Why 2017 was such a great year – in pictures

Why 2017 was such a great year – in pictures

2017 was a banner year for our projects in Sierra Leone. Our hats off once again to our local Sierra Leone partner, CCET-SL, for all their work making this happen. Here’s what made the year so great – in pictures.     —– Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

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January:  Five years in the making, CCET-SL’s new Education & Computer Center was open and buzzing with activity. Three levels of Adult Literacy classes filled the main hall, followed by evening computer training. My favorite group is first level literacy, or the ABC group, where women start by learning the alphabet and how to add. One typical student, Jeriatu, thinks she’s about 35 and is the mother of 12 children, one on her back in class. She grows peanuts and wants to be literate to improve her small business, by counting change correctly and figuring her profit.

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February: Visiting small villages participating in our projects, like Village Orchards, is always a trip highlight. Villages have received hundreds of fruit tree seedlings to plant as community orchards. Income will go to children’s education and development projects. I asked Nyandahun village chief, Madam Bendu, above left, how her village would use income from their village orchard. She immediately said, we’ll send our children to school.

vlcsnap-error358 (2)March – We started our 3rd group of Women Vegetable Growers, where another 75 women can double their incomes in a few months growing peanuts and vegetables. Emma, above, was in last year’s program. She tells me and Paramount Chief Caulker that with her peanut harvest she paid her children’s school fees and didn’t have to take out a high interest loan. She kept some peanuts as seed to plant this year, too. A success for her, and one of our most successful projects.

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April – With a global Rotary Club grant, CCET-SL developed a 15 acre “baby orchard” that will fund children’s education savings accounts. Seven Rotary clubs led by the Ann Arbor club joined the Rotary International Foundation and a Rotary District in a grant that paid to clear overgrown bush and plant over 1100 fruit trees. CCET-SL raised all trees locally from seed, including 450 coconuts and 480 citrus. While the trees mature, annual crops of rice, peanuts, corn and couscous were inter-planted, producing income to pay workers. The $49,500 grant paid for the orchard and several other projects.

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May –  SFSL won a $12,235 Procter & Gamble Alumni grant, enabling CCET-SL to complete equipping their Education & Computer Center. The Center’s first color printer arrived in May, giving CCET-SL an income generating service with the only public color document and photo printing within a 2-3 hour drive. Students can now get computer training on 17 new laptop computers up-to-date with Windows 10 also funded by the grant.

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June – JulyCCET-SL updated their chiefdom Birth Registration program that records newborn babies at the small village level. Government registrars can’t reach rural areas, jeopardizing children’s proof of citizenship and birthrights to family land, medical care and other services. The Rotary grant funded training for new chiefdom birth recorders and bicycles to cover their assigned villages. CCET-SL grows their own fruit trees from seed, and gives newborn parents three fruit trees to raise for their child’s welfare and education. The mothers above collected their fruit trees with their babies carried on their backs. See the little feet around their waists.

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AugustA second group of Women Vegetable Growers got the opportunity to raise peanuts as a cash crop. Subsistence farmers, they use most everything they normally grow to feed their families and barter locally for other needs. They can’t afford a $30 bale of peanut seed to expand their farms and earn more money. This group of 85 women was funded under the Rotary Club grant. They happily line up above with Rosaline Kaimbay of CCET-SL, right, to collect peanut seed, a drying tarp and 100 lb. of rice to feed families before their harvest – worth $80 in all. Within five months they’ll be harvesting. We’ve reached 300 women to date.

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September460 girls returned to school with school fee scholarships from Sherbro Foundation. A $17 scholarship keeps them in school for a full year, avoiding early marriage and early pregnancy – and makes for brighter, more productive futures for every year of education they get. Compassionate donors funded uniforms for all 120 senior high and 290 junior high girls, as well. For the first time, 100 girls can study at night with solar study lanterns, and we awarded the first college scholarship. It’s very impressive. I’ve never seen any organization giving so many awards and paying for so many things,” said Alice Conteh Morgan, managing director of Reliance Insurance Co. in Freetown and Rotifunk native. Above, she presents scholarship awards to Bumpeh Academy principal Rashid Conteh.

 

Octoberrice planted in the Baby Orchard was ready to harvest by October. The orchard is really a working plantation with supplies, tree seedlings and acres of harvests to be transported throughout the year. Now a necessity, the SFSL Board made the gift of a used truck, one built to withstand unpaved rural roads. The rice had to be threshed by hand by beating the sheaves to loosen rice grains – using the chief’s palaver house, above, as a workspace. Year by year we’ll make improvements as we can pay for them.

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November – Reliable power for CCET-SL’s Center had become a major problem, interrupting classes and jeopardizing income generating services like printing that fund the center operations. Our prayers were answered when the Beaman Family funded a complete 6000 Watt solar power system for the Center.  Printing, charging computers and evening classes and meeting space are now available whenever needed. Thank you, Beaman Family!

