October 2014 newsletter - all packed up and ready to go

We had an amazing response to our appeal for goods for The Gambia, in our last newsletter, and have just packed up 55 boxes and seven bicycles and put them in a container, ready for transportation to The Gambia in three weeks time.
Sohm supplies, safely installed
 in Banjul-bound container

Little Heath - Big help!

Special thanks must go to Edwina and the staff at Little Heath school in Redbridge.  The school was upgrading some of its ICT equipment and donated 40 PCs - a mixture of desktops and laptops to us, and half a dozen desk top printers and twenty keyboards and mice.

The Windows suite in schools is usually held within the school's system and so disabled when PCs are moved from the environment.

Just some of the donated PCs and
printers from Little Heath, prior to packing

A local ICT repair shop took them all, checked them out, cleaned them up, cannibalised to make 30 well-functioning PCs. They then installed windows in each, all for £1,100 (paid for by generous donations by other supporters).

Another local company did the same with the half a dozen desktop printers, added ink cartridges and back- ups for each for less than £100, once they realised the work was for a charity supporting African schools.

This really will be transformational, for the schools we support, and will double - at a stroke - the number of well-functioning computers available to the students.

Computer provisons doubled in Sohm - at a stroke!

Sandra and I have already dubbed the stock as the Little Heath Diamant suite, by way of thanks to the school who supplied the hardware and Bernie Diamant who has been such a generous financial supporter of our project, and who, in another incarnation, has offered such great ICT support and encouragement to both of us, in the past!

Scientific advance

Thanks, too, to Eastleigh school, in Newham, and to Jo Walker, in particular. They have donated some surplus science equipment (including microscopes, ammeters and electrical testing equipment) and a range of science text books. This, again, almost doubles the supply of relevant stock for Sohm's Senior school, instantly.

More science equipment to go round, now.
  Thanks to Eastleigh school!

Bookish progress

Little Heath and Eastleigh, between them have also donated about half a dozen crates of very useful library books and dictionaries, which will be well used across the two schools the charity supports.

Book stocks greatly enhanced,
due to generous donations

Other books have been donated by Jim and Jen Chrystie and the Whiteheads - to whom our considerable thanks go, knowing that these "redundant" books in the UK will be far from that in Sohm.

International co-operation - in practice

Woodcraft Folk in Newham is celebrating its 80th birthday, and is running an "80 Greats" initiative, of volunteer projects during the year, to celebrate. One of those has been to donate and restore seven bikes for us to ship to Sohm.

These will be of great assistance to many of the pupils who , transportless, have to walk an hour each way in searing heat, to and from school, each day.

International co-operation in
 practice! Woodies bikes to Africa

The Woodies, and one of their local leaders "Bill" Bremner also contributed 20 pairs of sturdy walking boots (and generous quantities of dubbin too!), which will be of great help, particularly during the rainy summer season.

Big thanks to Football Gambia!

John, with Ian from Football Gambia,
 during last year's trip

Our good friends at Football Gambia have generously donated space in their container, that is taking equipment to the Gambia in November, to offer free passage of this great supply of donations. The container leaves the UK in early November and we hope to be opening it up in early February, when we are next in the country.

Football Gambia's building in The Gambia

Ebola crisis

Sandra and I intend visiting the Gambia next, for a period, in January. We hope to be able to pick up the goods from the container and see their safe delivery and distribution at the two Sohm schools, then.

We are, however, keeping our options open for a short period, in light of the Ebola crisis that is devastating areas of West Africa. The situation is developing rapidly, as the crisis spreads.

The Gambia is, at present, immune from the condition. There are no recorded cases.  The country is almost totally surrounded by Senegal, where there has only been one case so far - a traveller from Liberia, the most affected country.

Monrovia is the capital of Liberia, and over 850 miles from Banjul, the capital of The Gambia.  Freetown is the capital of Sierra Leone, the next most affected country, and that is well over 600 miles from Banjul.  The least affected country (though the condition is still of emergency proportions) is Guinea and Conarky, the capital, is 500 miles away from Banjul.

Disease is, of course, no respecter of geographic boundaries or distance and we are not complacent. But The Gambia seems to be safe, at this moment.  It is quite reassuring that the UK Medical Research Council has a high capacity research station about 200 years away from our apartment in The Gambia,  and it is taking the lead in the UK's investigation into Ebola in West Africa.  So, if in doubt when visiting, we should have help pretty close at hand!

