Rebuilding a Country Through Education
Volume 145, Number 5, September/October 2011, Page 6
By Lena Anthony
Photo courtesy of Gail Kettlewell
In 2005, Alusine Kanu, a doctoral graduate of George Mason University, came up with a noble but far-fetched idea. Growing up in the western African country of Sierra Leone, which had been devastated by a decade-long civil war that ended in 2002, he saw an opportunity for its people: a community college that would help educate the adults in the country.
Had he taken this proposal to just anyone, it probably would never have gotten off the ground. But he brought his vision to Gail Kettlewell, who was serving as director of George Mason’s community college education doctoral program at the time. Today, Dr. Kettlewell and teams of volunteers both in the United States and Sierra Leone are making Kanu’s dream a reality.
It’s a huge undertaking. The vision involves a new, comprehensive model for developing nations. Paramount chiefs—chosen for life, these are the highest level of traditional tribal chiefs in a region—donated land in four rural provinces for the community college system. Each 200-acre college site will include a business/industrial park and a community town center. Currently, Dr. Kettlewell is working on securing international funding—the goal is $55 million—as well as recruiting businesses to provide on-the-job training for students and eventual employers for graduates.
Dr. Kettlewell says the program has its critics, primarily people doubting that it can work because of its sheer size. “I tell them, ‘Try me,’” says the member of Muskingum Chapter, Zanesville, Ohio. “That’s one of the reasons we were given our gifts and talents. I know it’s going to work fine. If I weren’t confident, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours working on it.”
Dubbed the Sierra Leone International Community College Town Center (icctc.net), the program is expected to welcome its first students next year in two key programs—mining and agriculture. “Right now, there is no food processing capability in the country,” Dr. Kettlewell says. “They have thousands of pineapples just languishing on the ground because they have no way to process them. The community college system will help build those skills.” The schools will start in temporary locations while the infrastructure and actual brick-and-mortar facilities are being developed.
The college system also will emphasize women’s literacy, which is an issue close to Dr. Kettlewell’s heart. “Fewer than 15 percent of the women in Sierra Leone can read,” she says. “We’ll be partnering with literacy organizations already established across the country to address this gap.”
While the program is still in the planning stages, Dr. Kettlewell says the excitement level is high: “They have more than 5 million people and only 1 percent are educated at the level they need,” she says. “For them, it will make a huge difference in the redevelopment of the country and being able to make their own money. They want their own people to become business owners, and they know this kind of program is the solution.”
Dr. Kettlewell hopes that Sierra Leone is just the first of many developing countries worldwide that will benefit from an International Community College Town Center system. “Sierra Leone is going to serve as the model for the rest of the world,” she says. “One of the things we’ll be building is a research center so we can keep track of everything we do. That way, when we move into other countries, we can provide the best of what’s available.”
Dr. Kettlewell says her work in Sierra Leone is a reflection of her dedication to the DAR, which she joined back in 1958 as a college student. “I know I may not be able to attend all of the chapter meetings, but I feel like I’m out in the world being a Daughter of the American Revolution, helping to promote independence and democracy.”