We started The Gambian Schools Project following a holiday to The Gambia. We visited a school while we were there and were surprised at the conditions the children were having to learn in. We discussed the situation with our two guides who helped us find a school in the slums of Serrakunda, the main town in The Gambia, called Badala, and we decided we would see what we could do to raise some money when we returned to England.
The school was situated in a compound owned by one of the pupil's parents, and the school paid rent to the parent. On our return we started to raise money by asking friends and family to help. We managed to buy pens, pencils, paper, rulers, rubbers, chalk etc, and with a donation of exercise books from Almer Printing in Tring, we shipped them over to the school.
The next issue was a health one as the school had no toilet. Both teachers and pupils used a hole in the ground in the playground. After holding a charity disco,DJ'd by our son, and getting donations from work colleagues,friends and family, we raised £450, enough to build a proper toilet
We also tried to buy the land from the parent who agreed to sell it to us for £4000. The money for this was raised by holding another disco, starting a child sponsorship scheme and again with the help of friends, family and colleagues and students of Aylesbury Music Centre, the £4000 was achieved by March 2005.
We arrived in The Gambia on 25th March with our £4000 and 2 suitcases full of toys donated by a local toy shop called Fun Junction and more pens and pencils donated by Office World.
Unfortunately the parent changed his mind about selling the land, but we were able to get an agreement with him that the school would be able to use the land for as long as they wanted. With this dissapointment behind us we turned our attention to the educational needs of the children.
We arranged for the four teachers to receive a basic minimum wage,to attend the local college for a three year teacher training course and arranged for the local carpenter to make all the children proper desks and chairs.
On our return to the UK, we continued to get sponsorship for the children and as there were about 200 children in the school, that money gave them a regular income to continue our support of the school.
On our return we found that the school had up sticks and moved to a new site, due to a disagreement with the parent, but did not bother to tell us. They dismantled the classrooms and moved to another compound owned by the chairman of the school committee. The committee wanted us to build them a new school, but we were adamant that we would only do that if they would give us the land. This they were not prepared to do. We decided that we would give them enough money to rebuild the existing classrooms, and that would be all we could do to help this school.
All this time the two guides who helped us in the beginning, were still helping us and looking after Badala for us. They agreed with our decision and helped us find another school that needed our help.
One of the guides Ousaniou (Alex) Ngum found another school in the middle of nowhere called Bafuloto. We went to see the school and found that it was in a worse state than Badala was when we found it. They were using an old goat shed for two classrooms(goats included) and the children were using concrete blocks to sit on and write on.
We had a meeting with the Akala (Chief of the village) and the school committee, and they were very appreciative of our help. So much so that the Akalo agreed to give us a plot of land on which to build a new school.
To make it all legal, we had to spend an awful lot of time going to all the government departments, getting all the paperwork in order, signed and stamped and achieved most of it before we returned to the UK.
We got some quotes for the building of a two classroom school with an office for the teachers and a store room for the equipment, plus a toilet block with 2 toilets. The cost for this was going to be about £12000, a big task!!
We were able to get the local carpenter to make desks and chairs for the children. There were only about 50 children in the school, with two teacher so this was not as expensive as for Badala.
Before we left the UK, we had shipped some toys, footballs, goalposts and equipment, such as pens, pencils etc and we were able to collect them from the port and distribute them to the school.
On our return to the UK we reflected on the enormity of the task we had set ourselves and we decided to become a registered charity. This we did in August 2006, and that allowed us to claim "Gift Aid" from the government on all donations from tax payers.
We set about raising the £12000, and were helped by Wendover Middle School, Aylesbury Grammer School, Waddesdon Village School, and a large contribution from Aylesbury Music Cente. We also had a large individual donation and achieved our target, so we could start building by the end of the rainy season in September 2006. We hoped to have it built by the time we returned to Gambia in April 2007
On arrival, we went straight to see the new buildings, and what great buildings they were. The villagers and children were very excited and wanted us to thank all the people who made this possible, so a big THANK YOU to all of you who contributed.
We were very impressed with the quality of construction and that the builder had built 4 toilets instead of the two agreed at no extra cost. The school committee decided they wanted to call the school "The Mason Nursery School" which was very humbling.
We were informed on the Sunday that there was going to be a "Grand Opening" with all the local dignitaries, newspapers and television attending. All the villagers had contributed to the celebrations, and a great time was had by all.
After the celebrations we were back to normal and we organised for the two teachers to go on the same teacher training course as the Badala teachers, and we got quotes for the building of a wall around the school. This was a legal requirement to keep the children safe. This is going to be quite expensive as the perimeter is 400 metres long.
