June 2013 Newsletter - Number 6

 Welcome to our first newsletter posted directly on to the website.  We are featuring four topics:
  • Auction for tickets to see Bruce Springsteen
  • Upcoming Derwentwater School summer fair
  • The search for unwanted laptops
  • Buy a 'Red Letter Harley Day' and solve a gift problem
Blind Auction
We have been given a pair of tickets for the Hard Rock Calling gig on the re-opening weekend of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford on Sunday 30 June.

The day-long event runs from 1pm - 11pm.

We are holding a blind auction for the tickets (face value £69.75 each). The best bid received for the pair be e.mail by midnight Sunday 16 June wins.
Bruce Springsteen

Gig line-up
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

The Black Crows

Alabama Shakes

Doc Brown Band

Flamin' Groovies

and many more

Full details of the gig can be found here

How to win the tickets
Bid, direct to us, by e.mail.  All bidders will be informed of the outcome of the auction on Monday 17 June.

Help improve the life of Gambian school kids - and have a great day out at the re-opening of the Olympic Park, in the company of The Boss.

Please feel free to forward details to anyone you feel may be interested in bidding

Thank you

Derwentwater Summer Fair
When we were in the Gambia earlier in the year we were able to cement the schools friendship between Derwentwater Primary school in Acton and Sohm Lower Basic school.  The London school has already raised over £700 to help the children of Sohm.  The two schools have shared letters and class diaries and we have run some assemblies in Derwentwater in life for their opposite numbers in Sohm.
Our stall at last year's Derwentwater School Summer Fair

We are delighted to say that we have been welcomed back to Derwentwater to run some assemblies in June and will be having a stall at their summer fair. We hope that more funds will be raised, to help rebuild some of the badly damaged classrooms at the Sohm Lower Basic school.

Rehoming unwanted laptops!
We were able to take five generously donated second hand laptops with us to Sohm last year, and they have transformed the teaching of ICT in the schools, which lack a mains electricity supply. Gone are the days of the pupils relying on clapped out desk tops operating sporadically when the (expensively fuelled) generator runs.

We know that when people upgrade or replace laptops they are reluctant to throw the old one away - but, in reality nobody in the UK wants it and there are few takers in the second hand market for them.

Sohm Lower Basic's deputy head gratefully receiving a donated laptop, earlier this year

We have been offered a limited amount of free storage space in a container going to the Gambia at the end of September.  We would love to help fill that space with a dozen unwanted laptops (with pretty decent batteries). If you could clean them up, and give us the wink, we will be able to get them picked up and dispatched to Sohm at no cost to you, us or the students.  We can assure you.  They really do transform lives, and help prevent some African youngsters from getting left even further behind the developed world in a rapidly developing technological era.

 Make it a Red Letter Harley Day, as a gift for Father's Day - or any other special occasion!
Live your dream, or make another's come true with a Harley ride.  It will also benefit the education of Sohm's children.

Biker, Bill Carson, will pick you up and take you on an hour's ride on his Harley (pictured below), on a route of your choice. We'll provide the leathers. There'll be rock 'n roll ablarin', and a photographic memento of the experience
And all for £60.

Longer trips, by negotiation, are possible; including a visit to the iconic Ace Cafe, or central London.  Just call us for the details (minimum age 18).

Red Letter Harley days - from £60


May 2013 Newsletter - Number 5

This is the third, and last, of our newsletter updates, letting you know of the progress we made on your behalf, and with your money (!), when we were in The Gambia, earlier in the year. We hope you are as encouraged as we are with progress and the value for money we have achieved for your hard earned donations.

You can get details of our earlier newsletters on our website - for details, see end of this letter.

School trip for the Lower Basic school

Sohm is quite a remote community, with only bicycles and a once a day bush taxi as a means of exploration beyond its boundaries. Many of the village's children haven't even managed this, by the time they leave the Lower Basic school.

