Great progress with the new hall

The schools have been back from the summer holidays in The Gambia for about a month and there has been significant progress in the construction of the new hall in Sohm, that so many of you have generously contributed to.

As the photos show, the shell of the building has now been completed and plastering/rendering work is continuing apace.

As we have previously mentioned, our key contact at the school, Mr Lamin Saidy has been given a significant promotion away from the school, and we wish him well. 

Great progress with the construction work

The king is dead - long live the king! We are delighted to welcome Mt Jawara, as the new head.

He is in the white cap, at the centre of the photo, above, being shown around the construction project, with which he is totally delighted.

We are hopefully that the building will be complete by December, with the official opening next January, when Sandra and I will both be present.

Meanwhile, we are moving apace in furnishing the hall, through a great contact we have made, who imports second hand furniture into The Gambia from the UK.  

He has just sourced us 24 sturdy tables, that  can be used at school meal times, then stacked and pushed to one side of the hall, when other activities are taking place. Our friend is on the look out for a further 30 or so of them to ship out.

We have previously mentioned that he had secured 125 chairs for us, which are now in The Gambia. He has sourced a further 75, which will be shipped out in time for the opening of the hall.

Our "Make a name for yourself in Africa" (see earlier posts, below), initiative has gone well.  We are delighted to say that we are now able to "name" 62 chairs, under the scheme.  But there are still about 140 chairs without a name on their back, and for just £25 a chair, you could change that!

While, generally, it is invidious to name donors or chair sponsors, we must make an exception in the case of the family of Yasmin Hussain, a member of staff at Luton's Beech Hill school which is twinned with the Lower Basic school in Sohm.

Yasmin has been an enthusiastic supporter since we first met her, two and a half years ago.  She has passed on her dedication to her two children and six nephews and nieces.  Aged between 5 and 18, the eight of them have saved their Zakat (an Islamic charity donation scheme) and donated £300 to "name" twelve chairs in the school. Their parents have been so inspired by their action that they have added a further £200 - making a total family donation of £500 to Sohm.

Yasmin Hussain's generous family, showing their
support for Sohm Lower Basic school, in action!
Left to right; Saffa (11), Ibrahim (7), Alisha
(12, Anisa (16), Esa (6), Haleema (5),
Sumaya (11) and, front Musa (5)

We really can't thank them enough, and can't wait to bring back photos from Sohm, showing some of the school's youngsters at work on the chairs the family have sponsored.

A very productive summer

As the children in Sohm look to return to school, next week, they - and we - can reflect on a very productive summer for the school.

Construction work on our Sohm 2020 project - the new multi-purpose hall for the school - is proceeding at a rapid rate. We had only just put in place funds to complete the project in early July, and a week later signed the contracts and documentation, when, within days, work began on site.

The photos tell their own story of
rapid progress within six weeks.
As can be seen from the photos, progress has been remarkable on this 30 metre building, that will act as: a school dining room, assembly hall, gymnasium, prayer hall, and village meeting hall. We are optimistic building will be complete by the end of this year, so that we can be present at an official opening in the early months of 2020 - on schedule for our plans!

Make a Name for Yourself in Africa

In July we launched our "Make a Name for Yourself in Africa" initiative, where we offered donors the chance to have a chair in the new hall named after them, or a person of their choice. Each sponsored chair would have the chosen name stencilled on the back of it, and recorded, with brief details of the named person, on a Scroll of Honour, to be displayed in the hall.

We are delighted to say that we now have over 50 chairs sponsored, out of our first purchase batch of 100. We hope to purchase another 75 chairs later this year.

Our generous donors have been very imaginative in their choice of "names". Twelve grandchildren will receive copies of a photo of a Sohm child sitting on "their" chair, in the hall, in early 2020. 

Others have nominated four children, six African footballers, three African musicians, four Gambian historic figures, four world-wide philanthropists, three US civil rights leaders/campaigners, four deceased loved ones. 

Each donor will receive a photo of a Sohm pupil sitting on a chair with their nominee's name on the back of it, next year.

