Case studies profile Kabissa members that inspire our volunteers and the entire Kabissa community. They are meant to provide Kabissa members with useful learnings and spark ideas and discussion.
In this case study, we tell the story of Schools for Salone, highlighting its approach to building schools in post-war Sierra Leone, with its focus on strategic partnerships and local empowerment, which has led to improved education for thousands of children across the country, and renewed hope for numerous communities as a whole.
For more than a decade, beginning in 1991, the African nation of Sierra Leone was torn apart by a bloody civil war. Most Americans became aware of the war because its weapons and soldiers were financed by “blood diamonds,” and many of the soldiers were children. Photographs of 12-year-olds wearing ammunition belts, and of their mutilated victims, spread around the world.
In Sierra Leone, the destruction was especially hard on children. In addition to horrible physical suffering, they saw nearly all of their schools destroyed, and for them, schooling was the road to a better future. Cindy Nofziger, an American woman who had worked in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone in the ‘80’s, witnessed this disaster on a return visit to the country in 2004. A friend, John Sesay, asked if she could help them rebuild the school in his village. Using local children’s art to create note cards which could then be sold to raise money, Cindy was able to finance the building of the school.
But there were hundreds of other villages like John Sesay’s home. Working with another friend, Joseph Lamin of the Masanga Children’s Fund, Cindy began to identify other school-building projects, and to find financial support, chiefly among other Peace Corps veterans in the U.S. These efforts were the building blocks for the formation of Schools for Salone (SFS), which is now a 501(c)(3) organization.
Schools for Salone aims to help provide better futures for children – and in the process, support entire communities – in rural Sierra Leone by building schools and improving the educational infrastructure. To ensure that students will emerge from these schools with the skills they need to break the cycle of poverty, the organization provides the ongoing support to the teachers and students that is needed for the schools’ proper functioning. This support has notably included intensive teacher training workshops and numerous student scholarships for those students most in need.
How Schools for Salone Works
SFS believes that locally-initiated projects have the best chance of success. First and foremost, every project must provide a proven level of desire and motivation from the community to build the school. The communities that have displayed a true level of commitment then must be able to supply the support of local leadership, the necessary land, appropriate local building materials, and free unskilled labor. The community must arrange with the government of Sierra Leone to guarantee the payment of teachers’ salaries.
Once these criteria are met and the village is selected, SFS oversees the work and provides additional necessary construction equipment and expertise for the building of the school (and water well as required). Once the school opens, SFS helps with school equipment and training of teachers.
To support these efforts, SFS partners with other organizations who share its mission, a vital component of SFS’s model for success. The Masanga Children’s Fund (MCF) has, since the beginning, provided much of the vetting and oversight of school building projects. Books for Africa collects books from across the U.S., which are then collected at port by the Sierra Leone Book Trust and distributed upcountry by MCF. For the past three years, Friends of Sierra Leone has provided annual summer teacher-training workshops in the city of Bo. InterConnections 21, an organization committed to helping U.S. schools and communities learn about world concerns and take action, and the Sierra Leone Relief Agency have assisted with fundraising. Finally, about a dozen U.S. and Canadian schools have adopted schools or students in Sierra Leone, both to help them financially and to establish connections that enrich the education of students on both sides.
Successes and Lessons Learned
The most important success has been the return to school for thousands of children in Sierra Leone through the construction of 15 schools, two libraries and numerous water wells after years of violence and neglect during the civil war.
SFS has established effective partnerships with non-governmental organizations on both sides of the Atlantic, which has been vital to providing the local knowledge, experience and resources needed to achieve its goals. Importantly, all partners are equally committed to the principle of empowering local villages, allowing citizens of Sierra Leone to build a sustainable educational infrastructure, school by school, and strengthen their communities at the same time.
One key to the growth of SFS has been its online presence, through the SFS website and use of social media. The SFS website has been a key tool in reaching individuals and groups that have, in time, become key supporters of the organization. The website was the first point of contact for a number of donors as well as a current board member. In addition, SFS’s use of Facebook and Twitter has aided the organization in keeping supporters current on what is happening.
Since 2004, the organization has increased its capacity to reach its goals through its continued growth from both financial and awareness perspectives. For example, one particularly successful fundraising effort in the U.S. secured sufficient donations to build two schools, while its web presence and word of mouth promotion have helped to build awareness. As a result of its growth, SFS will look in the future to transition from a purely volunteer-run organization to a hybrid model that utilizes part-time employees and volunteers in collaboration together. This shift will be key to enabling SFS’s continued growth, and as result, alleviating the educational gaps still present in Sierra Leone.
Jon Bayley and Sami Ghazi authored this case study with contributions from Cindy Nofziger of Schools for Salone. Please contact [email protected] if you would like your organization to be featured in a case study or if you would like to write one!