How an Orchard Grows From a Swamp

“Grow vegetables in a swamp.”

That was the advice from our Sierra Leone partner CCET’s new agriculture manager. After one meeting, I quickly saw this was the voice of experience. Practical experience.

Ibrahim Rogers listened closely to our plan for expanding CCET’s Orchards for Education Program from 30 to 45 acres in 2019.

20190119_183930 (3)Our goal is for the orchards to produce annual income to run CCET’s education programs. In the meantime, we need annual crops to fund orchard operations until fruit trees mature and begin producing a few years from now.

“Vegetables will bring the most money in the shortest time,” Mr. Rogers said. “If you have water you can grow most anything and produce two and three crops a year.”

Mr. Rogers came to us from the Ministry of Agriculture in Moyamba District with more than 25 years of experience.

He’s a man who likes to be in the field. He’s passionate about growing things and using organic methods. We were soon talking about making our own compost (a four foot pit was quickly dug), and using neem as a natural pesticide. All music to my life-long gardener’s ears.

But first we had to prepare our Inland Valley Swamp, or IVS, and start vegetables. The growing season was in full swing when I was there in January – February, so we jumped in. With Mr. Rogers’ direction, the project broke ground on January 29, and in three days, the transformation was amazing.

Paramount Chief Charles Caulker, CCET board chairman, above left, stands in front of a three acre rice field with last year’s cut-back stalks.  Three days later, it was transformed into a sea of raised beds. Our Inland Valley Swamp was half the size of a football field and not yet finished.

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Thirty village men came, bringing mammoth hoes used make these raised beds. In an area with no mechanized farming, it’s an annual routine to manually turn over every field and the remains of the previous season’s harvest. They cut a swath of decaying plants with the hoe’s edge; then lift and pile it in front of them, making raised beds as they go.

Water pooled in the trenches they left. Even as the dry season progresses, the water table in the swamp is high and the beds stay moist. Later, a berm will surround the field and a small dam built to control the flow of water.

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This isn’t a stagnant swamp. It’s the flood plain of the small river snaking through Rotifunk that later enters the Bumpeh River. It’s black soil, fertile with silt carried as the river swells and floods in the rainy season. It’s further enriched by turning over the remains of many rice crops – all composting in place.

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I smiled to see men using their big hoes as stools to sit on while eating on break.

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This rural area is strictly a cash economy, and the people illiterate. Almost none of the workers can sign their names.

To keep project payment records, men “sign” to receive their wages at the worksite with thumbprints.

 

Now it was the women’s turn to take over. One of our standing objectives is to create employment for women in Bumpeh Chiefdom, especially for illiterate, unskilled women with no prospects for wage-earning jobs. 

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Women are the traditional vegetable growers. With patience and an eye for details, they’re the ones to transplant and care for tender young vegetable seedlings. Twenty women were brought in for the IVS project.

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First, they worked compost into the beds in circular “pots” to receive seedlings. We started with peppers, a high yielding and profitable vegetable crop. Mr. Rogers had the women transplant young pepper seedlings at 4 pm in the afternoon to avoid the hot sun. They watered in each seedling from buckets of water collected at shallow pit wells that quickly fill up in this swampy field.

20190211_170919 (2)The women were happy to receive wages for their labor.

When they came to collect their pay, they were overheard laughing, “We never went to school, and now we’re being paid, like government workers.”

It’s hard to fathom that in 2019, Sierra Leone is a country where rural areas still have almost no wage-paying jobs.

 

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Women will continue to water and weed the Inland Valley Swamp, and then harvest the vegetables. Okra and onions have now been added. Peppers and okra can be picked more than once from the same plant. Next year, we’ll start earlier and harvest at least two crops.

By May, the first rains start. One hundred thirty inches of monsoon rain will fall here between June and November, beating down and washing out the raised beds just made. That’s the rice growing time, and the IVS will revert to a rice swamp again.

Come December, it will be time to prepare new raised beds again for vegetable growing. That’s the cycle of life in Bumpeh Chiefdom.

And now, the cycle of growing an orchard from a swamp has begun. Combined, the long term income to educate Bumpeh Chiefdom children is also on its way.