For just £25 you can have the name of
 your  choice properly stencilled on to the
 back of one of the chairs in the new hall.
 Your nominated person will have a brief
note about them on a Scroll of Honour
in the hall, and we will send you a photo
of a pupil, sitting on "your" chair when we
 visit Sohm next January.
See post, below, for further details.

One enthusiastic supporter has gone for slogans of encouragement, like "Go for it", as their sponsored message on four separate chairs!

We have worked hard and well with two heads and one deputy head at Sohm Lower Basic, who are no longer at the school - because of death or promotion elsewhere - to help us with this project. Each will be remembered on a chair back, as will the two principal funders of the project: Beech Hill Community School and Redbridge Rotary Club. Generous, anonymous sponsors from each of those organisations have paid for two chairs each, as a timely reminder of the contribution of their organisation to the construction of the hall.

We would like to say a big "Thank you" to each of these sponsors - and you know who you are! - for supporting this new hall project so imaginatively and constructively.

If you haven't got round to "Making a Name for Yourself in Africa", and would still like to - don't worry, you still have time, and there are available chairs! See the post immediately below this for full details of the scheme and how to sign up and help.

Moving on

It is with a little sadness that we report that Lamin Saidy, the deputy head at Sohm, with whom we have worked so closely on our projects at the school is moving on. He has been promoted to another school, and is excited at the new challenges he faces.  This is a justified reward for his diligence in Sohm, and we wish him well in his new post.

It is to Lamin's eternal credit that he put a great deal of effort into succession planning. One of the younger members of staff at the school, whom he mentored - Yahya Badjie - has picked up the baton and is continuing with the excellent supervision of the new building and reporting back to us, in Lamin's absence (including sending almost all the photos in this post).

Virtuous circle: outgoing deputy head, Lamin
 Saidy (right), with mentor, Yayha Badjie,
 displaying lesson planning booklets for staff
that they had made from materials supplied by
Sohm Schools Support. These put into practice tips
picked up from a training day delivered five years ago
by Natalie Carson, now deputy head of Beech Hill
school, Luton - Sohm's largest institutional funder!

So - a little period of adjustment for us, promotion for Lamin and a great opportunity for the new generation. The future looks safe. Couldn't be better! 

Summer school

One of Lamin's last jobs at Sohm was to organise three sets of summer classes, over the holidays for 133 of the school's children. These were a transitional class - for those moving to the village's senior secondary school, which we have significantly assisted. Plus two others, for pupils facing the Gambian equivalent of SATS 1 and 2 next year.

Lamin, and colleagues, identified the need, put together a case and we were delighted to find a sponsor who was happy to pay the £420 that it cost to put on the classes over the summer, shown in the photos, above and below.

Thank you all, once again, for your support for Sohm Schools Support. We hope you'll agree that the work in partnership, we have done with the school community there is bringing exciting results - and making a real difference to young African children's lives.

Make a name for yourself in Africa

The good news is, that through the fantastic efforts of our supporters, we have met our Sohm 2020 target - of raising £20k, by 2020, to build a new hall for the school and village. It will act as: a dining hall, assembly room, gymnasium, performance area, prayer room and village hall.

Building team survey the site
Work has already begun on construction, and we are promised completion by the end of this calendar year, and hope to bring back photos and videos to share with you, when we next visit in Jan/Feb 2020.

And the important stuff - the tape
measure is out.  Must be serious!
The even better news is that we are giving you an opportunity to become involved with the next stage in the project - and help furnish the hall!

We are launching: "Make a name for yourself in Africa". This is seeking sponsors to pay £25 to have a chair in the new hall dedicated to them. We have struck a deal with a furniture company to supply us with chairs, and with a stencil firm who will make stencils of people's names, which can be painted on the back of the chairs.