Economic impact

We are approaching the peak tourist period for the Gambia.  Bookings are badly down, for very understandable reasons.  This will have a dramatic adverse impact on the fragile Gambian economy, where it is the second most important industry, after agriculture. Agriculture, itself, has suffered from a year of adverse weather conditions. So, the short term economic outlook is not good.

There is little that we can do to confront these natural disasters impacting on the country, but they emphasise the need to improve educational facilities there, for the longer term survival and diversity of the nation.  We hope we can continue to do our bit, in that regard.

Supporter sought for a major project

We have recently received a plea for help from Baboucarr Suwareh, our local Regional Director of Education, in The Gambia.

He is looking for a partner to help build a senior secondary school in the village of Jalanba in The Gambia, in a similar way to the way in which our good friends from the Jersey Gambia Schools' Trust originally did, in Sohm.

This is a major, long term project, and not to be taken lightly. We are unable to undertake the necessary work, but will gladly assist with anyone who feels able to do so. We can point people in right directions, open a few doors and advise on pitfalls. And be a shoulder to unburden and share frustrations with - and there will be many!

Could you, or an organisation you work
with help in building something like this? 
If so, get in touch - The Gambia needs you!

The initial costs are likely to be in the region of £20,000, to get the very basic fabric and buildings established, with a minimum commitment of around £10,000 a year for at least 5 years to get the classrooms up and running and the school fully functioning.

This could be the kind of project that a company, church or larger organisation, could adopt, and involve its staff in, for the development of The Gambia.

The ministry will provide and pay for teaching staff in the school. You would be well advised to recruit a partner like Sohm Schools Support (and no, we aren't volunteering!) to assist with the necessary supplies of books, equipment and consumables.  This could come in at around £5,000 per year, depending on your ability to beg, borrow or steal!

So, a big ask, for a big project.  It would be very time consuming, as well as money sapping, but hugely satisfying, if you, or an associated group were up for it.
It is a project for the long haul, however. There is little point in building school foundations, raising expectations then abandoning the project. There are plenty of examples of that scarring the African landscape already.
Give us a call, if you are in any way interested. We can talk it through and let you know what you may be letting yourselves in for.  Roller Coaster would be one polite description!

End of term report - July 2014 newsletter

As the school year comes to an end, in The Gambia and back home, it seems a good time to review progress of our support to the schools Sohm, over recent months.

It has been a very productive year, as far as the charity is concerned.  Sandra and John spent a month in The Gambia, in January and set in trail a number of initiatives that have now come to fruition.

Buildings refurbishment

Our latest, and most ambitious, project was to restore two derelict classrooms at the Lower Basic school, and bring them back into use - thus relieving over-crowding in a school, where 60 pupils in a class is the norm.

Derelict classroom, now refurbished
and restored to full use!

Because Sohm is so remote, the school and Education department provides residential accommodation for Lower Basic teachers in the village.  This is now over 30 years old, and has not been properly maintained.  So, we have been able to refurbish all of this accommodation: providing new roofs, doors, and windows, repairing broken walls and plumbing systems, over the last four months.  As a result, teachers now have decent housing, by local standards, which improves their well-being and comfort, from which the students will indirectly benefit.

Teachers' accommodation,
prior to repair

... and after!

 Examinations support

We now provide support to the Lower Basic school, each year, as they approach their external examinations. So, we pay for duplication of past papers, to help with preparation, and other teacher support, for this year's.  Last year this resulted in a significant improvement in the final examination results the pupils sat.  We are hopeful that our support this year will have a similar impact.

School trip

We have just funded the annual school trip for 180 years 6 and 7 students at the Lower Basic school.  This has meant a visit to the country's capital, its only airport and the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, for many of these 10 and 11 year olds.  This is truly a mind broadening and enjoyable event for these youngsters, as they leave their primary school.  The letters we received from last year's attendees were detailed and fascinating (and available for all the charity's supporters to see).  They confirmed our view of the value of this trip for the youngsters.

Essays and letters of thanks,
following last year's school trip

Sports support

Working with our good friends at Football Gambia and Kit Aid, we have been able to give considerable quatities of sports kit and equipment to the pupils of both senior and junior schools in the village this year.  We have provided the junior school with sports equipment, which will help with their physical development and education.  Football Gambia enabled us to supply over 60 full football strips to the senior school - and they were given a pride of place demonstration at the school's recent sports day.

