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.

Great progress at Lower Basic school this year

This post, as promised, reports back on what donations to Sohm School Support have achieved in the Lower Basic school over the last twelve months, or so.

Everything we do there is at the request of, or in agreement with, the principal, governors and community of the village.


There are only three, outdoor, toilet blocks for the 400 pupils and 20 staff of the school. As we reported last year, they were unsanitary, attracted snakes and in states of considerable disrepair. At the request of the community, we have completely upgraded these - with new doors and roofs, new concrete bases (to keep out the snakes) and provided them with a lick of paint.  See below for the "before" and "after" shots of one of these blocks.

Toilet block - before and after refurb

Stationery order

As in previous years, we have supplied enough stationery to meet all the pupils needs during the school year, and materials for the staff.  These are not provided by the government, or educational authorities in The Gambia.

Some of the pupils excitedly showing
off some of the stationery donation

Homework club

Many of the pupils are unable to get peace and quiet at home, to either do homework or read.  Following our refurbishment of the school's library, two years ago, last year we funded the creation of a homework club (2 hours) in that library on one night a week for any pupil who wanted it.  This has proved very popular and successful.  We will be continuing with the scheme and looking to extend it in future years.

Homework club in progress

First Aid

Last year we completely refitted out the school's First Aid room and got training for the staff, senior pupils and parents in first aid from our friends at FirstAid4Gambia. The charity has returned to completely restock the first aid room with medical equipment for the forthcoming year.  We thank them for their extended generosity, and to Mamadou, in particular, their extremely efficient local contact.

Some of the FirstAid4Gambia supplies
that will benefit both school and village

TV and DVD 

There are few TV sets in the village and none in the school..Three years ago we paid for the electrification of the school. This year - together with our partners in Jersey - we were able to purchase the school's first TV - and and necessary massive aerial dish - and DVD player. Gambian TV isn't great - but it does mean that for the first time the children at the school will be able to watch appropriate educational DVDs - a huge step forward in the teaching resources available to the school.

Deputy principal, Lamin, unloads the TV and
 an engineer installs the satellite dish

See above and below photos of the school's deputy head, Lamin Saidy, excitedly unloading the TV, people working to fix the aerial and an engineer tuning the system.  It's all systems go, for the future!

The engineer tunes - ready for reception!
And  ... the children watching the TV in class,
 for the first time!

New laptop for staff

Last year we donated a re-conditioned laptop to the school's deputy principal and he has made great use of it, for the school's benefit.  His self-taught up-skilling and the impact it has had on the school encouraged us to donate another laptop to an enthusiastic teacher.  The smile on his face says it all!

Another delighted laptop recipient!

Excellent progress

The school and regional educational authority continue to be delighted by our interventions at the school. One result is that the school is now top of its "cluster" of regional primary schools, in attainment levels.

Exciting plans for this year

Over the last twelve months some extremely generous local donors (including the Redbridge Rotary Club and friends) have donated significant sums of money towards restoring semi-derelict classrooms. Our next newsletter will provide updates on plans for this work.  And they are very exciting.

Watch this space!