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation, CCET, which will carry out the project.

“Little did I know, a chance meeting with Ann Arbor Rotarians would lead to a grant of this size that will have such major development impact on the chiefdom of 40,000,” said Arlene Golembiewski, executive director of Sherbro Foundation

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Chief Caulker, right, talks with residents of Motobon village.

International partnerships make it happen
The Ann Arbor Rotary Club contributed $10,000 and coordinated grant contributions from six other Rotary Clubs: Ann Arbor North, Dexter and Ypsilanti in Michigan; plus Cincinnati, Wilmington, N.C. and Pune, India. Rotary District #6380 and the Rotary International Foundation provided matching funds for this two-year global grant.

Rotary grant kick-off Hawa Samai, Chief May '17 (2)A partnership between Ann Arbor Rotary and the Freetown Rotary Club in Sierra Leone will oversee the project’s progress.

Hawa Samai of Freetown Rotary Club, right, visits Rotifunk to kick off the project with CCET and Chief Caulker, left.

“It is a privilege to support the efforts of an extraordinary leader like Paramount Chief Charles Caulker who is working tirelessly to help his Chiefdom recover from an 11-year civil war and the recent Ebola epidemic,” said Mary Avrakotos, Ann Arbor Rotary Club lead for the Sierra Leone project.

“His expansive goals for long-term economic development and to assure that every child in his chiefdom receives a secondary education are exemplary of visionary leadership.”

Multifaceted grant
Rural villages will now be able to develop large fruit orchards on a commercial scale, earmarking income for children’s education and village development, like digging wells and building schools. Also, a women’s vegetable growing program is teaching subsistence rice farmers they can earn more money by diversifying crops and adding fast-growing peanuts and vegetables.

Grant funds will expand the chiefdom’s first birth registration program. And parents of newborns will receive fruit trees to grow for income they can save for their child’s education, reviving an old tradition with a modern goal.

A unique provision of the grant is creation of seven forest preserves to protect drinking water sources, wildlife and trees to benefit of future generations. These will be the first locally organized preserves in Sierra Leone, as Bumpeh Chiefdom strives to protect its all-important natural environment and counteract climate change.

Ashish Sarkar of the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor emphasized, “Projects with the greatest potential are ones like this where the vision is local and our role is simply one of empowerment.”

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