Sohm 2020

We are delighted to announce the launch of "Sohm 2020", our drive to raise £20,000 over the next two years to fulfil two extremely ambitious projects.

Our sights have been raised as a result of an extremely fulfilling partnership we have struck with Beech Hill Primary school in Luton. 

We have also been encouraged by help from some other very generous donors and a working arrangement with a Swedish charity in The Gambia, that specialises in training and employing Gambian construction labour to work on not-for-profit projects, at cost price.

Our Beech Hill partnership

Beech Hill primary school in Luton is a large school in a modest, mainly Muslim area of the town. Its recently appointed deputy head, Natalie Carson, is daughter of SSS co-founder, Sandra Walker.  Natalie has previously worked with SSS in Sohm, when five years ago she and a colleague, undertook some training of teachers in the Gambian village.

Friendship cemented in Sohm
with Beech Hill school, Luton

In her new role, in Luton, she has persuaded the school to "adopt" the Lower Basic school in Sohm. This will involve developing twinning arrangements, exchanging correspondence with individual pupils, exchanging curriculum materials and helping to fund raise on behalf on Sohm LBS. 

Beech Hill has already raised almost £1,500 for Sohm in the six months since the arrangement was agreed, and has committed itself to assist the school for upto three years. Sohm has also adopted the twinning enthusiastically, as the photo, above - taken in February - shows.

Beech Hill has other, exciting, twinning and fund raising events planned over the following months - and we will keep you up to speed on their progress.

Initial target - met!

Over the last year, our charity efforts have been focused on raising enough money to completely refurb and re-furnish a broken down classroom in a decaying block of six at the Lower Basic school.  Supporters have generously provided us with the £2,500 we felt necessary to undertake this task. And we thank them (they know who they are!), very sincerely for their generosity.

The six photos in this sequence
are of some of the damage to the
walls in the classrooms which will
be fixed, via steel girder
supports in the six classrooms

Above and below - close ups of the
extent of the damage to the
walls, on the photo, two up

Your generosity will also pay to
replace the broken classroom
furniture, desks and chairs

Termite damage has made this, the
door to the deputy head's office,
unusable.  This will be fixed by September
We have, in fact, been able to raise twice that amount for this project! 

In January we were given an estimate, by the government's education building surveyor for refurbish and re-equipping the whole six-classroom block. We have given the spec to the local Swedish/Gambian charity, mentioned above and they have given us a cost price quotation for the work.

Working on a "matched-funding" basis with our colleagues from Jersey, we are delighted to announce that we have now collected enough to restore the whole six classroom block, and an office within it!

Work will commence at the end of the summer term and we hope everything will be complete in time for the pupils' return to school in September.

More innovative funding

Until two years ago we had free container space to ship donated items out to The Gambia.  This arrangement enabled us to take, among other items, a whole classroom computer suite, with associated equipment.

Stationery: donated ...

The "free passage" offer has, unfortunately ended. One of our long-time supporters, forgetful of this, however, donated a large supply of unwanted stationery to us, as he was closing down his stationery business. It would have been ideal for the children in Sohm - but the commercial transportation costs of getting it there would have been greater than it was realistically worth to the schools in the village.

... and transported.  That's another
classroom refurb paid for!

A generous, local-to-us, retailer stepped in and offered to buy the stock from us.  Friends and colleagues transported it free.  Result? Another few hundred pounds to help restore the classrooms! Thanks to all concerned in that transaction - on behalf of the children of Sohm Lower Basic school!

The big one!

Flushed with success, and some certainty about future levels of funding, we began exploratory talks, while in the Gambia earlier this year, about embarking on our most ambitious-to-date project. The demolition of the school's decrepit, unusable, 35-year old school kitchen and dining hall and replacement with a fit-for-purpose facility.

Above and below: the existing, but condemned
kitchen and dining room, from outside.
Note the interesting curvature of the roof!

It has been condemned and out of use for three years now. Even when it was operational the 'dining area' was inflexible, as the "furniture" consisted of immovable concrete blocks. In the absence of a proper kitchen and dining room, children have to make to with pieces of bread, dipped in a sauce, from outside stalls in the school grounds.

Complete with dilapidated windows - above -
and holes in the wall (not ATM's unfortunately)
 - below- you can put your fist through

Once more, we got the schools' building inspector to give us a price for demolition of the building and the reconstruction of a kitchen area and multi-functional hall.  The initial estimate is £20,000, inclusive.

The hall will have movable tables and chairs - so it can still be used as a dining area, and so much more.