IMG_2190December – Planning for 2018 is underway. CCET-SL’s Tree Nursery is central to several projects. 12,000 tree seedlings, all started this year from seed, are nearing transplanting stage. They’ll go to planting the next baby orchard, supplying “baby trees” for 2018’s newborns and their parents, and for sale to generate income to keep propagating more trees. 2018 will also be the start of a new local forest reserve system, a first of its kind at the chiefdom level to protect mature forests and sources of village drinking water.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there was light – and fans

And then there was light – and fans

And then there was light. Solar, that is. Rotifunk’s new Community Computer Center is nearly ready to open with power from a nearby solar system. Sherbro Foundation just funded wiring to bring the solar power to the new center.

Feb 2016 2 - CopyThe pieces are falling into place for Rotifunk’s first computer center, a project over four years in the making.  When we first identified a proposal to teach computer literacy in 2011, we had no computers, no building and no power. Nor did we know where we’d get any of these. No one in town had a computer, and only three teachers had any PC skills.

And we never imagined Ebola would throw us a big curve for over a year.

But the need was compelling – to introduce computer literacy as a way of giving job skills to students and adults in rural Bumpeh Chiefdom. So, you just get started.

With an unexpected and generous donation of fifty laptop computers late in 2013, we actually did start the project.

Computer class at CCET officeOur local partner, the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation, CCET, started teaching adults in the living room of a borrowed house. There was only room for ten students at a time, but it was a start. Then Ebola hit in mid-2014 and all public gatherings were banned. Classes stopped.

Paramount Chief Caulker made good use of the Ebola period when all travel in and out of the chiefdom halted to build the new computer center building. He donated land that had the shell of an old building burned by rebels during the war. It was in the center of town with a good concrete slab. The transformation was no less than amazing. Built with mud bricks and local lumber and labor, then stuccoed and painted inside and out – and voila, a new 40×60 foot computer center.

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But there still was no power. Operating with a generator would be costly, noisy, unreliable and spewing pollution. Estimates for a limited solar system for this building were $30,000+.

As luck would have it, a nearby community solar system had been installed and had excess capacity. It was feasible to wire power over. Last month wire was laid in conduit between the two buildings and buried in the ground.

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I did a dance last week when I got word it’s connected and we finally have power!

LFeb 2016 4est you think we’re now all set, well, not quite. I’ve learned a lot about solar systems and their capacity. The parent system we’re drawing from, shown here, is considered large at 5000 Watts. We’ll be able to use 3000 – 4000 Watts on most days. But this will just cover basic operation of the computer center running 25 laptops at a time, a twenty 11 W LED lights, six small ceiling fans and a desktop printer.

Running larger printers for the printing service we plan to start will still require a generator for the excess power needed.

I learned my lesson on power use when I tried to use a standard women’s hairdryer in a house with a generator. I asked first if it was OK, and then proceeded to shut down the generator. No wonder. Our hair dryers are 1875 W – for one hair dryer! As Westerners, we take for granted having all the power we want.

The computer center’s solar power is based on having sunny days. In the rainy season, we may use power faster than the solar batteries can recharge. A back-up generator is still a necessity.

But today, I’ll put those things aside.  I’m celebrating. The building is built. And the lights are on.

 

 

 

A Phoenix Rises From the Ashes to Live Again

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

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

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

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

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

Charred wood support posts.

Charred wood support posts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

50 Computers Have Shipped Bound for Rotifunk

Fifty computers are on a container ship as I write this steaming its way from New Jersey to Sierra Leone and the grateful people of Rotifunk. These will be the first computers that allow The Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation to set up a computer literacy program and start teaching regular computer classes for Bumpeh Chiefdom.

This will not just provide computer skills, but skills to give the people of Rotifunk a shot at the 21st century job market. Skills to modernize school and chiefdom administration.  Skills to help people start or expand small businesses.

This is the dream that Prosperity Girls High School Principal Rosaline Kaimbay and I had two years ago when I made my first trip to Rotifunk in over 35 years and first met her.  Prosperity Girls was just finishing their second academic year after the school was founded in 2009.  She then had 67 girls in 7th and 8th grades – or as they say Junior Secondary School 1 and 2. The school now has four grades and triple the students. 

As Principal Kaimbay and I talked about her goals for the school in July 2011, we acknowledged that most of these girls were unlikely to go on to college.  They need vocational training programs in the school to give students practical job skills.  We quickly agreed computer training was top of the list.  Whether going to college or being a clerk in a shop, people today need computer skills to excel.

By next month at this time, our dream will become reality.

This dream has been made possible by two generous U.S. companies that I serendipitously met in Cincinnati – Schneider Electric and TIP Capital.

I went on the spur of the moment to a preview showing of the new PBS series, Half The Sky, about the plight of women and girls in the developing world that was given at the public library. Jenny Brady, Schneider Electric employee and CARE volunteer was leading the showing and a discussion afterwards.  She encouraged the audience to not just watch the video, but to find a real project to help a girl or a woman like those we had just seen.  Progress starts with one person here willing to help one girl/one woman somewhere in another country struggling to move her life forward.

