School year ends in Sohm

Much of our attention this year has been spent in driving forward, with Rotary, the Sukuta school renovation project - about which more, later. 

But we haven't forgotten our friends in Sohm, the first school with which we worked in The Gambia. Although, for COVID reasons, we were unable to visit the country this year, we have been able to make an impact, as a result of the generous donations we have received from our supporters and sponsors.

What follows is a brief summary of some of our impacts over the last twelve months. 

We have assisted the school in getting anti-COVID supplies to it, including hand gels and a range of face masks and shields, as the photos below illustrate:

We supplied the staff with a new laptop computer, on which they have been able to keep the school's COVID records. Thankfully, there have been no incidents at the school.
We have maintained our annual stationery order to the school, whereby we are able to provide all materials the pupils and staff need for the whole academic year.
We introduced electricity to the school about five years ago, and gave a commitment that we would pay the running costs(fortunately no heating bills to incur!). Here is a receipt, for about £9, for the quarterly charges, we have been happy to support.
Regular readers will know that our biggest project in Sohm, to date, has been the construction of a large, multi-purpose, assembly hall last year. We are delighted to report that it continues to be well used, both by the school and the local community. Below are photos of one of the regular assemblies and, excitingly for us, pictures from an inter-school debating contest the school was able to host in the hall, recently.

The hall is the main community assembly room in the village of Sohm, and is used for a range of local events, such as the women's assembly shown below. We have encouraged the school to adopt a charging policy for these lettings and have offered to match fund the income they receive from the lettings, to supply enhancements to the hall and school. 

As a result, we have been able to purchase an additional 100 chairs for the school, a PA system (which many of those letting the building have asked for) and some much needed ceiling fans for the hall. This great partnership working has improved facilities in the school and strengthened community relationships and ownership of the hall.

From the UK, we have maintained our relationship with fellow British charity First Aid 4 Gambia and have ensured that there has been further first aid training and supplies given to the school. Many thanks to our Scottish friends for this. In the spirit of improving first aid facilities, we have also upgraded the beds in the sick room, which we restored a few years ago.

So, it's been a difficult year, because of COVID, but we feel that - even at a distance - we have been able to continue our support to the Lower Basic school in Sohm, thanks to the continued generosity of our family, friends and supporters. On behalf of the children in Sohm, we would like to say a very large Thank You to you all! 

Meanwhile, our major pre-occupation this year has been progressing the Sukuta project, which, with great Rotary assistance, we are attempting to oversee a major renovation of the Sukuta Lower Basic school. It has over 2,000 children and is the country's largest primary. 

There has been a slight delay in progressing this, as the Rotary annual budget for supporting projects such as ours was exhausted earlier than expected this year. However, the new Rotary year began on 1 July and we were encouraged to make a grant application for this new year. Which we have done! 

Without wishing to sound too confident, we look forward to being able to announce significant progress with the project within a month or two. 

Thank you for reading. Your continued support is important to us, and is vital to Gambian youngsters.

Rotary and Sukuta

There are almost daily reports in the UK press about how charities have suffered financially during the COVID pandemic, as funds have dried up and donors cut back.  SSS, in its own small way, has been no different. School lockdowns have meant we have lost our largest single source of income this year, the fund-raising efforts of the ever-generous Beech Hill school in Luton. Some of our biggest backers have either cut back or diverted their funds to perhaps more pressing problems during the year.

But, to the rescue has come Rotary International!

  

Rotary - inspirers and principal funders of the Sukuta project

The Rotary Club of Redbridge has been a regular supporter of SSS over the last four or five years, and clearly liked what they have seen in terms of feedback and the evidence of generous donations being put to good and effective use.

John of SSS became a member about eighteen months ago and the club has encouraged us to spread our wings within the Rotary family in seeking support for our efforts with Gambian education.

