Melonie Kastman’s Forgotten Diamonds Improving the Literacy Landscape in Sierra Leone

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Melonie Kastman Photo by Bode Helm for D Magazine
Photo Credit: Melonie Kastman
Parachute Photo Credit:  Melonie Kastman

Melonie Kastman is a commercial film maker who traveled to Sierra Leone for the first time in September, 2006 to document a friend’s fashion design business. Struck by the warmth and kindness of Sierra Leoneans who were struggling to survive, and wanting to do something to complement their efforts, she organized a “Secret Santa” program. This paired families from The Bonthe Mining District and 40 families in Texas. She personally delivered the gifts with her daughter, Ruby, including letters which sparked a Pen Pal Program. Today, over 600 children are involved. Melonie continues her trips, and in the process has filmed local students, teachers, mothers, professors, doctors, business people, and government ministers. When asked the most effective way to improve life there, time and again they have said that education is the key.


In Fall of 2008 Melonie met Kelly Cox and they immediately recognized their shared values and discovered a common interest in Africa. Kelly dove in with energy, enthusiasm and a business background. She secured the support of West Lake Academy, with her 10 year old daughter Camilla, initiating a pen pal program there and secured another 10,000 books as well as sports equipment, toys, and 40 leap pad battery operated computers. She helped turn the idea into a reality. Together they opened the doors to the Ruby Rose Library in February 2009.

This is the first new library established in Sierra Leone since the war started in 1991. It is in a 150 kilometer area with a population of 100,000 where no library or access to books has ever existed. Since that time over 10,000 students and countless adults have visited a library for the first time. The structure currently consists of 2 large rooms, one is a children’s library, the other is for adults and secondary or high school students.

The Ruby Rose Library is operating at maximum capacity, serving approximately 2500 students a month. Because of the distance between villages and lack of transportation, students come as classes with their teachers, some walking up to 3 miles. They enjoy a special full day of learning with books, pens, pads, creative art or music activities, participate in games and sports with new equipment. It is a warm inviting bright environment meant to inspire. Attendance is organized on a rotational basis between 24 schools, representing about 12,000 students.

 The Mission of Forgotten Diamonds is to deliver educational resources to the poorest people in the shortest period of time. As a community based, charitable organization, the FD invests and works with local villages and businesses in partnership to benefit the citizens and their children.

www.forgottendiamonds.com or find them on facebook