Rotary Club of Burgess Hill & District
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Details of the support by the Rotary Club of Burgess Hill and District and others for the Sierra Leone Orphanage project
MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN SIERRA LEONE
This article describes how a small team of Rotarians have successfully completed a project which will make a huge difference to the lives of over 600 extremely deprived orphans in Sierra Leone.
In March 2006 a 19 strong team from District 1250 went to Sierra Leone in response to a challenge from Mercy Ships to help build a new wing at its specialist hospital clinic in Aberdeen, just to the west of Freetown. The hospital provided primary care for local residents and specialist surgical care, for women with major gynaecological problems, from a wide surrounding area, including some neighbouring countries. The team, comprised mainly of Rotarians but also of members of Inner Wheel and the wives of some team members, provided skilled carpentry, professional assistance in the operating theatre and occupational therapy for the patients, as well as undertaking general labouring tasks. Altogether 10 - 12 teams responded to the challenge from Mercy Ships and the new wing was formally opened 2 months after the team's visit.
While in Sierra Leone the team met, quite by chance, two members of a small Dutch charity and were told about the extreme deprivation at an orphanage they were supporting. As the team was already on the look-out for an opportunity to help members of the community in the area, they subsequently visited the War Wounded Community Primary School and Orphanage, which is situated at Grafton, about 20 miles to the east of Freetown. There they found over 600 orphan children being educated and living in appalling conditions. The children's only food was a bowl of rice per day, and they were getting that only because it was being funded entirely by the Dutch charity. The team was already aware that the children didn't have a bowl, a spoon and a mug each and so they immediately donated over 600 of each plus two large cooking pots.
Members of the team were hugely impressed by how happy the children were despite the utter squalor in which they were being educated and living. They left the orphanage determined to make a huge difference to the children's lives by building new educational, residential and sanitary facilities, including a skills training centre to enable the children to learn a trade and thus become self sufficient in later life.
The 6 classroom school had mud brick walls, a mud floor, a leaking roof and planks of wood for desks and benches. And yet the lesson on the blackboard in the room for 7 or 8 year olds concerned the importance of clean water and personal hygiene in the prevention of infectious disease - the major cause of childhood mortality in Africa. The children were quite clearly desperate to learn, and the team was already aware of the priority being given to education in Sierra Leone. Bearing in mind also the priority given to literacy by Rotary International the team decided that its first task should be to raise funds to build a new Primary School, but that as a temporary measure funds should be used to refurbish the existing school. By September 2006 the school had a new roof, a concrete floor, rendered walls and classroom furniture made by local people from local material.
By the autumn of 2007 the team had raised sufficient funds for two new school buildings and a latrine block, thanks to the generosity of Rotary Clubs, Inner Wheel Clubs, other organisations, friends and families, and thanks also to the team's own 200 mile sponsored walk from the Sierra Leone High Commission in London to Leeurwarden, the home of the aforementioned charity in the northern Netherlands. The team then became aware that a new Primary School had already been built by the Cotton Tree Foundation - a highly regarded Sierra Leonian Non-Governmental Organisation - with funding from a German charity as part of a wider programme of building new schools.
Following detailed consultations in Sierra Leone with the Village Elders, the School Council and the relevant Government Ministries to establish what new facilities the local people needed, the team decided to commission the construction of a Junior Secondary School, a Skills Training Centre and new latrines. The Cotton Tree Foundation agreed to act as the team's partner/agent under the terms of a legal agreement which provided for staged payments to be made on the basis of regular photographic evidence of the work progressing, and of inspections by a member of the Rotary Club of Freetown. Work commenced in April 2008 and by December the construction had been completed.
Meanwhile the team had purchased a used ship's container and had filled it with over 13 tons of supplies for the new schools, including sets of school text books, sets of carpentry and plastering tools, stationery and about 40 sewing machines with the appropriate materials and cottons - all items which had been requested by the school authorities. The container was transported to Grafton in December, arriving two weeks later; it will remain on site as a secure storage facility. Letters from the heads of the new school and of the training centre indicated how much the supplies were appreciated.
Each year members of the Dutch charity visit the orphanage and their reports in 2009 and 2010 confirmed how much the new facilities are appreciated and what good use is being made of them. In February 2010 they reported that 500 students were registered at the Junior Secondary School, and that full use was being made of the Skills Training Centre where the curriculum included carpentry, bricklaying, tailoring and catering. A number of local adult residents were attending courses at the Centre.
To complement the project being undertaken by the team Rotarian colleagues from Essex have, as a result of discussions with the Sierra Leonian Ministry of Education, secured formal recognition of the schools by the Ministry. This has ensured that the teaching staff, hitherto volunteers, are now paid a modest salary. The colleagues from Essex have also met some of the revenue costs including entrance fees for public examinations, Sports Days and some of the children's food.