We have worked on a scheme with the school to provide a day school trip for all of the year 5 and year 6 pupils (about 180 in all). The day out will provide a packed lunch and visit to three of the following: Banjul, the country's capital city, the beach and Atlantic Ocean, the country's only commercial airport, its zoo and the Wassu Stones - Gambia's mysterious Stonehenge-like monument on the north bank of the country.

The Wassu Stones - a key historic site in the Gambia - its very own mini-Stonehenge

We are delighted to say that Owen Walker has agreed to sponsor this trip this year. Owen has recently moved to New York and has said how important travel was in expanding his horizons and perspectives, as he was growing up. His wish is that some of these benefits may rub off on the Sohm youngsters. Thanks, Owen!!

Distribution of donated laptops

There is no mains electricity in Sohm's two schools, no internet access, almost no computers and little ICT competence; but the schools struggle valiantly to not get left further behind in a rapidly developing wired world.

Laptops, with good batteries for power storage, provide a much appreciated boost to those efforts. Dennis Roberts was kind enough to donate 3 laptops to us last autumn and Rose Phillips, another. As a result of free transport, donated by our friends at Football Gambia, we were able to get these out to Sohm in February this year. And what a difference they have made!

ICT lessons can now be conducted, whether the generator is on, or not, via the storage capacity of the batteries - which can be charged elsewhere in the village. Additionally, each of the two school heads now has a PC for school record keeping and keeping in touch with us, and others!

We were able to supplement these very generous donations with some ICT teaching books and some memory sticks, to the benefit of staff and students at the schools, alike.

We have been promised more free transport capacity to The Gambia, this autumn. So, if you or colleagues are disposing of laptops (with good batteries), as you upgrade or migrate to tablets - get in touch! We'll be delighted to pick them up from you and can guarantee they will make a difference to young African lives!

Communications updates

We were delighted to get six very positive pieces of news coverage for the charity in the Gambian press, while in the country, earlier this year...check out our In The News page. In addition, we have had coverage for our efforts in the Ealing Gazette and Ealing Council magazine. While in The Gambia we caught up with Ian Wiggins, a freelance video/film maker who agreed to make a short video about Sohm Schools Support, free of charge for us. We have posted this on our website, along with the press coverage, to update supporters and casual visitors on the charity's progress. So a big thanks to Wiggy! You can contact him via earwiggy@sky.com

Coverage from Gambian newspaper, The Point, 7 March 2013

You can find about all of this press coverage, and more, on our In the News page

Keep in touch

We have a presence on Facebook (SohmSchoolsSupport), Twitter (@GambiaSchools) and a website (www.sohmschoolssupport.org.uk), and can be contacted via e.mail at info@sohmschoolssupport.org.uk.

Keep in touch and find out how we are getting on, and spending our income!

That's enough from us, for now. Until the next time,

John and Sandra Walker
(Trustees, Sohm Schools Support)
Welcome to our re-launched website!

It may look the same to you, but we've migrated to Blogger, for the administration of the site.

Confused? Basically our wonderful web designer (see below) has moved all of our, revised, web  content over to a new system which will mean that we can be much more hands on about running it, in future. We will update it regularly with news and views about Sohm.

The site now has lots of interactivity possibilities.  So you can comment, offer suggestions whenever you want, almost anywhere on the site. The only proviso is that it has to be "moderated" first, which means we have the right to reject it, if we don't feel it is appropriate. We will only use this option to omit abuse, spam or frankly racist, sexist or homophobic material (which we don't expect to receive).

Coming up, soon, we'll be posting a video that out good friend Ian Wiggins shot for us, earlier this year, when he was in Sohm, with us.  So, that's something to look forward to.

Summer Fair

We are happy to announce, too, that Derwentwater School, in Acton, which is twinned with the Lower Basic schools, is letting us run a stall at their Summer Fair on 5 July, as we did last year.  There will be a table top stall, raffle and the chance to sit on the back of a Harley Davidson, with Bill Carson, kindly providing the equipment, as last year.

