As I sat down to write this report I started to think how grateful I am for the passion of those involved with Families Without Borders and how thankful I am for all your support in improving lives among our Sierra Leonean families across the oceans.
Thanks to all your support, during this trip I was able to do a lot more than before. The work is growing and expanding. We are starting to see the fruit and it tastes good.
This is another long email that I would very much appreciate it if you read through and send me your comments, feedbacks and any suggestions that you may have. As always we need help and would welcome any support offer that you may have.
I left for Sierra Leone on January 1st and came back on the 14th about a month ago. During this trip I had a much easier time with the weather and the bugs. It was a little cooler than all other times and there were fewer mosquitos. My trip to the village was a lot easier than before as well because this time they had prepared the roads for the construction material and for my arrival.
Preparing the roads means they had burned the bushes and cleared some space in the middle of the jungle for our car to go through! They also removed the large pieces of rocks so the dirt road is not as rough to drive on. This was a real luxury compared to what I had experienced in previous years.
Below you will find an update on each project that we are working on. There are a couple of nice stories at the end. So please read through the email. It means a lot to me.
School supplies and sponsorships:
As our ongoing program we provided school supplies to all our 1000+ elementary school students in seven villages. We also provided sponsorships to the top middle school and high school students to continue their education.
My dear friend Mani gave me tons of tennis balls that I didn’t know how to pack and take with me J those tennis balls created the greatest joy among the children at each school when I arrived.
This year I purchased a large number of teaching supplies for teachers based on what they requested last year. I had asked them to give me a list of their needs to help them offer a better quality education when I visited in November of 2011. I purchased those items that were commonly requested by most of the teachers. We distributed the teaching supplies among all our 8 schools. It’s amazing how valuable chalk and black board renovators can be! I also bought a dictionary and textbooks for each teacher. The government doesn’t provide textbooks. These teachers have to teach and test children based on the material that they learned in college!
I had bought markers from Walmart for every school to give to the children during the art class so they can enjoy different colors and use their creativity drawing pictures. Both teachers and children were thrilled about those markers J
College scholarships & Laptops:
Our two college students are continuing their good performance and doing great in their colleges. I placed a radio ad in Mile 91, a small town between our villages and Makeni, and was able to interview several candidates for the next academic year. I found three smart young people who will receive scholarship to start their college education in the fall of 2013. We finally have a woman among our college students and I am very excited about it J
Prior to my trip I received four used laptops in great working condition donated from four dear friends. My computer guy cleaned them all up to protect people’s privacy and installed basic programs on them. I gave the laptops to our college kids and one to Mr. Mrs. T. Everyone was thrilled about receiving these valuable gifts.
Ibrahim, our first college student who studies IT started teaching basic computer skills to the teenagers in Mr. T and Mrs. T’s house. As of now there are about 15 young teenagers in Makeni who are learning basic computer skills because of those donated laptops.
Just FYI Makeni is one of the larger cities in Sierra Leone. They are one of the three cities with a real University. The government of Sierra Leone has done lots of work since I started in 2009. I was surprised to learn that Makeni now has 24 hours electricity! They had no electricity during my first two visits. Last year they only had 4 hours of electricity every day and now they have 24 hours. This is the reason I was able to take laptops and technology to our family and children in Makeni.
If you have any old laptops that are still functioning I would love to have them for next year. They can make our young college / and or high school students very happy. My computer guy has offered to clean them up free of charge as his contribution and get them ready for me to take.
Combo solar light/ cell phone chargers:
This year, I had bought a dozen of combo solar lights / cell phone chargers that were amazing! The same company that sold us solar lanterns last year now is making these new things that created the most amazing joy in our villages. Every school, the health center (the nurses), the contractor and the families who host us in the village received a combo solar light / cell phone charger.
I instructed the teachers to allow people to come and charge their cell phones as a service from the school to families in the village. This will connect our villagers with the outside world and was the greatest gift they have ever received.
I purchased two solar generators from a Canadian manufacturer who lives in Kenya and sells in east Africa. They shipped the generators from Canada to me right before my trip. The cost of shipping from Canada to here and from here to Sierra Leone as an extra luggage was almost as much as the cost of generators – and well worth it.
They LOVED the solar generators. They decided not to install on the roof because of the possibility of getting stolen. The solar panels will be kept at the office in their school. They will charge the panels during the day and bring them out at night to use the light.
