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

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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Do More Good Than You Can Imagine

branchandbulb1‘Tis the Season
Give for Good!

 

Do more good than you can imagine – all year round.

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300 women are waiting.

You can give them their chance.

All donations welcome!

Read more: Women’s Vegetable Growing project

We’ll even double your gift. Twice the good!

Now how good does that feel?

Thank you!  Happy Holidays,

Letterhead

 

 

 

First “Baby Orchard” Celebrates a Life Well Lived: Mike Diliberti

From Peace Corps teacher to World Bank manager to Friends of Sierra Leone president, Mike Diliberti gave his all for Sierra Leone. To celebrate his life, we have planted our first “Baby Orchard.” A new generation of children will be able to go to school when the fruit from Mike’s Orchard is sold.

Ten acres of tropical forest in a small village deep in coastal Bumpeh Chiefdom are forever preserved to honor Mike’s 40 years of service to Sierra Leone.

diliberti-and-kids       Mike in 2011 visit on the porch of his old house in Sembehun where he served as Peace Corps teacher. He stayed four years and started the chiefdom’s first secondary school.

In this summer’s rains, 1,500 fruit trees were planted — cashew, plum, mango,  inter-planted with faster growing guava and pineapple that produce fruit in one to two years.

mikes-orchard-5-june-16Sherbro Foundation’s Board funded the “Baby Orchard” to create long-term income for the chiefdom’s Newborn Education Savings Program, and dedicated it to Mike. Education savings accounts are opened for newborns and funded by fruit income. When a child reaches the age of twelve, they will have money for a secondary school education. I think Mike would have liked the idea, and I know his family does.

Left, Bagging fast growing young guava trees in the tree nursery to plant in Mike’s Orchard last July. These will be fruiting and earning money in their second year. 

Mike was one of the first people I met when we all joined the Peace Corps in 1974 and were assigned to Moyamba District as teachers. Mike went to Sembehun, I to Rotifunk. Our friendship grew with weekend R&R trips to Moyamba town and wherever volunteers gathered. Mike was such a warm and engaging guy, that early bond was remained over the years.

A flood of memories came back when we lost Mike last year.

dscn0474It’s safe to say but for Mike, Sherbro Foundation would not exist today. He encouraged me to join a Friends of Sierra Leone trip in 2011, my first return in 35 years. Ever the African traveler, he coordinated a tour of our former Moyamba District villages for five of us, including Wendy Diliberti, his wife, Sherbro Foundation Board Member Steve Papelian and Howie Fleck.

Left, Sembehun Village flocked to see Mr. Mike when he returned to visit in 2011.

If I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have reconnected with Rotifunk and seen the great need in such a personal way. As I later struggled with ideas on how I could help, it was Mike who encouraged me to start a new organization, and just go for it.

Now, just three years after Sherbro Foundation was founded, we can point to Mike’s Orchard, a lasting – and growing – memorial. It’s not only part of the larger Village Orchard Program, but one of six successful projects the foundation has helped Bumpeh Chiefdom to launch.

Sherbro Foundation helps villages start community orchards, creating sustainable income for development projects and to send children to school. In a few years, a village may see thousands of dollars in annual fruit income for village projects they choose: to dig wells, build primary schools, improve roads, etc. Orchard income will also fund newborn education savings accounts for years to come.

A Milwaukee, WI native, Mike served a total of four years in the Peace Corps as both a teacher and principal. He and Wendy settled in Virginia, where they raised two children, and Mike had a thirty year career with the World Bank, focused on Africa. The international organization issues loans to underdeveloped nations to help eliminate poverty.

Mike’s lifetime of work with Sierra Leone started with teaching children and developing schools. I think he would be pleased to be part of the Orchard program. The Mike Diliberti Memorial Orchard will now help ensure secondary school educations for a whole generation of children in Bumpeh Chiefdom. You can view how an orchard is planted here.

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director, Sherbro Foundation

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Growing Fruit Orchards for Peanuts

How do you start an orchard program for Sierra Leone village development income when all you have is your own land and water? You grow thousands of your own trees — all from the saved seeds of fruit you first eat.

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The Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation, CCET, our Bumpeh Chiefdom partner, has grown more than 40,000 fruit tree seedlings from seed in nurseries. We could say they’re raising them for peanuts.

IMG_0144 - Copy.JPGSeedlings are tended and watered for one to two years, then given to villages to plant community orchards and to parents of newborns to raise for income for their child’s education.

Six villages have planted their own orchards with thousands of fruit tree seedlings grown by CCET.

The Mike Diliberti Memorial Orchard is the latest addition, dedicated to funding children’s education in Bumpeh Chiefdom.

CCET is part of the community and works directly with traditional chiefdom leaders to introduce programs like the orchards. They estimate a typical outside aid organization with its overhead would spend at least 5x-6x as much to introduce a similar project, with far less results.

img_2646Here’s how an orchard gets started:

CCET selects fruit that grow well in the area and collects seed. Here they grow oranges, grapefruit, mango, guava, avocado, cashew, African plum and coconut.

They buy fruit inexpensively in local markets and save the seed to start seedlings, after the fruit is eaten.

Seeds are started in growing bags filled with rich, silty soil from a swamp next to the nursery.  Seeds like the oranges above germinate quickly.

img-20151010-wa0004They position the nursery next to a swamp for a ready supply of soil and water. Nurseries are built inexpensively. They’re bamboo pergolas, made from bamboo felled in nearby forests. Palm fronds laid over the top shelter young seedlings from the hot, dry season sun.