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

 

 

Come celebrate our 6th anniversary

Come celebrate our 6th anniversary

This week is Sherbro Foundation’s sixth anniversary!

I’m just back from five weeks in Sierra Leone. One program in 2013 has grown to six today, and they’re expanding.

Join us April 4 at 7 pm in Cincinnati to hear all we’ve accomplished with our Sierra Leone partner CCET – and where we’re going next.

This isn’t a fundraiser. We just want to share all our good news with you. Pass this on and feel free to bring friends. Hope to see you there.

—– Arlene Golembiewski

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Our Lives Have Been Transformed: Women Vegetables Growers

Our Lives Have Been Transformed: Women Vegetables Growers


“We are sure and proud that what is happening in Bumpeh Chiefdom is not happening in any other chiefdom.”

Before we reached the CCET Center to meet women from the Women’s Vegetable Growing project, we could hear them. Bumpeh Chiefdom women greet visitors with a welcome done in song. See video. (It may take a moment to load.) Their distinctive style with voices in harmony sounds like a minor key. They’re singing as one with syncopated clapping. You feel embraced by their warmth.

As we took our seats inside, the hall was thundering with the women’s song and clapping.

Their welcome song is one they sing among themselves while working as teams in each other’s gardens. They sang that if they are united and help each other, together, they will all individually benefit. There’s a Sherbro word for unity and working together: Lomthibul.

They gathered to thank us for helping them grow groundnuts (peanuts) in a project they say is not found in any other chiefdom.  

Started in 2015 as an Ebola relief effort, Women’s Vegetable Growing is now entering its fifth year. Sherbro Foundation funded it for three years, with Rotary Clubs stepping in last year.

The women are proud to be part of the program, as they should be. They receive a modest grant of two bushels of groundnut seed, a drying tarpaulin and a 100 lb. bag of rice. With that, they grow enough groundnuts to sell for income and keep seed for another harvest. For once, they have their own discretionary income they use to feed and care for their families.

In 2018, the program started supporting women for two harvests to give them a strong enough base to then keep planting and gain self-reliance.

As we sat together, their spokesperson Hawanatu Sesay (above) explained, income in this rural area is dependent on agriculture. “Our only means of survival is though agriculture.”

These were representatives of the last group of 106 women selected for the project because they’re mature and vulnerable. “Most of us are widows. Some lost their husbands, and other men are not able to work now; they’re too old. Some [don’t take] responsibility for our welfare.” Hawanatu herself is a widow. She has more education than most, dropping out of junior secondary school to marry when she became pregnant. Her husband died and left her with two young children. She depends on her garden for income to feed her children.

When women first join the project, Rosaline Kaimbay, director of CCET-SL (the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation) (above, right), explains the goal is to help them transform their own lives. They’re being helped with funding from Sherbro Foundation and now Rotary Clubs.

Today, the women told us, “Indeed, it’s a reality. Our lives have been transformed and we’re happy!”

They no longer need to rely on men to feed their families. “When we don’t have money, we take a few groundnuts [we grew] and sell them in the market and buy what we need to cook.”

“Before this time, ” Hawanatu continued, “our children were forced into early marriage because we don’t have much to give them. They go to school hungry. Because of this, they’re prone to getting boyfriends who give them money [and get them pregnant]. Now, we’re able to feed our children and they don’t get into early marriage.”

The women are also grateful to be beneficiaries of other CCET-SL programs. “You’ve given our children [in the girls scholarship program] uniforms and books. Through your help, some of our children are now at university with the college scholarships you’ve given them.”

“Through the efforts of CCET-SL and the Adult Literacy program (above), most of us are now able to sign our names. Before, we were unable to read the [school] results of our children. Now we can look at their [report card] and see whether they passed their exams or not.”

The women also appreciate their 9th grade children could participate in the after-school tutoring program preparing for them for the senior high entrance exam, the BECE. They saw their children being fed three times a day in the intensive study camp before the exam – while they only have money to feed once or twice a day. “Because you did this, most of our children passed their BECE exam and we’re grateful.” All these things “are a big lesson to us.”