Over 60 football strips donated,
thanks to our good friends at
Football Gambia and Kit Aid

Continued sponsorship

As a result of the support we are given by a dozen or so supporters, we continue to directly sponsor students at both the Lower Basic and Senior Secondary schools.  We equalise the payments over the expected school life of each pupil; so we can provide sponsorship for a standard flat rate of £60 per year (£5 per month, preferably by standing order).  This, with the Gift Aid we can claim, provides the fees (school and examination) to enable youngsters to attend school, throughout their school lives. Sponsors are sent a letter of thanks, school report and recent photo of the pupil, each year.

Amie Jarju - one of the dozen pupils
whose education we fund, for a donation
of just £5 per month from the sponsor


In January we supplied every pupil in both the Senior and Lower Basic schools with a selection of appropriate stationery equipment - relevant to their specific age and needs.  So, there were a couple of exercise books per pupil, a range of graph and drawing paper books, pens, crayons and pencils for each school. These were greatly appreciated by all - as the photos illustrates!

Thanks for the excercise books!!

Computer and ICT studies support

As a result of generous donations of surplus laptop computers in previous years, we have been able to supply the Senior school with equipment to assist with ICT studies, where there is no mains electricity.  Almost inevitably, however, many of the donated laptops had batteries with short power storage capacities.  This year we have been able to source a number of cheap battery replacements for them.  This has increased battery lives of the laptops, from about 20 minutes to over two hours, on average.  It has greatly assisted with ICT teaching. 

ICT resources and capacity greatly improved

Additionally, a good friend recently gave us 120 memory sticks, so that most of the ICT students can now have their own work on their own device, for use on any PC where they do their work.  A great, and much appreciated advantage for the Sohm youngsters.

Books and bikes

Last year we established a book fund, so that every senior student in the Upper school had shared access to a relevant textbook for all subjects.  We were able to top this up,this year, and the government is now offering a similar arrangements for the youngest age group pupils!  A real victory in the pursuit of raising educational improvement.

Book fund - supplemented!

Transport improvements

As many as 50 students walk at least 3 miles to and from the Senior school each day.  It has been given bikes, in the past, from Jole Riders, to help with pupils' travel arrangements who live furthest from the school.  Many of the bikes, however, have fallen into disrepair.  Last year we were able to fund an overhaul of many of them. This year we supplemented this with the provision of a number of cheap puncture repair kits, pumps and replacement saddles, to encourage pupils to take responsibility for their own bikes.

Bike repair kits, to help students take
responsibility for their own vehicles

Big thanks

Our good friends at Derwentwater Primary school in Acton have continued to assist us in raising funds for the charity - and thus for the students in Sohm.  We have recently raised £100 from a raffle at the school's summer fair, which when added to the money raised at the Christmas fair, and associated Gift Aid, means that we will be able to take over £300 form our Acton friends to Sohm next January.  This will, for example, pay for the much needed and appreciated schools trips, or the annual stationery donation to the Lower Basic school.

Sohm Lower Basic school,
friends with Derwentwater Primary
school, Acton

Our friends north of the border

Thanks to a generous donation by our friends at Auchmuty High school in Glenrothes, in Fife, we were able to considerably equip a science laboratory in the Sohm Senior school this year, where previously there was none.

Science equipment, generously
donated by Auchmuty High school, Fife

How to help

We aim to raise about £5,000 per year.  Our friends and relatives who sponsor students contribute about £1,000 of that, and Derwentwater Primary school has provided as similar sum, over recent years.  We have, additionally, been able to raise another £1,000 via a presence at jumble and car boot sales and the odd sale of unwanted gifts via e.bay etc.  Very generous one-off contributions from good friends has usually ensured that similar sums are given to the charity each year.  Now - that missing £1,000? Well, odd cash earnings from bits of paid for work contribute to that.  But .. we are always open to all offers of cash, or goods that can be sent to Sohm, or sold to raise funds for the schools there.

So, anything you can offer, to continue what we believe is a good value-for-money project in this remote African village, for the educational benefit of literally hundreds of deprived young people would be much appreciated.

John and Sandra Walker

April 2014 newsletter

In last month's round up on developments in Sohm we gave details of the impact that generous donors had made as far as sponsorship, science equipment and bikes over recent months. This month, we'd like to turn to classroom and staff quarters accommodation, sports equipment and sponsored school visits.

