The women needed instant capitalization to bring more earnings home that improve their daily lives, as well as save. Soon, 40 more traders were added, 20 of them “fish mongers,” like Marie left, who buy dried fish from fishing villages to sell in Rotifunk.
“This program can change the lives of these women,” Chief Caulker says.
“In another year, some can reach what for us is a middleclass income level, and stand on their own using capital they produce themselves,” he said. Women still come thanking him for the opportunity to grow – or pleading for the chance to be included.
A steady business, no matter how small, has a broad ripple effect on the women’s community. They spend their earnings where they live.
First, children are fed two if not three meals a day. This includes wards many women take in from village relatives so they can attend school in town. Girls stay in school longer, avoiding early marriages and dangerous early pregnancies, and gain more promising futures.
With a little savings, women can seek early medical care for kids with malaria or other diseases that take the lives of twenty percent of children under 5.
One invigorated trader is Zainab, left, who had to drop out of school at the 9th grade. She was forced into an early marriage because her family could no longer feed her at home.
Zainab was a good student. She is now selling fresh fish at the weekly market and manages her business well. She’s one of the best savers in the group. In nine months, she saved $175.
Sherbro Foundation Executive Director Arlene Golembiewski sees better prospects for Zainab and others with more training and support.
“The fact is, market trading is the main business in Rotifunk,’’ she said. There are no local wage-paying jobs. “Trading should be seen as a career opportunity, not just a default for those with no other options.”
And the market looks destined to grow soon because a neglected road between Rotifunk and Moyamba, the district capital 17 miles away, is finally being upgraded. Traffic from across the district is expected to soon pass through town on their way to the capital.
Paramount Chief Caulker and the rest of the CCET Board are now evaluating the program, planning improvements for its second year.
Adama, left, works very hard at her new opportunity. One of her husband’s two wives, she was forced to provide for her five children alone. The four oldest were married off young because she couldn’t afford to support them.
But now Adama – who walks to market with two tubs on her head — is succeeding at trading and has saved more than 1 million Leones, or $100.
At the end of the year, she withdrew her savings. It was like getting a second grant – one she paid herself.
If she and her friends could meet you, we know they’d thank you from the bottom of their hearts for providing a way to better futures with new hope.
We hope their stories bring you some joy and happiness in this strangest of years.
— Chris Golembiewski, Vice President, Sherbro Foundation
Sierra Leone schools finally will reopen in October after a 5-month Covid shutdown
How do you help students now at an education milestone with a looming big exam that determines their fate – or which could result in more barriers to reaching their life goals?
Sierra Leone students have already been through a lot to reach 9th grade or 12th grade. With previous stops and starts, senior high students are often 20 years old and more. They’ve been in schools with too few teachers qualified to teach the curriculum.
Now, they’ve a 5-month school gap to fill because of Covid.
We’re working on improving Rotifunk’s educational system with teacher training. But what happens to the kids now in school?
CCET-SL’s Tutorial Program, going into its fourth year, tackles this problem, turning it into an opportunity.
Rosaline Kaimbay saw local secondary schools don’t have enough trained and qualified teachers to cover the full curriculum, especially in math, science and English.
Her solution: offer tutorials, but not just one-on-one or for small groups. Offer after-school classes to students from three schools preparing for national exams. And make it free.With Sherbro Foundation funding, 9th and 12th grade students came in droves for this free extra help. CCET-SL had to limit enrollment to the capacity of the CCET-SL education center, about 75 students at a time.
The program has been a big success and continues to grow. 170 students are anticipated this year, exceeding the size of the CCET-SL center. Classes are in two shifts and overflow classes go to a nearby primary school in afternoons.
Students facing the biggest barriers to education are invited for tutoring, providing a boost for the most vulnerable: orphans, those in single-parent households, often woman-led, or away from their home village living with guardians, and the lowest income families. 80% are girls.
The Tutorial program adds quality to the education these students receive – and does it using existing resources.
The best qualified local teachers combine forces in extra classes for students from three schools.
For a modest $40 monthly stipend, these dedicated teachers come after school, week after week, for another round of teaching over the whole school year.
The result: 9th grade tutorial students each year got higher results on average on the senior high entrance exam than peers in their home school, better on average than all chiefdom schools and than most of the district’s 40 secondary schools. They took many of the top three results in their home school.
The tutorial students, 80% girls, also became motivated to continue their education. More went on to senior high at the age when girls typically drop-out and marry. With extra support and their daughters’ success, more parents saw the value of education and kept their girls in school.
Create All-Day 12th grade School
Rosaline has taken 12th grade after-school tutoring to a higher level. The total number of 12th graders in Rotifunk schools remains small. Most have dropped out by this point.
Rosaline convinced school principals it would be more effective to bring all 12th grade students together and teach one all-day 12th grade school with the best local teachers at the CCET-SL center.
Students get the best teaching Rotifunk has to offer. The intensive all-day school prepares them for the exam that’s the entry to all higher education and requested on job applications. All 12 senior high subjects are taught, including classes for college and commercial tracks.
School in the time of Covid
12th grade after-school tutoring converted to the all-day school in December 2019. Covid then closed schools at the end of March 2020. Still, with six months total of focused teaching, we’re hoping this group now taking the national exam will do better than in the past.
CCET-SL will resume both the 12th-grade school and 9th grade after-school tutoring when Sierra Leone schools reopen in October. They observe the same procedures as all schools, including Covid safety procedures: required masks, spacing out students and frequent hand-washing. The CCET-SL Center has large windows to open on both sides creating air flow.
9th grade tutorial classes and the 12th grade school will be more important than ever in helping Rotifunk students catch up after missing five months of school for Covid. No Zoom in Rotifunk!
You can step in and sponsor a 9th grade or 12th grade student for 10 months of classes for only $40 for the whole year. Sponsor a student here.
Together, we can help 170 students stay on track and make big gains in their quest for a complete education. More than that. They’re preparing for the next step that lies ahead. Thank you!
— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director
Youth unemployment in Sierra Leone is staggering.
70% of those under the age of 35 are unemployed or underemployed. Erratic work in the informal economy, like market trading and day labor, is hard to even call employment. But that’s the best many can do. They have no skills.
Izzy is back in school now to avoid this fate. She’s in a vocational course teaching her electrical wiring. She chose that because it will lead to a wage-paying job with a future She’ll be poised on the leading edge of Sierra Leone’s solar revolution.
It’s back-to-school time. And time for our annual educational fundraising appeal – with another new twist this year.
Vocational training is one of four types of higher-education scholarships we’re sponsoring for chiefdom students. The successful after-school tutoring program will continue, as well.
Izzy is one of 12 Bumpeh Chiefdom students enrolled in a new vocational training program with Sherbro Foundation scholarships.
She was an 11th grade student aimlessly drifting in a conventional school that didn’t offer much to a student like her. Izzy (short for Ismatu) lost first one parent, then the other. She lives with her grandmother, helping in her catering business, which in rural Rotifunk, is down more than up.
Izzy is a quiet girl. In a month of being around her, I never got more than a “good morning, ma.” She’s always silent, her grandmother said. Just quietly doing tasks she’s asked to do. Fetch water, wash the pots, peel potatoes, pluck feathers off a chicken. You can see she’s had a painful past. Spending her time with older women who didn’t have their own chance for education, she never formed any goals.
The Sierra Leone government recognizes young people like Izzy need new opportunities. Most will never go to college. They need to get job skills. The government decentralized its Government Technical Institute, putting satellite programs in the district capitals where it’s practical for impoverished students to study. They made it affordable, with low tuition and avoid the capital Freetown’s high cost of living.
When Izzy’s chance for a new kind of education came up, she went for it. Electrical wiring is unusual for any girl to elect, but especially in Sierra Leone.
I asked her, why choose this, and Izzy softly said, “So I can do betta.” Meaning, so I can get a job and do better than the women around me.
