Schools' back for winter

Schools in the Gambia returned 10 days ago after a lock-down in the country endured since March. And we, and they, have been very busy since!

First, a bit of bad news - but don't give up, the rest of the newsletter is very positive!

Summer in The Gambia is the rainy season, with torrential rainfall, often lasting many days. So, not surpringly, there are not many tourists (even in a good year) from May till September. This year's season was particularly savage, and it found a victim in the Sohm Lower Basic school. The sick room which many of you generously contributed towards refurbishing three years ago, had its roof blown off one night, and rendered unusable.  Everything in it was destroyed - and the photo below shows why.

Storm damage to sick room

We are seeking quotes not just for its refurbishment, but for that of the whole block in which it sits. All being well, we and our partners from Jersey are hoping to find funding for it, so that we can refurb the whole block next summer.

In the meantime, we will be using the deputy head's office (sorry Mamodou!) as an interim measure and we bought a new bed for the room last week - see photo.

Our friends from First Aid 4 Gambia (FA4G) have been good enough to replace the wrecked first aid supplies. So, bad as the storm damage was, we have been able to salvage a temporay solution and hopefully a longer term benefit from the wreckage.

New bed in its temporary home 
- the deputy head's former office!

As we said in our last newsletter in September, The Gambia has been relatively lightly hit by COVID (nationally, only 120 registered COVID-related deaths in total over the 8 months). The country has been very strict on preventative measures - schools closed, full lockdowns, night-time curfews etc. The government, nervously, sanctioned the return of schools after what was both the English and  Gambian half term, last week.

Social distancing is strictly adhered to in the country, and is maintained as the children have returned to school - see below. 

Pupils observing social distancing on return from lockdown
Staff observing social distancing on return from lockdown

Our good friends from First Aid 4 Gambia were able to get a consignment of hand sanitiser and visors to the country, and we were able to purchase a small quanity, at cost, for use in the school. Thanks to an anonymous donor for funding this and to FA4G for letting us have the supplies.

Pupils modelling visors, masks and hand sanitiser,
 supplied by our friends at First Aid 4 Gambia
Head and deputy head wearing FA4G-supplied visors

Meanwhile, the Scottish-based FA4G are trialling a new training course, and such is our close relationship with them that they chose Sohm Lower Basic to launch it on Monday.The photos we have been sent are very gratifying. You will note that it took place in the shiny new hall we opened in January, with the chairs that so many of you funded, stacked and moved out of the way for the course!

Trainer demonstrating CPR on the course

Staff practising CPR on the course
Never too young to learn - one of the teachers 
takes her youngster with her to the course! 

The school staff are delighted, all passed the course and they remain the most medically-qualified people in the village!

Certificate awarded for passing course

 All sixteen attendees displaying thier certificates of First Aid competence

 Huge project on the horizon

Lamin Saidy, the former deputy-head of Sohm Lower Basic school, with whom we have worked so closely to deliver so much at the school was, unsurprisingly, promoted last summer to become deputy head at Sukuta Lower Basic school. This is the largest primary school in the country - with 2,000 pupils. 

Following 40- years of neglect at the school, during most of which time the former president had some difficulty in distinguishing between his back-pocket and the schools' refurbishment budget, precsiely the same issues have emerged at the school as we found when we first got involved with Sohm. He found: a poor water supply, insanitary toilets, lack of a serviceable hall, no first aid room etc.

He, I and the building contractor we used in Sohm put together a detailed spec and estimate for carrying out the necessary work. I was on the point of returning to The Gambia in the first week of April on a fact-finding mission with some key Rotary International officials. 

We had lined up meetings with the permanent secretary at the ministry of education, the regional education director, three Gambian rotary clubs, trips to the schools (Sukuta and Sohm - the latter to see what we had done, at a similar price), with a view to applying for a large Rotary International grant.

The COVID lockdown intervened, just a week before we were due to fly out. The initiative was put on the back burner. It is now being revived and strengthened by the fact that my local Rotary club in London (Redbridge) has twinned with a club in Slovenia, who wish to be involved. So, we are gradually knitting together a truly international team which, hopefully, can do in a year for a school five times larger than Sohm, what it has taken us five years to achieve in Sohm. Watch this space for updates!

Wish us well!  Beware - a begging bowl may come out soon, to help fund the project!

We hope this newsletter finds you as well as it leaves us, as this dreadful pandemic drags on without apparent end in sight.

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