Sandra with Gibril, the head and Lamin, deputy head
 of Sohm Lower basic school, in front of sign at school illustrating
twinning with Derwentwater Primary, in Acton

Bill and Natalie Carson, at last year's Derwentwater School Summer Fair

So, hope you enjoy the new-look website, and looking forward to getting your comments and feedback!

A word of thanks

We don't like to blow our own trumpets (well, not too much!), but we thought we'd share with you a recent e.mail of appreciation we received from Gibril Bojan, head teacher of the Sohm Lower Basic School, following our recent trip there.  We'll blush while you read it, but see what a difference the generous help we get makes!

Hi Great friends & Derwentwater primary school, 
On behalf of teachers, pupils, the S.M.C. and the entire parents of the pupils of the school, I write to you with great hope and pleasure. 
Friends of Derwentwater and the community we over here are very pleased with you people for all that you have done for us. Friends, the pupils of my school are happy for the pencils, pens and sporting materials are a thing of the past for the reason that what you gave us will serve us for a very long time. The excursion is done and many places were visited thanks to you all for sponsoring the trip. Pictures of the children and the places visited will be sent to you through e-mail. 
By the second week of May we would schedule our mock exams which you sponsored. The night watchman is also quite pleased for giving him money for rain coat and boots. The workshop you did with us is also quite helpful to both teachers and pupils. The training exercises we had with Gambia football will be remembered by all the pupils and teachers of the school. Sandra Walker and John are great people, we will miss them and we hope to see them the soonest. For the exercise books we are also making good use of them, every child got one. 
Yours faithfully,
Mr. Gibril Bojang
Head Teacher

Sohm Lower Basic school head teacher, Gibril Bojang - a happy man!

Finally... a quick plug

A big word of thanks to Michelle who has run our website, to date, and managed the migration (and teaching process) to enable the new look and style.  Michelle runs New Moon Web Designs. She is a hands-on, one woman, web design outfit, who works incredibly quickly, is ever helpful, matches a brief to the letter (even with novices and difficult people, like us) and is fantastically reasonable priced.  We can't recommend her enough (this is an unpaid for, and unsought announcement!). So if you need a hand with your web needs, try her out.  You won't be disappointed!

Improved Teacher Training Support

We were able to facilitate greatly valued teacher training in Sohm, thanks to assistance of the school and staff of Derwentwater Primary school and organisation and volunteers from Football Gambia in early 2013.

We are investigating innovative, cost-effective ways of supporting the training of Sohm's teachers - to the benefit of the village's students, in future years.

Derwentwater's assistant head, Natalie Carson training some of Sohm Basic's teachers in lesson planning,
February 2013

Topping Up Funds

We established successful Book and Bike Funds in 2013 - which you can read about elsewhere on this site.

We are aiming to maintain these funds, by topping them up by a minimum of £1,000 and £200, respectively, over the coming year.

Your assistance would be greatly appreciated, both by us and the people of Sohm.

Sandra with Kakai Sanyang, (chair of governors), Isamaila Sambou (principal), Nicholas Mendy (deputy principal) and two senior teachers receiving some of the donated books in 2013

Laptop Donations

Earlier this year we took five donated laptops to the schools to assist with ICT teaching and school administration.

We have negotiated free transport to take more out next year.  We have set ourselves the target of sending a dozen (with batteries in good working order) out before our next visit in 2014.

Help us achieve our target, save yourself a disposal problem and make a difference in Africa.  Call us, and we'll collect.

Senior Secondary school deputy principal, Nicolas Mendy, grateful recipient of a donated laptop

Classroom Repair and Maintenance

Two of the classrooms, the sick bay and dining room in the Lower Basic school are out of commission because of their poor state of repair. £1,000 would bring them all back into operation. We hope to raise £250 over the next year, specifically to begin this restoration.

The living accommodation of the (uncomplaining) teachers at the Lower basic school is rudimentary - no electricity or running water, cramped and conditions and little furniture.  Hardly surprising when many of them are only paid £40 per month.