By now, tears were rolling down my face as I recalled the dark days in early 2015 when Ebola was nearly over, but a 3-year economic crisis just starting. We asked Bumpeh Chiefdom’s Paramount Chief Charles Caulker what Sherbro Foundation could do to help. Fund women to grow vegetables as a quick way for them to earn income, he said. The women today rightfully said Chief Caulker is “the brains behind this program.”

Women’s Vegetable Growing has grown from the first group of 30 to 106 women last year. By investing in them with several programs, CCET-SL enables the women to focus on growing groundnuts and maximize the seed they save to grow another and larger next crop. Nearly 400 women in total have been supported to move towards self-reliance. With families of five and more, the community impact is significant.

The women are proud to also contribute to the success of the program. It’s become a tradition spontaneously started by the first group of grateful women growers that they donate some seed back to help the next group.

“Because we are united, that is why the groundnuts you’ve given us we’re able to reproduce them and help other women. We’re happy and proud to help other women.

When starting a new program, you hope it will be embraced by the community and beneficiaries helped in a measurable way. It’s a priceless reward to now hear these women as a group say their lives have been transformed.

Let me thank all who have supported Women’s Vegetable Growing over the years. I hope you, too, now feel rewarded by your generosity.

We hope to expand Women’s Vegetable Growing with new funding to help the most successful of these women entrepreneurs develop their gardens into small businesses. They can then hire workers, creating local wage-paying employment.

Women farmers have great potential to become a driver of local economic development. As they said, they are united.

—- Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

Sending Children to School with Fruit

So many things to show from my Sierra Leone trip last month. Where to start? Here’s where we started our Orchards for Education work with Mike’s Orchard – the first one we planted in 2016 for our dear Peace Corps friend we lost a few years ago.

Bumpeh Chiefdom Paramount Chief Caulker, above, shows one of over 1000 pineapples planted in the rains of July 2016 that are doing well and starting to sporadically fruit.

It was in 2016 we decided with our Sierra Leone partner CCET-SL to start planting fruit orchards as a means of creating sustainable income to run their education programs for Bumpeh Chiefdom. Chief Caulker doesn’t want to keep asking donors to pay for scholarships for girls to go to secondary school, and now to college. We want to keep running the new Tutoring program that prepares students for their senior high and college entrance exams without hand-out’s.

As a rural agricultural area, starting fruit orchards became our plan. It’s a long-term strategy and requires work to carve them out of wild bush and get fruit trees established. But then they reliably produce fruit and income for years to come. We’ve added short term crops to fill in between trees, like pineapple, cassava, peanuts and corn.

The Sherbro Foundation Board stepped in to start the Mike Orchard ourselves, in recognition of our Peace Corps friend Mike and all he did for Sierra Leone over 35 years during and after he left the Peace Corps. You must clear land and plant in Sierra Leone in synch with the rainy season. Or wait another year. So we decided in short order in 2016 to just get started with eleven acres Chief provided near his family farm.

Since then, Orchards for Education is blossoming into another 45 acres, all planted for children’s education in Bumpeh Chiefdom. More on that later.

For now, our first effort is bearing fruit. Literally. Not enough to earn real income this year, but we’re on our way. Watch over us, Mike. The next year should be a good year.

Jane Goodall visit puts spotlight on Sierra Leone’s chimpanzee population

Jane Goodall’s Sierra Leone visit this week focused world attention on preserving the country’s chimpanzee population. Ten percent of the world’s estimated 55,000 wild chimpanzee live in Sierra Leone forests.

Goodall returned to the Tacugama Chimp Sanctuary outside Freetown, a reserve she had a hand in starting that gives a home to abandoned and rescued chimp babies and juveniles. She was able to view the sanctuary’s 89 chimps and meet with staff.

 

Sierra Leone President Maada Bio awarded the primatologist the Order of Rokel, the country’s highest honor.  Sierra Leone is on a quest to rebrand itself as a tourist destination. Goodall’s visit draws attention to Sierra Leone as a haven for ecotourism, where people can see the some of West Africa’s unique wildlife and scenic beauty.

 

 

 

 

Eat. Pray. Learn.

Eat. Pray. Learn.

Come January, 63 girls will be starting on a path few Bumpeh Chiefdom girls ever reach. They’ll eagerly begin senior high school.