When the team visited the War Wounded Community they found that the children were living in large dilapidated tents originally provided by the New Zealand Overseas Development Agency at the end of the Sierra Leonian Civil War in 2002. By 2006 they were almost falling down, the roofs were leaking and they were subject to flooding during the rainy season despite the drainage ditches around them. The 'cells' in which the children slept were about 10 feet by 6 feet - the first 3 in got the mattress, and the next 3 had to sleep on the mud floor. If they were lucky there would be a piece of cardboard to lie on. The only toilet facilities were two holes in the ground surrounded by rudimentary screens. When the holes were full a few shovels full of earth were piled on top, two new holes were dug and the screens were moved.Following consultation with the local community to establish what was needed to improve the living conditions the team agreed, after the new schools had been completed, to try and raise sufficient funds to build 75 simple single storey dwellings, a nurse's clinic and latrine and shower facilities. The dwellings would be 20 feet square and the clinic 20 feet by 30 feet, the additional space being sufficient for a clinic room and a secure storage facility for the nurse's equipment etc. It was intended that the walls would be constructed from concrete blocks made on site and the roof from corrugated iron. The design was deliberately simple so that members of the community, having learned the necessary skills in the Skills Training Centre built by the team, would have the responsibility for the internal fixtures and fittings, and so have pride in their improved circumstances.
In May 2009 the team began promoting the proposed rebuilding of the residential facilities and from July 2009 sought pledges of financial support from all 60 Clubs in the District. A promotional display was shown in the House of Friendship at the District Conference in the autumn of 2009 and, over a period of about 9 months, well over 30 presentations were given by members of the team to Rotary Clubs, Inner Wheel Clubs and other organisations. In view of the prevailing economic situation it was not surprising that financial pledges (and donations) were slow to materialise. It was always the case that, on the advice of the local community, the team would need to raise sufficient funds to build all 75 dwellings - to build fewer and leave some members without new accommodation would almost certainly cause significant social unrest. It was therefore necessary to consider, early in 2010, how the plans could be scaled down without prejudicing the prime objective of building all 75 dwellings. The options considered, after consultation with the Cotton Tree Foundation (which was again acting as the team's partner/agent), included a lower specification, and a reduced number of latrines and/or showers. The need to reduce the overall cost of the project was assisted by two factors. Firstly a hospital was built in Grafton by another charitable organisation. This would serve the War Wounded Community thus obviating the need for the planned nurse's clinic. The money pledged for this could therefore be diverted to the fund for the new dwellings. Secondly the community took it upon themselves to make all the mud blocks required for the dwellings. This type of block is traditionally used in Sierra Leone and is a cheaper option than the concrete blocks included in the original specification.
By March 2010 the team had received sufficient financial pledges and donations to fund all 75 dwellings. In view of the need to make as much progress as possible with the construction work before the onset of the rainy season (early summer) it was decided to proceed with the building of the 75 dwellings and defer a decision on how many latrines and/or showers to build. Once again staged payments were made on the basis of photographic evidence of progress. By June all the new dwellings had been completed and the team decided, after consultation with the Cotton Tree Foundation, to use the remaining funds for 4 latrine blocks and essential repairs to the roofs of the teachers' dwellings. A modest residual sum was donated to the community for the purchase of materials required to put any finishing touches to the new buildings. Unfortunately the rains were exceptionally heavy this year and the completion of the latrines has been deferred until the autumn.
BetweenMarch2006 and November 2007 the team, drawn from just 10 clubs in District 1250, raised £73000, over £50000 in donations from Rotary Clubs, Inner Wheel Clubs, other organisations, families and friends, and over £22000 from the sponsored walk to Leeurwarden. The main items of expenditure on the first phase of the project (new educational facilities) were £3500 on refurbishment of the old Primary School, £57800 on construction of the new buildings and latrines, and £7000 on the purchase and transportation of the ship's container (the contents were donated).
The initial estimate for the second phase (new residential facilities) was close to £115000, with the cost of each dwelling and its associated infrastructure being £1500. Between May 2009 and June 2010 the team raised almost £80000, including over £49000 in donations from Rotary Clubs, Inner Wheel Clubs, and individual Rotarians and members of Inner Wheel, and over £30000 in donations from other organisations, charitable trusts and private individuals.
In all, including £19600 for materials for the Mercy Ships clinic, the 19 strong team drawn from 10 clubs raised over £172000 between December 2005 and June 2010.
This project will have made a huge difference to the lives of more than 600 orphans being educated and living in appalling conditions at the War Wounded Community Primary School and Orphanage at Grafton in Sierra Leone. They have been provided with good educational facilities, decent living accommodation and proper sanitary facilities, all in a village sponsored by Rotarians from District 1250 with enormous assistance from Inner Wheel Clubs, individual members of Inner Wheel, other organisations, charitable trusts and numerous friends. As a result these children will have opportunities to learn skills and trades which will enable them to earn a living and become self sufficient in a country which is one of the poorest in the world.
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