The current kitchen area, above, with a close-up,
below, of the cement units in which wood is
burned to heat the pots to cook the rice

The furniture can be moved to one side - so offering the school its first ever: assembly hall, indoor gym, meetings room, performance area and prayer room.

Above - the condemned dining hall, with
immovable cement "furniture". Below the outdoor
"dining" arrangements the children are making
do with in the absence of the unfit dining hall

We aim to raise £10,000 over the next 18 months to pay for this - and so, with our Jersey partners, reach our £20k by '20 target.

Your help - as ever, would be much appreciated! And, as ever, we will keep you up-to-date on progress with the project.

Great progress at Lower Basic school this year

This post, as promised, reports back on what donations to Sohm School Support have achieved in the Lower Basic school over the last twelve months, or so.

Everything we do there is at the request of, or in agreement with, the principal, governors and community of the village.


There are only three, outdoor, toilet blocks for the 400 pupils and 20 staff of the school. As we reported last year, they were unsanitary, attracted snakes and in states of considerable disrepair. At the request of the community, we have completely upgraded these - with new doors and roofs, new concrete bases (to keep out the snakes) and provided them with a lick of paint.  See below for the "before" and "after" shots of one of these blocks.

Toilet block - before and after refurb

Stationery order

As in previous years, we have supplied enough stationery to meet all the pupils needs during the school year, and materials for the staff.  These are not provided by the government, or educational authorities in The Gambia.

Some of the pupils excitedly showing
off some of the stationery donation

Homework club

Many of the pupils are unable to get peace and quiet at home, to either do homework or read.  Following our refurbishment of the school's library, two years ago, last year we funded the creation of a homework club (2 hours) in that library on one night a week for any pupil who wanted it.  This has proved very popular and successful.  We will be continuing with the scheme and looking to extend it in future years.

Homework club in progress

First Aid

Last year we completely refitted out the school's First Aid room and got training for the staff, senior pupils and parents in first aid from our friends at FirstAid4Gambia. The charity has returned to completely restock the first aid room with medical equipment for the forthcoming year.  We thank them for their extended generosity, and to Mamadou, in particular, their extremely efficient local contact.

Some of the FirstAid4Gambia supplies
that will benefit both school and village

TV and DVD 

There are few TV sets in the village and none in the school..Three years ago we paid for the electrification of the school. This year - together with our partners in Jersey - we were able to purchase the school's first TV - and and necessary massive aerial dish - and DVD player. Gambian TV isn't great - but it does mean that for the first time the children at the school will be able to watch appropriate educational DVDs - a huge step forward in the teaching resources available to the school.

Deputy principal, Lamin, unloads the TV and
 an engineer installs the satellite dish

See above and below photos of the school's deputy head, Lamin Saidy, excitedly unloading the TV, people working to fix the aerial and an engineer tuning the system.  It's all systems go, for the future!

The engineer tunes - ready for reception!
And  ... the children watching the TV in class,
 for the first time!

New laptop for staff

Last year we donated a re-conditioned laptop to the school's deputy principal and he has made great use of it, for the school's benefit.  His self-taught up-skilling and the impact it has had on the school encouraged us to donate another laptop to an enthusiastic teacher.  The smile on his face says it all!

Another delighted laptop recipient!

Excellent progress

The school and regional educational authority continue to be delighted by our interventions at the school. One result is that the school is now top of its "cluster" of regional primary schools, in attainment levels.

Exciting plans for this year

Over the last twelve months some extremely generous local donors (including the Redbridge Rotary Club and friends) have donated significant sums of money towards restoring semi-derelict classrooms. Our next newsletter will provide updates on plans for this work.  And they are very exciting.

Watch this space!

Report-back from the January/February 2018 visit

Posters proclaiming views
of the new Gambian government
This is the first of a series of newsletters we'll be sending over the next few months on our visit to Sohm in January/February this year.

We had useful meetings at the Lower Basic and Senior schools, met with and continued to fund our sponsored students and conferred with the regional director of education and some of his staff, in order to advance some of the projects we have been involved with and are looking at funding. We also caught up, and cemented our relationship, with FirstAid4Gambia, which has done so much to support our health work in the Lower Basic school.

We will report on each of these in more detail,  with photos of progress, over the coming months.

All of this activity, of course, takes place within the new political climate and circumstances that The Gambia finds itself now.

A year ago today - Independence Day -  the new president, Adama Barrow took office, after almost a quarter of a century's misrule and plundering of the country by the former dictator Yahya Jammeh, now in protected exile in near-by Equatorial Guinea.

The country seems more at ease with itself and efforts are being made to retrieve the money Jammeh stole from the country and put on trial some of his corrupt henchmen.  This process will, doubtless, take years to fully bear fruit.