OK, I said to myself, raise your hand and let people know you have such a project, and in Sierra Leone, one of the countries just profiled in the Half the Sky video. My “project” then was a discussion with a principal in a small town on the other side of the world, and a piece of paper she and her teachers prepared with their objectives for a computer lab for the school and the community. 

Teaching lab by day, Internet café by night.  Never mind they have no Internet service and no electricity. That was part of our dream for Rotifunk, too.

schneider elec_logoJenny liked this project herself.  She invited me to another Half the Sky showing where she brought the Schneider Electric HR manager, who I spoke with. She liked it, too, and took it back to Schneider Electric management as a proposal to send laptop computers to Rotifunk. 

The project now had legs.

This is an example of the kind of social responsibility effort I found Schneider Electric is globally known for as a multinational corporation in the world of energy management and sustainable development. They are recognized as one of the Top 100 World’s Most Ethical Companies.

TIP Capital logoSchneider leases their office IT equipment from an IT leasing company, TIP Capital.  They would get refurbished computers from TIP, who very generously agreed to sell these at cost and pay shipping charges to the New Jersey port. Giving up their profit on 50 computers was another very kind donation made by TIP.

As we were getting this underway, the Boston marathon tragedy occurred.  A horrific vicious circle of hatred where just two people wreaked incredible havoc and heartache.  How fortunate I remember thinking that I am instead involved in a circle of virtue, where one person’s desire to help on a compelling need enlists the help of another, who in turn draws in another person, and another.

Other donations have followed as people have heard of the project and seen it taking shape.  But a huge thanks goes out to the people at Schneider Electric and TIP Capital for the being the first ones to step up and say, I want to help on this.

A lot has happened in the last year and the project has grown.  More teachers have come to Rotifunk for the growing Prosperity Girls High School and formed an all-volunteer community development Nonprofit they call The Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation (CCET).  I found other worthwhile projects needing support in Rotifunk on a later trip, and formed the Sherbro Foundation. 

The computer lab project has already grown in anticipation of receiving 50 computers.  CCET and Sherbro Foundation decided we should open computer training to more of the community beyond one girls schools.  There are four secondary schools in Rotifunk with girl and boy students needing computer skills.  There are school graduates in town that would like the opportunity learn computer skills for their own career development. There’s other adults who want the chance to learn to use a computer, or who have basic skills, but no access to a computer in town.  People now have to go the capital or another larger town with an Internet café to use a computer.

Even the women in the adult literacy class who are just learning to read and write their own names are excited at the prospect of learning to use a computer.  If primary school kids learn to use them, why not these women?  I say more power to them.  In this way, I hope computer classes will serve as an incentive for all students, young and old, to continue in school and keep learning.

Computer based training via DVD’s can also be a boost for students trying to master basic subjects like math and English grammar.

Paramount Chief Caulker has given CCET a building to use for their office and classes.  Sherbro Foundation has contributed some money to pay for a local carpenter to build office furniture and tables to hold classes.  And, next month, they will be firing up their own computers.

It’s one thing to learn to use a computer, but what do people then do with a computer in rural Africa?  More on that in another post.

If you would like to become part of this circle of virtue going out to the small town of Rotifunk, Sierra Leone, you can by using the on-line donation button to the right of this website.  There’s still plenty to do. 

We need simple things.  $15 will buy a computer bag to store and carry laptops. $25 will buy five gallons of fuel to run a small generator for hours of charging time. Educational DVD’s will help, like math and typing tutorials and programs like National Geographic and PBS.  Used DVD’s you’ve outgrown are fine. Let us know on Contact Us for that.

Top of the list though is a long term plan to provide power for this new computer lab to charge computers and light classrooms at night.  Part of the initial dream is still on the table – to fund a solar power system for the computer lab and to run adult education classes at night.

We haven’t given up on that part of the dream. It’s still growing.

How you can help

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Donations are great, but there’s other ways to help, too.

  • Like us on Facebook and “share” Sherbro Foundation Facebook news items to your Friends list.
  • Identify organizations interested in supporting girls education, solar energy & agriculture in West Africa.  eg., Churches doing mission & outreach work;  Schools doing public service & educational projects; Foundations & Nonprofits interested in these areas.  Help connect us and advocate for us.
  • Help design a logo for Sherbro Foundation with a .jpeg image.
  • Sponsor a girl for one year in secondary school by paying school fees:
    • $18  for Junior High
    • $22  for Senior High
    • $35  for a school uniform & shoes she’ll wear for two years or more
  • Find used or in-kind donations for schools:
    • Educational videos, tutorials on DVD (eg., math lessons), school supplies, books, computer mouse & mouse pads.
  • Support our current Projects – donate online using the “Donate” button to the right on each page
    • Fifty Laptop computer carrying bags for the new computer lab – about $15 /bag    Current need!
    • Solar Energy System for the Computer Lab
    • Office printer (need 220V equipment)
    • Sponsor a Science teacher for additional teacher training – $250/year
    • Community economic tree nursery – nurse seedlings for local families / create demonstration garden and train on growing
    • Village Cooperative Store – stock household items to sell at cost for a small, subsistence agriculture village; avoid markup costs & provide initial stock for a co-op store