£500 could provide some basic furniture and some electricity power supply for such "home comforts" as lighting and television, in the living accommodation.

Staff accommodation at the Lower Basic school, in desperate need of refurbishment

Electricity in the Schools

We are working with local organisations to establish simple solar panel solutions to offer limited electricity to both schools - to power up computers, laboratory and workshop equipment, and a limited number of audio visual aids equipment (educational DVDs on TV!!).

A donation of £500 could kick start this initiative in each of the two schools.

More Sponsorship

Sohm Schools Support currently assists a dozen local youngsters' education.  We are looking to increase this number in future. We have simplified the system - by averaging out costs over a school life -  so that for £5 per month sponsors can support a child's education in the village. This will meet all educational costs, plus some limited social support (school lunches and uniforms).

This can make a huge difference to local youngsters.  For ease of administration, we'd prefer if you could pay by standing order (monthly, quarterly or annually), and would prefer a long term commitment.

In exchange for your support, you will transform a young life and get a framed photograph of your student, a letter from them and a copy of their school report, each year.

What a great Christmas or birthday present for "the person who has everything" - the transformation of the life of an African youngster!

Sandra with some of the dozen students whose education we are helping to sponsor

Secondary School - the challenges

The school is relatively new and growing.  It will start to cater for all age groups for the first time in the autumn of 2013.

Examination results, however, are poor.  Hardly surprising, in the circumstances, described below, so we are working to help improve them.

A year ago there were few books for the older students, at the school.  The Book Fund we have established has now provided enough books for all senior students to have shared access to a key textbook in all subjects, in all lessons, in future. We are looking to extend this scheme to the school's younger pupils.

By European standards, teacher skills are low in Sohm.  We have taken steps to address this by supporting teachers on external courses and by facilitating a two-day training session for all the village's teachers, on lesson planning, in February 2013. We are looking to build on this start, in future years.

There are no laboratories in the school, so science teaching is limited. There are few opportunities for practicals and experiments. We are looking for donations of reasonable quality equipment necessary for secondary school science practicals, which we should be able to ship to Sohm, free of charge.  If you have access to such equipment, or know a school that may wish to donate surplus equipment, we'd be delighted to hear from you.

The school does not have mains electricity and only has a small number of, rather dated, computers. There is no internet access in the village. We are looking to address some of these gaps, and prevent Sohm falling behind in a rapidly developing world, by seeking donations of old laptops, with working batteries.

If you are upgrading your existing model, or switching to a tablet and find your current laptop is surplus to requirements - give us a call and we will come and pick it up and ensure it is safely sent to Sohm.  This will aid with your disposal and help young life chances in Africa!

Old PCs need replacing, your upgraded laptop would be a great help

Schools Report - who goes

There are over 500 pupils at the Lower Basic school, including the nursery.  The buildings are more than 30 years old, and many of them are in need of repair and refurbishment.

The Secondary school has grown rapidly from its origins as a Skills Centre, aimed at older teenagers. There are currently over 400 students at the school and this number will rise to 500 in September 2013, as it hosts classes for each age group from 11 to 19, for the first time.

The buildings in this rapidly growing school are in a reasonable state of repair, but there are no laboratories and accommodation is so tight that the school has to run a double shift system of attendance, to be able to cater for all students.

Both schools are co-educational (gender split approximately 50:50) and multi faith (moslem 60%, christian 30%, other 10%). English is the official language in the schools, although the second language for most of their students (after local African languages, such as Wolof, Mandinka, Jola etc).

Boys, girls, Christian and Moslem, from different ethnic and language groups learning together

Our Involvement - progress, to date

  • We visited Sohm for the first time in 2011, and began assisting the schools the following year, by donating some books and stationery and teaching materials, to both schools. We found sponsors for a dozen local youngsters, to enable them to receive a decent education.
  • We began serious fund raising in 2012, and through the generosity of family and friends raised about £5,000 for the schools.
  • We arranged the twinning of Sohm Lower Basic school with Derwentwater primary school, in Acton
  • In 2013, during an extended stay in The Gambia, we spent the money that we had raised in Sohm, in ways that you can read about elsewhere on this website.