Now she’s learning a skill that will set her up in a trade with opportunities, as Sierra Leone’s construction industry grows and electrical power takes off.
Until now, 90% of rural Sierra Leone has been in the dark.
Izzy didn’t choose this out of the blue. Last year, she was helping her grandmother cook for a group of Germans who came to install a solar system at Rotifunk’s mission hospital. They observed women have almost no options for jobs and are always working as “beasts of burden.” They encouraged Izzy, saying she could be doing solar installations and other electrical work.
Not long ago, a group of illiterate Sierra Leone women went to India to be trained as part of a “barefoot solar” program, which successfully trains illiterate Indian women to do solar system installations. They show even uneducated women can learn what they need to know to run wiring and install solar panels. Women are disciplined and pay attention to detail.
When Izzy was selected for one of the first 12 Bumpeh Chiefdom positions at the new technical institute in the district capital Moyamba, she saw electrical wiring was a course option. She didn’t hesitate.
Four young women and eight young men were accepted for Sherbro Foundation funded scholarships. Three women elected an IT course. The men are studying building and constuction, auto mechanics and IT.
The only female in her electrical course, Izzy is getting encouragement all around, including from the guys in the class. She’ll be finishing her first year soon, leading to a one-year certificate. If she does well, she can continue into a second year and get a full diploma.
Izzy’s timing is good. Small scale solar systems are spreading across Sierra Leone.
Easy Solar is one company bringing small solar units to rural African households. It installs solar panels with as little as 25 to 50 watts capacity, enough to run a couple LED lights and charge phones, plug in a radio or another small device.
Compared to always buying expensive alkaline batteries, this kind of small solar service is affordable for many. The smallest package is $70. You can buy your set-up outright, or pay it off monthly. Later, you can add on.
The exciting news is a solar mini-grid is being installed for the town of Rotifunk. It’s a public-private venture, that will be run like a small utility company. Households who want the service will get an electrical meter installed for pay-as-you-go service. Poles are going up around Rotifunk to carry electrical wires throughout town. The rest goes in soon, when the peak of the rainy season passes.
I smiled when I heard one excited resident say, with electricity, “Rotifunk will be New York City of the south [of Sierra Leone].”
The above solar mini-grid is an example of many being installed in rural Sierra Leone.
Imagine the anticipation of having even small-scale power and lights around Rotifunk for the very first time. It will no doubt keep growing, as power expands around the country.
Izzy soon will be ready to take advantage with her new electrical skills. She can “do betta” and have a future in front of her.
When asked to sponsor vocational training scholarships, Sherbro Foundation immediately said, absolutely.
It takes just $325 for a total scholarship package for the year to help one vocational student get job skills! This includes tuition and practicals fee, room rental and transportation for nine months.
The institute is impressed with Bumpeh Chiefdom’s response in sending students. It’s the only chiefdom in the district to fully sponsor 12 impoverished students and give them this opportunity.
You can help Izzy and 11 others like her get real job skills. Contribute towards a $325 annual scholarship here and these young people will soon join the job market – and avoid lives of poverty.
You’ll be making a great investment that feels great, too. Thank you!
— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director
Our Sierra Leone partner CCET-SL has more education programs helping Bumpeh Chiefdom students move to self-reliant lives. Stay tuned to hear what’s next for the successful after-school tutoring program and two other scholarships for community health nurses and our first university student!
We’re kicking off our annual appeal for our educational programs.
Sherbro Foundation’s core mission is education, with a focus on helping girls get an education.
We want Bumpeh Chiefdom girls – and boys – to stay in school, graduate and move on to actual careers and wage-paying jobs that make them self-supporting and part of developing their country.
Sherbro Foundation is proud to have grown to four types of scholarships serving Bumpeh Chiefdom students.
This year we’re changing our approach to our mission. No girls’ scholarships.
We’re focusing on ensuring teachers have the skills needed to help our students succeed.
“This is the right time to make a change in the scholarship program,” Bumpeh Chiefdom’s Paramount Chief Charles Caulker said. “The Sierra Leone government’s Free Quality Education program is providing more and more for students in the last two years and taking a load off families. The government made school free, paying school fees directly to schools, and giving students school supplies and textbooks for core subjects.”
Over six years, Sherbro Foundation sent over 800 Bumpeh Chiefdom girls to school with scholarships, most with repeat scholarships.
We got them into junior high and kept them there. We saved many from dropping out, instead continuing into senior high. They’re starting to graduate.
But graduates aren’t moving on to their dreams. Our goal of self-sufficient young women remains unmet.
Few had school completion exam results good enough to continue into higher education. This is largely the same scenario across Sierra Leone.
The problem was pretty clear. More needs to be put into the quality of education, not just the quantity.
Quality of education starts with qualified teachers.
This year we will fund scholarships for teachers in chiefdom schools to get the Higher Teaching Certificate (HTC), the basic credential to teach at the secondary school level.
“The majority of those imparting knowledge to pupils are not trained and qualified. This has created a negative impact on the performance of pupils, especially in the public exam.” Rosaline Kaimbay, managing director of our chiefdom partner CCET-SL and former high school principal.
If fortunate to finish high school, most graduates need to earn an income right away. They start teaching straight out of high school, sometimes as a primary school teacher.
Without an HTC or a bachelor’s degree, the government won’t pay secondary school teachers. But it’s hard for Rotifunk schools to get trained teachers to come to this rural community. They still need teachers, and scrape together a token salary, as little as $25 a month, to pay unqualified teachers.
The Sierra Leone government offers part-time courses practicing teachers can take on school holidays and some weekends to get their HTC over three years.
Many unqualifed teachers are serious and want to improve their subject knowledge and teaching skills. But paid so little, they can’t afford to pursue their HTC.
They’re stuck. But we can fix this problem.
Sherbro Foundation will fund six CCET-SL scholarships for practicing Rotifunk teachers to pursue their HTC. The cost for each is only $675 a year for tuition, fees and personal support (travel, food, internet café use, etc.)
Aziz is applying for one. He’s been teaching for seven years. Aziz was born in Mogbongboto, a small village deep in Bumpeh Chiefdom near where the Bumpeh River opens to the ocean. His parents were subsistence farmers, living off the land. He is one of twenty children his father gave birth to. His family can’t offer any financial help to further his education.
Aziz went to high school in Rotifunk in the period after the war when schools were being rebuilt academically as well as physically, and good instruction was limited.
When he didn’t meet university entry requirements, Aziz took the path many do. He got a basic teacher’s certificate, qualifying him to teach at primary schools. He worked his way up, from primary school to teaching business management and physical education at a Rotifunk secondary school.
“At first I never want to be a teacher looking at the way the profession is neglected,” Aziz commented last year. “Later on I take it as a job. And now it’s becoming my profession.”
Teachers in a rural community like Rotifunk do more than teach a class. They’re guides and catalysts, lifting students from the trap of semi-literacy and a life of poverty to the opportunity education brings.
I was impressed with the personal vision Aziz wrote on his Facebook page. “My vision: to teach, to build, to inspire. As an educator, a life coach, a life instructor, a future builder and a Role Model, I inspire young and great minds towards becoming super thinkers and great achievers.”
Aziz meets the base criteria for an HTC Scholarship. He now has six subjects passed after retaking the school completion exam vs. four required for HTC entry. He’s a chiefdom resident and currently teaching in a chiefdom school.
Aziz did well in CCET-SL’s scholarship interview, with a panel of seven interviewers, including Paramount Chief Caulker. He needs to now apply to an HTC school and bring a letter of acceptance.
“CCET-SL works to compliment the government’s Free Quality Education program,” Chief Caulker, left, said. “One thing the government is not able to do now is send teachers back to school to develop strong teaching skills. It’s right for CCET-SL to step in and help our own teachers. We’ve tailored teacher training scholarships for our needs and to serve as a tool for developing our chiefdom.”
