SI Thames Valley club supports the Kori Women Development Project in Sierra Leone

Unpacking the blankets!

Rose Moriba Simbo, Founder and Director of the the Kori Women Development Project and member of SI Thames Valley, Gill Curry, SI Thames Valley and Johanna Raffan, SI Thames Valley and Chair and Trustee of the Kori Development Project, share the story with us.

Gill Curry explains: “The Kori Project was started in 2011 with the main aim of educating the women and girls of the Kori Chiefdom, thereby enabling and empowering them to say no to FGM. We began with 50 women planting cassava, sweet potatoes, okra and peanuts. Then later we were asked to provide rice seeds. Before the civil war Sierra Leone was the Rice Bowl of Africa. We provided 9 sacks of rice seeds and the first harvest produced 64 sacks of rice. Our instructions to the women was to keep a third to feed the family, sell a third to buy other foods etc. and to keep a third to replant. Over three years the farming has spread to 7 villages and now over 2000 women are farming. This aspect of the project is now self-sustaining, although we do still send out tools and other implements. We have established a wonderful link withWork Aid. This is a national charity with a branch in Buckinghamshire, all staffed by disabled, handicapped or out of work volunteers. They collects old tools, machinery etc., clean them up and then send them to various parts of Africa.

Rose Moriba Simbo adds: We were given 4500 dollars by a school in Vancouver, this we used for micro loans. We gave the women £30 to set up a small cottage industry, to buy a pig or a couple of goats, to set up a market garden etc. This is self-regulated by the villagers. However one group of women we have particularly targeted for a micro loan are the circumcisers so they have an income other than cutting.

Mamie has been a Sowah (Circumciser) for nearly 20 years. She inherited the practice from her Grandmother. Twice a year during the cutting season in the months of December and Easter, she is given money and food as payment for cutting the girls. She is an important member of the community as she does not only circumcise the girls but also gives advice and delivers babies. I have known her all my life so I have talked a lot to her about the harmful effects of FGM. We have given her clothes, a delivery pack for delivering babies and some medicines. We have also given her a micro loan of £50 and she has used this to set up a market garden. Thus she still commands respect in the community and has not cut any girls in the last two seasons.

Gill explains: We have used some of the money to give 10 girls scholarships for secondary school, however more importantly, we are enabling girls to go to school full time. Most secondary school girls only go to school three weeks out of four, because when they menstruate the rags, leaves, moss etc. is not sufficient to hold the flow. So we have set up a production line to make sanitary towels. Our main stalwart is not even a Soroptimist, but Ann has made hundreds and hundreds of ST's and bought thousands of pairs of knickers, all donated to the project. In addition we have three other Regions, apart from London Chiltern, who are helping with this and other aspects of the project. All the girls who have started their periods are given, by the school, three sanitary towels, a water proof bag and three pairs of knickers. If the girls have two pairs of knickers they are very lucky – one for school and one for home. One girl said on receiving her pack, “I cannot wait for my next period”!

Yet again we have had help from an unexpected source, the man whom Ann buys knickers from on E bay was so intrigued, that once he heard about the Kori Project he now sends extras free of charge.

Rose says: We regularly send a shipment of blankets and hats for the elderly and for new born babies, large quantities of clothes, household goods, farming tools, books and toys.

The shipment is timed to arrive just before what would have been the Cutting Season, so the girls can all have new clothes, toys, books and sweets for the Traditional Coming of Age Party minus the cutting.

In December 2012, 50 girls were not cut and in December 2013, 255 were not cut.

We hope this number will increase this year, if there are enough girls still alive to take part in the party. But at least we have made a start at eradicating FGM in one area.

Johanna explains: Finally news of the Library, named the 'Sandy Raffan Memorial Library' which was started in 2012. Having cleared the land the libation ceremony took place. In the last two years the building has taken shape and we now have the roof on. Our next task is to provide flooring, doors, windows furniture and of course books. The site was visited at the end of last year by UNICEF wanting to know how and why the library was being built. They were so impressed with the project that they have asked if they can use it as blue print for other libraries across Sierra Leone. They have also offered to explore the possibility of funding a Librarian. Again, this year we have had help from an unexpected source. In fund raising for the floor doors etc., I went targeting the local Masons and ended up talking to the local Rotary Club about FGM (thirty men and three women). They were so shocked that in the next three weeks they raised £1460.

SI: It is important for us to include news of the Kori Chiefdom and its struggle with the effects of Ebola. Ebola has killed three hundred people here to date. More than £8000 was raised in just two days at the recent SIGBI Harrogate Conference – allowing SI Thames Valley to pay for two shipping containers and get rice and other equipment to the Kori Chiefdom to help the people there. To find out more or to help the people in Kori Chiefdom please visit the donate here and help as you can.