Heavy Flooding in Sierra Leone

Dear Echoers, 

Unfortunately I have sad news from Sierra Leone. Due to incredibly high rainfall, Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone, has experienced severe flooding and resulting land slides. BBC reported that hundreds had been killed in one such landslide as houses were buried on the outskirts of the capital. The Red Cross estimates that nearly 3000 people have been left without homes as a result of the rain.

Thankfully, Esther is currently visiting family out of the country and is safe from the floods. However, she shared tragic stories from home where friends had sent images of those killed by the mud slides. I will not share those images with you. Needless to say, the damage to the city is devastating as seen in other images of the flooding and landslide below.

Esther is receiving spotty information from Freetown. So far, we don't have reports that staff or students of Esther's school, the Women in Action Development Project, have been injured. However, we have learned that much of Women in Action's supplies were damaged by flooding and that the first crops planted in the new farm field we purchased last month have been washed away. 

School season begins soon at Women in Action, and this is not the start we want. Women in Action will definitely need support to get its footing again in the wake of this crisis. I'm asking for your help to literally weather this storm and see Women in Action through to the best start possible for this Fall school season. We made a huge leap forward in July with the farmland. Let's ensure this tragedy doesn't undo the progress we've made!

-Matthew

Donote to Flood Relief
Cr. BBC

Cr. BBC

Cr. BBC

Cr. BBC

You Did It! You Bought Farmland!

Echoers!

I am very excited to announce that, with Esther's guidance, we have all successfully bought a plot of farmland for the Women in Action Development Project!

I can't thank you all enough for the support that you've shown. When we put out the call for help, you answered and that means a great deal to me, Esther, and the staff and students of the Women in Action Development Project. Special thanks to Capilano University's Global Stewardship program and Mulgrave Secondary for their fundraising efforts, donations, and hosting me to speak about Esther's Echo at Justice High and Action for Esther. 

Esther sent a few pictures of the land which I've included below. Esther is currently thinking of leaving some room on the land to construct the first of their rural school locations bringing us to our next set of goals.

Our support to Esther has, so far, been for the general operation of the Women in Action Development Project. However we want to go beyond that and facilitate growth and expansion as well. Purchase of the farmland was a first step in that direction as crop yields will serve to generate income to help pay expenses we've already been funding like rent on Esther's school building. Having the farm therefore means all your future donations are that much more effective as we can start investing some of that funding into long-term growth. The longer-term goals are to help with the expansion of the primary Women in Action location in Freetown and also expand to a rural location; likely on the land we just secured. These are big plans, but I think we can make it happen. We will need all your support and your help to spread the word to others you think would be willing to contribute as well.

We will keep you posted on the farmland developments. Once again, my sincerest thanks to you all. 

-Matthew

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Justice High and Buying Farmland

Hello Echoers!

Some exciting things in the works since my last post for International Women's Day. I was invited to speak at Capilano University's Justice High youth symposium. Esther's Echo has had a great relationship with Capilano U for 7 years now. In fact, if it weren't for Capilano's Global Stewarship Program championed by Cam Sylvester, we likely wouldn't exist. Global Stewardship sponsored Esther's journey to Canada in 2012 and inspired our initial founding as an organization that same year. In fact, we shot a mini-doc about our partnership with Capilano that year which you can watch below.

 The Global Stewardship Program - or Global Stew as it's known by the students (Stews) - enrolls 35 students per year who learn what it takes to become a global citizen. Courses range from international issues and management training with seminars delivered by leaders in the non-profit and social enterprise sectors. As part of their education, the Stews are challenged to organize their own symposiums for younger secondary school students. That's what Justice High is all about. The symposium invites high school students to explore issues addressed by the United Nation Millennium Development Goals. Last month I was invited to speak about Esther's Echo and our ongoing commitment to support Esther's school, The Women in Action Development Project, as well as how relatively small initiatives like ours can foster big changes around the world.  

Matt Speaking about Esther's Echo at Justice High

Matt Speaking about Esther's Echo at Justice High

One of the big changes we're hoping to accomplish by the start of May is to secure a plot of farmland for Esther. Thanks to donations that came in during International Women's Day, an honorarium from Capilano U for the Justice High presentation, and January's Action for Esther hosted by Mulgrave Secondary, we are SO CLOSE. Esther needs about 1500US more to purchase the farmland. This land will be a game changer for Women in Action as they will be able to sell produce as a form of income to help sustain the project. With all the donations, we are sitting at around 1400CDN which is just over 1000US. So we only need another 500US. I think we can do it! This is the one of the most important donations we've sent to Esther as we are helping to provide a whole new source of income for Women in Action. 

Thank you all so much again for your support. International Day for Women was our largest single fundraising day to date! This comes following our most successful Holiday Season ever! Huge thanks as well to Capilano University, the Global Stews, and Cam Sylvester. All of your support is vital to the continuation of women's education in one of the most challenging places of the world to live. Remember 100% of all your donation goes abroad. Now let's keep up the amazing effort and get Esther that farmland! 

Help Buy that Farmland!

International Women's Day - “Why Are You Here Instead of Her?”

"So why are you here instead of her?" the interviewer asked me pointedly. I didn't have an answer. That was a very good question. It was 2011. I had returned to Sierra Leone to meet with Esther in person before the founding of Esther's Echo. While in country, Esther thought it may be helpful to do an interview on the Freetown news station to talk about the work we were doing to support Esther's school; the Women in Action Development Project.

