Huge progress in Sukuta

Regular visitors to this site will know that we have taken the lead in helping to transform Sukuta Lower Basic (primary) school, in The Gambia - largely through the many arms of Rotary International. The school, with 2,000 pupils, is one of the country's largest and the project is ambitious.

 Parents' meeting at the Sukuta school, discussing the priorities to be adopted for the ambitious project

Over a two-year period, we were able to raise in excess of £35,000 - mainly through Rotary - to pay for the project. Sohm Schools Support provided a substantial donation to launch the fund-raising and the Rotary Club of Redbridge undertook finding the rest of the money. The Redbridge club, itself, contributed £5,000 and two other London clubs (Barkingside and Gants Hill) made generous donations. The London regional District contributed $10,000, and two of Redbridge's twinned clubs in Europe (in the Hague and Slovenia), both made important contributions.  On the back of all of this, the Rotary Foundation, in Chicago, contrubuted a further $8,000.


Extension of footprint and size of the computer room - underway

The project at the school had seven elements and aimed to: greatly increase the water supply and capacity at the school, by erecting additional solar-powered storage tanks, and from them running a number of waterlines to standpipes scattered throughout the school. These are to be located near toilets and food serving and eating areas, by the first aid room (see later) and by classroom blocks. All of this activity will assist with personal and food hygiene and offer easier access to drinking water for the children.

The school's toilets were dilapitated, and as "the local contribution" - a requirement of Rotary Global grants - the Gambian Ministry of Education agreed to replace the old ones with new ones.

 Part of new toilet blocks, already installed by the Gambia's Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education

There is no sick room in this school of 2,000 pupils - so the project proposed to build one. The school's library was out of commission, because termite damage had destroyed many of the books, and made the room a health hazard. The Sukuta project aims to seal the walls and floor of the room and re-tile them, to prevent the re-emergence of the termites.


Construction of the school's first sick room, well under way 

Dis-infestation of termites from school's library - well under way

The school's only "computer room" is reasonably well-equipped, but is too small to provide access for all the pupils to have a lesson in it, each week. The project proposed to increase the room's size by around 30%, to overcome the problem of the inadequately sized room.

The final aspect of the project is to build a safe, water-supplied, hygenic base for the provison of school lunches. At present local traders (overwhelmingly women) sell meagre lunches under trees in the blistering heat, in the school's playground. The school's head and Council wanted sheltered accommodation to be built for the future safety and comfort of the saleswomen, and children, alike.


Construction of sheltered area for food vendors - at an advanced stage

Redbridge contacted a local club in the Gambia - Brusubi - based about five miles from Sukuta - to manage the project locally. All of this was arranged before I visited the country for 10 days at the start of March.

The first problem I encountered was that the original estimates upon which the project had been costed and funds raised, were almost two years old. Although a small contingency element was included, it wasn't large enough to account for the 35% increase in building material costs over the period. Some hard bargaining involving the local contractor, school management and the two Rotary clubs (Redbridge - the sponsor, and Brusubi - the host) negotiated a slight variation in the specification, while mainating the intergrity of the project, which enabled it to be undertaken - within budget.

The contract-signing ceremony took place in front of a local audience of around 50 people, on March 8th - International Women's Day. And how significant that was. two of the key signatories - the recently appointed school head and the recently appointed CEO of the building contractors' - were both women . This would have been unheard of, even a decade ago in The Gambia. They were flanked at the signing cermenony by Omar Jallow, President of the Rotary Club of Brusubi, and me - represnting RC Redbridge (see photo).


Contract signing ceremony. Left to right: Omar Jallow, President Brusubi Rotary Club, Marian Mendy, head teacher, Sukuta Lower Basic school, Jainbarr Sarr, Chief Executive Future in Our Hands (contractor), John Walker (Sohm Schools Support and Redbridge Rotary)

 Part of the hard bargaining over the contract embraced a tight timescale for its completeion. The aim is for the end of June.

Builders were on the site within a week of the signing and progress has been quite remarkable in the six weeks since then - as the photos in this blog show. I hope to be able to run an article in July featuring photos of all of the elements of the project, completed.


Framework contract - signed, sealed and being delivered!

But, in the meantime, a huge thanks to all involved in making the project come so rapidly to fruition.

These include the generous supporters of the Sohm Schools Support charity, whose funds launched initiative and the many arms of Rotary who have provided additional funding and are overseeing the construction process. 

And finally, huge thanks to the fine and thoroughly professional staff of contractors, Future In Our Hands, whose steady application is gradually bringing to fruition what, three years ago, was a casual conversation between me and the then deputy head of the school, about trying to transform it