Sohm Lower Basic school has twinned with Derwentwater Primary school, Acton.
Sandra with Lower Basic head, Gibril Bojang.

Supported Projects - recent achievements

The Gambian government provides almost free schooling for pupils from the ages of  5 - 11 - but the youngsters and their families still need help with staionery and items like school lunches and uniforms. From age 11, school fees are charged, and pupils have to pay for their own books, equipment etc.

Sohm is a small village, consisting mainly of poorly educated, subsistence, farmers and their families. But they are proud people and desperate to get their young people an education.  This is where we come in - trying to help.

Educational posters supplied for every classroom in the schools

So far, we have:

  • arranged for the sponsorship of a dozen pupils, paying their education and some related social costs;
  • established a Book Fund, so that all older students have access to key textbooks for all subjects studied;
  • encouraged a school twinning project between the Lower Basic school, and Derwentwater Primary school in Acton, London;
  • provided teacher training support in English, sports development and child protection for both schools;
  • supplied a limited number of laptops, to help with ICT teaching and school administration;
  • paid for a school trip for all 150 years 5 and 6 pupils, getting many of them out of the village for the first time in their lives, to visit their capital city, airport, zoo, ancient monuments and Atlantic coast;
  • arranged a whole day visit by 50 volunteers from British charity, Football Gambia, to offer sports training for all the village's children, and donate 40 football kits and associated play equipment;
  • donated enough educational posters for at least one to be displayed in every classroom;, in each of the schools
  • created a Bike Fund, to provide money to repair the bikes of students riding many miles each day, on untarmaced roads, to and from school.

Who's Who - Partners

We work with a range of partner bodies and organisations in Africa and Europe, in helping to improve education matters in Sohm.

First and foremost is the Jersey Gambia Schools Trust, whose principals, Robin and Carol Mallet, were the inspiration in establishing the Senior Secondary School, a decade ago.

Partners, Football Gambia

We are also working with Football Gambia and Kit Aid to deliver an exciting football training projects in the village.

For the future, we hope to be working with Jole Rider to help acquire additional bikes, as school transport for the expanding school.

Who's Who - UK

Trustees Sandra Walker (secretary), Rose Phillips (chair) and John Walker (treasurer)

The trustees are London-based and can be contacted via info@sohmschoolssupport.org.uk.  They simply front a much larger group of sponsors, donors and supporters, without whose help the charity could not exist.

If you would like to find out more about the charity, or have an illustrated talk about it, contact the trustees via e.mail and we will make every endeavour to come and discuss the charity, its successes and hopes for the future. We will also be able to show you how you can help our aims and objectives, in very practical ways.

Who's Who - Sohm

We enjoy the closest support of Babucarr Suwareh, the Regional Director of Education and the two school heads, Ismail Sambou, (Senior school) and Gibril Bojang (Lower Basic) . We work closely with the staff and PTAs of both schools and ensure that all of our plans meet with their prior approval and agreement.

Regional Education Director, Babucarr Suawreh with Sandra
on his inspection of the school, in February 2012

We work very closely with Gibril Bojang,  the head of the Lower Basic School, his staff and PTA.

Sohm Lower Basic School head, Gibril Bojang

Tourism - when and how

The Gambia is a winter tourist destination (November - May) for northern European countries, with virtually uninterrupted sunshine, no rain and high day time (30's) temperatures.

It is relatively cheap to get to by direct flights from the UK, via Thomas Cook and Monarch Airlines. There are plenty of self-catering holidays opportunities and packages are provided mainly by The Gambia Experience and Thomas Cook Holidays.

Most tourists head for the Atlantic coast, just south of the uninspiring capital Banjul - a half hour's ride from the country's only international airport. Favourite resorts include Bakau, Fajara, Kotu, Senegambia, Kololi and Cape Point.

