Season's Greetings - December 2015

Season's Greetings 


Sandra and John

Students at Sohm Senior school displaying some of the donations we were able to take over earlier this year

We are sending the above as an e.card, instead of sending Christmas cards this year, and are sending the money saved to SSS, for use in Sohm.

We send the accompanying letter with our

Season's Greetings from Sohm

Sandra and John are sending this to you instead of posting a Christmas card.  We will be donating the £100+ we spend on cards to the educational charity we run in The Gambia: Sohm Schools Support (, @GambiaSchools, FB:SohmSchoolsSupport). So, thank you, for your indirect support!

We have run the charity for five years, largely from donations from family and friends, together with a small number of fund-raising events. We have probably collected about £20,000 for the schools and given a similar amount in kind, with goods, generously donated by our supporters.

During our years of running the charity we have supported this Gambian village's two schools (primary and secondary) and their 800+ students.

Specifically we have:

Provided each student in both schools with a full stationery supply for every school year.

Completed equipped an ICT classroom in the Upper School, with 30 working PCs, together with printers and memory sticks for each of the school's students.

Ensured that for the first time, every pupil in the secondary school has access to a key textbook in every national curriculum subject.

Re-equipped the domestic science classroom in the Upper Basic school, thus supporting pupils who will gain work in the country's major non-agriculture industry: tourism.

Provided over 100 football kits, and sports equipment to the two schools, most supplied by our friends at KitAid.

Provided electricity to the primary school for the first time: with lighting and power points in each classroom and every room in the teachers' accommodation block.

Donated over 1,000 text and library books to the two schools.

Refurbished the teachers' accommodation block for the Lower Basic (primary) school.

Refurbished, and brought back into use two classrooms in the primary school.

Paid for day school trips to major landmarks in the country for all final year Lower Basic pupils - their only visit outside the village for many.

Supplied a dozen bicycles and paid for the repair of 40 others in schools many of whose pupils would otherwise have to walk upto an hour to and from them each day.

Supported in the region of 20 specific pupils via sponsorship and hardship-type payments.

Our efforts have been recognised by the country's Education ministry, and the senior school has seen its place in regional league tables from in the bottom half dozen (out of 85) to third place.

 There has been a significant improvement in examination results and a greatly increased flow of pupils to the country's catering college.

We are back to The Gambia in January, equipped with funds, generously donated by our supporters (including the money in lieu of your Christmas card!) and we have plans. 

We will:

Continue our annual donation of school stationery to all pupils at each school.

Pay for the refurbishment of the (currently out-of-commission) sick room in the primary school - many of whose pupils are often struck by bouts of malaria.

Completely cleanse, insect-proof and refurb. the library in the primary school, which is currently out of use due to significant termite infection.

Provide solar panel power to drive the well pump (and only source of water) at the Lower Basic school.

After discussions with the senior school head teacher, make a significant contribution towards improving one specific curriculum area (this may be agricultural tools, or equipment and materials for the craft workshops).

Continue to pay all costs associated with the pupils our supporters sponsor and provide hardship (often medical) support to pupils with particular or special needs.

Continue to support a small income-generation mothers' project which we seed funded last year. This gives greater independence to women in the village and further assists  self-help and support mechanisms there. The kind of sustainability it offers is the only real long-term future for the alleviation of third world poverty.

Thank you for reading this. If you'd like to support our charity further, you can do so via the channels listed above.

We, and we know, the pupils in Sohm, thank you for your support and forbearance and wish you and your family 'season's greetings' and all the best for 2016.

Sandra  and  John

Fund raising Jumble Trail - September 2015

A new wave of imaginative fund raising is getting a grip of great chunks of England, at these days - Jumble Trails. These are a combination of yard and car boot sales, where, through a bit of co-ordinated effort, neighbours in a locality arrange to have yard sales, simultaneously.

Our are had one on Sunday - when over 100 houses in a small part of our neighbourhood in Forest Gate held one of these events.  We asked for donations of unwanted items from friends and relatives and set our stalls out in a couple of local front gardens/drives.

Some of the goodies on offer, complete
 with bunting, on our drive in Forest Gate

It was great fun, as hundreds of people enjoyed a pleasant sunny day by wandering around their area, chatting to neighbours and snapping up bargains.

Gambian flag on show, indicating
 where all money raised would go

We were delighted to raise over £350 (including Gift Aid) from the day, and cleared a bit of much needed space in a few friends' houses!

No reasonable offer rejected
 for the many items on offer

Attached are some pictures - showing all the fun of the Jumble!