The two schools that received the generators were the two with the best school gardens (this was part of the deal from the beginning.) The school gardens in most villages were not in a good condition. The exceptions were Njadihun and Rogbuya. Njadihun has kept their school garden healthy and is taking care of it and Rogboya had done an amazing job in starting and developing their garden in a beautiful way! So the generators went to Rogboya elementary and Njadihun middle school. They were thrilled!
Well and toilet projects:
Several of our villages don’t have a water well. They bring water from faraway places, young children and women have to carry heavy buckets of water over their heads and bring it to the village. The source of the water is very poor and limited. The same water that is used for bathing is used for drinking, cooking, and washing clothes and dishes. I knew about this and was hoping to dig at least one water well this year. During this visit I learned that some of our villages don’t even have toilets and just go to the bush! They don’t have shoes; walk bear foot all over, carrying the bacteria and dirt to their huts where they make food and eat…
I realized why two out of three children under the age of five die in our villages. I thought water was the main reason until I learned about the toilets! This was when I realized that water and toilet go hand in hand. Bigger NGO’s who have water sanitation programs always build well and toilets at the same time.
As a result of this latest observation we are building three toilets and a well in one village AND we are doing a complete repair as well as adding a new pump to an existing none functioning well in another village. Digging a Well is a very expensive undertaking but well worth it considering the children’s lives that will be saved.
To help sustainability of the village we discussed the idea of community farms with our villages when I visited last year. We formed leadership committees for each village and they wrote a proposal for funding in the form of micro finance. This year, I was able to review the proposals with the leadership committees of every village, make adjustments, form monitoring committees to oversee the work and fund two community farms. The money made through these farms will be used for the common needs of the village.
Building of the School Structures:
With support of Moms Against Poverty (MAP) in my last year’s trip we had started building proper structure and roofing for three schools, two elementary and one middle school in three different villages. MAP is our partner organization and provided $28,000 towards the school building projects and children related activities in 2011. Below is an update on each school that we are building …
Congo-Gori Primary / Elementary School:
Congo and Gori are two villages with one elementary school that serves both villages plus several smaller nearby villages. They had a mud structure and straw roof that would fall apart frequently during the rainy and stormy season. We promised to build a proper structure with a mixture of cement, mud and sand with the support of the villagers.
In November of 2011 I hired a local builder/ contractor to be in charge and bring a couple of workers and the villagers promised to help build the school and feed the workers during the construction.
Problems in Congo-Gori school project: What we did not calculate into our calculations was the location of this school and the difficulties that we faced for the transportation of the construction material. The location of this school made it nearly impossible for any kind of truck to transport the material and the people could not carry the heavy bags of cements ($50 kg each) over their heads – consequently, the work slowed down.
The delay in delivering the materials caused a delay in construction and the rainy season started before they could have a roof on the structure. Construction work stopped for the entire rainy season and was on hold until prior to my arrival in Sierra Leone.
Facing all these problems the villagers decided to use more cement to build a stronger and more adequate structure in order to avoid the transportation challenges in the future. They exceeded the amount of cement that we had allowed them to use and ran out of cement before the walls were up and roof could be placed.
Current status in Congo-Gori school project: The material needed to complete the outside structure and the roof is provided and they gave the commitment to complete the rough structure by March. The contractor, his workers and villagers were all working on the structure when I left the village and everything was in order.
Next step for Congo-Gori school project: After finishing the rough structure we need to finish the floors, inside and outside walls, and build toilets for the school. I met with a construction store about two hours away from the village (the closest we could find) and finalized a list of material and a cost estimate to complete the project. The totals from last year are not accurate and the cost of building each school is a lot more than what we thought originally. We will have to raise more funds to complete this building.
Njadihun Secondary / Middle School:
Njadihun is the first and the only village that started a secondary school (middle school) as a result of the first generator that we provided during my first visit in December of 2009. They had built a mud structure and applied for approval of government to have a middle school. They had received all the documents, one teacher on payroll and several volunteer teachers to teach their middle school by the time I arrived in November of 2010.
In November of 2011 they asked me to help them build a proper structure for this secondary school. I agreed to help build this school for the following reasons:
- People in this village are very proactive and make things happens. This school will be a good investment for the future of the community
- Many young children who would not have a chance to go to secondary school, would have a chance to continue their education though the growth and expansion of this school.
- I learned from the young teenage girls in the middle school that they now feel a lot safer to go to the river and wash themselves as a result of our work and what their teachers are doing.