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Cashews are one of the fruits that germinate quickly and do well. They germinate like beans, above.

Within four to six weeks, 2,000 cashews germinated and were transplanted into their growing bags, left.

 

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Trees are carried to the orchard site by available transportation – back of a motorcycle or by boat.

avocado-orchardOrchard sites are usually 10 acres and hand cleared by machete, but not burned.  The cut brush is laid down as an organic mulch.

Villages determine the kind of trees they want to grow. Fields are then measured and “pegged” with tree limb posts and a plastic flag to mark where each tree should be planted. mikes-orchard-2-june-16-copy

 

 

 

This accurately spaces trees for their mature size, like the avocados, above, and the one being transplanted, left.  All labor is provided the villages themselves. They transplant seedlings after clearing the orchard field.

coconut-orchard

 

 

 

An acre can hold 60 large trees like oil palm, coconuts and mangoes; more if orange, grapefruit, avocado, cashew and guava. So, 600 to 1,200 fruit trees may be planted in a 10-acre orchard.

Coconuts planted left are indicated by arrows.

Fruit trees will mature and bear a full harvest in four to five years.  Managers learned they can inter-plant with other fast-growing fruits like guava, banana and pineapple that mature in one to two years, or other crops like cassava and peanuts.

img_0452Villages will earn money faster as fast-growing fruits and bushes shelter the slower growing fruit tree seedlings from the hot equatorial sun. Cassava bushes, left, shelter a two-year old mango, above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

A Phoenix Rises From the Ashes to Live Again

A phoenix is rising in Rotifunk to live again.  But not a bird.  A different kind of phoenix.

A phoenix is a mythological bird that arises from the ashes of its own funeral pyre as a newborn bird to live again.

Computer Lab 2Rotifunk had to abandon their town to rebel control for seven years during Sierra Leone’s civil war. Townspeople fled for their lives, and rebels burned the town to the ground.

Today, on the main road in Rotifunk, a building torched by rebels is rising once again from its own ashes. It’s being rebuilt as the new community computer center.

The computer center for Rotifunk that started as our dream three years ago is coming to life. No myth here. It’s being built, bricks and mortar style.  Or rather, being rebuilt.

Charred wood support posts.

Charred wood support posts.

In Sierra Leone, necessity is the mother of many things. Rebuilding structurally sound but damaged buildings to live again is a common thing. Especially buildings like this one that died a premature death at the hands of rebels intent on destroying a town.

This large building is being given over to house Rotifunk’s new community computer lab.  The concrete slab and foundation walls are good. It’s large enough to house two classrooms, offices and storage rooms. And importantly, it’s centrally located on the main road to easily serve residents and visitors alike as a computer café and business service center.

Anything wood, like these roof supports, burned when set on fire by rebels.  But the concrete foundation and original walls remain to work with.

Computer Lab 4Local materials are further bringing down the project cost.  Bricks made in wooden frames from the hard laterite clay mixed with cement dry in the hot tropical sun. Locally cut lumber from tropical hardwoods will support and frame the roof.

Inner walls of new bricks are being laid to reinforce the old walls and to rebuild upwards.

Window openings were left all around.  An important design feature for this town that still has no electricity and needs natural light coming in.

Computer Lab 10

Partitions – mud brick inner walls – will go in next to create classrooms, two offices, a storeroom and toilets.  These days modern style buildings in Rotifunk are built with inside toilets and underground septic systems.

This picture I just got shows the roof support starting to go up.  Roof trusses will go in that are one the biggest cost of the re- build.  We need roof trusses and a corrugated metal roof strong enough to hold solar panels.

You may ask how can a town build a computer center if it has no electricity. Well, we’ve already been operating a temporary computer center in a small house for nearly a year.  We were fortunate to get 50 up-to-date PC’s last year with a corporate donation from Schneider Electric.  Our local Rotifunk partner, the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation wasted no time starting computer literacy classes. But classes end by 6:00 or 6:30 pm when it becomes too dark to see.

The PC’s are re-charged remotely. Too bad I don’t have a picture  of kids carrying 20 computers at a time (in PC bags) on their heads across town to a place that charges cell phones. It’s a standard these days to have small cell phone charging businesses run by generators.

But this is no way to run a real computer center.  Our next stage for this project is fundraising for a solar energy system.  We want to maximize use of the center and operate for twelve hours a day, seven days a week. We need reliable solar power.

People in Rotifunk are eager to learn to use a computer.  Most people can’t afford their own PC now. They can come here to take classes or rent a PC by the hour for a token fee.  Those who just want to have something typed or printed, can come here like a local Kinko’s or Staples for business services.  And the center will earn some money to make itself self supporting.

Rebels may have tried to destroy Rotifunk. But Rotifunk is no longer destroyed.  It’s a vibrant small town that’s rebuilding itself.  It’s once again taking its position as the rural hub for education, health care and trade it’s been for over a hundred years.

Rotifunk is rebuilding itself to be better than its former self.  Computers are linking its residents with the rest of world.

Sherbro Foundation is proud we arranged the original computer donation and are now fundraising for the building’s solar system.  The building itself is being paid by private donations and community contributions, including the building shell, local materials and local unskilled labor.

It definitely is “taking a village” to make this computer center become a reality for the rural town of Rotifunk.  It’s an international village of donors and supporters.

Why not join us? If you’d like help, you can read more about our donations and donate yourself here.

 

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.