Rogbonko is a village of 500 people in central Sierra Leone. The name means 'the place in the forest' in Temne. Rogbonko was founded by Aminatta Forna's grandfather, a coffee grower and farmer in the 1920s. During the country's civil war which began in 1991, the village was caught behind rebel lines and cut off from the rest of the country for the following decade. When Aminatta returned in 2002, years of economic decline had turned what was once a flourishing community into mere subsistence farmers. People were desperate to send their children to school, the only hope they saw of changing their circumstances.
The Rogbonko Project unofficially began in December 2002 out of a single village meeting to talk about building a school, the first in a series of initiatives which together would become the Rogbonko Project. Since 2002 the Project has spread to include education, infrastructure and health, in a community effort to to create an escape route from poverty.
The first school building opened its doors on January 15th 2003, less than three weeks after the village meeting. It was erected using bamboo and thatch and had one teacher. We called it simply Rogbonko Village School. Today Rogbonko Village School comprises a five classroom school building with a library and solar power—the first electricity to reach the village—and some two hundred children. In addition to regular school activities, the school runs an adult literacy programme, skills training and a school meals programme.
The work of the Rogbonko Project goes on. Following two cholera outbreaks the village well has been entirely refitted, a second well sunk at the opposite end of the village and VIP (Ventilated Improved Pit Latrines) toilets introduced. Effective malaria control has been achieved with the donation of mosquito nets to every household. Recently the Rogbonko Project has turned its efforts towards maternal and infant mortality, of which Sierra Leone suffers one of the highest incidence in the world. A trained midwife has visited the village to hold seminars with local birth attendants and the construction of a dedicated birthing house is currently underway.
At the heart of the Rogbonko Project lies the belief that Africans already possess the knowledge, will and systems to transform their living conditions. Every project undertaken in Rogbonko is initiated, administered and entirely run by the village. We have found this works, because we think Africa has all the experts it needs—they're the people who live there.
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