April 2016 - huge leaps forward

Our recent post gave details of the achievements at the Sohm Schools over the last year, following our interventions in January 2015.

This time, we are focusing on what we arranged during our annual visit this year, and the progress that is already being made over the last six weeks or so since we have returned from The Gambia.

But first - a huge expression of thanks to Redbridge Rotary club. Following an introduction to the club by a near neighbour last autumn, we gave a presentation to the club in January, a couple of days before our annual trip to west Africa. 

Huge thanks to Redbridge Rotary club
 for generous £250 donation
 - it will be well spent!

It was well received, and the members really seemed to appreciate what working at grass roots level, in international development, can do.  They particularly liked the accountability and regular updates and progress that we are able to provide about our activities in Sohm.

Imagine our delight, when last week we received a £250 donation from the club for future activities in Sohm! Thank you, one and all.  We promise to come back and provide reports on what has happened to your donation - whenever you invite us!

ICT lessons for ALL students at the senior secondary
 school for the first time, this year, thanks to
 donation from SSS and Little Heath school, Redbridge

As we have tried to show on this blog, each year we fund projects at each of the two schools.  These are agreed with the schools' heads (drawing on their priorities) and are usually cleared with the regional director of education and implemented in conjunction with the schools'governors, parents and staff.

Previous interventions have: provided stationery for all students in both schools each year, fully equipped an ICT suite in the senior school, provided sporting equipment to both schools, run school trips for students at the Lower Basic school, provided and repaired bicycles for students who have long journeys to school in searing heat.

Our biggest intervention to date - three years ago - was to provide enough textbooks to the Senior Secondary school to ensure that all students had access to a key text book in all subjects they are taught.

Over the last five years we have also, provided teacher training days for all staff in both schools, refurbed the staff accommodation at the Lower Basic school, provided mains electricity to the Lower Basic school and teachers' quarters. We have re-equipped the cookery classroom at the Senior Secondary school and added stock to the libraries at both schools.

Electricity supply to whole of Lower Basic
 school and teachers accommodation, for the
 first time, thanks to SSS - and your - support
 and donations.
Probably wouldn't satisfy UK electricity regs!

All of this has been done in addition to sponsoring the education of a dozen or so of the most needy pupils in Sohm.

This year we have initiated some of our most dramatic interventions, described below.  They have been more ambitious than some of our previous initiatives, but we have been able to weave a partnership together with our colleagues from Jersey and the Jersey Overseas Aid Commission, who between them, have provided over half the funding for the projects we have initiated.

Firstly, at the Senior Secondary school. There has been a gradual rise in public examination performance, and school inspection ratings each year since we have been involved with the Sohm schools. 

However, the glaring omission has been the inability of the students and schools to significantly improve examination results and performance in the key subjects of Maths and English. This is a MAJOR issue. To be frank, it is a problem nation-wide.

The excitement of games lessons will soon
 be enhanced a an hour a week's remedial
classes in both English and Maths for all
 secondary school students!

So, in January we worked long and hard with the staff at the senior school and have arranged for a well monitored and evaluated scheme whereby we - with our colleagues from Jersey - will fund the provision of one hour's remedial English and one hour's maths for ALL students at the secondary school, every week of the school year.

See how delighted some of the
 students are at the prospect!

We have allocated enough funds to pay for this for an academic year - subject to termly break-monitoring clauses. We are hopeful this will have a dramatic impact - over the years.  The early signs, from independent feedback we are getting, are that the scheme is working well.

As far as the Lower Basic school is concerned, we have - with our colleagues from Jersey - initiated a complete refurbishment of the library (it is currently out of use because of severe termite infestation).

The termites will be eradicated with new flooring and appropriate deterrent treatment.  We began the process of re-arranging the library stock when we were at the school, and from September, the school will have a member of staff dedicated to running the facility.  

This termite-ridden and out of commission Lower
 Basic school library will be a valuable education
 resource centre and library to be used by ALL Lower
 Basic school students, from September, thanks to
 SSS - and your - funding and support

New library furniture (including 3 dozen chairs and book cases) will be provided by our initiative and all pupils will have weekly sessions in the library, to encourage the "reading for pleasure" habit.

Early reports suggest that the building work is well under way. If things go according to schedule, we hope to have the library re-opened in September and for a couple of computers to be installed (from a donation from Little Heath school, Redbridge, last year). 

For the future, we are hoping to be able to sponsor a homework club in the library for pupils who do not get sufficient support and encouragement at home.

We are also funding the complete refurbishment of the school's sick room.

This will be a completely refurbished and
 functioning sick room in September, thanks to
 SSS - and your - intervention and funding

This is also currently out of use, as its equipment has been cannibalised over the years to assist with insufficient classroom provision elsewhere within the rapidly expanding school, and the doors and windows are in desperate need of repair.

A sick room is necessary in a school where pupils often suffer bouts of malaria (not pleasant, we can assure you, from personal experience!) and faintness fits due to poor diet, extreme heat and dehydration.  Again, we are being assured that this refurbished room will be ready for September.

These initiatives, aimed at addressing things that we, in the West, take so much for granted are literally life-changing for many Gambian youngsters.

We thank all of you for your support - financial, in kind and even just moral.

We will continue to keep you updated in the progress of these exciting projects.