Your name - to be stenciled
 on the back of a chair
So - you may want your own name, that of a relative (living or deceased) as a memorial, or present. Or you might want the name of someone who you think could be a role model to these young Gambians - a sports star, a music or artistic performer etc. Sandra and I, for example, will be naming some chairs after some of our grandchildren and role model African footballers who play for Crystal Palace or Chelsea!

In addition to a name on the back of a chair, all sponsors will also have a one-line entry (of the choosing of the sponsor) about their subject on a "Scroll of Honour" that will be on the wall of the hall, so the children can see whose chair they are sitting on!

There are some minor conditions:

1. We will not permit the use of the name of any living politician, from anywhere, to be featured. We reserve the right to deny the use of any name we deem to be inappropriate.

2.The offer will allow for 14 characters in a name (inc spaces), there will be an additional cost of £5 for up to 14 more characters.

3. We would appreciate your donation at any time, but the offer closes on 15 December 2019, and photos and extracts from the scroll will be sent in February 2020.

4. Any queries about how to make the donation, or about the offer should be sent to

We would hope to get as many sponsors as possible signed up by the cut off point in December, so that we can get the stencils taken out in January and have the photos of a child sitting on the sponsors chair taken when we are next in the country.

All sponsors will get a framed photo of a Sohm youngster sitting on "their chair", and an extract from the Scroll of Honour. But most of all, they can have the satisfaction of having helped transform the education and life chances of a Gambian child.

I do hope you will be able to support us. But don't worry - we'll still talk to you, whatever your choice!

2nd July 2019 - a red letter day for Sohm

Tuesday 2 July 2019 was a great day for Sohm, although few in the village would have known it, at the time.

It was on that day that the last piece of funding fell into place and we were able to sign off the cost schedule and timeline for building the new hall and kitchen for the Lower Basic school. This was a project that we had labelled Sohm 2020, two years ago, as we set about raising £20,000 by 2020 for the project.

We are ahead of schedule and hope to be present for the opening of the new facility in January next year!

Architect's plans for the new hall -
to be complete by the end of this year!

The building will be our most significant contribution to the village of Sohm - by some distance - since we established the charity eight years ago. It will replace an old school dining hall, which had to be demolished, because it was dangerous two years ago, with a brand new facility. The previous building - over 35 years old - was inflexible. Its "furniture" consisted of immovable concrete blocks, which children perched on to eat from other concrete blocks. The school kitchen had no modern equipment.

Village elders and school governors,
after a session planning the layout and
location of the new school hall, in January 2019

The new building - 30 metres long - will be multi-functional. In addition to being a dining hall - , because we are acquiring flexible, portable furniture - it can also be used as a gym, an assembly hall, a prayer room, and the village's first community village hall. Village leaders have played a significant role in helping to design and decide the location for the hall, as shown by the photographs. They have been overwhelmed with gratitude at the generosity of our supporters.

Above: the decrepit (and now demolished)
building the new school hall will replace. Below: its
 roof, that was in danger of collapse

Our charity has been assisted by a number of individual donors, whose efforts have helped us reach our funding targets so rapidly.  We thank them all - you know who you are!

In addition, we have received huge support and assistance from two major organisational donors: Beech Hill community primary school, in Luton and Redbridge Rotary club. Sohm Lower Basic school has shown its recognition of their efforts on the freshly painted walls (funded by these donors!) in the main teaching block (see photo).

Redbridge Rotary and Beech Hill's logos,
outside Sohm LBS head's office, by way of
appreciation for their fund-raising efforts.

We have covered the activities of Beech Hill school in a number of posts (see above) notably for their splendid and highly successful Gambia Days.

Tuesday 2 July, however, was - in addition to our signing off the contract for the new build - a big day in our relationship with Redbridge Rotary Club. It was the hand-over day from one president to another.

Outgoing president, and friend of our charity, Tony Betts, presented two awards to SSS in his farewell address. One was a cheque of £1,000 to us - as one of his nominated charities for the year. The second was a prestigious Certificate of Appreciation from Rotary International for charitable work we undertake in The Gambia, putting some of the funds that they have raised to such good purposes. We were greatly humbled by both awards.

