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!

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