Return to Sierra Leone Sparks Creation of Village Link
By Erica Burman on Thursday, January 31st, 2013
Village Link, a new NGO working in Sierra Leone, began its journey of a thousand miles more than three decades ago, when director and founder (and National Peace Corps Association member!) RoseAnn Rotandaro chose to spend her postgraduate years serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone. She began her service in Pujehun and later relocated to the village of Golu, in the Boama Chiefdom tucked away near the Sewa River.
In 1990, a brutal civil war erupted in Sierra Leone that lasted 11 years, destroying many villages like Golu and leaving the country’s infrastructure and educational system in demise. After 11 years of peace, RoseAnn returned to Sierra Leone in 2011 to take part in the Friends of Sierra Leone annual meeting in Freetown. She hoped that the places and people she remembered so fondly had survived the atrocities committed from 1990-2001. She harbored a particular hope that the Fillie family, whom she had taken in to live with her in her Peace Corps-provided house, was still alive.
To her delight, Golu remained much as she remembered it, despite repeated invasions and fatalities during the war period. However, to survive the war, villagers had been forced to flee their homes; Mr. Fillie had lost his job as the head teacher in the village school. Like many, the family was forced into the bush. They survived through traditional, subsistence farming, using only the simplest hand tools. Villagers returned to resettle Golu after the war ended. It is through this profound human connection that the idea to use Internet and technological connectivity as a tool for rural development was born.
Village Link is just finishing up its pilot project in Golu, bringing computer training classes, printing services, internet, and a full library to an under-served community dear to RoseAnn’s heart. Sustainability is at the forefront of its mission; using solar panels and generator backup, Village Link’s goal is to get the project going and leave it in the hands of the community so that they may prosper from this small gift, performing maintenance and repairs as needed on their own.
While she’s starting at her Peace Corps roots, Rotandaro’s vision extends beyond Sierra Leone. “I launched Village Link with funds my husband left me,” explains Rotandaro. “He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia and I want to honor his memory by carrying out Village Link projects in Ethiopia, where he served, as well as in other under served places.”
Rotandaro has co-produced a film about the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone with Steve Kovacs, an experienced film-maker and professor of film. A DVD of the film — which is applicable to the Peace Corps experience in general, can be ordered on line at www.thepeacecorpsreturns.org. All proceeds from the film go to FoSL and The Village Link for education and development projects in Sierra Leone.
Thank you to Aislinn Coleman for contributing this story.