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Project1808 is sowing the Seeds of Sustainability and Innovation in Sierra Leone

By Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya

Project1808, Inc in partnerships with the University of Wisconsin (UW) Madison (United States), and the University of Sierra Leone have just concluded their first three week global health field program   as well as a groundbreaking sustainability innovation camp (SIC) for over 200 primary and secondary school students in Sierra Leone, West Africa. The three week program held from May 23 to June 10, 2013 brought 16 UW Madison multidisciplinary students and faculty to work collaboratively with 12 counterparts at University of Sierra Leone on real time knowledge exchange in building workable models of community and people based solutions to health problems that use locally available resources for addressing community needs.

 

The students (photo Credit: Dr. Alhaji U. N’jai)

The students (photo Credit: Dr. Alhaji U. N’jai)

 

The UW Madison team was led by Dr. Alhaji U. N’jai (UW Madison Researcher, Founder of Project1808 Inc, and Scientist at Procter & Gamble Co), Miss. Linda Vakunta (Ph.D. Candidate UW Madison and Program Director of Project1808), Prof. Colin Jefcoate (Professor of Pharmacology & Toxicology), and Dr. Amit Nimunkar (Faculty, Biomedical Engineering). The University of Sierra Leone host was Prof. AB Karim, the (Dean of Pure and Applied Sciences at Fourah Bay College (FBC), the oldest higher education institution in region known as the “Athens of West Africa”

The team of UW Madison researchers and their Sierra Leone counterparts spent one week in Freetown on the FBC campus where global health incubation occurred on the social, economic, policy, legal, cultural, behavioral, environmental, mental, disease- determinants of health as well as methods of intervention including engineering, science applications, and business of branding. The teams engaged in specific projects focused on building solar dehydrator for mangoes, water filtration techniques, waste management, women health and sexual health education, nutrition and health, UW Madison, USL students and faculty at FBC Campus leadership workshops, and building little libraries in the Kabala community where western literacy and numeracy rates are low.

To better understand the local habits, practices and conditions, the US and Sierra Leone team received lectures from USL faculty (Dr(s). Salieu Sankoh and Ronnie-Frazer) on waste management, Harvard Researchers (Katrina Han & Dayo Lesi) on Mental Health issues, and Medical Research Centre Health Manager and the vice chair of Sierra Leone Biomedical society Dr. Heidi Jalloh-Vos, who provided an enlightening overview of health in Sierra Leone. UW Madison Prof. Jefcoate also provided an interactive University of Sierra Leone-wide lecture on the university system, research, and community outreach based on Wisconsin Model of Extension. Professor Jefcoate also delivered lectures at FBC on top ten chemicals of health concern to avoid and on nutrition research for developing countries.

The team of students and faculty  had opportunities to learn firsthand about health in Sierra Leone through the Minister of Health Mrs. Miatta Kargbo, Dr. Donald Bash Taqi (Director of hospitals at Ministry of Health), Mr. Prince Cole (Director of human resource at Ministry of Health), various government officials including Chief Justice Mrs. Musu Kamara, and field visits to Kroo Bay, Bomeh, Freetown Peninsula fishing villages, and the Tacaugama Chimpanzee sanctuary, where environmental health, animal health, and zoonosis are major concerns.

The numerous site visits provided opportunities to explore methods for building relationships with communities, understanding the significance of multidisciplinary approaches to sustainability, respectful and mutual engagement with local populations, cultural competency, and effective communication of health related matters to communities. The UW Madison team and their Sierra Leonean colleague’s interaction created an organic source of cross-cultural knowledge exchange, which was in full display at a reception organized by the Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Mr. Peter Bayuku Konteh, where a dazzling performance was presented by a Sierra Leone cultural dance troupe.

The cultural performance featured all the various ethnicities of Sierra Leone. Among the dignitaries present at the reception were five honorable members of parliament from Koinadugu District. Indeed it was complete cultural immersion and a true Sierra Leonean experience as the dancing continued to the beaches that night.