Sun-drenched beaches on The Gambia's Atlantic coast

Trips along the Gambia river, visiting the former slave forts of Georgetown and James' Island, are popular, as are trips to the Wassu stones - West Africa's mini Stonehenge. The Gambia is home to a small range number of wild animals, including a varietiesy of monkeys, crocodiles, hippos and snakes.  The country is famous for hosting a large range of native birds; it is a favoured destination for bird-watchers.

The Wassu stones, The Gambia's very own mini-Stonehenge!

Education - who does what

Gambia's education system is based on the British system. It has:

  • Six years of primary school - grades 1-6. Sohm Lower Basic School is the main provider in our area
Students in year 6 at Sohm Lower Basic School

  • Three years of Junior Secondary School.  Many students in Sohm have travelled to the near-by Kofutu for this, but as the village's senior school is developing are being educated in Sohm. 
  • Three years of Senior Secondary School - years 10 -12, the Sohm Senior's School's traditional function.

Public examinations are taken at the end of Year 6, and we have helped the Lower Basic School prepare for these both last and this year.  They are also taken at the end of Year 9 - prior to the intake joining the Senior Secondary School, and at year 12 - the end of the formal school education.

The examination pass rates of pupils entering the Senior Secondary School are currently poor, as are those when they leave it.  Addressing this, in the future, is a priority for our charity.

The Country - the whats and wheres

The Gambia is Africa's smallest mainland country, with a population of 1.7million.  It is a former British colony that strides the banks of the river Gambia. Apart from its 50-mile long Atlantic coast, the country is surrounded by the French speaking Senegal.

The capital is Banjul, a 6-hour flight from UK airports.  The country is English speaking and on the same time zone as the UK.  It is roughly the same latitude as the Canary Islands, with a similar climate.

The country's economy is dominated by farming (ground nuts, cassava and millet), fishing and tourism.

Map reproduced, courtesy of Lonely Planet

School Twinning

Derwentwater Primary School in Acton has twinned with the Sohm Lower basic school. This has establish some real international friendship links between the two sets of pupils, which will only get stronger, over time.

Sandra and John from the charity have run two, day-long sets of whole school assemblies on the links, at Derwentwater school. These have involved talking about life in Africa, for children. The Derwentwater pupils have written whole class diaries for us to take to Sohm and created school friendship songs and poems, to share. During Black History Month we held another series of assemblies, around the theme of 'African masks'. This resulted in a series of remarkable class masks making competitions, which we have judged (they were all winners!).

The Acton school has enthusiastically embraced fundraising for their Sohm friends via raffles, sponsored no-uniform days and stalls at summer and winter fairs. Their efforts have raised over £500, which will be spent directly on meeting some of the educational needs of their Gambian colleagues.

We will bring back records of the Sohm pupils' appreciation and school work, when we return to the UK in the spring of 2013, to give to the Derwentwater pupils.

Derwentwater pupils participating in an 'African Masks'
assembly, during Black History month 2012

Meanwhile, we are actively looking for a UK secondary school to twin with the Upper School in Sohm. We would liaise between the two schools, who would themselves determine the nature of their mutual co-operation. The possibilities are only limited by the imaginations of the participants!

If you think that you or your school might be interested, drop us a line and we'll be happy to come along and speak with your governors/PTA/staff/students to discuss the possibilities.

Working with the Lower Basic School

The Lower Basic School in Sohm is much longer established than the Senior School, with an experienced staff and a very inspirational head. It benefits from more state aid than secondary schools (e.g. supply of books etc), so is not in as great a need of outside financial support as the senior secondary school.

Sandra mobbed, as she visits Sohm Lower Basic School,
we'll be helping - with your support!

It is however, one of the feeder schools to the Senior Secondary School, and so we will assist the school in smaller ways, to lay a strong foundation for those who will become the senior schools' students, in years to come.

We have already provided some help (sponsoring some of the pupils, paying for exam papers etc) and will be offering teacher training support for the staff next spring.

