Gardens for Orphan Girls

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are" -- Teddy Roosevelt's words spoken 100 years ago, in 1916, have reached the minds of 30 girls who are orphans in Kambia, Sierra Leone. As part of the Touch the Sky Foundation, the girls wear shirts with those very words printed on their backs.

28521042_15216200550_r.jpegThey are putting their words to action in April, by starting garden plots to grow groundnuts, cassava and sweet potatoes. The land is adjacent to the Home of Hope, the compound where they will live together, once all government approvals and fundraising are in place. (We anticipate an opening in early May).

Currently these 30 girls -- 20 of them are between ages 8 and 13 -- live with guardians or extended family in town. They have been coming together at the Home of Hope regularly since last August for socialization and learning, guided by adult volunteers. During the week, they attend school, because their dreams are to get an education and change the trajectory of their lives. The Touch the Sky Foundation, founded five years ago by Emmanuel Kamara, has been paying for the girls' school fees and related expenses (uniform, books, shoes and such) as the Home of Hope was built from the ground up. Today, the Home of Hope is on the verge of opening.

On Sunday, March 18, the girls went to the nearby land for the first time, and began to clear the field. They carried stakes to mark their plots, used a few hoes and cutters that we had collected, and posed for photos, five girls to a team.

28521042_15216208870_r.jpegAnd on Monday, six or seven of them returned to the field -- on their own. They were so excited by this growing project that they continued removing rocks and weeds from the dirt -- using their hands. They didn't have the hoes and cutters that the adults had provided on Sunday.

They know that, as orphans, they have been fortunate to be included in the Touch the Sky Foundation's program, their lives of extreme poverty averted. They also know that they cannot just hope that many things will continue to be provided for them, simply because of their plight as orphans. (Many went one, two or even three years out of school until joining Touch the Sky, because there was no one to pay their school fees). By "giving back," by doing something for themselves, by taking steps to "do what you can, with what you have, where you are," they are showing gratitude for the blessings in their young lives.

28521042_15216214780_r.jpegWe are delighted that the girls are taking on this growing project with such enthusiasm that we did not foresee.  By planting in April, the start of Sierra Leone's rainy season, they will be growing much of their own food. 

To make this farming project happen, we need your financial support.  We are seeking as much as $900, and here is why. First, the perimeter of the land must be "fenced" -- to minimize the intrusion of goats, rats and other animals eating the produce. This "fencing" is done by building a wall of mud bricks. Including the labor to build a waist-high wall on four sides, this will cost as much as $600.

The 30 girls will work in teams of five -- two groups planting groundnuts (like peanuts), two groups planting cassava (considered a "food security crop" in developing countries), and two groups planting sweet potatoes. We want to provide the necessary tools for each of the six groups: hoes, shovels, wheelbarrows, watering cans, jerrycans to carry water to the field and, of course, seeds and vines. We peg these expenses at $50 per group, or $300 more. Thus, we are asking for a total of $900.

I am Katherine Cassidy, and I am so pleased to have a hand in launching this growing project. Ordinarily I live in Lubec, Maine, but have been coming to Sierra Leone since June 2017. I have fallen in step with Emmanuel's Touch the Sky Foundation, and will be working with these beautiful girls for the next year and possibly beyond. (I have a Sierra Leone residency permit through February 2019). 

Back in Washington County, Maine, we are taking steps to create a nonprofit organization, also called Touch the Sky Foundation, that will work hand-in-hand with the Sierra Leone foundation. (The Sierra Leone organization is a nonprofit registered with the Kambia District as a local NGO). None of your contributions are tax-deductible in the US at this time, regretfully. But once we gain 501(c)3 status from the IRS -- hopefully by summer -- we will be in a position to seek funding from larger organizations.

Until then, we are grateful for any financial help from our friends on Facebook and through GoFundMe. Notably, GoFundMe can be supported by anyone in the world using a credit card or debit card. (Previously, contributions could come only from those in the United States).

If you can help us, you are helping our 30 orphan girls achieve something they have never done before. They are growing not just food, they are growing their confidence. If you can share this GoFundMe campaign and encourage your foodie-minded friends to donate, all the better. Meanwhile, let's get growing! 

With heartfelt thanks from both of us - 
Katherine Cassidy and Emmanuel Kamara


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Katherine Cassidy 
Lubec, ME
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