After completing their HTC, teachers are required to continue teaching in a Rotifunk school at least one year for every year of scholarship support they receive.
“Our Girls Scholarship program encouraged chiefdom families to send their girls to school and let them progress into senior high,” Chief Caulker said. “They’ve come to value education more and are proud of their girls getting an education.”
“We now need to make sure girls – and all our students – get a quality education that will carry them into new lives where they prosper, and in turn, Bumpeh Chiefdom prospers.”
Sherbro Foundation is excited to take our education mission to the next level with this change. When a teacher’s skills improve, students learn more, test scores improve and they gain admission to higher education – with opportunities for a new life.
You can help develop a teacher by donating towards a $675 scholarship. Click here.
You’ll be investing in both a teacher and in the hundreds of students they teach. Thank you!
— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director
Watch for future newsletters about our three other scholarships and their goals: community health nursing, vocational training and supporting our first university student to complete her final year.
For a Sierra Leone community, a resident trained physician is a privilege. To have one in rural Bumpeh Chiefdom in 1950 was a blessing. A huge blessing. For women and their babies, it often meant life over death.
We’re celebrating the life of Dr. Winifred Smith Bradford (October 20, 1922 – July 19, 2020), a remarkable woman who dedicated herself to serving women and children around the world.
Sherbro Foundation dedicates this year’s community health nursing scholarships to Dr. Bradford for her long medical career, beginning in an outpost clinic in Rotifunk, Bumpeh Chiefdom in 1950.
Winifred Smith was born in Enid, Oklahoma just two years after women got the vote in the US. Imagine the vision and determination of a young woman from small town middle America who set her goal to become a doctor. In the latter days of the Great Depression and during WWII, she managed to put herself through college and medical school.
Dr. Smith was one of first women to graduate from York College of Medicine. With the goal of being a medical missionary to China, she continued on to Yale to study Chinese. But the Communist Chinese regime soon made clear they no longer wanted American missionaries.
Dr. Smith’s time at Yale wasn’t for naught. There she met the love of her life and partner in service, Lester Bradford, a forestry major. Her goal of being a missionary doctor was undeterred and just changed geography to Africa – Sierra Leone, West Africa. The United Brethren in Christ (UBC), an arm of the Methodist Church, first sent her to prepare at the London School of Tropical Medicine.
Dr. Smith, left, delivering a baby before departing for the London School of Tropical Medicine
Lester had to be satisfied with letters until, her training completed, Dr. Smith began practicing in the UBC clinic in Rotifunk. He joined her and they were married in the historic Martyrs Memorial Church in Rotifunk.
That was the first of the Bradfords’ many joint assignments in developing countries around the world – she practicing medicine and he leading agriculture development projects.
During their 16 years of service in Sierra Leone, Dr. Bradford delivered thousands of babies and treated thousands of children. A working mom herself, she and Lester had five children of their own.
On their return to the US, Dr. Bradford did a second medical residency and continued in the baby business, now in Mt. Vernon, Washington. She helped women who wanted the option of home births and founded the Mount Vernon Birth Center. Her compassionate approach to birthing revolutionized the whole birth industry in Skagit County.
Retirement was anything but retiring for Dr. Bradford and her husband. He took overseas assignments carrying out projects in South Sudan and Pakistan, and she continued her medical work there. Above left, she started a birthing center in Juba, Sudan and counseled families in Pakistan, above right.
Today, the need for health care professionals in rural Bumpeh Chiefdom and Sierra Leone remains as great as ever. Devastated by its 11-year rebel war, Sierra Leone was struggling to rebuild the country and its health care services when in 2014 it was hit by Ebola.
It only had 136 physicians for a population of 6,000,000 at the start of the outbreak, and those mostly in cities. By the end, Sierra Leone lost 11 physicians, among its most senior, or 8% of its medical ranks. Many more of the 1000 nurses/midwives also succumbed to Ebola.
Sierra Leone remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for a woman to give birth. And one in ten young children never see their fifth birthday.
In 2018, Sherbro Foundation started community health nursing scholarships to help build health care capacity in Bumpeh Chiefdom. Three young chiefdom women are now preparing to serve in small community health units that since Dr. Bradford’s time provide first level primary health care.
Bumpeh Chiefdom’s government-run health units are staffed by a community health nurse, usually operating alone, who diagnoses and treats common infectious disease like malaria and diarrhea, provides pre/postnatal care for pregnant women and serves as midwife to deliver babies. They vaccinate babies and monitor for malnutrition. They can provide family planning services, basic first aid like stitching wounds and screen for chronic disease for referral, like hypertension and diabetes.
Nine government-run health units serve Bumpeh Chiefdom’s 208 villages and 40,000 people. For most villagers, this is their only source of health care.
This year, we dedicate the community health nursing scholarships to Dr. Bradford and her legacy of serving Sierra Leone people – especially its mothers and children.
Three young women, Fatmata, Umu and Safiatu, above, will soon enter their second year of a three-year nursing program. Each $1100 scholarship covers tuition, practicals (when they’re placed in a Freetown hospital for hands-on experience), supplies, food and transportation for the year.
Join us with your gift here and return Fatmata, Umu and Safiatu to nursing school. You’ll keep them on a path to soon be caring for Bumpeh Chiefdom’s mothers and children – and all its people. Thank you!
It’s July and we’re four months into the Covid pandemic. Sierra Leone and Bumpeh Chiefdom are living the same massive human health experiment we all find ourselves in.
But they’ve fared better than us for the same point in time after the pandemic reached each of our borders. Confirmed cases in Sierra Leone (per 100,000 population) are 50-fold fewer than the US to date, and mostly contained in the capital, Freetown and the surrounding area.
Thanks to your support, Bumpeh Chiefdom used Sherbro Foundation funding to take early and aggressive action. As of July 9, it can still report no confirmed Covid cases.
Following its Ebola experience, most of Sierra Leone’s 1584 confirmed Covid cases to date transferred to government isolation centers for the course of their infection – where they don’t infect more people. Contact tracing led to over 9000 people quarantined, with about 8000 released after 14 days with no infection.
But by the end of May, Covid moved around the country to all but one district beyond the Freetown area. Still, a ban on inter-district travel without a limited essential travel pass managed to keep over 60% of confirmed cases to the Freetown area.
Rural areas like Bumpeh Chiefdom have reported few, if any, cases. Life largely takes place outside where breeze offers natural dilution.
Population density is lower and 60% are young, under twenty-five years of age.
Of course, there’s little access to testing to verify how widely the virus actually spread. We now know youth is no protection, and young people are probably active asymptomatic spreaders of the virus.
Taking early action
Bumpeh Chiefdom’s Paramount Chief Charles Caulker’s didn’t wait to take action. He formed a chiefdom Covid committee in March and reinstated procedures successfully used to quell Ebola, while adding others.
Chiefdom meetings now take place with distancing and masks.
Checkpoints started monitoring nonresidents trying to enter the chiefdom in midMarch, before even a single case was confirmed in the country. This kept most people from high infection areas out. Local people also wrongly feared being quarantined if they traveled away from home, discouraging movement within the chiefdom.
Chief Caulker passed chiefdom bylaws in May, requiring social distancing and use of face masks in public – before the government took action. But just setting standards doesn’t mean people will follow them, or even hear about them or understand them.
Safety teams for community-led prevention
In early June, 13 safety teams comprised of local leaders from across the chiefdom were trained on their Covid bylaws. Local health professionals and chiefdom Covid committee members went to every part the chiefdom, training 350 local leaders: section and village chiefs, heads of men’s and women’s societies, imams, youth leaders, checkpoint workers and others.
Trainers emphasized practical demonstrations, with participants practicing proper handwashing and mask use.
The safety teams were charged with teaching fellow residents how the Covid virus is transmitted and how social distancing, wearing masks and hand washing protects them.
