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.