John and Sandra (centre) from SSS, receiving the
 Rotary International Certificate of Appreciation
from Tony Betts (left), immediate past president,
 and Mike Bell, incoming president of Redbridge Rotary 

The Rotary International Certificate of Appreciation

We would, very publicly, like to put on record our immense gratitude to Redbridge Rotary for its generous support to us over each of the last four years - and we look forward to its continuation.

We promised the club, in return for their support, to return next February with a short video of the opening of the new hall, for which they have contributed so much, to support.
The old kitchen's cooking stoves

"Furniture" in the old building, which
 made it unfit for multi-purpose use.

They, like Beech Hill, and all of our generous sponsors really have helped transform young African lives, in ways in which it is difficult to appreciate from the comfort of our homes in the UK.

Thanks, one and all - onward to 2020 and the opening of the new hall!

Beech Hill's generosity tops £8,000

Beech Hill Community Primary School, Luton - which is twinned with Sohm Lower Basic school - recently held their second "Gambia Day" and raised over £2,000 for their linked school in The Gambia.

Beech Hill's 2019 Gambia Day: some of the pupils
 "modelling" African masks we took for the occasion,
 all suitably dressed in Gambian flag colours, and
supervised by SSS's Sandra Walker,
 sporting her Gambian top

It was a "non-uniform" day in the school, and pupils were encouraged to go dressed in the red, blue and green colours of The Gambian flag. Sandra and John Walker, of Sohm Schools Support lead assemblies for the 900 pupils at the school, and were in attendance all day, sharing stories and watching the Luton children hard at work

Beech Hill pupils, hard at work,
 creating Gambian flags

The day's school work was turned over to Gambia-related topics, as students wrote postcards home to their parents, based on an imaginary holiday in the tourist country of The Gambia. Other children drew and painted African scenes, from materials shown to them by our charity and accessed on the internet. There were African dance, song and story telling sessions; and at the end of the day some of the pupils' parents sold curries and other food, from donated products, with the proceeds going to the Gambian school.

Painting and cutting out masks

Over £2,000 was raised on the day, bringing the total fund raising efforts of Beech Hill's pupils, parents and staff to over £8,000 over the last two years.

Natalie Carson, deputy head of Beech Hill said: "The Sohm story has really captured the imagination of our pupils and parents, who have been delighted to help. I visited the school in The Gambia about 5 years ago, and know what a huge difference our students' efforts will make to improving the educational chances of these African youngsters. The Gambia work is great for extending our children's education and appreciation of the ways of life of people their same age in other countries."

Some of the staff at Beech Hill have recently put a huge amount of work into creating an exhibition for the school's foyer, showing pupils and parents, alike, the results of some of the school-twinning.

Beech Hill's Sohm exhibition -
pride of place in the school foyer

The exhibition shows: Sohm and Luton's youngsters work celebrating the twinning. There are "before" and "after" photos of the difference Luton's fund-raising has made to projects in Sohm. There are press cuttings of some of the excellent coverage Beech Hill has received from Luton Today.

A key feature of the exhibit is the "building blocks of progress", this shows how far Beech Hill has come in raising its target of £10,000 for The Gambian school. Sohm School Support trustee, Sandra Walker said: 

We are able to get "matched funding" from others for Beech Hill's efforts, which means we can soon start construction on our most ambitious project: a 30 metre hall and kitchen for Sohm Lower Basic school. This will replace a dangerous and dilapidated dining hall that was not fit for purpose.
And ... the money raised by Beech Hill,
to date - in excess of £8,000 - well placed
to hit their £10,000 target by 2020.

The new building will be multi-functional and act as a dining hall, gym, meeting room, assembly hall, prayer room and the village's first community hall. It will last until the Beech Hill students are themselves parents of primary school pupils in Luton. What a fabulous present and legacy they are giving to their Gambian friends! 
Meanwhile, we undertake to keep you updated, as progress is made on the construction of the new building and hope to be there for its opening in the new year, which we will record and share on this site.