One very visible difference over the last year is that roads are no longer adorned with billboards of endless photos of Jammeh, with his preposterous vainglorious boasting, like the one laughable one, below. Photos of Barrow, by contrast, are rarely to be seen, outside of news reports.

No more vainglorious Jammeh
 with his preposterous claims

Instead, far more progressive and enlightened ones, of a "public service" nature are to be found - such as that at the top of this article and others encouraging people to pay their taxes (!) and extolling public health and safety messages, such as those - below - calling for an end to female genital mutilation.

Billboards extolling progressive
 ambitions, in the new Gambia

Posters, of course, can be empty gestures and propaganda tools.  The difference in tone and message between the old and the new, however, seems very real - and to be greatly applauded. Another progressive move was announced by the new government, today - the end of Capital Punishment in The Gambia.

One of Jammeh's legacies was the encouragement of Chinese investment into the country. Some of this is apparently benign, like funding infrastructure projects, such as roads and bridges. 

Cynics may draw parallels with similar "Chinese aid" elsewhere in Africa, where these constructions are mainly channels to help the Chinese transport minerals out of the country, in fulfilling their 21st century economic imperialist ambitions.

The Chinese intervention is being felt widely in the country now - and opinions (now open and freely expressed) among Gambians are very much divided on how beneficial the impact will be for The Gambia in the longer term, compared to that accruing to China.

Nice, new embassy for the Chinese,
 in the former Bijilo Hotel
The Chinese, meanwhile have installed themselves in the former Bijilo hotel - as their new embassy and are getting to work on other projects.  

Among them, shamefully, is the destruction of a near-by former monkey park reservation, which has been bulldozed down to erect an 800-seater conference centre. And, as is the case elsewhere in Africa, much of the labour being used to construct it is not local, unemployed, Gambian workers, but staff brought in from China.

Monkey Park destroyed, to make way for
 swish conference centre - progress, Chinese style
A beach at Sanyang, meanwhile, is being dug up by the Chinese, because as local rumour has it, traces of interesting minerals (gossip says either oil or cobalt) have been found there.  Watch this space!

Future, monthly, newsletters will update you with progress over a number of areas we were able to advance in Sohm.  Among them will be:

  • Update on student sponsorship activities
  • This year's investments in the schools
  • School twinning arranged with a Luton primary
  • Difficulties at the senior school
  • Report on progress with major works at the Lower Basic
  • Sohm 2020

Onward to 2018

We have just booked our tickets for our next visit to the Gambia and Sohm - it will be for four weeks during January/February next year .

During that time we will be able to catch up on projects that we have funded since February this year - and report back to you, the donors and other visitors to this website. We will also be able to kick start other projects that we have previously discussed with the schools, as a result of some generous donations we have received from family and supporters recently.

A big thank you 

Most significant among the donations has been one we have received from Redbridge Rotary Club, for £250. The Club has been good friends of this charity, and we are always delighted to return, each year, to give them an update on life in the schools in Sohm, and to be able to show, quite explicitly, what their donations have funded.

Redbridge Rotary, significant
donors to SSS. Thank you!

Progress this year with the Lower Basic school

As far as the Lower Basic (primary) school is concerned, this year we have been delighted - with our partners from Jersey - to fund the complete renovation of the outside toilet blocks of the school. We will publish photos of the completed project when we receive them, but understand from the school that the work has been satisfactorily completed.

Broken outdoor toilets at Sohm LBS
 - now refurbished - thanks to SSS!

We also funded an internet router for the school.  MaLamin Gibba, the school's deputy head wrote to say:
We are learning to use it and in time, we will come to know much about it and be able to use it in the best interest of the school and the pupils.
We provided a much needed new printer scanner for the school. This enables them to print their own materials rather than having to travel the 15 miles to the regional office in Brikama to get it done. MaLamin, again:    

Having it eases all the hitches we were encountering in the previous years. This year we not only prepared and printed examination questions but we are also able to prepare materials we use in our administrative works as well as print schemes of work and lesson plans.
Perhaps our largest, on-going commitment to the school has been to fund a "homework club" for what we thought would be two hours a week, after school, for pupils who struggle to get space or quietness at home to study.  So popular has this become, that it is now running three nights a week, and is always packed!

Homework club, in SSS-funded
 refurbished library
Most of the staff live in the village, and they continued to operate the scheme, on a voluntary basis, over the summer holidays, so that the scheme did not lose momentum.  We are obviously delighted by this!