IMG-20180724-WA0006 (2)Girls in CCET’s tutoring program waiting to start their senior-high entrance exam.

Last January, our partner CCET started their first after-school tutoring program for 9th grade girls. Extra classes fill learning gaps schools can’t provide and help girls successfully pass their senior-high entrance exams — and be well prepared for senior-high learning.

Eighty-one girls from four local schools started the program, coming to 4 pm classes three days a week, including their first computer training. Seventy-five continued for 7 months, finishing in July just before the national exam.

img-20180722-wa0002.jpgWhy the title Eat. Pray. Learn?

Tutoring ended with a 3-week study “camp”, where girls lived 24/7 at CCET’s education center. They had intensive review, drilling on practice test questions, study time and generally got pumped up to take the exam together.  Students, left, in study camp evening classes.

Thanks to funding from the Beaman Family Fund, we were able to feed these young scholars three meals a day during the camp. Below, students take a lunch break outside.

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img-20180722-wa0003-2-e1544378321317.jpgAnd prayer in all faiths, left, is part of the camp day. At day’s end, tables were pushed to the side and girls spread out on the floor to sleep dormitory style.

The experience of living and studying together in a focused environment with the support of their teachers and peers – and good nourishment — helped push girls over the finish line for the exam.

We weren’t sure what to expect from the new Sierra Leone government on this year’s exam. The nature of the questions didn’t change, but they applied more rigorous exam monitoring and scoring. They are emphasizing improving education and eliminating corruption at all levels, including on national school exams. Exam results were reported in November.

Sixty-three passes among girls completing the tutoring program is very good. For perspective, only 120 girls in total were enrolled in all grades of senior high last year. So, these 63 girls will be a strong group of new 10th graders, prepared to thrive in senior high.

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On average, the girls in the tutoring program outperformed local schools as whole.

They also did better on average in math and science scores, areas targeted in tutoring classes, left.

 

img-20180606-wa0003-3.jpgWe especially want to congratulate Bumpeh Academy who had the highest exam results (all students, boys and girls) among schools in 3 adjoining chiefdoms.

Some of their classrooms lack four walls, yet they deliver good results.

Girls from the tutoring program, left, made up about half the school’s students taking the exam.

Girls from the tutoring program were also among the top positions for all local 9th graders taking the exam — both boys and girls. Congratulations to Hellen Bangura for coming in first of any Bumpeh Chiefdom student. Adama Mansaray of Walter Schutz Memorial Secondary School and Isatu Conteh of Bumpeh Academy were among those in second and third positions. You make us proud.

The tutoring program is one example of the education programs our partner CCET provides for the benefit of the whole community. Led by a former school principal and staffed with teachers, they do a great job of identifying needs and designing practical, low-cost solutions that maximize use of limited resources for students in all local schools.

Sherbro Foundation is helping CCET create a sustainable solution to keeping the girls scholarship and tutoring programs funded and improving into the future. Orchards for Education plants fruit trees, long-term income from fruit sales for CCET’s education programs.

Please consider an end-of-the-year gift and see it grow by 50%, matched through a Rotary Club grant! Help plant fruit trees and you’ll keep sending girls to school for years to come. Gifting by December 25 will help us meet Rotary’s deadline for the grant request.

Many thanks to all of you for supporting Bumpeh Chiefdom programs and making 2018 a blessed year. We’re grateful for your generosity and outpouring of support!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season,

— Arlene Golembiewski and the Sherbro Foundation Board of Directors: Chris Golembiewski, Cheryl Farmer and Steve Papelian

 

 

 

Plant a Tree and Send Girls to School

Plant a Tree and Send Girls to School

 

Paramount Chief Charles Caulker has a vision in which every child in Bumpeh Chiefdom gets a secondary school education. We’ve made big strides with Sherbro Foundation’s Girls’ Scholarship Program.

Now Chief and his community nonprofit CCET are creating the chiefdom’s own sustainable source of income for education from fruit trees. Thousands have been planted. Thousands more are needed.

With Sherbro Foundation’s help, the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor is mobilizing Rotary Clubs and individuals through a Rotary International Foundation grant to plant another 15-acre orchard with 1500 fruit trees.