Teams continue to monitor and enforce Covid procedures.
Taking training to the people in remote villages seldom happens. Rumors and myths about this unknown disease called Covid proliferated without TV, radio, newspapers or internet. Villagers didn’t know how the virus transfers or how to protect themselves.
Using locally known trainers speaking their own language invoked a level of trust. Health care trainers could convey much more understanding that in turn encourages more voluntary compliance.
Trainers explained people have the power to stop the virus through their own behavior. It’s in their hands.
Small group community training made people believers for an epidemic that has largely only been in cities. “Be an example now to your community,” trainers admonished.
“We learned so much for fighting against Covid-19. Especially about the interior (rural areas),” a youth leader, above left, said. “The interior is a problem with commitment of people. Not all people believe the sickness is in existence. Thank god brought you to communicate and explain how Covid-19 can come right into the interior.”
Asked what she learned, the woman, above right, said, “We learned about social distance and to not encourage ‘strangers’ (nonresidents who could be infected). And to wash our hands with soap and water to protect our families.”
Over 9000 Sherbro Foundation funded masks were distributed so residents can comply with chiefdom (and now government) requirements.
195 hand washing stations and soap were also given to village leaders for their public places. With no running water and few wells, this encourages handwashing where people convene.
Chief Caulker extends his “profound thanks” to all Sherbro Foundation donors for funding the program.
“I am very much delighted for the completion of the training of our section safety teams. I followed the process with keen interest and I am tremendously satisfied with the accomplishments. My section chiefs and their people constantly called me and expressed appreciation for the exercise while it was on.”
“They confessed that the training was the best ever conducted in the Chiefdom and it came out clearly … that participation was enormous and constructive. More importantly, they admitted acquiring the knowledge, skills, and tools to take on Covid ‘one on one’ for self-protection.”
Community-led training brings value, as well as results. 350 local leaders comprising thirteen safety teams for every corner of the chiefdom were trained for less than $600! Trainers gave their time. Costs were mainly for participant and trainer transportation.
Sherbro Foundation encourages the chiefdom to build on the momentum of the safety teams with follow-up sessions. Community-led prevention is a powerful concept not only for Covid, but for prevalent and debilitating disease like malaria. Malaria weakens the immune system making people more susceptible to Covid, especially pregnant women and small children. Future sessions can reinforce Covid practices, and also empower villages to eliminate standing water and sleep under bed nets to avoid malaria.
Reopening the country
Like everywhere, Sierra Leone could only stay shut down so long. The majority of people live day by day, earning a dollar or two today so their families eat tomorrow. The pressure to resume local trading and international traffic is overwhelming. Sierra Leone is “reopening” its economy and borders this month. Increasingly, it gets pulled into the direction all West African countries are taking.
The inter-district travel ban was removed June 24, taking away Bumpeh Chiefdom’s main line of Covid defense. Flights and land borders will be opened shortly. Large outdoor markets and gatherings remain banned, including religious services, much to the objection of mosques and churches.
The back to school question
Sierra Leone now joins countries around the world in the massive experiment of sending school children back to school before the pandemic is stamped out.
School reconvened July 1 for three grades due to now take their national exams needed to move to the next level: 6th graders to junior high; 9th graders to senior high; and 12th graders seeking entry to higher education or to meet employer requirements for school completion exam scores.
Our partner CCET-SL resumed its special all-day 12th grade school in its education center July 1, preparing Rotifunk’s graduating students for their national exam. Masks and distancing required.
Students will get a few weeks of classes before exams take place over July and August. The West African standard exams must be administered using the West African Examinations Council procedures and schedule – or risk the students losing a whole year until exams are offered again next year.
We’re awaiting word on how and when Sierra Leone schools will fully reopen in the fall.
Stay tuned for the next newsletter on Sherbro Foundation’s direction for the coming school year. You’ll see new things as our partner CCET-SL strives to keep improving the quality of education in the chiefdom. We’ll need your support more than ever.
— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director
We can’t wait for Giving Tuesday in November to support charitable organizations as part of our Thanksgiving festivities.
If ever we needed a day to give, it’s now, while we’re all fighting Covid-19. The 2020 Giving Tuesday is moved up to May 5.
Bumpeh Chiefdom, Sierra Leone, took immediate action in April against Covid-19 before any confirmed case reached them — and has kept the virus out so far. But it’s quickly spreading all around them.
Here’s how you can help Bumpeh Chiefdom in their fight to keep Covid-19 out:
>> $20 will pay to locally make 50 face masks for chiefdom residents, especially market women. These women, like the one at left, are one of the most at-risk groups — like grocery workers here.
>> $25 buys 3 hand-washing stations for border checkpoints and public places. With no running water, water must be hand-carried to covered buckets with spigots for hand-washing.
>> $50 buys a no-touch infrared thermometer to take temperatures, important in a place with no Covid-19 testing ability.
This month the chiefdom will require face masks to be worn in public, and to observe 6-foot social distancing.
They want to supply 10,000 masks to make it easy for residents to comply. They have local tailors busy making them.
Bumpeh Chiefdom must keep the Covid-19 virus out. They don’t have a health care facility that can treat this disease. There’s only one ventilator for the whole country!
Chiefdom leaders understand what’s needed to stop transmission of the virus. They need our help.
We’ve learned in this global pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe. The virus must be stamped out around the world.
On May 5th — Giving Tuesday 2020 — support Bumpeh Chiefdom’s Covid-19 fight if you can. It’s a day for global unity. www.sherbrofoundation.org/donate
We deeply appreciate your help. Thank you!
Sierra Leone had its first confirmed Covid-19 case on March 31.
With falling virus dominoes encircling the world, it was only a matter of time. Sierra Leone was one of the last countries the virus invaded.
Sierra Leone’s government used its hard-won experience with the deadly Ebola virus to quickly react. But its directives are very difficult to apply in rural areas and no help has been forthcoming to Bumpeh Chiefdom. Once again, the Chiefdom is on its own.
We’re proud to report that Bumpeh is the first, and perhaps the only, chiefdom to implement a rural Covid-19 control program, led by Paramount Chief Charles Caulker. And Sherbro Foundation is proud to support it, with a $6,000 grant sent in March.
We know Covid-19 is a stealth virus and hard to control. But Bumpeh Chiefdom has a head start, learning from its Ebola ordeal. Covid-19 starts as a traveler’s disease, first carried in by air travelers from infected countries. Sierra Leone has only limited flights and directly quarantined all arriving air passengers in Freetown throughout March; starting in February, for passengers originating in China.
First cases The first confirmed Covid-19 case was a traveler who briefly went to France and returned to Sierra Leone. At the end of his 14-day quarantine period, he started feeling Covid symptoms and tested positive.
By April 16, Sierra Leone had 15 confirmed Covid-19 cases. Seven of the first ten cases were quarantined air travelers. Two more cases appear to have been in quarantine after coming through Guinea’s land border. Border countries Guinea and Liberia have growing number of cases, especially Guinea. This is the biggest risk with Sierra Leone now closed to commercial air travel.
Community spread My own first few weeks of Covid-19 experience in Ohio were flooded with Ebola flashbacks. Now, watching Sierra Leone felt like a disaster movie unfolding where I know the plot. Ebola was first carried across an isolated land border with Guinea. As sick people sought treatment, health care workers were infected.
Sierra Leone’s second confirmed Covid-19 case was a hospital doctor who recognized early symptoms and immediately went for testing. With her positive result, the doctor’s contacts were asked to quarantine, including two university staffers who later tested positive. A hospital nurse in contact with the doctor also tested positive.
To its credit, the Sierra Leone government was ready after its Ebola experience to trace and quarantine contacts of identified or suspect Covid-19 cases in cities and district headquarters. Some 1,550 people have been quarantined to date, with 1034 discharged.
