COVID-19: What About Sierra Leone? Sherbro Foundation’s Response

COVID-19: What About Sierra Leone? Sherbro Foundation’s Response

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.

Quick response
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.

w1240-p16x9-Pres. Bio at Covid-19 Press conference (1)

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.

Ebola 2.0
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.

bio-lung1-400x240

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.

IMG_2624 (3)

It’s the town’s lifeblood, serving as the grocery, Walmart, Target and Ace Hardware for locals.

20190119_104700 (3)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.

20180709_093626 (2)

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.

 

IMG-20200322-WA0014 (2)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

 

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.

IMG-20200119-WA0017

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.

IMG_2621 (2)

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.

Peppers 3-6-19 (7)

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.

IMG-20200209-WA0002

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.

20180709_095042 (2)

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.

IMG-20200119-WA0015

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.

 

 

 

Saluting a Sierra Leone Paramount Chief’s 35 Years of Service

Saluting a Sierra Leone Paramount Chief’s 35 Years of Service

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!

20191220_191727 (2)

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.

20191220_154208 (3)

“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.

20191220_174350 (2)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.

20191220_145638 (3)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.

20191220_170858 (2)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!

20191220_172417 (3)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.”

20191220_175651 (3)

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.”

20191218_114108 (2)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.

20191220_183721 (2)

The women’s society led off with their Bundu devils and colorful Sampa dancers, above and below.

 

20191220_190254

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.

20191220_190631 (2)

20191220_190728

No cultural show is complete without the main devil from the men’s Poro society, the Gboi, below, a huge whirling dervish of raffia.

20191220_190917

 

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.

20190131_085813 (3)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

 

 

Who Said This Isn’t Women’s Work

Who Said This Isn’t Women’s Work

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

IMG-20191017-WA0008 (2)

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.

 

460 Goals Met!

460 Goals Met!

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!

IMG-20191009-WA0001 (2)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.

IMG-20191009-WA0003

IMG-20191009-WA0008 (2)

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.

IMG-20191009-WA0009 (3)

 

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.

IMG-20191009-WA0013

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.”

Emory WSMSS SS2 math 3 (2)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.

Mustapha Kebbie SS2Student 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.”

Emory spelling bee team 2 Mabinty's and Sallu disabled foot (3)

 

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

All Dressed Up – and Now Someplace to Go

All Dressed Up – and Now Someplace to Go

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?

CHN students (3)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.

20180712_184459 (2)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.

CHN AdamaCommunity 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.

Aminata Kamara 2019 (3)

 

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.

CHN student Fatmata J Sesay, daughter Women Veg Grow spokesperson (2)

 

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. 

 

CHN student Umu Bangura June '19 (3)

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%.

 

CHN student Safiatu Bendu downriver mother (2)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

 

 

 

 

The Barrier Girls Face Going to School We Forgot

The Barrier Girls Face Going to School We Forgot

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.

Emory WSMSS SS1 math 18 (3)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.

IMG_4363 (4)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.

DfG 3 (2)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.

period-end-of-sentence_710x400xtIf 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.

DfG 2 (3)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.