A big mention to Sarah Baylis for the donation of a number of teddy bears, which were snapped up by doting grand parents and other charity organisers, with an eye to great prizes for future raffles.

Sandra and John with some of the
 teddy bears, donated by former
 work colleague, Sarah Baylis

The money we raised will enable us to ensure we can provide most of the stationery needs of either the Lower Basic of Senior Secondary school, when we next visit The Gambia, hopefully in January next year.

Thanks to everyone who donated items for sale, and to those who purchased them!

End of Year Report

Pupils at the two Sohm schools, like those in Britain, are now enjoying their summer break.

We have reported previously (see blogs below) on the very considerable progress we feel we made with the schools, with our brief visit earlier this year.

In this newsletter, we present a couple of reports from the two school heads, on the impact of the charity - and implicitly - you, the supporters, have made.
The Gambia doesn't get favourable press coverage in the West, largely because of the controversial behaviour of its president, and because it sits in West Africa - the region blighted by Ebola, earlier this year.

Our view is that, regardless of the president's activities, children in remote rural villages still deserve the best educational opportunities possible. In this blog, we provide some academic evidence to explain why this is important.

As for Ebola. There have been more cases recorded in Britain than there have in The Gambia, which is almost 500 miles from the nearest outbreak.

Unfortunately, the tourist trade took an estimated 40% hit this year, which further depressed conditions for the population of this small, poor African, tourist-dependent nation.

Senior Secondary school

We delivered a large number of computers and related ICT equipment to the senior school in January. We have had a couple of brief messages from Mohammed Jawara, the ICT teacher, and the school's principal, on their impact:

"All the items given to Sohm Schools came at the right time (just as electricity was being connected to the school) and are really helping a lot. All thanks to you and all the donors."

2015 consignment, gratefully received,
 and put to good use, by the secondary school

Ismaila Sambou, the school's principal has written:

"On behalf of the parents and teachers of my school, I would like to thank you for the unselfish and untiring effort that you have tasked yourself to help our schools achieve quality education."

In his end of year letter to us, he said:

"I write to inform you that we conducted our national and international examinations (grades 8, 9 and 12) successfully, due to your wonderful support."

"This year's food and nutrition practical was good. The examiner could not hide the improvement she observed on the ground (we fully re-equipped the teaching classroom this spring). She commended the school for the provision of most of the utensils."

"We had our Speech and Prize Giving Ceremony on 13 June. The stationery that you gave to us were partly used as prizes."

Mohammed Jawara, ICT teacher with
 some of his pupils and their computers

Lower Basic school

Our biggest single intervention this year was to pay almost £1,000 to the Lower Basic (primary) school for its electrification and that of the adjacent staff quarters.

Few things happen quickly in The Gambia, so we were delighted to receive a lengthy report from Malamin Gibba, the new head. He was able to report that the project was completed on 29 May - and he enclosed all the receipts, as evidence!

He detailed what this sum of money enabled:

"We have two (electricity) meters, one for the staff quarters and the other for the classrooms and the office. In addition to these, the library, kitchen complex and the three stores are all wired. Every room has a lighting system and sockets for appliances. All the staff quarters, the two bathrooms and a kitchen are also fitted with lighting systems.

Lower Basic school classrooms, now
 with added electricity - lighting and power sockets!
All rooms in the quarters have lighting systems and sockets. There are outside lamps in both the quarters and the classrooms."

We were also able to donate a small amount of ICT equipment to the school, for which Malamin expressed his gratitude, saying that it would mean that:

"We would have most of our (related) works due in the schools, rather than going elsewhere."

He continued: "Needless to say, John we are still enjoying the stationery you gave us and the bicycles are still in good working order. The second-hand clothes were shared among the pupils. There weren't any problems during the process of sharing."

"On behalf of the school administration, the School Management Committee, teachers, parents and pupils of the Lower Basic school, and on my own behalf, I wish to thank you for all the support you are giving us, in our schools."

Bikes - still in good hands

Why bother?

Was it Mao, or Confucius, who said "Give a hungry man a fish and he'll be hungry tomorrow. Give him a fishing rod, and he'll never starve, again"?

Education is, perhaps, the largest metaphorical fishing rod at society's disposal today. Evidence to support the view and academic support for the case can often be thin on the ground of what is sometimes simply instinct or intuition.

A relatively recently published academic tome: "State and Society in The Gambia since Independence - 1965 -2012", ed. Aboulaye Saine et al, provides some pretty convincing evidence.

