Katie Arroyo 2015-06-23 01:02:03
Editor’s note: An article in the May/June 2012 Resource described Oklahoma State University’s student-led projects supporting sustainable solutions to food and water insecurity in Sierra Leone. This article provides an update on the continuing efforts. Although some of Sierra Leone’s urban residents have access to “safe” well water, less than half the population can access potable drinking water, and people in rural areas typically drink water from polluted sources. According to the World Bank, as of 2012, 58% of Sierra Leone’s rural population and 18% of its urban population did not have access to improved water sources. In addition, every year brings six months of dry season and six months of monsoon season, with midday temperatures reaching 95°F and up to 80% humidity at all times. During the dry season, rural residents mostly eat imported bread and rice for three or four months because the land is too dry to grow food. Food insecurity reached critical levels last year as the Ebola crisis spread throughout the country. As of May 30, 2015, Sierra Leone has accounted for 8,617 cases of Ebola, with 3,545 confirmed deaths. Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, became completely cut off due to issues with Ebola, and those not affected directly by the disease were affected indirectly through economic inflation, civil unrest, work shortages, stress from superstitions, and general misunderstandings about how the disease is transmitted. The rural residents with whom the OSU group works lack infrastructure connecting them to major trade hubs. Because goods must be transported from urban areas to rural open-air markets, rural residents pay higher prices than their urban counterparts. Ebola made this situation much worse, resulting in widespread hunger due to inflated prices for imported staples such as rice, flour, and petroleum. According to a 2011 World Food Programme publication, “Food insecurity … is a threat and impact multiplier for violent conflict.” Despite the challenges created by the Ebola crisis, several OSU students featured in the previous article have led additional projects, both while in college and since graduation. This is really a story about how a small investment by determined, caring students and local communities goes a long way. It is also a story about the perseverance of Sierra Leone’s people. ASABE member Jesi Lay conducted rainwater harvesting research for ten months during Fulbright studies in 2012-2013. Lay had previously received just over $2,000 in scholarships and stipends to offset the cost of two prior trips. In June 2014, she returned to Sierra Leone to check on the rainwater harvesting system constructed as part of her research at the Mokonde Primary School, and she verified that all system components continue to be operational. At about the same time, Richard Moore established an agricultural consulting business (International Agricultural Consultants LLC) and attracted venture capital, enabling him to move to the rural city of Kissy Town, Sierra Leone, about five miles east of Freetown. There he employed local residents, as well as several young students from the Freetown orphanage that the OSU group previously worked with, to develop a mango and pineapple farm that supplies a local Italian-owned juice company. He also raised chickens and developed a successful retail egg business. Moore uses the operation as a vehicle to teach young people the science of agriculture along with principles of business and personal responsibility. He pays the tuition for several students to study agronomy at Njala University and focuses on providing guidance, planning, and startup capital to local entrepreneurs. He currently consults with five small businesses, ranging from boutiques to well drillers, as well as services that are either operating or about to launch. During the past six months, Moore has also worked as a professional water well drilling consultant, training teams and businesses throughout Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. Liberty Galvin continues to run Gondwana International LLC, which raises funds to support Sierra Leone projects. Since 2012, the business has provided over $2,000 in student scholarships and funding for tools and supplies. Galvin anticipates providing up to $1,000 in scholarships to OSU students participating in future projects over the next year and may hire a student intern to support the business. She previously received about $7,000 in grants, scholarships, and stipends to help pay for three prior trips to Sierra Leone. In 2013, after graduating from OSU, Galvin moved to Bonganema, Sierra Leone, on her own volition for nine months. She continued Lay’s rainwater harvesting work and successfully coordinated with locals and Njala University to install a rainwater harvesting system at a second primary school. Galvin plans to return soon to check on the system and to assist local entrepreneurs with starting renewable energy businesses for charging electric devices such as cell phones. Galvin spent long hours with locals during extended stretches of food and water scarcity, and she observed firsthand how some people became desperate while others used wisdom to solve problems for the greater good. She also noted a population gap between ages 20 to 40, resulting from a generation lost to the civil war that ended in 2002. Consequently, the young people and orphans are dependent on foreign aid because they cannot help themselves, and those over age 40 are considered elderly. A government authority approached Galvin about replicating the rainwater harvesting systems in the northwest part of the country, and she and Lay have also been asked to develop an instruction manual explaining how to build the systems. The manual will be published by Njala University Press. Less than a year after Galvin returned to Oklahoma, the Ebola crisis reached record levels in Sierra Leone. With her personal network and knowledge of the local infrastructure challenges, she created a crowdfunding campaign, called The Rice Bag Challenge, to help overcome food insecurity in rural Bonganema, where she worked in 2013. The campaign exceeded its goal, raising over $2,600 to fund food aid to every house and even to schoolteachers living outside of the village. The Rice Bag Challenge sustained over 300 people for three months while their own rice crops were maturing. The work continues, and those who labor are seeing the fruits of their efforts in a world where need abounds. Fortunately, there is no deficit of inspiration. Stay tuned for another update! Katie Arroyo, OSU alumna and International Trade Specialist, Florida Small Business Development Center (FSBDC), University of North Florida, Jacksonville, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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