The interview didn't go quite as I had planned. The interviewer put me to task while I sat there on national television. "Why do we need another white man telling us about the work that is going on in our own country? If this is another woman's school, why isn't she on the television? Why are you here instead of her?" She was right. This wasn't my story to tell. Not while in Sierra Leone. Not while in Esther's community. The experience on the air reminded me of the conflict I felt when I first arrived in Sierra Leone as an undergraduate student in 2004. I was in my early twenties, still a student, but was understood to be an "authority" on other people's communities as a foreign aid worker. Why? I was a white male. And I held the checkbook to an international organization.

The Women in Action Development Project, wasn't founded by international aid workers. And her project certainly wasn't founded by me. Esther began this work on her own in the midst of a war; a passionate woman passionate about the women and children in her own community. So while we echo Esther's story, we will not become the face of her work. On International Women's Day, we will remind our own community of the incredible work of women like Esther around the world who far too often go unrecognized.

Last February 14th was Women in Action Day marking the 21st anniversary of the founding of Women in Action. Esther sent me photos of the celebration at the NEW LOCATION which all of you helped us secure! I cannot thank you all enough again. You helped relocate an entire school in Sierra Leone! Esther's next project is to purchase a plot of farm land that she's had an eye on for a few years now. They are about 2,000 dollars short and so we are making this a priority for our current fundraising. The plot of land is the next step to helping Women in Action become more self-sustaining as they will be able to sell crops from the land as a source of funding for the school. Below are the images from Founding Day and Esther giving a speech as the school celebrates its anniversary for the first time in their new building!

Sincerely,

Matthew 

Esther and Students Celebrate Founding Day and Valentines Day 

Esther and Students Celebrate Founding Day and Valentines Day 

Esther speaking at Founding Day

Esther speaking at Founding Day

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Happy Valentine's and Women in Action Day!

Hello Echoers!

It's Valentine's day! It's ALSO Women in Action Day! February 14th marks the anniversary of the founding of Women in Action by Esther Kanu in 1996. I often think about the environment in which Esther began her project; the middle of a civil war. Sierra Leone's "Blood Diamond" war lasted from 1991 to 2002 ending just two years before I arrived in the country for the first time. When I came to Sierra Leone, the streets were still filled with UNAMSIL soldiers (United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone) working to disarm and demobilize the nation. Many believed Westerners were simply looking for diamonds themselves. I was often offered diamonds when walking about the streets of Freetown. Many of these "diamonds" were bits of broken glass sold by desperate people.

Outside of previous Women in Action building with Feb 14th Founding Date

Outside of previous Women in Action building with Feb 14th Founding Date

I think of all the resources available to those with vision here in North America; entrepreneurs interested in bringing an idea to life. Esther started her school with none of those same resources and with none of the same social/political stability. This was a war. But she saw need and went to work. I am not certain I have that kind of mettle and I am thankful that, within Canada, it is likely my character and strength will never be tested like that. Esther's was and she persevered.

Last year marked Women in Action's 20th anniversary. At the time, we weren't certain if Women in Action would continue due to the sale of the building Esther was renting. Last year on February 14th, we were hoping to move the school into their new building. My hope was, by this time a year later, that Esther would be established in the new location. With all the support that came in this last year, especially toward the Holiday Season, Women in Action has successfully relocated. 20 years in their previous building and on 21 they have their new building thanks to all of you. Esther's last report from the end of January indicated that the rent was paid for 2016. Esther is looking forward to April 1st where the school will graduate 50 students. In late April, Esther said that Women in Action will also conduct the catering services for an Alumnus' wedding!

One piece of less great news to share: In a past blog, I had mentioned that Esther's Echo had submitted an entry for the Roddenberry Foundation Prize. Unfortunately, we heard back that out of the 600 applicants, Esther's Echo was not selected. I was discouraged by the outcome. However, I am still proud of our application and the foundation announced the grant will continue on to be an annual event. They can expect more applications from us in the future.

Back to more positive news, Mulgrave Secondary School hosted their “Action For Esther” fundraiser on January 27th which I attended as a speaker. Action for Esther was originally scheduled for December 2016 but was delayed due to all the snow we've had in Vancouver. The event is not only a fundraiser, but a weekend simulation for participating students ranging from Grade 7 to 9. Students in the program experience a weekend in the life of a refugee. The scenario is organized and performed by senior students and staff in the school as a form of experiential learning. The presentation I gave this year at Action for Esther was inspired by our video for the Roddenberry Foundation; seeing the world from an orbital perspective free of border lines and where global issues are not confined to one nation or another. Big thanks to Antony Wilson and Mulgrave Secondary for bringing me in again to speak and for the continuing support of Esther's Echo. Tony snapped this photo which is a great summary of the presentation showing Africa taken during the Apollo missions.

Matt Speaking at Action for Esther...Africa from Space in the background

Matt Speaking at Action for Esther...Africa from Space in the background

As it is now 2017, we're starting work toward covering the rent on Esther's new building for this year. Please consider making us your Valentine today during Women in Action Day and help spread the love by sharing us with your networks/peeps!

Happy Valentine's!

Sincerely,

Matthew