Sustainability Innovation Camp  Kabala

Following the global health incubation in Freetown, the UW Madison and USL teams headed to Kabala, Koinadugu District, for the project implementation and kick off the first sustainability innovation camp organized by Project1808, Inc for 200 primary, secondary school and tertiary students drawn from nine schools in the town. The purpose of the sustainability innovation camp is to engage and connect students, teachers, and community members through small pointed and targeted activities that address local issues and needs in the least developed District of the country. By linking youth and adult’s education to local needs in the most disadvantaged regions in the country, Project1808, Inc wants to enhance creativity, innovation, leadership, imagination and environmentally relevant solutions to community challenges.

The UW and USL students facilitated interactive learning and project translation from ideas to practice on waste management, solar engineering and dehydration of mangoes, water filtration techniques, women sexual health and teenage pregnancy, nutrition and health, leadership, and construction of seven free little libraries (http://www.littlefreelibrary.org/) in the community including market centers, tea “ataya” places, and so on. Establishing the little libraries in Kabala require diverse community involvement and inputs on feasibility, nature of reading materials, location of libraries, ownership, and operation of libraries in this community. In the end, input, guidance and book donations from the Koinadugu District Council, Education Directorate, teachers, community members in the distinct form and nature of the Koinadugu little free libraries initiative. By the time of departure, traffic to the little libraries has picked up significantly with a huge demand for various books. The team of UW Madison and University of Sierra Leone students and researchers were well received by hundreds of community members who came out in a massive welcome ceremony followed by a community meeting, where the global health projects and sustainability innovation camp implementation was discussed.

A major aspect of sustaining the innovation in Koinadugu District is the formation of Project1808 Sustainability Innovation Clubs (SIC) from the pool of 200 students in nine Kabala schools. Each of the Project1808 SICs will be facilitated by a paid teacher/mentor and will actively be involved in academic excellence, peer to peer mentoring and community project development from ideas to practice.

The knowledgebase and nurturing of student project ideas through development is further enhanced and reinforced through Project1808’s global (ex. UW Madison) and local (ex. University of Sierra Leone, Koinadugu District Council) partners. As part of the process of improving quality of education and students scholastic aptitude, Project1808 students will continue to receive after school lessons twice a week this summer.  At the time of writing, two of the USL students have travelled back to Kabala from Freetown to continue working with Project1808 students and community members in Kabala, Koinadugu District.

This aligns with the mission and vision of Project1808 to connect school, university and community knowledge to sustainable development. Along these efforts to sustain and promote literacy, they established seven free little libraries in and around market areas to foster reading in the community. Improving quality of education and addressing root causes of poverty as well as health also required developing capacity for teachers. They also provided initial minimal teacher training, which we hope to develop into a major part of future community efforts. The first ever sustainability innovation camp in Kabala, Koinadugu district was a big success gauging from students, community, local leaders feedbacks. Giving the involvement of school age students, UW Madison students, University of Sierra Leone and in-country partners; Koinadugu District Council, Paramount Chiefs, Government officials, community members, the sustainability innovation camp helped foster knowledge exchange, cultural competency, while expanding participant’s world view. The success of the Sierra Leone program and the significant knowledgebase reached lends itself to more programs in the future to sustain the innovations. Hence, planning for next year’s global health and sustainability innovation camps has started and Project1808, Inc is planning a comprehensive program for 2014.

Project1808, Inc is a Madison based US 501(c)(3) tax exempt nonprofit organization dedicated to improving community livelihood and technical capacity through school- university -community projects and global partnerships in Sierra Leone. Founder and Chief Strategists is Dr. Alhaji U N’jai, a Native of Sierra Leone and Global Research & Development Scientist at Procter & Gamble and Research Scientists at UW Madison.

Linda Vakunta, native of Cameroon and UW Madison Ph.D. students in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies serves as the Executive Director for Project1808. Project1808 has been operating in Sierra Leone since 2010 and provides long term educational support for 64 students ranging from primary school to University levels. Project1808 is also a registered UW Student organization and has a multi-disciplinary team of experts in its membership who are focused on developing innovative ideas for community development. Project1808 leverages it partnerships with schools, universities, community organizations in US and Sierra Leone to empower youths, build capacity and transform communities. Special thanks to University of Wisconsin Madison Global Health Programs, University of Sierra Leone, Marquette Neighborhood Association in Madison, Procter & Gamble Co Environmental Sustainability Organization, and Slow Food UW Madison for their generous support of Project1808 efforts.(published verbatim)

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