Emergency operation centers are in place for district surveillance and response. A lab technician in Kenema in the east, said to have recently worked in another Freetown hospital, just tested positive. Government teams are reported to have created a “ring” around his contacts to isolate and monitor them for a 14-day period.
But the April 17 report shows nearly a doubling of cases from 15 to 26. Most new cases are reported linked to the second case; they worked at the same hospital. But the doctor’s husband rightfully said it’s time to concentrate on community transmission. She appears to have been infected by community transfer. Her family, housekeepers and close hospital work associates have tested negative, while hospital nurses with little to no contact with her tested positive this week. They could have been community-exposed as the doctor was. As was the lab technician.
Those of us living the epidemic know what comes next. We can assume there are many more asymptomatic and untested cases now in the community, starting in Freetown and beginning to move around the country. There’s no defined plan to respond in rural areas.
Sierra Leone has more test kits than most US states started with. But logistically, it will be hard to test where and when needed. A lot harder for 60% of the population, in remote rural areas with little to no health care.
Community control The Sierra Leone government instated an initial three-day country-wide lockdown April 4-6. But too many people both in cities and villages must go out daily for food and to collect water.
The government’s control program now limits travel to within each of its 16 districts, set a 9 pm to 6 am curfew, limits public-sector business hours (the largest employer) and stresses staying at home wherever possible. Hand washing and social distancing are emphasized. They continue contact tracing and quarantines, but that will soon outstrip capacity to handle new cases.
This all sounds like reasonable guidance for urban areas and for literate people bombarded with Covid-19 information daily from TV, radio and internet. Now imagine the remote villages of Bumpeh Chiefdom with no communication other than a few people with only simple mobile phones for calls and bad connections.
Imagine people who line up daily to carry every bucket of water from a distance to wash. Imagine people who have no cash to stock their houses with food and supplies to stay at home for a week or more. People go to crowded local markets to sell goods to make enough money to buy the food needed for the next day or two.
These are people who need to take precautions to socially distance. To date, they’ve had no confirmed Covid-19 cases in their area. They’re disbelieving, never seeing or hearing of the illness. It’s all unreal to them. It was to us. Ebola attacked Bumpeh Chiefdom quickly, and it was deadly and ugly. Covid-19 has been a limited far-away city disease and only for the last 20 days.
In the back door With land borders to Guinea closed, people are finding ways to enter Sierra Leone through a back door – Bumpeh Chiefdom. Fishing boats coming from Guinea bypass the Freetown peninsula, stopping at the mouth of the Bumpeh River, the first settlements along a swampy coastline where passengers can find a way to move inland.
Three weeks ago, a boat coming from Guinea stopped at Samu village to let out passengers. One didn’t make it off. A man died on the boat of unknown causes. A local chief quickly came to keep passengers from leaving. With Paramount Chief Caulker’s direction, they were ordered to quarantine. A few slipped away and likely hopped a motorcycle taxi. It took two days before police and the community health officer arrived at the remote village to investigate. By then, the body was buried after being carried to the next chiefdom (by motorcycle taxi). Chiefs there were alerted to quarantine those involved in the burial. After three weeks, none of those quarantined are showing any symptoms.
Bumpeh Chiefdom Covid-19 program By then, Paramount Chief Caulker had already started the chiefdom Covid-19 control program, as described in our last newsletter. With their Ebola experience still fresh, Chief quickly instated checkpoints at strategic chiefdom entry points with mandatory handwashing, and is now expanding those. This is the most effective means of monitoring for outsiders bringing in the virus.
Social distancing is initially hard to get used to. The weekly women’s small grant meeting, above, spread out, but not quite six feet. Chief not only stopped gatherings, but leads by example, applying the six-foot rule in his own interactions. Our partner CCET-SL leaders do the same. Hand-washing stations are set up in public places, and people urged to wash hands at home.
They’ve adjusted past Ebola practices for this virus that’s less lethal, but more contagious. Chief and CCET-SL leaders, above, are introducing use of face masks when in public, starting with themselves. A project to make cloth face masks hopefully will start soon. Market women, who are “essential workers” in providing a supply of food, are priorities for masks.
The Samu village experience – and Ebola — showed small remote villages need close monitoring. This can only be done by the chiefdom’s own grassroots authorities. As during Ebola, Chief Caulker is organizing village chiefs to monitor their own villages, regularly checking door-to-door for strangers and for residents who may be sick. They can isolate the sick and ask for help to send people for health care, as needed.
Once again, it will come down to the paramount chief orchestrating his own chiefdom authorities down to small villages to control this epidemic. This chief has immediately gone into action.
Developing countries with limited health care and Covid-19 testing have to rely on local human surveillance. Until simple and cheap Covid-19 test kits are available in quantity for rural areas without electricity, this will be the primary way to contain the virus.
Sherbro Foundation is watching how the epidemic unfolds in Sierra Leone and is prepared to help again as needed.
Today’s good news: Six of the first confirmed Covid-19 cases, including the index case who was hospitalized and the doctor, have been released.
More frequent Bumpeh Chiefdom Covid-19 updates will be on our Facebook page: click here.
- Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director
Does lightning strike twice in the same spot? Does Sierra Leone have the ridiculous luck of seeing two major global epidemics of life-threatening viruses within six years?
Sierra Leone is one of ten or so countries with the highest — or lowest -– rankings demographers measure. Mortality, life expectancy, literacy. Sierra Leone is again the country with an extreme. But this time that’s good. Very good.
As I write this (March 27), Sierra Leone doesn’t have a single confirmed case of COVID-19.
It’s one 10+ African countries (perhaps 20 globally) still with no confirmed COVID-19. Sierra Leone does have testing capability, in the capital and a couple cities where cases are most likely to first appear.
Sherbro Foundation just wired money this week for our Bumpeh Chiefdom friends’ COVID-19 prevention program. But first, here’s what’s happened leading up to this.
I never thought I’d say Sierra Leone’s deadly Ebola experience was good for something. But Sierra Leone kicked into gear and, week by week, instituted early COVID-19 protective measures as they saw the rest of the world reel around them. The government and the people remember well the practical steps of managing Ebola and have responded quickly for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Air travel is the source of COVID-19 transmission for now, and Sierra Leone only has one international airport. Passengers on flights arriving from countries with 50 or more reported cases were put into automatic 14-day quarantine. This started in February 3 with passengers originating from China. Only a few airlines normally fly to Sierra Leone. Some European airlines started canceling flights in March.
As of March 23, the Sierra Leone government banned any flight from entering the country, and President Bio, above, declared a national state of emergency. 500 previous air travelers were still in quarantine.
During Ebola, the rest of the world isolated Sierra Leone and tried to keep its travelers out. Now the tables have turned. Sierra Leone is keeping the world out of its country.
With cases starting to grow in neighboring Liberia and Guinea, Sierra Leone’s land borders are closed as of March 27. Essential commodities can still pass through with strict supervision.
So far, so good. Sierra Leone has a basic pandemic preparedness plan. Its health officials say strategies being used by coronavirus-affected countries emanated from their Ebola outbreak. And they have to be prepared for return of Ebola or Lassa Fever anytime.
The government has been working with WHO and other supporters to improve their health care capability since the Ebola epidemic, including developing three laboratories with virus testing capability. They have 370 COVID-19 test kits, and it’s stated they could get 20,000 more within 24 hours.
Sierra Leone is focusing on standard strategies to clamp down on early stages of epidemics: case management and preventive action.
President Bio washes his hands, left, before entering Lungi International airport terminal during a recent inspection visit. In a country with little running water, even in cities, buckets fitted with spigots introduced for handwashing during Ebola have now returned.
“We have one of the best contact tracing and surveillance [systems],” said the Deputy Health Minister. “Before Ebola, we had no epidemiologists. Now we have 176.” An isolation ward is ready in a military hospital, and more could quickly be set up. People who set up and ran MASH-style Ebola treatment centers around the country are still there.