Teenage pregnancy is reduced and young girls are safer. I saw providing support to build this middle school goes a long way especially for the young teenage girls with no other opportunity for education.
Problems in Njadihun school project: Due to the overwhelming response of young teens wanting to attend the middle school the head teacher (school principle) and other teachers decided to double the size of the school structure when they started the construction. They decided to build a school that can take a greater capacity of children.
Doubling the size of the school meant using double amount of the cement, zink and iron rod that are the most expensive parts of the construction. They ran out of material by the time the rough structure was completed!
The other problem that we faced for this school as well as all our other schools was the original construction store that had made the promise to deliver the material free of charge -never did. We had to use other sources of transportation and pay a lot of money to get the material to the village. Transportation is the biggest expense in Sierra Leone especially to our remote villages.
Current status in Njadihun school project: The rough structure is up and the roof is in place. Floors, interior and exterior walls need to be done.
Action and the next step fro Njadihun school project: I met with the closest construction store, discussed and negotiated the price to complete this project based on a list that the builder has provided. I also negotiated the cost of transportation to get the material to the village. We need to raise more funds to complete this school. We will not add additional toilets. I asked them to use the current toilets at their primary school.
Sembehun Kotwabu Primary / Elementary School:
This is the school that we had promised the roof for. Their mud structure had fallen apart when I visited in November of 2011. They were having their classes at the local church because there was no other place to have their classes. They said they could build the structure with local material and a small amount of cement that we would provide. The essential part they needed from us was the Zink, iron rod and nails so the builder/ contractor could do the work.
Current Status in Sembehun Kotwabu school project: This village did an amazing job! The collaboration between these people was unbelievable. I was stunned when I saw the beautiful rough structure and the Zink on the roof. They had done what they said they would do and because they had good sand from a nearby creek they had built beautiful sand blocks and with very little cement they had finished the rough work and the roof was completed.
Next step for Sembehun Kotwabu school Project: Because I saw the initiative and the great work with very little supplies that we had provided, I decided to reward their work and purchased all the required material to finish the floors, the ceiling, interior and exterior walls, I purchased special wired windows, doors and all material that was needed to complete this school. They were not greedy, didn’t push and ask for more, they did their best and they deserved to have their school to be completed first. It was an executive decision that I made with the input of Mr. T and Mrs. T. They had seen how this village was most cooperative. I am hopeful we will have this school completed in the next couple of months.
I negotiated a great deal with a local carpenter who would use local help to build the furniture for all three schools. This will cost us less than what we had originally calculated. I gave him a deposit to start the work for Sembehun elementary school since Sembehun will be the first school that would have doors and can lock things up. We cannot build furniture and leave it in a school that is not completed. Everything can be stolen in a heartbeat in Sierra Leone. So the other two villages have to wait for their furniture until the structure is completed.
Meeting with University of Makeni:
I had a very nice meeting with the provost and the vice counselor of the university of Makeni about our programs and decided to bring all our college kids to this university in the future. They have the highest academic programs, they teach ethics, they have an anti corruption approach, and they fire the lecturers that take bribes. They are more expensive than other Universities in Sierra Leone, but I feel it is worth the expense to know our support is going to an honest and accredited institution. The provost is a young American man graduated from Columbia University. He is doing great work to bring this university to higher academic standards. Soon we will have our first college grad from University of Makeni. Ibrahim, our first son will finish his classes in June of 2014 and will write his dissertation during the summer. The official graduation ceremony is in February of 2015 and he asked me to be there. I think I will J
Meeting with other NGO’s:
For the first time I reached out and connected with other NGO’s and active organizations in Sierra Leone. I met with the country director of Brac International, Plan International, IRC and I also met with UNICEF and discussed possible collaboration. Some of these meetings were very informative and useful. There is a great possibility for us to collaborate with Plan International and with Brac International to complete some of our projects. Their country directors were helpful, kind, experienced and knowledgeable men who have done development work for a long time and were open to enter our section in Fakunia Chiefdom. More info to come in the coming months and years…
Meeting with the paramount chief of Fakunia Chiefdom:
On my second day in the village when I woke up in the car (which is my hotel room when I am in the village) I saw Mrs. T outside of my window waiting to speak with me about something very important! She said, “Mommy Terri, we have to change our plans today! Paramount chief has sent someone to the village to ask you to go and meet with him. We cannot do anything before meeting him and we cannot go to other villages before meeting with him. He is the most powerful man in the chiefdom and when he asks for something it has to happen!”
