Sohm schools and COVID

It's September and the schools are returning in England, rather gingerly.  So, what, we are often asked, is happening in Sohm?

Like the UK, The Gambia went into lockdown in March, and all schools were closed - but they have yet to open again.

The pandemic seems to have hit the country less badly than most others. Until about a month ago there had only been two recorded deaths, nation-wide and the infection rate seemed to be low.

The government publishes a simple daily summary of the situation with regard to COVID, like today's - below. It is easy to see what is happening, at-a-glance, and we have heard no suggestion from anybody that the government is lying, or making claims and promises it can't keep.

 

The Gambian government's simple daily message on COVID - not "World Beating", not "Moonshoting", but simple, honest and clear

A little over a month ago, there was a sudden surge of deaths and the total number shot up rather rapidly, from two to the seventies.  The government responded by extending the lockdown and introducing a dusk til dawn curfew. The death rate began to drop quite dramatically and there have only been two deaths in the last week.

Which is great news!  Because the medical infrastructure in the country is fragile  and it could not cope with a large infection rate.

To put the total Gambian death figure into context, we live in a London borough with one sixth the population of the whole of The Gambia, but we have experienced over three times the total number of deaths - suggesting that things in London have been 18 times worse than The Gambian's situation.

Which brings us back to The Gambian schools. They should be on the point of re-opening, but they will not be doing so.  The government is working on a number of options - one is to open schools six days a week, for extended days, with all pupils attending on alternate days.  There are a number of problems, of course - not the least the impact this would have on the teachers. 

Gambian TV and radio have been used as teaching substitutes over the last six months, but few families - particularly in Sohm have TVs. And, obviously it would be counter-productive if people without TVs crammed into the houses of people with them. The education situation is far from ideal.

When we visited the country, pre-lock-down, in January we took a gift from the wonderfully supportive Redbridge Rotary Club. A fellow Rotarian, from Australia, had developed/invented a simple device called a Spa-Tap, as an aid to personal hygiene. Redbridge Rotary purchased a number of these and we took 30 to The Gambia with us.

A Spa Tap device

it's a simple tough plastic valve that can be attached to a 2-litre water bottle, filled with tap water. Easily-applied pressure opens and closes the valve to allow water to flow, which can be used for hand washing and even showers. 

We took them to two schools, so that the bottles could be filled from stand-pumps  and students, on a "monitor" basis, could take them to the toilets - where there is no running water, to enable users to wash their hands after visting the facility.

Collecting empty bottles for Spa taps

Little did we know that hand-washing would attract so much attention and exhaltation just a month later, when COVID first entered our conciousness.

The regional director of education, headmaster and his deputy and a local Iman giving their backing to the Spa Tap

We hope the Redbrige-Rotary funded 30 taps have done their bit to keep COVID at bay in Sohm! 

And the kids get a look in too - including two rather large ones from the UK! 

And finally - the good news!
 
One piece of very good news on the health front concerns Robin Mallet, founder, with his wife Carol, of our Jersey-based partners in The Gambia - The Jersey Gambia Schools Trust. Last November he was diagnosed with tounge and throat cancer. Now - after nine months of surgery and intensive treatment - he has been declared cancer-free. He can't wait to get his sleeves rolled up and to be back in action on bealf of the children of Sohm.  Well done, Robin!

 

Sohm 2020 project completed!







Thanks to one and all of our supporters


In 2018 we launched our Sohm 2020 project, to replace a derelict dining hall in the Lower Basic school, with a multi-purpose hall - within two years.

We have succeeded: raised the funds, demolished the old hall and seen the new one completed!

We would like to thank our supporters, particularly Beech Hill school, Luton and the Redbridge Rotary Club for helping us fund the project.


The condemned, unfit, building above
 is the ramshackled one we have replaced

The new one can now act as: dining and assembly hall, gym, prayer and meeting room, and community area for the village.

With your help, through our 'sponsor a chair' scheme, we have been able to furnish the hall with almost 400 stackable chairs and dozens of tables - to enable the hall to be multi-functional.


The sponsor a chair scheme has
helped us furnish the new hall

Dozens of you contributed. For just £25 you were able to "Make a name for yourself" in Africa - and have a chair named after a loved one or inspirational figure for the African youngsters in the school.

We posted a "Scroll of Honour" in the hall, with the names of the chairs and why the people should be inspirational to the pupils.


Scroll of Honour - listing the names on the
 chairs, and the importance of that person

The new building is magnificent and was completed by local labour, using largely local materials.


The magnificent new hall

It was built: on time, to spec and on budget.  It has: electricity, running water and glass windows, that the old building did not.

Because the fencing around the school perimeter is now secure, the school community is now able to cultivate crops within the grounds, which can be cooked in the new kitchen - part of the hall complex - and help improve the diet of the children and encourage more local self-sufficiency.


Cultivating the crops in the school grounds,
 for use in the hall's new kitchen, better food
 for the children and a step towards self-sufficiency

The school and village are delighted with the building and came out in their hundreds, to the "official" opening in January 2020.

The village came out in there hundreds, to
welcome and accompany us on the way to the
hall on the day of the "official opening"

The village elders came out in force, to greet
 and thank us for your efforts in funding the new hall


The village grandees, out in force,
to "open" the hall, for the first time

The dancing and partying, to welcome
the opening went on for hours!

The children sang and performed for
us - to express their thanks

70 orange trees were planted in the school grounds to celebrate the opening.


Orange tree planting -
to celebrate the opening



The Director of Education (centre - yellow top)
visited and expressed his gratitude for the hall


The Regional Director of Education visited the new hall and was delighted with what he said; adding his voice to that of the local community in saying:


Thank you, one and all, for improving the lives of 400 African children

And ... the children were delighted!
If you would like to sponsor a chair (yes, there are still some available for this!)they are £25 each.  Just send us the name you would like on the chair, and a few words about the person to include on the "Scroll of Honour".

Bank: Santander.
A/c name: UK Sohm Seccondary School (The Gambia)
Sort: 090128
A/c no.: 04453414

e.mail: John@SohmSchoolsSupport.org.uk