What the Sukuta project involves

Our previous article, below, gave the background to how SSS became involved with, and is fronting, the renovation of the largest Lower Basic (primary) school – Sukuta – in The Gambia. This blog focuses on what the plans are, and what we hope to deliver within eighteen months.

Based on discussions with the school leadership and the regional director of education, we drew up a list of the priorities that would renovate the school and make it fit for the 2020s. These are:

 We will double the school's water storage capacity via solar-power

  

There is no piped water at the school. The supply comes from a well, it is too small. We will double its capacity.


As a rseult, we will increase the number of water standpipes from one to eight, locating them next to toilets, the food serving area and sick room

  

There is currently only one standpipe in the school, to serve 2,000 children. We will be increase this to eight, placing them near toilets, food serving areas and the new sick room  

We will completely rebuild the unhealthy and unsafe toilet blocks

  
The toilets at the school are unsafe, insanitary and unhygenic. The Sukuta renovation project will rectify this.
 
We will build and furnish the school’s first sick room, training staff in first aid skills 
 
  
There is no sick room for 2,000 students at Sukuta, but there is a space just ready to install one!
 
 
 This is the sick room we resored in Sohm. We plan to build and equip a facility like this in Sukuta, for the first time. 
 
We will restore the school's termite-ridden and unusable library
 
  
Infested and unusable library in Sukuta - 2,000 students denied access 
 
 The library in Sohm was in a similar position, before we restored it. We will repeat this in Sukuta 
 
We will extend the schools inadequate computer room

  
 
The computer room is well equipped, but too small for all pupils to gain access each week 
 
  
We will extend it to the pillars. The photo shows builders in discussion with school staff and education director  
 
We will give the providers of school meals shelter and water
 
Children get their lunch-time meals from (overwhelmingly female) vendors who sell very basic (bread or rice-based) food in the school grounds. There is no adequate shelter for either the women or the food and no running water to use in its preparation or for the children to wash.  Sheltered accommodation, with a water supply, will be provided for the women and children.
 
 

Our funding proposals to date, will pay for all of the above

There are, however, two outstanding elements of the nine-part project for which funding has yet to be identified.  We will seek the money this over the next few months,  so that all aspects of the project can be completed in one construction exercise. The unfunded elements are:


Refurbish and make fit-for-purpose the existing, but unfit, school hall
 
 
  
This is the dilapidated school hall, which is out of commission. We hope to be able to fund its restoration 
 
  
Because there is no hall, all large meetings take place outside. This is a meeting of the PTA, convened to consult on the school renovation project.
 
 
 This is the hall we built in Sohm, that now acts as an assembly hall, gym, meeting centre, performance area, prayer room and the main village hall
 
Establish the school's first staff room 
 
There is a disused classroom and storage area that with a little adaptation could be transformed into the school's first staffroom, for its 70 plus teaching staff. It is our aim to fund this 

All of our proposals have been put to the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, the school’s governors and its PTA, and they have been enthusiastically endorsed. The food vendors have been consulted and are delighted by them and will be involved in their design and layout of their new area.

Getting the band back together

Having defined the scope of the project, we obtained quotes from the construction company- Future in Our Hands - that we have worked with successfully in a variety of building projects in Sohm. It began as a Swedish NGO dedicated to training Gambian people in construction skills. It has gradually emerged to become a building company, jointly Swedish and Gambian managed, that operates almost exclusively in the not-for-profit sector, with an on-going commitment to train local labour in building skills.

In all of our dealings with them, to date, they have provided a high standard of work, to spec, on time and on budget.

We are confident that working with Lamin Saidy, the former deputy head at Sohm and now at Sukuta and the construction company that delivered in Sohm that we will be getting the band back together to deliver the renovation of The Gambia’s largest primary school, over the next eighteen months.

The third article of this three-parter on Sukuta, to appear in two weeks, will explain how we have managed to fund this major and exciting project.

 

Next: renovating the Gambia’s largest primary school!

A couple of years ago we had raised the funds to commission our most ambitious project in Sohm, the building of the new school hall, and felt that once it was complete, we could switch off our charity’s fund-raising engine, take the hand break off and slowly cruise down-hill in future years at the Lower Basic school.