All is critical in a country with few ICU units, let alone ventilators, and only in the capital.
Prevention in Bumpeh Chiefdom
When the dominoes started quickly falling in the US two weeks ago, Bumpeh Chiefdom leader Paramount Chief Charles Caulker called together his chiefdom council. Rural areas like Bumpeh Chiefdom must interpret and apply government guidance largely defined for urban areas. The chiefdom council quickly agreed to proactive steps that aren’t new for them. The next day they were in effect.
Chief Caulker fell back on their past Ebola program, with appropriate changes. Like us, they’re emphasizing social distancing and hand washing.
Per the government’s order:
> Religious services, sports events and other gatherings were closed.
> All schools close as of March 31, when current exams end. National exams for 9th and
12th grades are canceled until further notice. Same for colleges and vocational schools.
> Our partner CCET ends its education programs like after-school tutoring March 31.
Chief Caulker also set up chiefdom border controls to monitor for possible infected travelers, especially those coming from cities and larger towns. But it’s not as stringent as during Ebola when no traveler or returning resident could enter.
> Checkpoints with handwashing stations verify a traveler’s residency or business purpose at all places vehicles enter. Travelers must wash their hands before passing through.
> The old customary practice of “strangers” (nonresidents) reporting to the local chief was reinstated, including stating who their local hosts are.
Youth are being mobilized to educate villages on COVID19, going door to door and avoiding village meetings. Handwashing is emphasized, with washing stations set up in public places.
Bringing home delivery to Rotifunk
Social distancing at the big weekly market was the most problematic. Throngs of buyers and sellers crowd Rotifunk every Saturday.
It’s the town’s lifeblood, serving as the grocery, Walmart, Target and Ace Hardware for locals.
Outside traders bring in fish, the main protein source for most.
Villagers sell their produce to outside traders who supply Freetown and other cities. Outside traders could bring in COVID-19, but closing the market would be devastating.
When solving a problem, Chief Caulker tries to maximize the solution’s benefits. Kill two birds with one stone. Or three or four birds, if possible.
He needs to get essential food safely into Rotifunk and area villages. But he didn’t want to close the market, just thin the crowds.
First, he told chiefdom residents to use the market seven days a week and bring their goods to sell any day in the usual daily market, below; not just on Saturday.
With business spread out over seven days, fewer outside traders come now. They can’t make as many sales on any one day so it’s not worth the long trip. Local villagers also get better prices for their wares with less competition.
But the biggest gain comes by taking the market to the people. Think of it as home delivery.
With Sherbro Foundation funding, Chief Caulker is expanding the Women’s Small Grant and Savings Program to add 40 more women traders. The women will use $100 grants to buy chiefdom fish or produce and sell them in designated neighborhoods, avoiding market crowds altogether. Creating job and income opportunities for the most impoverished local women is one of Chief’s ongoing priorities.
It’s a win-win all around. Outside traders who could be carrying in COVID-19 are reduced. Forty women are empowered to expand their trading businesses with capital and dedicated customers. Market customers and villagers who normally come to sell are protected by avoiding market crowds.
This solution will also keep more money in the local economy. Outside traders won’t take money outside the chiefdom. Rotifunk’s and the chiefdom’s overall economy will improve as the women traders succeed and use their increased purchasing power locally.
Pivoting for a compelling need
Sherbro Foundation is delighted to fund the 40 women traders with $100 grants.
They also become part of the savings plan of the new Women’s Small Grant Program, where women deposit part of each week’s earnings, left.
At the end of the year, their total savings will be like getting a new grant.
Sherbro Foundation is also contributing to daily food stipends for the checkpoint volunteers.
Bumpeh Chiefdom and Sierra Leone are hardly out of the woods with COVID-19. But, like us, they’re buying time until therapeutic drugs or the ultimate vaccine are found.
Sherbro Foundation pivoted from other issues and helped Bumpeh Chiefdom fight Ebola in 2014-15. Being a small organization, we can respond quickly. As in 2014, within two weeks of my first phone call with Chief Caulker on their COVID-19 plan, they will have our funding in hand and start acting.
Next week, women traders will introduce food home delivery to the chiefdom. Who knows where this goes long term?
One more thing the whole dreadful Ebola experience taught me: I know we’ll get through COVID-19. On the upside, a whole new program with the potential to transform Bumpeh Chiefdom may blossom – strengthening struggling women as successful small entrepreneurs.
— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With 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.
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.
Sherbro Foundation celebrates its seventh anniversary next month. To understand this success, just look to the head of the community-led program with whom we partner in Sierra Leone. We’ve been honored to work with Paramount Chief Charles Caulker since 2013 and support his chiefdom development efforts. And now we salute his 35th anniversary as paramount chief!
Nearly 2,000 cheering people packed the celebration of Paramount Chief Charles Caulker’s dedication to traditional rule of Bumpeh Chiefdom. He is the second longest serving paramount chief in Sierra Leone. I knew I wouldn’t see a traditional ceremony of this significance again anytime soon. I went to Sierra Leone in December to witness it myself – and now share it with you.
“You have stood tall to achieve unity in this chiefdom and brought development … [that has] no boundaries between your rivals and your allies. May our god continue to keep you on your throne for 10 years, 20 years and even more.” –Bumpeh Chiefdom-born businesswoman Alice Conteh-Morgan at Chief’s celebration
Chief Caulker’s feat is not just one marked by length of service, but by 35 years of uninterrupted peace and unity in his rural chiefdom. Sierra Leone’s highly centralized government is far away in the capital Freetown. It’s the paramount chief who keeps law and order on a day-to-day basis, and maintains peace and stability.
Ms. Conteh-Morgan, right, with Chief, far right, continued, “It’s not easy for someone to rule for 35 years without his people rising against him.”
Chief Caulker has served through a dynamic period in the ’80s of the country’s still-young democracy, an 11-year rebel war, five presidencies with alternating and hotly competing political parties, and the Ebola crisis. Imagine a U.S. governor retaining office with strong support over 35 often tumultuous years.
Paramount chiefs are elected, and then serve for life. But Chief Caulker feels he needs to periodically face his people and seek their support for continuing in office, as he did on this day in December.
The day began with people coming to salute their chief with drumming and the deafening vuvuzela-style horns African soccer fans love.
Amateur “devils” entertained the gathering crowds, as people found their seats under temporary shelters of bamboo and palm to escape the sweltering tropical sun.
People were invited from across the chiefdom, as well as friends and national and district government officials from Chief’s 45 years in public life.
Poro, the men’s secret society, led the traditional part of the ceremony. They serve the paramount chief, and also act as checks and balances on their chief’s rule.
They offered symbolic gifts, below, reaffirming they want this chief to continue as their paramount chief.
The conchama, above, took the lead. She is a special sub-chief in Bumpeh Chiefdom and one of the stalwart keepers of its oldest traditions. The conchama has been a female chief for as long as anyone can remember, and is unique among women. She was initiated into Poro and participates as a leader in the men’s society.
One symbolic gift was a jug of honey, representing all the sweetness of their chiefdom they give to Chief Caulker and entrust him with protecting.
The conchama said she was repeating the tradition she performed ten years ago at Chief’s 25th anniversary. With their symbolic gifts, Bumpeh Chiefdom was now handing over the chiefdom to Chief Caulker’s care for another 50 years!
The day was a mix of the traditional and the contemporary, just like the man himself.
Chief Caulker, right, gave a state-of-the-union type of address, and told of what he’s accomplished and what he yet plans to do. The people roared their support.
Chief told me the thing he’s most proud of is uniting his chiefdom and keeping peace for 35 years, an accomplishment that’s been impossible elsewhere in Sierra Leone.
Bumpeh Chiefdom is diverse with seven often competing tribal groups in one area. Chief assumed his office in 1984 after a local violent conflict, followed by a highly contentious election. He was young to take office as a paramount chief — only 35 — and untested. But he made peace and reuniting the chiefdom his objective.