We took out with us a cuddly toy bear called "Teddy Jack" which was a gift from Waddesdon Village school. It was such a great hit with children and adults alike that we intend to collect some for our next visit.
We also arranged for the teachers to receive a wage as we found out they were doing the job for next to nothing.
At this time we felt that there was nothing more we could do to help Badala nursery school, so decided to stop funding them. We did however agree to continue funding the teacher training course the teachers were on as it was a three year course.
We had a very constructive time this visit,but the pound had weakened against the delasi and we lost 25% of what we hoped to achieve. We had hoped to have enough money to build the wall but had to renegotiate with the builder. We changed the spec and the building was started while we were out there. The weak pound has also meant that we have had to put up the cost of sponsoring a child from £12 to £15 per year.
With the help of Waddesdon Village school we were able to take out enough cuddly toys for each child in the school to have one, which was great fun. We also took some football kit which was donated by an eleven year old boy from Leamington Spa.
APRIL 2009 When we arrived on this visit, we found that heavier than normal rains in the rainy season had washed away some of the foundations of the toilet block so these had to be repaired as a matter of urgency. The gate and wall had been completed and looked really good.
With the new school had come new pupils and the number of children has risen from 35 when we found the school to 75 in the new school. We set about finding a headmaster to oversee the teachers, students and the curriculum, and another teacher. Some scouts from Holland had erected some swings for the children, which were very much appreciated, and we suggested that some of the land could be used as a garden so the children could be taught how to grow fruit and vegetables for their own use and to sell at the market in the nearest town. In November, Waddesdon Village School provided shoe boxes for the children for christmas and we shipped them out in time, so that each child had a shoe box of presents for christmas.
APRIL 2010 We were given a large quantity of tables and chairs from Cheddington Junior School, which we managed to ship out, and became very useful ,as unknown to us an English couple had arranged to have another building erected as a "resources centre". This is now used as a third classroom and for other activities such as art. The garden had been started, with the villagers digging and preparing the ground. and cordoning off the ground ready for fencing. Someone had also run a pipe from the nearest standpipe to provide water on the school site for the children. Something we had on our agenda, but now didn't need to worry about.
We made the decision not to go to Gambia this year as there was nothing urgent that we needed to do, but a group of 20, 16-17 year old students from Winstanley College, Wigan went and spent a week with the school playing games and helping the teachers. The college contacted us after finding our website and asked permission to go and help with the school. Their Video is on our homepage. We have had several people go to our school following a request on our website, which is great news for us, and they have been a great help
We went in February this year as the students from Winstanley were going again and we wanted to meet and thank them for raising quite a bit of money for us. During this visit we found a new Nursery School in the next village called Makumbaya.
We knew this village because the junior school that our students go up to is also in this village, but we did not know of the nursery school. We went to visit and found out that they also needed help, and we decided to see what we could do for them. They had two classrooms but no room for the very little ones who were being taught outside under the trees. They had no furniture, so as a stop gap measure we arranged to transport some of the tables and chairs that Cheddington had given us to the school.
They were having a new school built by a charity called Child Fund The Gambia, but it still has a long way to go before it is finished. There were three teachers and a headmistress, looking after about 100 children. The students from Winstanley also visited, and provided some of the teaching aides they had brought with them. We also supplied some from our stock at Bafuloto.
With this new school to support we will now have to re assess our strategy! Having said that, since we have been back, we have had a request from another school for help. We sent our rep Alex to have a look and assess the school, and he has said it is a worthy school to support. Without seeing it, we have provided money for them to have desks and chairs and we will look at what else they need when we go in February 2013
We have managed to help complete the building at Makumbaya and the children are settled in and learning well. We have provided more desks and chairs from surplus at Bafuloto. We are now awaiting the completion of the toilets which is imminent. Once this has been completed we have the money in place to build a kitchen, thanks to the efforts of Rose Welham, family and friends. Pictures to follow after our visit in February.
We are getting quotes at the moment for the bore hole and well for Bafuloto and hope to get it started during our visit in February.
We are waiting for information from the Gambian Education department about whether we can have some land free for Nema school. but this may take some time.
During December, Lawrence did another 24 hour DJ set, hoping to raise £500, but in fact raised over £650. Thanks to him and the people who sponsored him.
After John's first marathon this year he is competing in an"Iron Man" event in Austria on June 29th, we will post the details later .
We would just like to finish by thanking everyone who has supported us during 2013, and we hope to continue through 2014.