New term, new start

Classroom refurbishment almost complete

As the new school year starts in Sohm, we are delighted to provide a progress report on our ambitious Sohm 2020 project.

This year we have established two great partnership projects to help raise funds for our charity: Beech Hill Primary school in Luton and Redbridge Rotary club. As a result of this, we embarked on our most ambitious project to date - which we have labelled Sohm 2020. Our object is to raise £20,000 by the year 2020.

Friendship agreement between
 Beech Hill and Sohm LBS
We have pledged to repair and refurbish six classrooms in a block suffering from serious decay, and to completely replace the school's condemned-as-unfit kitchen and dining hall area with a new kitchen and fit-for-purpose multi- functional (dining, sports, assembly, meeting, prayers, performance etc) hall.

Progress to date has exceeded our wildest expectations.  As we have previously mentioned, Beech Hill school has established a friendship agreement with the Sohm Lower Basic school. The Luton school held a fund raising day towards the end of last term for Sohm - and have now raised almost £5,000 for the school.

Our good friend Tony Betts has become the President of Redbridge Rotary club this year and nominated SSS as one of his three charities (Rotary International and a local Redbridge one, being the other two).

Big thanks to Redbridge Rotary club
Generous funding from Rotary has meant that we have been able to get a move on.  As Sohm LBS returns after the summer break, we are delighted to be able to share that progress, via photos, of the refurbishment of the six-classroom block - nearing completion, as I write.

The four photos, below are of the sorry state of the block before the refurbing over the summer break.  

The next four photos show repining, repairs and painting work under way, over the summer holiday.

The six classroom block's refurbishment is ready for re-occupation, after the summer break, thanks to the hard work of contractors - Future In Our Hands - and the generous funding of Beech Hill and Redbridge Rotary.

Estimates have been provided for replacing the unfit kitchen and dining hall block, and we are working with the school to firm up their requirements for the replacement block. Below is a reminder of the dreadful state of the block to be replaced.

Unstable and unsafe roof

Holes in walls and door frames ready to fall out

Kitchen, unfit for purpose

Roof in danger of collapse

Fixed concrete blocks for dining area,
meaning it is completely unusable for anything else
The contractors, meanwhile, have not let the grass grow under their feet on this; they have already demolished the unfit block, ready for constructing the new on.

No real pressure on us, then - just another £10k to find over the next eighteen months, in order to replace it!

Come on - dig behind the backs of your sofas!

October 2018 update

The great work that Beech Hill school, Luton has done in helping restore the classrooms at Sohm Lower Basic school was recognised on the 4 October edition of The Luton Herald and Post.Thanks to them for the coverage - and of course, to Beech Hill for providing them with a great story!

Luton Today - Sohm tomorrow

Beech Hill school in Luton made a friendship agreement with the Lower Basic school in Sohm earlier this year, and has pledged to try and raise money for their Gambian friends over the next three years.

Beech Hill head teacher, Chris Davidson,
 participating in a drumming workshop
The school dedicated the money it raised from World Book Day, in March, to helping the school - and raised £1,000, to help restore broken the classrooms we mentioned in the last newsletter.

The school held a "Gambia Day" on 6 June and invited Sandra and John from SSS to participate.

Above and below, Sandra and John Walker
joining in the spirit of the day. We have
persuaded ourselves that it is the wind that
made us look so obese in the photo below!

It was declared a "non-uniform" day, and pupils were encouraged to go to school in the colours of the Gambian flag - and make a donation of £1 for not having to wear their uniforms.

Above and below, waving the flag for
The Gambia - some of Beech Hill's
youngsters making Gambian flags

Sandra and John took two assemblies for the 900 Beech Hill pupils, and took them through the school day of a Sohm youngster.

The rest of the day was devoted to The Gambia in the school, and Sandra and John were delighted to visit all the classes and see they pupils hard at work.

Children hard at work
painting Gambian houses
There were geography, craft, singing, story-telling and art classes.  Drumming workshops were held in the school and at the end of the day, surplus library books were sold off to pupils and parents - with the proceeds going to SSS.

Above and below, surplus library books being
sold to raise funds for Sohm
A major highlight was provided by many of the mums in the school.  Parents had asked from food donations from local traders and the mums cooked a large amount of delicious food - curries, rice, samosas etc - for sale to parents picking up their children.

The fantastic efforts from the donating local traders, superb mother-cooks, and generous parents raised £1,500.

Absolutely delicious food,
made and sold for Sohm
A "bucket collection" was also held outside the school gates as parents picked up their children from the school gates.

Bucket collection at the school gates,
lead by Natalie Carson, deputy head
teacher, right
In total, a fabulous £2,500 was raised on the day for Sohm Lower Basic school.

That sum, together with the money raised on World Book Day has enabled us to sign a contract with a Gambian building-for-not-for-profit organisations for the school.

Above and below, indoor Gambian music lessons

It will mean that six classrooms in a serious state of disrepair (see previous post) will now be renovated over the school summer holidays.

This is truly fantastic.  far more than we could ever have wished for.

It means the lives of 300 African school children will be immeasurably improved as a result of the generosity of the Luton school.

The local Luton newspaper - Luton Today recognised the efforts too - as the extract, below, from last week's edition shows.