It is fairly technically and densely written, but a few bullet points, drawn from it, establish the case fairly well:

  • ·         Only 42% of Gambians had received any education by the time of independence, in 1965. And typically, it was only for one year, of primary school!
  • ·         Figures improved gradually over the next twenty years, in percentages and length of stay terms
  • ·         Latest figures (2007) suggests 65% of the current population have attended a Lower Basic school, 36%, an Upper Basic (middle) school, and 21% a Senior Secondary school.
  • ·         Fees, although small, stopped further growth of these numbers. Fortunately, they are now being phased out. Our sponsors, however, are still assisting some, for whom fees are still payable (mainly the older pupils).
  • ·         There has been a closing of the gender gap, over the most recent decade, so that attendance figures for girls is now almost identical to that of boys.
  • ·         There is a strong link between maternal education, and good child health.
  • ·         There is a clear link between improved education levels and falling birth rates.
  • ·         There is a clear association between better education and agricultural production - the ONLY industry in Sohm.
  • Some of the students that Sohm School
     Support's donors are sponsoring
  • ·         The biggest determinants of good staying-on rates of pupils is high quality staff and better resourced schools (to both of which we are contributing).
  • ·         Significantly: those with only one year's primary education make on average 21% more income than people who haven't been to school, in The Gambia. That figure rises to 63% for those who have completed Lower Basic education, 72% for those who have had ANY secondary education and 84% for those who have completed Senior Secondary education.
With the educational fishing rod we are helping to provide to Sohm, we are confident that, if replicated elsewhere, The Gambia, as a whole, will become better educated, more politically sophisticated and self sufficient, for the future.


Regrettably, we are no longer able to access free container space to take supplies to The Gambia. Our previous provider has ceased to offer the service. We have been unable to source an alternative low/no cost transporter.

Unfortunately, our last consignment,
 via a container, to Sohm
This means that we will no longer be able to take donations of books, second hand clothes, computer and scientific equipment to end to Sohm.  This is a great pity.

It means that we are more dependent on cash donations, than ever - so that we can source gifts-in-kind for the schools in The Gambia.

Your donations will be gratefully received.  As you can see, from the above, we are confident that every £ donated makes a real and tangible difference to young African lives.

April 2015 newsletter - Generous donations from our supporters

This year we were able to take an unprecedented 55 boxes and crates of donations to our Sohm schools, via container space kindly provided, free of charge, by our good friends at Football Gambia.

The logistics were difficult and time-consuming. But the results were spectacular, and incredibly well received, as we will describe, below.
The photo of the loaded truck gives an indication of some of the transport challenges we were presented with in getting the donations to the Sohm schools!

Bikes on top of the pile, of goods
 from London to Sohm!
But, HUGE thanks from the very grateful Sohm recipients to each of the following

Little Heath School, Redbridge

They donated 30 good-order computers (desk tops and laptops), that they were upgrading, together with a number of keyboards, mice (mouses?), and desktop printers. We paid to have them overhauled and cleaned up and to have a modern Windows Office suite installed on each of them, and provided ink supplies and back-ups for the printers.

Students expressing gratitude for generous
 PC and printers' donation from Little Heath
The vast majority have gone to the Senior Secondary school (with a small number going to the Lower Basic -primary - school).

PCs being delivered

 to computer room at
 Senior school
And, laptops 

being fired up

Eastlea Community School, Newham

Donated a range of redundant/surplus school science equipment (microscopes, electrical testers etc) and maths and English text books, together with a range of school library books and an assortment of dictionaries.

These have been distributed between the two schools and are greatly appreciated.

Science equipment being eagerly
 inspected by Sohm's head of science
The senior school had NO science equipment until we made a small donation last year - relying solely on book- learning to understand the principles of science! The Lower Basic (primary) school has no complete sets of textbooks in ANY subject, for class use. The donation of English and maths books will be a great boost to encouraging the youngsters to work on their own, and negotiate their way around text books.  Key learning skills!

Much-needed books, gratefully
 received by the Lower Basic school
It is so easy for schools and others in the UK to discard what we regard as out-of-date materials and consign them to dustbins - but they can offer such benefit in remote communities in developing countries. And are massively appreciated by people who do not benefit from Western wealth.

Newham Woodcraft Folk - hands across the seas

Newham Woodcraft is currently celebrating its 80th anniversary, and are embarking on "80 Greats" (or initiatives)to commemorate the achievement. The pupils of Sohm's Schools have been the beneficiaries of one of these.