As mentioned in the previous two posts, we have addressed most of the major infrastructure challenges that required fixing at the Sohm primary school (electrifying the school, upgrading the staff quarters, renovating the toilets, regenerating the school’s library, increasing the water supply and access, revamping a sick room, refurbishing a six-classroom block and finally building a brand new multi-purpose hall).

Our key contact at Sohm, deputy head, Lamin Saidy had been transferred to a similar post in the country’s largest primary school, in Sukuta – essentially a suburb of the country’s biggest urban sprawl, Serekunda – where he found similar problems of infrastructure neglect.

  

Lamin Saidy - Sukuta's deputy head - acknowledging the role Rotary played in helping to transform Sohm Lower Basic School

Together, and with the encouragement of the school’s leadership, staff, PTA governors and local education director, we put together an ambitious nine-point plan, spelled out in the previous post:

·         Double water tank capacity

·         Greatly increase the number of water supply standpipes

·         Renovate unhealthy toilets

·         Build the school’s first sick room

·         Bring the dilapidated library back into use

·         Build a covered area for food suppliers

·         Increase the size of the school’s computer room

·         Restore the out-of-bounds school hall, and

·         Create the school’s first staff room

Rotary International is a huge organisation, dedicated to charity, with clubs in almost all countries world-wide. Each club is semi-autonomous in terms of fund-raising activity and charity giving; but the collective efforts of Rotary have been amazing.

We have constructed a complex structure of mainly Rotary-based funding arrangements that will finance most of the £60,000 required to pay for the Sukuta project, transforming The Gambia’s largest primary school into one that is fit-for-purpose in facing the challenges of the 2020s.

  

The PTA meets and enthusiatically endorses all elements of the Sukuta renovation project - including the proposal to restore the old school hall (as yet unfunded) - so that their future meetings can be held inside!

Sohm School Support is contributing £10,000 to the funding of the Sukuta project. Redbridge Rotary is adding a further £5,000. The London District of Rotary is contributing $10,000 (US). Redbrige has a neighbouring club, Barkingside which is generously contributing to the project and it is twinned with clubs in Holland and Slovenia who are also adding upto 1,000 Euros each.  Based on this network of support, we currently have a grant application to Rotary International for a global grant of a further $10,000.

In order to be eligible for the Global Grant we have had to enlist local (to The Gambia) support. So, the Gambian Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE) is contributing the reconstruction of the school toilets as its contribution (see photo). And the Rotary Club of Brusubi (about 10 miles from Sukuta school) will becoming the local managing agents for the project.

New toilets are under construction - the Gambian government's contribution to the Sukuta renovation project

If we are successful with our Global Grant application, we hope to begin the major renovation project as the school breaks up for the summer holidays, so the bulk of the most disruptive work can be undertaken when the children are not present. We anticipate everything being finished within one school year.

We are confident of the plans, because, as explained previously, we will be getting the band back together for construction purposes.  It will be the same people – school deputy head, Lamin and contractor, Future in Our Hands – who have worked so successfully in Sohm with us over the years, who will be delivering in Sukuta, overseen and prompted by the support and attention of the local Rotary club.

  

Offices of Future in Our Hands - the not-for-profit building contractors who will undertake the construction work

So, the old team – ex-Sohmites – will deliver on a project overwhelmingly funded by the new team – Rotary International. The Rotary contribution is quite incredible, involving the generosity of clubs from four nations (England, the Gambia, Slovenia and Holland), together with the transglobal Rotary International, in oreder to transform the educational prospects for children in one of Africa's poorest countries.

We hope to have full funding in place to start the project in July so that seven of the nine sub-projects can be delivered over the following twelve months. The final two (italicized in the list above: school hall and staff room), however, are currently unfunded.

It is our aim to raise the £12,000 required for these two elements within the next year, so that the entire nine-aspect renovation project can be completed within one calendar year of having the construction workers on site.

Your support would, as ever, be most welcome.

Next edition in two weeks: Not forgetting Sohm!

 


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.