Part of my role working for The Gambia Experience is leading their School Development Fund team here in the UK. Earlier in the year I was passed a letter from two of our customers telling us about a nursery school that they had visited that was in desperate need of assistance.
As it happened I was visiting The Gambia myself the following week and took the opportunity to pop into the school. I wasn’t exactly sure where the school was… somewhere in a district of Brikama called Dairuharu… but after asking around we were taken to a family compound. What I found really shocked me. I was shown into a dark, tiny room with one of the walls looking as if it was about to collapse. My lower lip started trembling as I made out 15 children, with their teacher Amie, sitting amongst the rubble. I’ve visited many schools in The Gambia but I have never reacted like this before. Pulling myself together, I had a long chat with their teacher, Amie and the children and, although I didn’t make any promises, I said I would try to help.
Above: Amie and my friend Chris in the temporary classroom
There are over 100 children in the area that need a school. The villagers had built the original building in mud bricks but did not have the money to finish it before the rainy season and the school fell down.
Above: All that is left of the original school building
Amie, Fatou and the headmistress, Yama, are trying to continue with the school in the room I saw which is in someone’s compound (home) but apart from the terrible conditions the owner now wants the space back.
Unfortunately the Gambia Experience’s School Development Fund couldn’t help as they can only work with government run schools for children over 7 years old but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.
As chairman of the community group “Nyodema” (which has been run a number of school projects in The Gambia) I told the rest of the committee about the school. They were just as concerned as I was, however, we do not have anyone based in The Gambia and have never been involved in a building project before. We felt it was too much for us to take on alone. What to do?
I approached another charity, Karmic Angels, and when I told them about the school they selected a project manager to oversee the building work on the condition that we would raise the funds.
In April Shelagh (Nyodema’s treasurer) and I returned to The Gambia and met up with the Alkalo (village head), teachers and parents as well as Lamin and Pa Louis from Karmic Angels.
Above: Pa Louis, Amie, Yama, Fatou and Lamin with the children of Dairuharu
I’m happy to say that we have already started fund-raising and so far have collected over £2,000 thanks to the generosity of Nyodema’s supporters and the Gambia Experience’s guests who first told us about the school. Our aim for 2010 is to build the first classroom (with proper foundations and cement rather than mud blocks) and purchase the necessary desks and chairs.
Next month Nyodema is holding a festival “Nyodema by the Sea” – all proceeds from the raffle will go towards re-building the school. (This is in addition to our annual festival which will be held later in the year.)
More information on the festival, Nyodema’s weekly African drumming workshops and Gospel Choir, as well as their ongoing health and education projects in The Gambia can be found on their website www.nyodema.org