Inspired by the imagination and generosity of group leader, "Bill" Bremner, Newham's "Woodies" donated and restored seven bikes for the use of the Sohm schools and their students (see them being transported in the photo, above!). 

Woodies' bike donation, well received
These are highly prized and sought-after, and can each massively reduce the travel-to-study time of many pupils currently walking and hour each way in searing heat, from remote villages to get to their local school.

One of the bikes has been given as a "staff bike" to the Lower Basic school, which will be used for contacting parents swiftly, when their children fall ill, or have difficulties at school. The others will go to those pupils with the furthest travel-to-school journeys at the Senior Secondary school.

School caretaker can't believe
 his luck, with the boots!
Additionally, Woodcraft, themselves were recently given 25 pairs of good condition, second hand, hiking boots. These were surplus to their own needs and requirements, so were sent to Sohm. They have been welcomed as if they were gold-dust, being highly prized for confronting the floods in the very rainy summer season.

Boots and dictionaries ready for distribution
We look forward to delivering more surplus equipment and stock in future years - but there are big questions over our ability to access free/low cost transport for the future. We will keep plugging away to find the ways and means, if our generous donors can continue to extend their generosity.

So, a huge thanks to our supporters, above, for their material donations. The cash donations given by many others, too many to mention here, have enabled us to pay for customising the ICT equipment, and funding the other projects we have considered on this blog over recent months.

March 2015 newsletter: Power to the people!

A month ago there was no mains electricity going to either of the schools in Sohm that we support. Within a month both will be fired up, to the benefit of over 800 students.

As we reported last month, following rapid (SSS -supported) progress made by the senior secondary school in Sohm, the Gambian government has fast-forwarded the introduction of mains electricity to the school.

No longer dependent on expensively-fueled generator power,  the school will now have electricity available at the click of a switch, to power up the ICT and craft workshops, as well as the domestic science room (see a future post for exciting details about this).

And the mains meter is installed in
 the senior school: let there be light!
This combined with the generous donation of 30 reasonably modern, well-functioning, PCs, by the Little Heath school in Redbridge (benefiting from SSS-funded software and serving) means full classes will now be able to benefit from ICT lessons, together, rather than in intermittent dribs and drabs installments.

Within two hours: electricity goes live
 and Little Heath-donated PCs start
 to get fired up. No stopping
 them in Sohm, now!
The provision of mains electricity to Lower Basic (primary) schools is not a priority of Gambian education spending at present, so the Sohm  junior school would remain unpowered.

Power cables, however, run to within 20 meters of the Lower Basic school - frustratingly close. Each year Sohm Schools Support asks each of the two Sohm school heads and staff for their priorities for our expenditure in the forthcoming year.  We have tried to spend money on these projects - and report back to you, the donors, on what we have achieved, regularly.

So near, and yet so far. Mains electricity
 within 20 metres of the Lower Basic school
This year, inspired by a new, younger, more dynamic head, the Lower Basic school had a priority list of ONE: connection to the mains electricity.

We asked for very detailed costings, and within a week were provided with a three page schedule of requirements, equipment, cables, switches, meters, , labour costs etc.  We agreed, though funds are tight. This amounts to by far the largest single "grant" we have ever offered, coming to almost £900.

Handing over £900 - which will bring
 electricity to 15 teaching rooms,
 15 teachers' rooms and transform lives
For that sum, we will be providing linkage to the mains and metering costs, plus cabling and switches and sockets in 15 class and other teaching rooms, plus power to each of the 15 teacher accommodation rooms (one per teacher).

This will be the first time either staff or schools have had ANY electricity.

To say they are excited and delighted would be an understatement. Plans are already afoot for some simple ICT lessons (with a couple of the Little-Heath donated PCs) and evening (post dusk) openings of the school library, which has recently be re-organised by the new head.

We had originally planned to assist both schools in a small way on the electricity front by supplying a couple of small, domestic solar power kits we have become aware of. They are from China, simple to use and can fire up three power outlets, for less than £50 a kit. But, what to do with them, now?

The senior school science teacher was absolutely delighted to take one of them, to be used as a teaching aid. Solar power has huge potential for a country with so much sun as the Gambia, so getting the ideas into the classroom early could have massive long term educational and subsequent life-style benefits for the future of the village.