Off to visit the paramount chief who was a tall man with a big hat inside a cabana made with straw on a huge tall chair… Later I learned that a paramount chief has the power of a king. I also learned that we were serving a large section of his chiefdom. The country is divided by districts, districts have chiefdoms, then sections and then the smallest units are villages. It took me three years and four trips to learn that J
I also learned that if you are an outsider you need to ask the paramount chief to enter the community, then you have to ask the section chief, then the village chief and then the headman!
I had by passed all those steps and started the work with people and villagers without paying respect to any of those higher authorities! He now has heard about the impact of the work and changes in the community and wanted to know who this “white” woman was doing things in his chiefdom without his permission! He actually was very nice and thanked me for the work. He said he had been in the US and wanted to come visit again. He said he was part of the Sierra Leone parliament and made it clear that he was a very important person. I asked what his roll was in the parliament and he said he was a senator according to American terms.
He then said I should contact him if there were any problems or if I needed any support from people. His word is god’s word so in the future we can ask for his help if we have issues in the villages. Apparently if something happens to me he is responsible for it and he wanted to protect me. He seemed like an interesting man and this was a memorable part of the trip J
A Motorcycle for our work:
Mr. T and Mrs. T have to visit our projects in the village during my absence and the transportation is the highest expense. In order to spend less money on their transportation I decided to buy a motorcycle for Mr. T to be able to visit the projects more frequently and take paying passengers in the back so he can pay for the fuel and also make small amounts of money while he visits our projects in the village.
Mrs. T is pregnant again J
Mr. T and Mrs. T are my Sierra Leonean family. They run our projects in Sierra Leone and do a fantastic job. I love them dearly and they know it. Mrs. T is now pregnant with his fourth child that she says it will be the last! She said she wants to name her baby Terri if it’s a girl and Hamid if it’s a boy J after my name and my husband’s name. She said she wants her child to become someone like me or Hamid. I thought that was cute to share with you at the end of this long report.
Ibrahim is the first college student that we sponsored. I have been paying for his college tution which is a dream for most people in Sierra Leone. He is a brilliant young man. He studies information technology and will finish his university degree in 2014. He adopted himself to our family and sees my husband and I as his parents and Nilou as his sister:-) He went and got an email with Khonsari as his last name and signs his emails with Khonsari. He is the one who started the tradition of calling me mummy in Sierra Leone and now everyone in the country calls me Mummy Terri.
Here is his emailHi Mummy,
In the first place I want to know if you arrived safely and when you finally reach your final destination.
I want to thank you for all that you have done for me, I was not expecting to be where I am today in life, my father died on the 25th September 2006 and our Mother left us four years before the death of our father and at that time I was in SSS2, I was thinking where can I get to pay fees for my younger brothers and for myself, I was washing vehicles and doing some other little jobs to pay for that year. when I was promoted to SSS3 I play soccer for the school I was attending that time and the school pay my fees, and I do some little work also to pay for my younger brothers. I attempted the West African Senior Schools Certificate Examination(WASSCE) and I was fortunate to secure my University requirement (5 WASSCE) with no hope of going to even a teachers college not talking about a University College.
I was driving from Makeni (the Northern province head quarter town) to FreeTown and back every day, just for me to pay the fees of my younger brothers and for us to get what to eat for the day.
Mummy Terri you came into my life like a miracle, I was not thinking of going to college now I am in one of the most expensive Universities of Sierra Leone, I was not thinking of using a computer in life now I own computers, I was having a single pair of school shoe and a single pair of uniform now I have more than four pair of different types, I own a TV set and a lot mere, I am now paying for my younger brothers and my girl friend who is also in college doing a teachers certificate program out of the little work I am doing from what I have learn in college , all these are possible because of you, you’ve my life .
I want to thank you Mummy Terri, for all what you have done for me and all those around me, extend my sincere greeting and appreciation to Mr. Khonsari my Father and my Sister Niloufa Khonsari.
Thank you for taking the time and reading through this long email. It means a lot to me. Once again I want to thank all of you for your generous contributions and personal support. Without your support none of this would have happen. I am open to your suggestions, ideas and any kind of support that you may be able to offer direct or indirect.
Much love and lots of hugs,
P.S. Please go to our facebook fan page (families without borders fan page) and see the pictures that I posted and “like” us if you have not done so. They say it’s good if a lot of people like your fan page.