We will continue to support the school, in other ways, if we are convinced it will be to the longer term advantage of those who attend Sohm Senior Secondary School.

Every penny donated to this charity is spent directly on improving the education of Gambian youngsters.

Upgrading Librarian Skills

As a result of generous donations, largely from Jersey, Sohm Senior Secondary School has one of the best libraries within the region, according to the ministry's inspection reports. But those same inspection reports draw attention to the need to improve the skills of the untrained library staff.

Training for school librarian needed, to get maximum benefit for this important educational resource

We are working with the Regional Director to address this, and so ensure that all of the school's pupils can benefit from help and guidance from a trained librarian. So, a small contribution to training costs of one person will positively impact on the educational chances of 263!

Increasing Text Book Supply

We have already supplied a range of core curriculum text books for parts of the upper school. We have made it clear that these are not the property of the students, but loans to them, to be passed on to future years intakes.

Our ideal would be to get to a system when a book loan system could be up and running that is self sustaining, as students contribute, by way of small loan fees to replenishing the stock. This will not always be possible, because of real local poverty.

Supplies of text books being delivered to the school - more required!

So, we will work with the school, to ensure that no student is denied access to necessary textbooks on grounds of financial difficulty.

It is our aim to establish a school books fund to ensure this goal is met. It is likely to require an investment of £5,000 to establish, with a regular annual top up sum of around £1,000. Your help with this would be very welcome!

Helping Students From Outlying Areas

As a rural school, Sohm Secondary attracts students from quite a large geographic area. There is no effective, reliable, local public transport - and in any case the school is mile and a half from the nearest main road. So journeys on foot of over an hour each way to and from school, in the blistering heat, are not uncommon.

UK charity, Jole Rider (JoleRider.org) supplied 100 bikes to the school a number of years ago. These are loaned to students for the year and then repaired ready for the next batch of students. Testimonies to how grateful Sohm has been for this gift flow on a regular basis.

Students arriving at school on bikes supplied by Jole Rider

This has enabled large numbers of pupils to attend the school, who would otherwise have been unable to do so.

Now the school is doubling in size, the need for bikes has increased, accordingly. We are working with Jole Rider, to see if they can meet the increased demand, with more bikes for the growing school.

Developing Physical Education

A most exciting project!

School inspection reports have identified a need for the senior school to provide better physical education - a key part of the School Development Plan. There is no currently adequate playing field or football pitch in the school, or its surrounds.

Football training coming to Sohm soon, thanks to Football Gambia

We are working closely with a UK charity, Football Gambia (FootballGambia.org), to address this. They will bring a team of football coaches and a supply of donated football kit to Sohm next January and kit-out students and provide training for them.

The village is very excited! They are preparing a pitch for event and we will pay for the materials for pupils to construct goal posts etc. for the event.

The result? All the success factors of overseas aid will be achieved. There is a local ownership for the initiative, there will be a skills transference and the basis for legacy will be laid.

Providing Teacher Training Support

One of Sandra's teacher daughters and a work colleague of hers will spend a week in the Gambia in February 2013.In a structured way with an agreed plan, they will provide support and training to the school staff in lesson planning and preparation in English and Science subject areas.

Help needed to improve skills of under-trained teachers

This will enhance the skills of 20 teachers at the Senior Secondary School and the eighteen at the Lower Basic School, which in turn, will improve the education received by the 700 or so students attending the two schools.

Bringing Electricity to the School

Mains electricity is gradually being supplied to even the most remote areas of The Gambia, by the nationalised utility company. Sohm village was connected to the grid a couple of years ago. But because the school is about half a mile off the beaten track, cabling was not extended to the school.

So, it is dependent on generators, for electricity to fire up the wood and metal workshops, as well as the science laboratories and the developing computer classes. This is unsatisfactory, costly and unreliable.

We are working with the principal and Regional Director of Education to put pressure on the electricity company to extend the reach of their supply, to include the school.