Science teacher; hardly able to
 contain his delight at having
 a solar panel as a teaching aid.
In addition, Sandra and I have taken one particulate Gambian family under our wing, on a personal basis (paying their kids education and medical costs, supplying second hand clothing etc). A visit to their home is a humbling experience, which I will return to in future months. The family has NO electricity and because of their extremely low income, and absolutely no prospects of getting mains power any time soon.

A mobile phone charged, and two
 lights lit - all from a £50 kit
So, we donated one of the solar kits to this family, and the photos below show the impact and transformation in a short space of time. Mobile phone charged up, and light for the kids to do their homework by, within a day of receipt!

Homework, powered by a solar light for
 the Janko children, all from a £50
 (and no running costs) kit
This really is life-changing stuff, for the price of a meal out, visit to the hairdressers  or Premier League football ticket. And we are proud to help.

Feb 2015 newsletter - Sohm - a year of great progress

Just back from our annual visit to Sohm, and there's great news to report on considerable progress over the last twelve months. This is the first of three newsletters, over the coming months, in which we record some very considerable achievements.

Nursery class repaired

We were delighted to pay for the repair of the main nursery class, during the year. This meant that broken doors, windows and roof could be restored and dangerous cracks in the plaster-work walls could be fixed, so that the room is back as a functioning classroom.

Broken, out-of use nursery class, 2014
Interior of refurbed nursery,
 ready for action, 2015!

See below for "before" and "after" photos. Decor and paintwork are not a priorities in the cash-strapped Gambia, so the room still looks scruffy - but is now a lively base for 35 youngsters!

Short video of excited youngsters
 in repaired nursery class

Teachers' accommodation fixed

We were able to make a small donation during the year to fix the teachers' accommodation block.

Broken staff shower block, 2014
Fixed staff showers, 2015

So, for the future, 15 teachers can look forward to rooms that don't let in water during the rainy summer season, and can wash in safe showers.

New roof on teachers accommodation,
 ready for a "dry" rainy season

Once again, the standards of decoration fall below Western standards and expectations.  But, the teachers are delighted, particularly at the prospect of a "dry" summer!

New flooring for the head's office

The Lower Basic school's head's office plays so many roles, not the least as a meeting room for almost all activities involving staff and parents, in the school.  But for years the dirt floor has been infested by termites and most solutions have been, at best, temporary.

So, this last year we were delighted to pay £30 for the cost of ceramic floor tiles and cement.

New flooring makes head's
 office serviceable -
 all for £30 SSS donation!
The result - a delighted and proud head, decent floor covering and a termite-free meeting room. A small sum, for a big difference!

Stationery - and moving forward!

Each year me make an annual donation to each school (benefitting over 800 pupils)that ensures all of them will receive at least one 120 page exercise book and a maths work-book, plus appropriate pens, pencils, crayons, drawing papers, erasers, sharpeners etc.

Piles of stationery, for each of the schools
 - give the students the tools!

See the piles of stationery ready for distribution.

Lower Basic pupils eagerly display
 donated exercise books and pencils
No wonder the pupils are delighted and both schools have seen improved exam results, as pupils and students are given the tools to assist.

Huge strides made in the Senior School

As a result of SSS's efforts, the Senior School now has key text books for every student in every subject to share, together with some key ICT and scientific equipment.

The impact has been dramatic, confirmed by a national Ofsted-type inspection. The school has shot up from about fiftieth place in the region's schools' league table, to second out of 85, over the last four years (since our intervention).

The Education Permanent Secretary, Regional Director, school's head, staff and PTA are all absolutely delighted and are under no illusions for the reasons.

New teaching block for senior
 school, in progress
They put it down to being able to mobilise the gifts that SSS has made to the schools. The students have been better equipped to deal with the challenges that face them, in public examinations and professional assessments.

They are all most grateful and have asked us to convey their extreme gratitude to all of our donors and supporters, which we are delight to do!

So, thank you all for helping make such a difference!!

Success rewarded

The Gambian government rewards the best performing schools, believing that they provide best value for money and are more likely to benefit from more investment than poorly performing schools.

The two schools we support in Sohm have been major beneficiaries of this policy. Our investment has been like start-up money, which results in further state investment.

Electricity linked up!
And, the PCs are fired up!
And the meter is ready for installation

So, as a result of our investments in the senior school (see above), the ministry is now paying for the construction of an additional teaching block (see photo) and has paid for the whole school to be refurbed (also photo).

Lick of paint for all existing school buildings
Best of all, however, the school has just been linked up to mains electricity - which we have lobbied for, over the last five years. On the last day of our visit to the school, this year, the school was linked to the grid, and mains electricity flowed.

Happy days!