He did it by balancing the rights of all tribes and not allowing any one group to achieve dominance. His family tribe, the Sherbro, is now outnumbered in their own homeland. But he insisted all tribes would sit together in governing the chiefdom, with no one group favored over the other. Everyone has equal rights and deserves equal opportunity in his mind.
Speakers bore this out in their testimonials for Chief. “He is a man with a clean heart,” said the District Officer, the ranking district government official. “No matter what you do, he’ll never get angry. He embraces everyone and forgives all. After the rebel war, he came and worked with the government and NGOs to restore hope and joy to his people.”
Mr. Tamba Lamina, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development recalled how Chief Caulker advised five successive governments on local governance and represented the paramount chiefs of his district in parliament for 12 years after the war. Most recently, Chief was part of a 12-member transition team in 2018 for the newly elected Maada Bio government. Lamina said, “I consider Chief Caulker a benchmark for rural development, and use him in assessing other chiefdoms in the country.”
Some of the strongest praise came from the man who actively opposed Chief in that paramount chief election 35 years ago.
“I believe I’m going to die and leave you on the throne to bring more development [to our chiefdom],” Alie Bendu, far left, declared.
“Today we are handing over these [symbolic] items to you as a sign we are happy with you and want you to govern us more.”
Then it was the people’s turn to celebrate their chief with traditional music and dancing.
The women’s society led off with their Bundu devils and colorful Sampa dancers, above and below.
The athletic Ojeh society dancers, above and below, are from the Temne tribe.
The masked Nafali dancer, below, is often sent ahead to announce the men’s society devil, the Gboi, will follow him. Other dancers joined the Nafali.
No cultural show is complete without the main devil from the men’s Poro society, the Gboi, below, a huge whirling dervish of raffia.
The official cultural parade ended by late afternoon. But the dancing DJ-style went on late into the night, or I should say into morning. A day-long fete fitting for a 35-year paramount chief.
This was just one of five days not only honoring Chief Caulker’s 35 years of public service, but also his 70th birthday. Family members came from the UK and the US to celebrate with Chief.
Thirty-five years in service, but in no way is Chief Caulker retiring. He seems to just be picking up speed, with plans for the coming years pouring out.
The challenges in Bumpeh Chiefdom still loom large. But we can’t think of anyone more up to tackling them – and showing other chiefdoms the way – than Paramount Chief Caulker.
For those of you who join Sherbro Foundation in supporting Bumpeh Chiefdom’s community-led programs – thank you. There’s much more yet to come!
– – Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director
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.
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?
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.
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.
You hit the target. With your generosity, Sherbro Foundation’s 2019-20 girls’ scholarship campaign reached it’s goal.
Actually, it’s 460 individual goals that were met. You helped 460 girls achieve their personal goal of returning to school another year and advancing to the next grade.
Bravo to these girls pursuing their education. And bravo to you, the ones that made it happen!
I always anxiously await seeing what happened to individual girls I’ve gotten to know. This picture of Fatmata proudly smiling in her senior high uniform made me smile, then left me teary thinking of her story.
Fatmata, now starting 11th grade, just received her fifth SFSL scholarship. She’s thriving and moving through senior high.
We wrote about Fatmata two years ago. She lost her father to Ebola, and her pregnant mother died shortly afterward. A relative enrolled her in a Rotifunk school because she could get a scholarship. She resisted her father’s family’s efforts to move her to another town where she would not get scholarship support. She wanted to be sure to stay in school. Now, a few years later, she’s nearly finished with secondary school.
There are many more Fatmatas also getting their chance for education.
We’re thrilled to repeat last year’s highwater mark of 460 scholarships, covering four Bumpeh Chiefdom schools of all faiths. And four young women will return to another year of college with their SFSL scholarships.
With your support, more and more chiefdom girls are staying in school each year. We’re grateful to you for your generosity in backing their growing numbers year after year.
We’re told no other community in Sierra Leone receives this number of scholarships — and all for girls!
Distributing scholarships is always a joyful day. Below, Bumpeh Academy students spill out of our partner CCET-SL’s education center after receiving their scholarship package of a school uniform and school supplies. Without textbooks, it’s essential students get notebooks for recording teachers’ blackboard notes.
Rosaline Kaimbay, CCET-SL Managing Director and former school principal, above, encouraged students and told them of their responsibility to learn and become successful. CCET-SL’s role she tells them, “is to help transform the lives of chiefdom people. When you are successful, you will transform our community.”
Mrs. Kaimbay reminded students of the college scholarships we have started. She told senior high students, “it’s now in your hands” to study hard and qualify for a future scholarship.
The Ahmadiyya Islamic school, above, is the chiefdom’s smallest secondary school. But the ranks of girls in the school keep growing year by year.
Walter Schutz Memorial Secondary School (WSMSS) is the chiefdom’s oldest school, and the one where I taught as a Peace Corps Volunteer many years ago. I remember feeling good back then to have 70 girls in all six grades of the town’s only secondary school. Today, the CCET-SL center, above, was overflowing with over 150 girls receiving scholarship packages in just one of four participating schools!
Pictures weren’t yet available for our fourth school, Ernest Bai Koroma Junior High, the newest school ten miles outside Rotifunk.
But what about the boys?
Every year when I visit Rotifunk schools and meet with student assemblies, I’m asked directly by boys, “What about us? We need help going to school, too.”
The fact is, they do. And with the scholarship program, the number of girls in Rotifunk secondary schools is catching up to their male peers.
As Westerners, we’ve had the notion that African families favor boys over girls for education. I’ve asked enough people in Bumpeh Chiefdom over enough years to now satisfy myself this is no longer true. Girls have caught up with boys in junior high, and now we’re helping girls do the same in senior high. It’s poverty that’s kept girls from progressing now, not favoritism, especially when village girls face the added expense of lodging in town suitable for an unaccompanied teenage girl.
The SF Board decided last year to start scholarships for boys at the modest level of 10% of the total given to girls. We paid for 46 additional scholarships for boys ourselves. This year we set the same target, and one Board member paid for all boys in full.
Student profiles show just how important it is to support boys as well as girls. Mustapha, left, is doing well now in 12th grade with his second scholarship.
He lost his parents during the early days of the Ebola outbreak when they were quarantined. They may have only become infected when kept in close quarters with those who had contracted Ebola. Now living with an uncle, Mustapha wants to become a lawyer “to stop too much crime.”
There are many disadvantaged boys who need our support.
Sallu, middle left, is disabled.
His education means everything to him, as he won’t be able to earn his living with physical labor.
We’ll continue to monitor this issue year by year.
Once again, we send our deepest thanks to everyone for making this year’s scholarship campaign another successful one!
— Arlene Golembiewski
Fatmata, Umu and Safi have done something no one else in their Sierra Leone families have done. Or almost anyone in their community. They graduated from high school. But then what happens?
The three Rotifunk graduates are among the first Bumpeh Chiefdom girls to finish high school in more than 20 years since Sierra Leone’s war.
They’re now embarking on new careers in community health nursing with the second college scholarship Sherbro Foundation introduced last year.
With three deserving young women, the scholarship is split three ways among them.
You can help these young women continue in college another year with your gift – and on to careers in health care, one of Sierra Leone’s most dire needs.
Getting this far It was a struggle for Fatmata, Umu and Safi to get this far, coming from subsistence farming village families, some with single parents. No one in their families finished high school, let alone college. Local schools have also been on a long path to rebuild after the war and attract trained teachers to this rural setting. The young women didn’t have the benefit of a strong academic start.
None met the requirements to enter a four-year or two-year college degree program. Very few Rotifunk students have. Discouraged and at a loss for what to do, they volunteered at Rotifunk’s mission-run hospital as nursing aides. They liked the work, and the hospital found them hard working with potential for health care careers.