Building maintenance

The Lower Basic school (primary) in Sohm was built about 30 years ago, and alongside it some pretty basic teachers' accommodation blocks for those working in this fairly remote village.  These have suffered from lack of maintenance over the years (other projects have received priority funding) and two of the school's classrooms are currently out of commission and the teachers' accommodation is in a pretty dreadful state.

Having spent a great deal of time examining the options and costings we decided to make our largest single donation to get these fixed.  We have allocated almost £500, which will be spent between now and the start of the rainy season (June) on upgrading and making habitable these facilities.

Broken classroom, no windows, leaky roof,
uneven floor, no door.
We are fixing this for about £250

Two classrooms will be restored, and brought back into use, thus alleviating crowding in the other rooms - which accommodate up to 70 pupils in each class.

Pretty modest ambition - to turn the wreck above
into something like this, alleviate overcrowding
and help 150 students. Cost, about £250

The repairs to roofs and walls in the teachers' accommodation will make them dry in the pretty torrential wet season and offer a little comfort to ten teachers and their families - though they are yet to get electricity there - one of our medium term objectives.

Below are a few photos of the "before" renovations.  In a month or so we hope to be able to show the impact that just £500 will have made to potentially 150 students and ten staff and their families.

Teachers' accommodation, in desperate
need of repair, which will be funded by SSS,
 at a cost of about £250

Sports kit

We are hugely indebted to two other great UK charities, and their supporters for their assistance with this item.  Kit Aid (who mop up surplus and redundant football kit from clubs over the UK and ship it to third world countries - patron ex-England manager, Graham Taylor) and our very good friends at Football Gambia provided us with over 100 sets of football kit for the pupils at the senior school in Sohm this year.

Big thanks to Letchworth FC for generous kit donation,
proudly worn by Sohm youngsters

They, in turn, had been given them by: The Scottish FA, Cardiff City FC, Letchworth FC, Marriotts School and Watford Grammar school.  We can't thank them enough, on behalf of Sohm's youngsters.  We grabbed some "posed" shots of the kids wearing the kit, while in the village in February - see below.  We hope to be able to show you some "action" shots of the kit in use, on the football pitch in a later edition of this newsletter.

Despite their many troubles this season,
Cardiff FC saw fit to make this kit donation to Kit Aid
- so a big thanks to them

Home, and away - they "away" strip donated
by Cardiff, along with the "home" kit, above

From one school to another - Marriotts School's
donation, via Kit Aid, to Sohm School.
International friendship, at its best

An extremely generous donation via the Scottish FA,
modelled by delighted Sohm girls and boys, alike

School trips

Last year, as a result of an extremely generous single donation, we were able to pay for a school visit for all the year 5 and 6 pupils in the junior school.  For many this was their first visit out of the village, and certainly for most the first time they had visited the country's capital.

Unfortunately there was a "malfunction" with the camera that was used to record the day, but the essays the youngsters wrote on their return are a joy to read.  The photo below is of just a few of them.
On their trip they visited the country's only commercial airport, the country's capital, its national museum, Arch 22 (the equivalent of Marble Arch - complete with a lift, which astounded many of them) and a visit to the Gambia Radio and Television studios.

A selection of just some of the essays
written by grateful students after
their SSS-paid for school visit

It's a shame we can't give even a flavour of the delight and appreciation these youngsters expressed for what was quite literally an eye opening experience for most of them.

We hope you've enjoyed sharing with us some of the pleasure you and fellow donors have brought to this small, forgotten place.  Your efforts are very much appreciated in the village, as we are told on almost a daily basis when there, and by e.mail etc, when in the UK.

And, yes - money can go a very long way in a village where the average monthly wage is less than £30.

Thank you, one and all.

John and Sandra

March 2014 Newsletter

We spent the month of January in the Gambia and feel we achieved a great deal, with the two schools in Sohm we are supporting.
We'll roll out the details of progress over the coming months, with lots of photos and comments from grateful Gambian recipients.