Sherbro Foundation is striving to raise $10,000 toward a $95,000 Rotary grant that will make Chief Caulker’s plan come to life.

We need your help. Plant a tree. It will fruit for years to come, creating income to keep sending girls to school year after year.  

And the Rotary International Foundation will match your gift by 50% !

Adding to orchards planted in 2017-18, the Rotary grant will result in a total of 45 acres of orchards with over 3000 fruit trees. As they start fruiting in 3 – 5 years, the trees will create a steady stream of income for education for 20 years or more. Give here to plant trees.

Growing trees yields big dividends in fruit income, providing students with these essentials every year:

$35 plants one tree (lime, guava, orange, grapefruit or avocado) that will pay secondary school fee scholarships for 2 girls, or a school uniform and notebooks for 1 student.

$70 plants 2 dwarf coconuts that will pay the monthly stipend for a computer instructor.

$100 plants 3 dwarf coconuts that will pay monthly wages for a lead teacher in after-school tutoring that prepares girls for senior high entrance exams.

$250 plants 8 lime trees that will pay living expenses for a community health nursing student who will return to serve in an area rural health clinic.

$600 plants 17 African plum trees and provides the tuition and living expenses for one year of girl’s college scholarship.

You’ll be doing more than planting a tree. Your gift will first help:

  • Clear 15 acres of wild bush – all with manual labor.
  • Grow 15,000 tree seedlings with seed collected from locally purchased fruit.
  • Plant 1500 tree seedlings (Others will be donated to chiefdom families or sold.)
  • Keep all 45 acres of orchards weeded and watered for 2 years.
  • Create 19 full-time jobs for local villagers where no wage-paying jobs now exist.
  • Grow annual crops for short-term income to maintain orchards as fruit trees mature.

The plan will do much more to ensure the orchard’s long term success.

It will dig a well and install a watering system to keep young seedlings watered; build a storehouse and concrete drying floor to handle all the produce; hire an experienced Agriculture Manager to run the program; buy tools and fund operating a truck. Another goal is to expand the successful Women’s Vegetable Growing project, helping eager women farmers grow peanuts and double their incomes.

This sustainable plan will have major impact on chiefdom families.

By 2023, we conservatively estimate the combined orchards will generate $50,000 a year in income for education. And orchard income will keep growing as trees continue to mature.

Added bonus 45 acres of fruit trees will help fight climate change. Tropical trees mature quickly and absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

How you can help

Donate now Give here to plant trees.
100% of your gift goes directly to the project – no overhead expenses.

Checks can be made payable to:
Ann Arbor Rotary Foundation (a 501c3 nonprofit)
PO Box 131217
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48113-1217
Include “Sierra Leone Global Grant” in the memo line.

Give a Holiday Gift – Wouldn’t many on your gift list appreciate planting a tree for them that will educate girls year after year? Donate a $35 gift in their name and we’ll send a gift card describing the impact a tree has for the future of Sierra Leone girls. It’s a gift that truly keeps on giving. Add giftee name and address to the instructions line of your online donation above. For multiple gifts, or donating by check, email giftee info to sherbrofoundation@gmail.com

Ask a Rotary Club to contribute – Are you a Rotarian or do you know one? Many Rotary Clubs are interested in supporting worthwhile international development projects. Contact your local Rotary Club and ask if they would consider this project. We can supply more information.

Questions? Contact: Arlene Golembiewski – sherbrofoundation@gmail.com or Mary Avarkotos, Rotary Club of Ann Arbor – mavarkotos@me.com

Sherbro Foundation will personally thank you for your gift. We’ll direct your gift to the Ann Arbor Rotary Foundation who will coordinate with Rotary International. You’ll receive your tax receipt from the Ann Arbor Rotary Foundation in January.

Plant a Tree. Educate girls. Help the planet. Give a gift.

Where else would $35 accomplish so much?!

And — Rotary International will match your gift 50%! $50 becomes $75. $100 will be $150.

Thank you for investing in the future of Sierra Leone’s Bumpeh Chiefdom children!

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

P.S. Help us more. Pass this on to a friend.