Electricity needed to power up the woodwork workshop

Improving Science Education

The senior school was give classroom space for its first science laboratories in September 2011.However it still lacks basic laboratory equipment and trained science teachers.  So, we are working with the principal and others, to:

  • lobby the ministry of education for more and well qualified science staff to be appointed, from September 2013
  • seeking donation of scientific equipment for the school.  All offers of donation, gratefully received!

Not enough science equipment for learning-hungry students

Lower Basic School

We are delighted to have arranged the twinning of the Lower Basic school with Derwentwater Primary school, in Acton, London. This has lead to an exchange of letters between the pupils of the two schools and the sharing of whole class diaries, together with projects about each other's countries and life styles.

In addition, Derwentwater has raised over £1,000 for the Sohm school, via two school fairs.  The funds have been spent of stationery, books, visual aids, basic equipment and teacher support, for the Lower Basic school. Two of Derwentwater's teachers  visited Sohm in February 2013 to cement the relationship and provided training support to the Lower Basic teachers.

Lower Basic school teachers displaying certificates, after training from Natalie and Nicola senior teachers from Derwentwater Primary school, Acton.

Through the generosity of one of our supporters, we have been able to provide horizon-expanding school trips for the older pupils at the Lower Basic school.

Further support and sponsorship of some of the village's poorest pupils is high on our list of priorities, for the future.

The fabric of the school's buildings, classrooms and others, together with the staff accommodation, needs restoring, to acceptable levels.

There is no electricity in the school and the water supply is some distance from its main buildings. We are looking to develop a small solar energy project that would pump water from a local standpipe into the school, and provide power for the small number of computers and teaching aids for it.

Water supply, 100 meters from Lower Basic school buildings

School Needs - what we are trying to do

To Western eyes Sohm has many pressing needs, in terms of education, health, employment diversity, social provisions, transport, fuel, web connectivity, diet, agricultural improvements etc.

We are realistic, we cannot help with everything. We are exclusively concerned with education in the village.

We ask a single question to all requests for support in the village "How will this help improve the education for the schools' students?" If we and the principal don't get a convincing response to the question, reluctantly we will not support the plea for assistance - difficult as this often is.

Our priorities are:

  • upgrading the skills of the teaching staff;
  • getting electricity to the school;
  • increasing the availability of key educational equipment and books in the school;

Regional Education Director, Babucarr Suwareh and Principal Ishmaila Sambou, examining a microscope. More equipment like this, urgently needed!

  • developing educational opportunities, through structured extra-curricular activities;
  • assisting students to travel to and from school, from outlining areas;
  • enhancing the living conditions for staff living on site; and
  • improving the educational performance of all of the schools' pupils.

Staff - their background

There are 20 staff at the Sohm Senior Secondary School, about a third of whom are unqualified. Most of the others have very basic teacher training qualifications.

Sandra with head of English, Buba Mendy, unloading books donated to the school

Lack of books and equipment in the school means that staff, necessarily rely on "talk and chalk" as the main teaching method.

Helping to improve the teaching skills of the staff and enhance the educational experience of students at the schools is central to our mission.

Curriculum - what is taught

The Gambian school curriculum would be familiar to most people with an understanding of British secondary education. English, Maths and General Science are taught as core subjects. Other subjects taught include Agricultural Science, Metalwork and Woodwork, Social and Environmental Studies and Home Science.

Most of the older pupils come from feeder junior secondary schools, some miles away. The standard of education and levels of achievement, as measured by national exam results, is pretty low. It is a priority of our charity to address this weak performance at the feeder schools and to seek a higher level of attainment.

The curriculum is a West Africa wide one, originating from Nigeria, where most of the core textbooks are published. Much of the course content is still, however, very UK-orientated.

Offering curriculum support, through teaching aids

The Gambian government provide some textbooks for pupils in schools up to grade 9. But not for the vast majority of pupils at our school. Few of the pupils can afford them, so a major priority of our charity is to address this need and help with the supply of textbooks.