In conclusion, MaLamin says a big than you to all our supporters: 
"Can you just imagine how much you are doing for the school? The great work you are doing for the school cannot easily be forgotten. They are visible more so, everything you do is put in our records and filed. Therefore, the amount spent on cash power (electricity supply, which we also fund - having wired the school up two years ago) is all receipted and filed. At this juncture we have nothing but to say thank you to you and all those who supporting us through you."

Deputy head MaLamin acting as "patient"
 in recent SSS-funded First Aid training day

Secondary school progress

The school has benefitted from a major classroom extension building this year - financed by our Jersey partners. And, splendid it looks too.

New Jersey-funded teaching
block in Senior Secondary school
Our major contribution to the school - apart from our annual stationery donation and the sponsorship of a number of poorer pupils - has been the funding of "additional classes" available for ALL students, of one hour per week in each of the core subjects of English and Maths, at the end of the school day.

As we have previously mentioned, progress in improving public examination results for the school since our involvement, five years ago, has been quite remarkable.  The school has shot up regional league tables and from being very much at the foot of these tables, it is now in the top two or three of performers.

The subjects where least progress has been made, however, has been in English and Maths - arguably the two most important - certainly when it comes to the jobs market.

Eighteen months ago we set out ambitious plans to address this, but funding (jointly with our Jersey partners) the "remedial" classes as they were originally dubbed. They proved very difficult to get off the ground, initially. Then, when they were up and running, the school - like all others in The Gambia - was hit by the country's political instability last December, and effectively closed for a month.

75% attendance at voluntary, extra-curricular,
 SSS-funded additional classes in English and Maths
So, a second start was made this new year, and we are delighted to report on progress. We are provided with monthly attendance sheets and progress records - as part of our conditions for funding the scheme. These are subject to spot checks and independent verification by our Jersey partner's local agent in The Gambia.

The results have been most pleasing. Although the scheme is entirely voluntary and extra-curricular, average attendance at the classes has exceed over 75% in both subjects in every month, bar one, since its re-introduction.

The subject teachers and the school's principal review overall progress with the scheme each month and re-tweak it and set targets to be reached.  Regular reports go to the schools governors, who are delighted with the scheme's effectiveness.

This scheme has taken a while to come to fruition, but perseverance is showing pleasing signs of success.  The acid test, of course, will be in next year's public examination results.  We are crossing our fingers!

June 2017 - curriculum area investment reaps rewards

Each year we try to improve the equipment in under-resourced areas of the Senior school's curriculum, in Sohm.

As a result of generous donations in previous years, we have, for example, established a fully functioning ICT suite there, added significantly to the science laboratory equipment and provided key text books in all curriculum areas.

This year, we extended the process by purchasing technical drawing equipment for the school, including a number of Tee squares and set boxes, as well as specialist drawing paper - some of which can be seen in the accompanying photograph.

Senior school principal, Mamadou Manneh,
with some of the technical drawing equipment
donated.  We look forward to improved exam
performance in that subject in future years
It is most heartening, therefore, to see the longer term benefits that these investments bring, years after the initial intervention.

Three years ago, our friends at Football Gambia and Kit Aid supplied over 60 sets of football kit to the school.  These are being well used.

Successful girls football team,
kitted out thanks to Football Gambia
and Kit Aid, two great UK charities
We are delighted to report that the girls' senior football team at the school made it through to the quarter finals of the national schools' football championship.  The photo above illustrates them wearing donated kit. 

It is unlikely they would have entered the competition without the donation of the kit, and they certainly would not have looked so ready for action as the photo shows them to be.

Similarly, two years ago, we re-equipped the schools' domestic science kitchen with new cooking utensils - a priority determined by the school. This is important for the pupils as it gives them a grounding that help gain them access to the national catering college - and into important tourist industry jobs.

Ready, Steady Cook - Sohm girls
at regional cooking finals
This year the Senior school got to the final of the regional schools' cooking competition. Unfortunately, they were disqualified from the final, for adding a Maggi cube (similar to Oxo etc) to the stock in their entry for "Preparing a National Dish".

A delicious dish - too much Maggi, however!
It was done in good faith, for as one of the girls said "Well, that's what we do at home!".

Great to see that small seeds sown in curriculum areas can bring such rich rewards two or three years afterwards, once the investment has had a chance to percolate through to the students learning, and wider performance and experience.

Quite apart from the skills enhancement these initiatives have brought, they have encouraged (in this case, all girls) to broaden their horizons and to participate in events beyond the confines of the village.  These social experiences are, in themselves, important for students living in relatively remote communities.

So, once again, many thanks to our donors and supporters for enabling us to facilitate these small, but important steps to improve the education and experience of the young people of Sohm