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Morgantown native with Sierra Leone roots joins club efforts

Rotary clubs around the world are known to link up to help others — also around the world.

Sandy Burkart, a recent transplant from Florida to West Virginia, is bringing together more than 40 Rotary clubs to raise money and help families and school children in Sierra Leone, Africa.

Princess Sarah Culberson, who hails from Sierra Leone but was adopted and grew up in Morgantown, will be surprised by that news as she attends a Rotary District Conference this weekend at Stonewall Resort.

Since she learned of her connection to Sierra Leone, Culberson has worked to bring improvements to her homeland. Her father, Joseph Konio Kpsowa, is part of the ruling family of the Mende tribe, in the country’s southern province. Thus Culberson’s title.

As a toddler, she was adopted by Jim Culberson of Morgantown and the late Judy Culberson.

With her Culberson family and Kpsowa family, she helped found Sierra Leone Rising, a nonprofit that helps build schools and technology networks, while providing medical services and feminine hygiene products for young women.

Burkart has known the Culbersons since the late-60s and counts himself an extended family member. When he moved from Boca Raton to the Morgantown are, he wanted to join efforts to help Sarah and Sierra Leone.

He got the four area clubs — Morgantown North Rotary, Morgantown Rotary, Cheat Lake Rotary and Westover Rotary. Invited the 47 other Rotary clubs around West Virginia. Added the Rotary Club of Boca Raton and Rotary Club Boca Raton Sunrise, plus the Boca Raton Community High School.

Burkart is coordinating two projects these entities are working on.

The first is to equip a digital classroom at the school in Bumpe.

“The plan is to purchase the kinds of educational equipment necessary to bring these kids into the modern world,” Burkart said.

Those thinks include conference tables, chairs, laptops, two mainframe computers, a printer, modem and wall monitor. They will also paint the existing classroom and add air conditioning.

All of this should cost $16,000-$18,000.

The second project is to supply solar lanterns to households in Sierra Leone.

“One of the problems there is they have no electricity,” Burkhart said. “So, their source of light is not easy and can be dangerous.”

He said light sources typically involve oil lanterns that can be expensive and cause fires if knocked over.

By raising about $10,000, the Rotarians expect to put 2,000 solar lanterns in 2,000 homes, “giving them safe light for the first time.”

Thursday, Princess Sarah was in Morgantown to talk to area Rotarians about Sierra Leone and her foundation.

Friday, she traveled to Stonewall Resort for the three-day conference, at which more than 136 statewide Rotarians will have the chance to meet her.

It’s there that she will learn about the projects the clubs have been working on and receive a surprise check. Next week, she flies to Boca Raton to receive the money from those groups.

Burkhart said most of the money has already been raised for both projects and he expects they will exceed their goals.

Anyone wanting to contribute to the work of Princess Sarah or Rotary can check out Sierra Leone Rising —

Burkart said there are alwasy ongoing projects.

Two more in the works are setting up a factory where Sierra Leone residents can get jobs manufacturing solar lanterns and creating hydroponics gardens near the school so students can learn all about gardening and take those skills back to their villages.