They made an even larger splash on their website, and you can follow the link here.

The website is a little temperamental, so we've pieced together the article, from screen grabs below.

Sohm 2020

We are delighted to announce the launch of "Sohm 2020", our drive to raise £20,000 over the next two years to fulfil two extremely ambitious projects.

Our sights have been raised as a result of an extremely fulfilling partnership we have struck with Beech Hill Primary school in Luton. 

We have also been encouraged by help from some other very generous donors and a working arrangement with a Swedish charity in The Gambia, that specialises in training and employing Gambian construction labour to work on not-for-profit projects, at cost price.

Our Beech Hill partnership

Beech Hill primary school in Luton is a large school in a modest, mainly Muslim area of the town. Its recently appointed deputy head, Natalie Carson, is daughter of SSS co-founder, Sandra Walker.  Natalie has previously worked with SSS in Sohm, when five years ago she and a colleague, undertook some training of teachers in the Gambian village.

Friendship cemented in Sohm
with Beech Hill school, Luton

In her new role, in Luton, she has persuaded the school to "adopt" the Lower Basic school in Sohm. This will involve developing twinning arrangements, exchanging correspondence with individual pupils, exchanging curriculum materials and helping to fund raise on behalf on Sohm LBS. 

Beech Hill has already raised almost £1,500 for Sohm in the six months since the arrangement was agreed, and has committed itself to assist the school for upto three years. Sohm has also adopted the twinning enthusiastically, as the photo, above - taken in February - shows.

Beech Hill has other, exciting, twinning and fund raising events planned over the following months - and we will keep you up to speed on their progress.

Initial target - met!

Over the last year, our charity efforts have been focused on raising enough money to completely refurb and re-furnish a broken down classroom in a decaying block of six at the Lower Basic school.  Supporters have generously provided us with the £2,500 we felt necessary to undertake this task. And we thank them (they know who they are!), very sincerely for their generosity.

The six photos in this sequence
are of some of the damage to the
walls in the classrooms which will
be fixed, via steel girder
supports in the six classrooms

Above and below - close ups of the
extent of the damage to the
walls, on the photo, two up

Your generosity will also pay to
replace the broken classroom
furniture, desks and chairs

Termite damage has made this, the
door to the deputy head's office,
unusable.  This will be fixed by September
We have, in fact, been able to raise twice that amount for this project! 

In January we were given an estimate, by the government's education building surveyor for refurbish and re-equipping the whole six-classroom block. We have given the spec to the local Swedish/Gambian charity, mentioned above and they have given us a cost price quotation for the work.

Working on a "matched-funding" basis with our colleagues from Jersey, we are delighted to announce that we have now collected enough to restore the whole six classroom block, and an office within it!

Work will commence at the end of the summer term and we hope everything will be complete in time for the pupils' return to school in September.

More innovative funding

Until two years ago we had free container space to ship donated items out to The Gambia.  This arrangement enabled us to take, among other items, a whole classroom computer suite, with associated equipment.

Stationery: donated ...

The "free passage" offer has, unfortunately ended. One of our long-time supporters, forgetful of this, however, donated a large supply of unwanted stationery to us, as he was closing down his stationery business. It would have been ideal for the children in Sohm - but the commercial transportation costs of getting it there would have been greater than it was realistically worth to the schools in the village.

... and transported.  That's another
classroom refurb paid for!

A generous, local-to-us, retailer stepped in and offered to buy the stock from us.  Friends and colleagues transported it free.  Result? Another few hundred pounds to help restore the classrooms! Thanks to all concerned in that transaction - on behalf of the children of Sohm Lower Basic school!

The big one!

Flushed with success, and some certainty about future levels of funding, we began exploratory talks, while in the Gambia earlier this year, about embarking on our most ambitious-to-date project. The demolition of the school's decrepit, unusable, 35-year old school kitchen and dining hall and replacement with a fit-for-purpose facility.

Above and below: the existing, but condemned
kitchen and dining room, from outside.
Note the interesting curvature of the roof!

It has been condemned and out of use for three years now. Even when it was operational the 'dining area' was inflexible, as the "furniture" consisted of immovable concrete blocks. In the absence of a proper kitchen and dining room, children have to make to with pieces of bread, dipped in a sauce, from outside stalls in the school grounds.

Complete with dilapidated windows - above -
and holes in the wall (not ATM's unfortunately)
 - below- you can put your fist through

Once more, we got the schools' building inspector to give us a price for demolition of the building and the reconstruction of a kitchen area and multi-functional hall.  The initial estimate is £20,000, inclusive.

The hall will have movable tables and chairs - so it can still be used as a dining area, and so much more.

The current kitchen area, above, with a close-up,
below, of the cement units in which wood is
burned to heat the pots to cook the rice

The furniture can be moved to one side - so offering the school its first ever: assembly hall, indoor gym, meetings room, performance area and prayer room.

Above - the condemned dining hall, with
immovable cement "furniture". Below the outdoor
"dining" arrangements the children are making
do with in the absence of the unfit dining hall

We aim to raise £10,000 over the next 18 months to pay for this - and so, with our Jersey partners, reach our £20k by '20 target.

Your help - as ever, would be much appreciated! And, as ever, we will keep you up-to-date on progress with the project.