Rotifunk’s education godmother
Enter Rosaline Kaimbay, our Rotifunk partner CCET-SL’s managing director and former high school principal.
Rosaline, left center, has been like a godmother to so many Bumpeh Chiefdom children, encouraging them to start – or return – to secondary school, and finding what minimal resources she can to help them on their way.
Rosaline’s new task is helping girls with career counseling and identifying higher education options that fit their interests and abilities. Imagine coming from an illiterate rural farming family and trying to figure out what to do with your life. Girls have little idea of jobs to prepare for, let alone how to make it happen.
Win – win solutions Sherbro Foundation strives to support students in higher education fields that can benefit Bumpeh Chiefdom and its development. Students with family connections are more likely to return to the chiefdom to work – if there’s available jobs.
Health care is an area with rural jobs. It’s also one of Sierra Leone’s biggest priorities, in a country with one of – or the highest – infant, Under-Five and maternal mortality rates in the world.
The Sierra Leone government needs trained nurses to staff community health clinics in the rural areas where 60% of the country’s population lives, especially those who speak local tribal languages and know the culture.
Community health nursing is a great entry point for young women like Fatmata, Umu and Safi. Nurses like Adama, above, run small village-based Public Health Units, where they treat common infectious disease like malaria and dysentery, stitch wounds and perform other first aid. They give women basic pre and post-natal care, serve as midwives at birth and offer well-baby care, including checking infants for stunting.
They’re important in identifying more complicated maternity cases and chronic illness like diabetes and hypertension that need higher professional treatment. I’m told nurses with local connections like rural assignments, where the standard of living is low and their salary goes further.
A good educational value For $750 we can send a young woman to a year of training for this critical job, including tuition, lab practicals, supplies and weekly transportation home for 36 weeks.
Meet our college students
Last year you met our first college scholarship awardee Aminata Kamara, left, who continues to do well. She’s finishing her second year of a B.A. degree in Banking and Finance at the University of Sierra Leone, and is ready to start her third year in September.
Now meet the three nursing students on scholarship.
Our goal is return all four young women to college in September.
Fatmata Sesay lost her father ten years ago and her mother has struggled to raise her and her brother.
Her mother is a small farmer and participant in our Women’s Vegetable Growing program to grow peanuts as a cash crop. But that won’t put a girl through college.
A high school dropout, her mother values education and volunteers her free time as a local kindergarten teacher.
Giving Fatmata the chance for higher education and the career she didn’t have is her hope.
Umu Bangura’s parents are farmers in a small Bumpeh Chiefdom village. Her mother has elephantiasis in both legs and can no longer do much. Her father, in his 50’s and after a hard life of physical labor, is limited in how much farming he can still do.
Umu is the first girl in their family to complete high school. She’s excited to be among the first Bumpeh Chiefdom girls to have the opportunity to continue into college and a real career in nursing.
Umu passed three of her introductory nursing classes “with distinction” above 85%.
Safi Bendu comes from a small village “downriver” some distance from Rotifunk. She had to leave home to go to secondary school.
She got pregnant, but returned to complete her high school education. Safi now appreciates another opportunity to continue her education. She’s determined to become a nurse and get a job that enables her to care for her child.
Fatmata, Umu and Safi all successfully completed their introductory nursing classes in May with Sherbro Foundation college scholarships. They now have two years of courses in front of them, and a third year where they’ll be placed in a government hospital to gain practical experience.
Help send these young women to college. Fatmata, Umu and Safi are now proudly dressed in their nursing student uniforms and have someplace to go – nursing school.
You can help these young women complete a year of their nursing degrees. $750 gives each of them a full year of training so they can join the ranks of trained nurses Sierra Leone so greatly needs.
Our total goal for 2019-20 college scholarships for all four young women is $4000. This includes $1750 to return our first college student Aminata to her third year at University of Sierra Leone with tuition and living expenses.
This year we combined fundraising for college and high school scholarships into one campaign. If you wish to specify your gift be used for college scholarships, please note that on the “special instruction line” with your donation HERE. Or you can let your gift help all girls return to school from Jr. High to Sr. High to college students.
College is an opportunity still uncommon in Sierra Leone and cherished by its students. Thank you for supporting Bumpeh Chiefdom girls in reaching for their dreams.
— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director
Year by year Sherbro Foundation has worked to remove the barriers girls face going to secondary school, starting with school fee scholarships.
When the Sierra Leone government began paying school fees in 2018, we shifted our scholarships to buy school uniforms. No textbooks? We provided notebooks for students to copy notes teachers write on blackboards.
Girls have trouble passing the senior high entrance exam? We helped our partner CCET-SL run an after-school tutoring program preparing 9th graders for the exam.
But we forgot one important barrier to girls regularly attending school.
We were thinking of school as a program or a project.
We weren’t thinking about the girl.
Girls have menstrual periods.
If a girl can’t afford a $25 school uniform – or three meals a day – she can’t afford Western style feminine hygiene products.
When I started asking about this, the stories came out. Girls use rags or whatever else they come up with for their periods in place of feminine pads. If they have a heavy flow or painful day, girls stay home and miss school. Every month.
Think of the girls like Humu who walk many miles and have long days away from home. How can you walk 7 miles with menstrual cramps? And on a road where there’s no place to deal with their makeshift “pad.” Staying home from school is too often the solution.
Schools at best have a few latrines. Some schools don’t have on-site water – there’s no well or the pump doesn’t work. Forget sinks or wash stations at the latrines.
I asked the Ahmadiyya Islamic school principal, with an all male staff, what they encounter with girls and their periods. Yes, it can be a problem, Mr. Sesay said. As the only local Islamic school, most girls walk 3 miles to school, and some as far as 7 or 8 miles each way.
Every woman can relate to being caught away from home and unprepared when their period starts. If a girls starts her period unprepared at the rural Ahmadiyya school, she has to inform a male teacher who takes her to a stream to wash herself.
Sierra Leone students already miss enough school: bad weather; they’re needed at home on the farm for planting and harvesting; they’re sick. Think of how a girl can get further behind in classes if she misses school every month for her period.
All these things chip away at a teenage girl’s self-esteem – and her confidence and commitment to continue her education. She’s at risk of dropping out.
OK, we now got it. We’re adding Days for Girls menstrual hygiene kits to this year’s scholarship package.
Every girl will get a kit in a colorful bag with 2 washable shields, 8 washable pads of an absorbent flannel type material and zip lock bags to hold soiled pads.
They can be reused for 2 or 3 years.
Days for Girls is a global organization addressing girls and menstrual hygiene in developing countries.
They help local groups hand-make the menstrual hygiene kits with materials proven effective after years of experience. And they supply educational materials on menstruation and sex education.
To understand more of what African girls face in handling this every-month reality of life, watch this Days for Girls video.
If you have Netflix, you’ll want to see the 2019 Oscar winner for short documentary, Period. End of Sentence. It’s an uplifting film on how rural Indian women took charge of their menstrual dilemma and turned it into a cottage industry business, hand-making feminine pads for their community.
More good news. Just as we were grappling with how to pay for the Days for Girls kits for our 460 scholarship girls, Schools for Salone contacted us. Another former Peace Corps Volunteer-led nonprofit for Sierra Leone, they started a workshop in Freetown making the DfG menstrual kits.
Through their own fundraising, Schools for Salone offered us a steep discount on the kits. They know Sherbro Foundation has a successful grassroots program that will ensure the kits get to the kind of rural Sierra Leone girls we both work to serve.
We’re grateful to partner with Schools for Salone and enable Bumpeh Chiefdom girls to be beneficiaries of their successful fundraising efforts.
What can you do? Now that you get it, send a Bumpeh Chiefdom girl to school with a $30 scholarship that includes a Days for Girls menstrual hygiene kit.
You’ll not only send a girl to school, you’ll help keep her in school every day of the month. Thank you.