And so, on time, budget and target, a year later, the multi-function hall (assembly, gym, dining room, prayer room, village meeting room etc.) was opened, with much local fanfare and celebration. We felt very pleased – bordering on smug - at the achievement.

  

New hall at Sohm - ourmost successful project - to date!

But something was missing. It was our key contact at the school, with whom we had worked successfully on all of our other projects over the years: bringing electricity to the school, renovating the teachers’ accommodation, rebuilding dangerous and unhealthy toilets, restoring a library made unusable by the ravages of termites, renovating a broken six-classroom block, adding water standpipes, building a new sick room and providing PCs and stationery each year etc.

Lamin Saidy, the ever-reliable, unassuming but determined deputy head teacher and rock upon which our efforts had depended was not there to celebrate the hall opening, because he was busy in his new job. The Gambian education authorities had spotted his talents and transferred him to become deputy head teacher in the country’s largest primary school – with over 2,000 pupils. It was a great move for Lamin: promotion and fresh challenges in a less isolated location.

  

Lamin Saidy, ex-deputy head at Sohm, now at Sukuta

But it wasn’t all positive. He must have groaned when he saw the state of the place. Like Sohm Lower Basic, his new school in Sukuta was about forty years old and had suffered neglect, due to lack of funding from incompetent/corrupt governments for most of that period. The same deficiencies were obvious: insufficient water storage and standpipes, dangerously unhealthy toilets, a lack of safe eating area for children’s lunches, a library made inoperable because of termite attacks and cramped accommodation.

In some ways it was worse. There was no sick room in a school with 2,000 youngsters, many of whom were undernourished and would suffer fainting episodes in the sweltering heat, others who faced regular bouts of malaria, older girls with nowhere to go when menstruating for the first time. Never mind the lack of facilities to deal with the scrapes, cuts and bruises that would attend normal playground accidents for any large group of children aged 4 – 12.

  

No sick room at Sukuta - but there is a space crying out for one to be built in it!

The school hall was structurally damaged and out of bounds and there was no hygienic area in which to serve school meals, nor a staff room for a school with over 70 staff. The school was lucky in some respects, another UK charity had supplied it with a number of perfectly serviceable computers, but the only secure and relatively dust-free room was too small to accommodate them all. Children missed out on ICT lessons, not through lack of equipment, but due to a lack of appropriate accommodation.

To be fair to the new (three years old) government in The Gambia, they have begun to address the infrastructural neglect of the country’s education system. But they face a dilemma with an inevitably limited budget: repair the damaged buildings of the past, or build for the future? The country, in common with most of Africa, has a young population with an ever-increasing demand for school places. The government cannot afford to both renovate and build for the future. For wholly understandable reasons, they have largely embarked on the latter. So long-time neglect will continue to be evident, as priority spending is focused on the new build.

  

Dilemma for government: restore old facilities, like damaged water suppy (foreground), or build for future with new classrooms (background)?

We visited Lamin in his new school and he and the head gave us a guided tour. It was déjà vu on the dilapidation front and almost dispiriting.

Back in the UK, almost out of the blue, Rotarian friends of ours began to sow seeds. Why not apply to Rotary international, and see if funds can be forthcoming to help at Sukuta?

The seeds germinated during the lock-down period of COVID – in The Gambia and UK - and a year later the first signs of healthy growth are evident, as we embark on a complete renovation of the largest primary school in The Gambia – at a cost of £60,000!

  

The only library in the school of 2,000 pupils is out of use because of termite infestation

Most of the pieces of the financial and organisational jigsaw are in now in place as we hope to launch the project in the summer and complete the transformation of the school within twelve months.

To return to the motoring metaphor, the fund-raising engine has been re-ignited and we have embarked on a long journey with a few bumps on the way.

  

School lunches provided by local women from stalls without access to water or shelter - breeds disease

This is the first of three fortnightly blogs on the Sukuta project – so watch out for further installments explaining what the project involves and how we have arranged (most of!) the funding for it.

And finally, in this mini-series, we will provide a fourth blog: “Not forgetting Sohm”, explaining how we have continued to support the Lower Basic School in the village that first inspired the establishment of our charity.