Posted by Mary Avrakotos
“Growing a Community’s Future: A Project in Bumpeh Chiefdom of Sierra Leone”
Led by the Rotary Club from Ann Arbor, Rotarians from throughout the District are invited to have an impact in Sierra Leone in a model project. Whether as a Club or as an individual, your support will be matched at 50% by Rotary International and 100% of your support will go directly to Bumpeh Chiefdom since there is no NGO involved.
This is a story about extra-ordinary people, trust and chance encounters.
Paramount Chief Charles Caulker is an extraordinary leader, a man with a vision. Following a devastating civil war, he has been singular in his efforts to improve the economic plight of his Chiefdom where people live on less than two dollars a day; and to assure that children are educated. As the initiator and recent past chair of the National Council of Paramount Chiefs in Sierra Leone, he is also in a position to model sound economic development strategies for rural communities.
So, he turned to the teachers in his Chiefdom and formed an organization that could develop and guide new initiatives. The organization is called The Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation (CCET) and is directed by Rosaline Kaimbay, the former Principal of the Prosperity Girls High School. This organization is spearheading a remarkable series of projects designed to be sustainable and have long-term impact.
But part of this story begins more than four decades ago when Arlene Golembiewski and Charles Caulker first met as teachers in Bumpeh Chiefdom. At the time Golembiewski was a Peace Corps volunteer. Fast forward to 2011 when she returned to Sierra Leone as part of a Peace Corps reunion. She was now a retired executive from Proctor and Gamble and Caulker, now the Paramount Chief, shared his vision with Golembiewski. She responded by starting the Sherbro Foundation with a mission to support education and development in Bumpeh Chiefdom. It is a relationship of deep trust, with the shared goal of moving rural people from subsistence to self-reliance.
In 2014 another chance encounter led to the involvement of Rotary International. While visiting Ann Arbor and her close friend, Cheryl Farmer, they decided to attend a meeting of the Women’s Council of Washtenaw County.  There they met Mary Avrakotos, a member of the Ann Arbor Rotary Club’s International and Humanitarian Projects Committee. What followed was a District Grant for the purchase of a badly-needed copier for a computer center that had been rebuilt following the Civil War and ultimately a Global grant, "Growing a Community’s Future."
Cheryl Farmer, Treasurer for the Sherbro Foundation, medical doctor and former Mayor of Ypsilanti, MI, a community contiguous to Ann Arbor, found her commitment to the work grow as the foundation supported Caulker in his successful efforts to stop the spread of Ebola in his Chiefdom. His approach became a model that accelerated the end of the epidemic across the country. Now in line to become the next President of the Ypsilanti Rotary Club, Farmer has been tireless in helping to garner support for the initiative.
It is also a remarkable story about community-designed and guided projects. In the end the Chief sees a future in which outside support will no longer be needed.
  • All children born in the chiefdom will have access to a secondary school education, and they will provide the leadership for tomorrow.
  • Orchards managed by CCET will provide the funding needed for secondary education, school supplies, uniforms and ultimately college scholarships.
  • Women provided with materials to grow peanuts as a cash crop will develop as small business owners, giving back a percentage of their harvest to help other women have the same opportunity.
  • Wells and storage units will provide the infrastructure needed to support a 50-acre agrobusiness of fruit and peanuts that will supply the capital Freetown. The Chief envisions the project growing as local farmers join the effort to be a fruit center for the country and cottage industries like juicing and pulping are developed.
To date, CCET remains the only grassroots nonprofit in Sierra Leone for this level of community owned and led development. With Rotary and Sherbro Foundation support, they’ve become a model for rural development across Sierra Leone.
Mary Avrakotos (Rotary Club of Ann Arbor) and Cheryl Farmer (Ypsilanti Rotary Club) would be happy to come to your club to talk about the project. Call Mary (315) 806-0689 to schedule. Or support the project directly by sending a check to:
Ann Arbor Rotary Foundation
PO Box 131217
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48113-1217
Include Sierra Leone Global Grant in the memo line.