Around Five thousand people in the Kailahun District are continuously benefiting from a longtime friendship with a group of philanthropic Americans every year since 2004.
In May this year about 14 Americans came to Kenema and paid a one-week visit to Kailahun district as part of their routine tour.
Speaking to the team leader Jeff Hall in Kenema, he disclosed that he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jokibu (near Bunumbu) in Kailahun district from 1987 to 1989.
Now he said he is returning every year with a group of Americans to work with the villages on Health, Education, Water, Food and Income.
He stated that he returns every year to closely monitor progress, and assured the community of continued help to build on the assets they have developed.
He says he brings other Americans along on his trip so that they can experience a week of life in the villages, and work closely with the committees to develop new strategies.
We want to measure improvements each year on each of the quality of life topics, so that the people are steadily moving forward he explained.
Hall said they are working with Jokibu, and neighboring Pujehun and Foindu villages, a total of about 5000 people.
They are investing only about $20 per person per year but making significant improvements in the quality of life for all.
They started with zinc roofs, and now most people have adequate shelter, we have sent zinc roofs for 400 homes.
Now the people can focus on farming, which is what they are good at.
Food production has increased from 45% of pre-war production to 70% of post-war production.
In terms of education he further explained that the government has renovated most of the primary schools, and they are working now to supply more books and materials.
One of the primary schools only had three rooms for six classes, so class 1 and 2 were in one room with 120 kids he explained.
They are building an additional hall right now so that each class will have its own room he said.
Education is obviously critical for the stability and prosperity of Sierra Leone he said, so we are strong supporters of improved education.
We are trying to make the 3 primary schools in the villages (Jokibu, Pujehun and Foindu) the best rural primary schools in the country, so that they can be a model for other communities.
The government did a nice job he said of renovating the Foindu and Pujehun schools.
The Jokibu School was rebuilt with good quality materials by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in 2003, but had only 3 classrooms for classes 1 – 6.
So, for example, one room has Class 1 and Class 2 and there were 120 kids in one room!
So we are currently building a 3-room addition so that each class can have its own room.
Explaining further Mr hall said “On our trip a couple of weeks ago we also purchased a copy of textbooks for each teacher in each school (6 classes x 3 schools = 18 sets of textbooks).
We also purchased 10 narrative reading books for each class (total 180 narrative books).
The textbooks and narratives were purchased locally at the Macmillan-Africa bookstore, and are all African texts with African characters and topics and perfect for the students.
We will continue in the next year or two to build upon the existing assets in the primary schools, by providing teacher training and support, bicycles (we took 6 bikes this trip) or lodging for teachers who do not live in the villages, additional textbooks and supplies, more school lunches and a library in each village.
The students are thirsting for books to read, he said and they currently have none.
We have each year provided more scholarships for secondary and college students.
3 years ago we provided 40 scholarships, then 80 last year, and finally 150 this past year, 2006-07.
“I am especially proud that we had 11 girls enter college last year, who otherwise would not be in college” he said.
Most of the students are in secondary school or college in Kenema, but some are in Bunumbu, Segbwema, Bo and Freetown.
My concern about supporting college education is that it could be detrimental if all these graduates end up in Kenema or Freetown, but with no job he said.
That would discourage education because the graduates have nothing to show for their education.
As a result he said “we are kicking off our “Village Corps” (like Peace Corps) program, so that for each year of college scholarships, a student will return to the village for a year to support community objectives in health, education, food, water and income.
So, for example, if a student gets a 3-year Teacher’s Certificate degree, that student will help for 3 years in one of the village schools, and we will find some way of getting them a stipend or some pay for their work.
People studying agriculture will help the farmers; students of nursing will support the work of the health clinic, etc.
Some students will come to the villages as entrepreneurs, creating jobs and services that currently do not exist, but help the village, such as renting bicycles, motorcycle transport, micro credit, etc.
So students will already have a job lined up, with some income and experience.
We want students of higher education to aspire, not to escape from the village to live in the big city, but to use their knowledge and wisdom to improve lives in their villages, so that their families and friends all benefit from their education.
Speaking about water and income he said they are also building 4 clean water wells.
Most people had to walk two miles to get water from a contaminated surface hole, but soon everyone will have convenient access to clean water, even during dry season.
We are now beginning to do more micro credit loans to small business people, and seasonal loans to farmers.
As you know, poor farmers are forced to sell their crops at times when prices are low, so that only traders benefit from the hard work of farmers.
With micro credit and improved storage, we want our farmers to get the maximum benefit from their hard work and sweat in the fields.
When asked how he got in touch with these villages after the war? He said “I travelled to Sierra Leone after the war in 2004, my first time back since the Peace Corps in 1987-89.
Jamel and Kemil Shallop, born and raised in Kenema, were very good friends of mine, and they put me in touch with their cousin in Kenema, Munir Shallop (14 Hangha Road). Munir asked around, and quickly found out that my 3 best friends – Sheku Bocharie and Lahai Foday of Jokibu and Brima Swaray of Foindu — were alive and well.
I spent quite a bit of time with Sheku, Lahai and Brima, and visited the villages.
The people were struggling greatly to get re-established after the war, although their villages and farms had turned into rainforest again.
They worked hard to rebuild their homes, but the tarpaulin roofs leaked and then the mud walls fell down.
It became very obvious that new roofing was required to secure adequate shelter so they could focus on farming again.
It is remarkable what the people in the villages have accomplished for themselves in 3 short years.
With an investment of only $20 per person per year, they have adequate shelter, large productive farms, vastly improved health, water and education, and now they are on their way to increasing their incomes.
Among this year team were Chris Bohnoff – professional photographer Ron Blackmore – Medical Doctor Saad Cheema – economist Timm Douma – education Susan Falk medical nurse Jeff Hall – businessman Tom Heller – water engineer Jim Leslie – educator
Margie Nelson – educator Zach Nielsen – agriculture Aaron Rolek – agriculture Tom Shepherd – water expert Helen Wang – Medical Doctor Next year team are expected in May 2008.