We feel we made significant progress as far as:
• Sponsored students
• Donations of science equipment and books
• Donations of sports kits
• Distribution of exercise books, pens and pencils to every student in both Sohm's schools
• Repairing students' bicycles, necessary for those walking 2-3 miles each way to school every day

Pick up truck, loaded with
donated goods, and bound for Sohm

• Topping up the book supply at the senior school, so that every one of the 400 students now has, at least 2-1 shared access to a book, in every subject studied.  Two years ago, barely 10% of the pupils had this level of access
• Establishing a fund to renovate two dilapidated classrooms in the Lower Basic school
• Paying for the refurbishment of the teachers' quarters for the Lower Basic school
• Receiving encouraging progress reports on last year's school trip for all years 5 and 6 students in the Lower Basic school, and funding a similar trip this year
• Funding mock exams, in preparation for the external national exams taken, in the Lower Basic school
• Funding a small amount of sports equipment for the Lower Basic school
• Upgraded all of the laptops generously provided by friends last year, and added three more to the local stock
• Aided computer studies by providing over 150 donated memory sticks, so that all students studying ICT in the Senior school now have a storage system for all of their work.

Vital chemisty kit being used
in a school with no labs


In brief, we touched base with, and were able to take up-to-date photos of, most of our dozen sponsored students, all of whom seem to be progressing well, and certainly enjoying their studies, thanks to the £5 per month they get from their UK sponsors.
One, Ramatoulie Bah, is turning out to be a real academic star, she topped her year group's external exam performance in all three examined subjects, achieving marks of 85% in English, 93% in Social and Environmental Studies and 67% in Maths.

Star pupil - Sponsored
student Ramatoulie Bah

We were told the support we give to the Lower Basic school in helping with mock exams was a big help in preparing to Ramatoulie and her friends.
Ramatoluie was, unfortunately, absent from school, due to illness, when we visited, but we caught up with her very proud mum. Coming from a poor family, Ramatoulie could not continue her studies without her UK sponsor; and it is a sign of what a difference sponsorship can make, when we discovered that her mum is illiterate. 

Small gestures in the UK really can transform African lives.

The fact that Ramatoulie topped the Maths exam marks with 67% is indicative of the poor state of maths teaching in The Gambia, generally.  We are working with the Senior school in Sohm to see if we can sponsor additional maths lessons for all.

Donations of science equipment and books

We are extremely grateful to the Auchmuty High school in Fife for a generous donation of surplus science equipment and books, last summer.  The school moved to new premises in the autumn and donated some of their redundant books and equipment to us.  We drove to Fife and picked it up.  Our good friends at Football Gambia generously gave us free transport of the donation to the Gambia. The Gambian Ministry of Education ensured free internal transportation in the country for us.

Grateful students at the Mahaad school,
with donated science and maths books.
Thanks Auchmuty!

So, a very generous donation was delivered at no additional cost - a real tribute to co-operative endeavour by NGOs and others.

Highly prized surplus, but donated
microscopes, being put to good use

We gave half of the textbooks to the Senior Secondary school in Sohm, and the rest to the Mahaad Senior Secondary, in nearby Sohm and all of the chemistry and physics equipment to Sohm.  The school has almost no science equipment, which makes teaching the subject to its students challenging.  The photos show enthusiastic pupils taking full advantage of Auchmuty's donation.  So, a big thank you to the Fife school for that!

Repaired bicycles

It's also a very big thank you to the 'Billy 'n Babs' bike fund.  Bill Carson and his partner have raised funds to assist with the repairs of bikes for the Sohm youngsters, so necessary in a school with students having to travel up to 3 miles each way to school, with no public transport.  That great charity Jole Riders in the past provided Sohm Senior school with 100 bikes, but many have subsequently fallen into disrepair.  As a result of the 'Billy 'n Babs' fund, we have been able to help repair most of those that have broken down.  So, 20 students can access their education more easily now - without an hour's walk each way, in searing heat, for the school journey.

Thanks to the 'Billy ' n Babs' bike fund,
many broken bikes are now fixed
- students showing some of the repair kits purchased

Next month, we'll bring you news and photos of some of the other achievements of this year's trip - using money generously donated in the UK.

If you feel this is all worthwhile, and would like to assist, we encourage you to donate to our small charity, via the 'Donate' section of this website, or consider sponsoring a student - at £5 per month.  We personally oversee the spending of every £ raised and are able to top up all UK donations, by 25%, via the government's Gift Aid Scheme.

Electrical testing equpiment -
doing its job. Thanks Auchmuty!

To get regular, automatic, updates of news from Sohm, please complete the 'Subscribe' button on the home page of this website.  It is free, of cost and hassle, and ensures that updates will be dropped into your e.mail in-box, automatically.  You can unsubscribe just as easily.  We share your details with nobody.

You may also wish to follow us on Facebook@ Sohm Schools Support, or via Twitter: @GambiaSchools.

Thanks for reading, and for your continued support.