Friday, December 18, 2009

Atlantic Rising

An interesting project: a British team are travelling round the rim of the Atlantic Basin and linking schools along their journey with each other. The idea is to educate about the Climate Change and consequent rising of the Atlantic and the related issues and to engage the youngsters at the various schools on their journey in the dialogue about the causes and effects within their lives.

At EducAid, we are always delighted to have our youngsters challenged by new opportunities, new ways of thinking, new contacts and connections so we jumped at the chance.

Apparently, our students did more than hold their own. Well done to all involved and thank you to the 'Atlantic Rising' team.

If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid's work, please see:

Injustice - one serious face of the poverty in Sierra Leone

The most clear places to see the poverty in Sierra Leone are in the provision of health care and in the total lack of real justice.

Please go to this site for an excellent article written by one of the founders of AdvocAid.

AdvocAid contracts EducAid to provide basic education in the female wings of both the Central Prison in Freetown and the prison in Kenema.

Jimiyke - the public speaker

Jimiyke is still waiting for further feedback on the last few tests to ensure that his health is secure but in the meantime he is putting his time to good use. Various friends have offered opportunities to sit alongside them and improve his ICT skills and, in addition, he is fast becoming a bit of a mini-celebrity. He spoke, during his first week in the UK, at North Oxfordshire Academy and the students came out of his assemblies enthused and moved. Since then, he has been speaking on skype quite regularly to Alex Ehegartner's [Stockport Citizenship teacher] students. This week he has been to Alex's school in person and has spoken to an assembled group of representatives of around a dozen schools in the Stockport area. He spoke about his experiences during the war and also about what EducAid has done for him. I understand that once again the listeners were greatly moved by what he had to say.

As a result of this meeting, he was invited to St Simon's [long standing EducAid supporters] to see the Nativity play and to speak to parents and children. His visit and what he had to say were received, as ever, with great enthusiasm.
Jimiyke speaking to Year 4.

For those new to Jimiyke's story see earlier posts from May to date and
Jimiyke is one of my personal heroes - a young man of great courage and integrity.

His own experiences in the UK are recorded on his blog

If you want to know more about EducAid's work please see

Thursday, December 17, 2009

EducAid's first graduate - a Big Day!

Mohamed Sannoh - A very proud day for him and for us all.
Ok....and a few others too!
Mohamed Sannoh, the longest standing EducAid pupil, has graduated from Fourah Bay College in Freetown, Sierra Leone in Accounting and Finance.

Mohamed was part of our sponsorship programme in the very early days before there was an EducAid school. Mohamed finished his education at the EducAid Senior Secondary School and was the first EducAid student to gain entrance to university.

For more details about his courage and strength in the pursuit of education see:

For more information about EducAid's work see:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Getting festive in aid of EducAid

Quite a few Santas then!
Triumphant! Alison and Megan post 'dash'.
Alison Walsh of Lambeth Academy and one of her students, Megan, participated in a 6 kilometre Santa Dash around Battersea Park, sponsored for EducAid. Alison is a long-term supporter of EducAid's work and has visited the project twice.

To learn more about EducAid's work see

Introduction of a Skills Based Teacher -training Curriculum in Sierra Leone

Sean [British teacher] and I have been working like mad things on writing up the distance learning modules for a brand new teacher training programme. At present, approximately 40% of Sierra Leonean teachers are trained and qualified so this programme does have the potential to make a real difference to the quality of education in secondary schools across the country.

This week we are training the tutors and mentors that will support the 40 student-teachers who will participate in the pilot in Kenema and Kono, the far east of Sierra Leone. In January, the course goes live, starting with 2 week residential sessions.

The new course adopts a completely new approach. It is a skills based course which attempts clearly, for the first time ever, to address the real needs of the nation at this time and in the current context. It is a very exciting project for the development of the whole country if implemented well.
Tutors and mentors of the new Higher Teachers Certificate Course think through the implications for teacher training of a skills based curriculum.
Another interesting aspect for us is where EducAid staff have been able to participate in various ways. This week, Brima Will and next week Emmanuel Bailay, members of the EducAid Leadership Team, are observing the training so that they can serve as monitoring and evaluation officers of the residential courses.

It is interesting to see how, thanks probably to the regular EducAid training, they are more than able to hold their own in the company of the country's teacher training lecturers.
Brima Will of EducAid attending the training of tutors and mentors.

For more information on EducAid's work see

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A darker day today

4 months ago today, we lost our beloved Alhassan, needlessly to medical negligence and being in a poor country that is riddled with corruption.

For more information about our work, see

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Challenging a culture of underachievement

This year, EducAid senior secondary students came 5th in the country in their public exams. On the face of it, fantastic. In reality, however, I was mad as fire at the horrible underachievement of some of our students. Many of them did not get anything close to their potential. Some did, but far too many did not.
Sitting their public exams - better than most but not achieving their true potential yet.
Of course the first thing is that this tells quite a terrifying story of national underachievement and then the second thing is understanding the causes and therefore how to tackle such an enormous problem.

It has taken me literally years to realise that even the teachers here do not expect the students to cover the whole syllabus and saw that as a wholly unrealistic task to set their students. Teachers have, therefore, encouraged their students to believe themselves fit for the exam with under 50% of the syllabus covered. Accordingly, I have a battle with students who promise me with great confidence, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that if I enter them for the public exam that they will show me; that they will prove themselves; that they will come out with 'flying colours' and so on. When their records are checked, we will discover that in nearly all subjects the students concerned have passed Unit Tests in under half the units. The course being broken down into units with a test at the end of each one, the successful passing of a unit test is thus the evidence that they are competent in that area of the course.
Requiring the students to actually cover the whole syllabus is regarded as unfair, putting them back in their studies and their progress and generally willfully evil, on my part. This year, I have dug my heels in, taken control of the entries decisions myself and we are entering a tiny group. Next year, now the students are slowly getting the message and are pushing themselves to actually complete each course, we should be in a position to enter a really good, strong group of students and I think I have at last got the teachers onside. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a whole new era!

We could so easily mimic the poor performance that is seen across the country but to what end? We would simply help our students recycle themselves back into poverty through their academic underachievement. If we can now start to break that culture, we will start to see our students able to genuinely compete with youngsters anywhere on an equal footing; we will start to see our students challenging their contemporaries from the elite classes with real knowledge, thinking and skills.

There is now a nucleus of students who have formed themselves into study groups and who are pushing themselves not just on the Unit Test front, although they are impressive in that respect, but also in terms of accessing ICT, reading outside their subject areas, practising their English accents, listening to the radio to improve their general knowledge and understanding of current affairs and more. They are our real hope for a true EducAid academic hot house. The solutions will not come over night as the problem is so ingrained but we have started to see a light at the end of the tunnel!

For more information about EducAid's work see:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

How incredible

Amazing good news. The diagnosis we had hoped against hope for - full recovery from Hepatitis C has actually now been confirmed. 15% of cases self heal so it was a possibility but very unlikely once Hepatatis C antibodies had been detected.

Jimiyke nearly died of unknown causes in March. TB was suspected but never proved. Hepatitis C antibodies were detected but no further diagnosis was possible in Sierra Leone.

The initial scans given by the doctors showed such extreme liver cirrhosis that he was given maybe a year to live. Unthinkable to sit back and watch while he degenerated. Now we wonder if he was given the wrong ones - after all, almost anything is possible in Sierra Leone.

He continued to have some abdominal swelling and pain for some time and eventually, after much battling and much generosity, a visa was obtained so that his health could be properly assessed in the UK, as both TB and Hepatitis C are generally terminal if untreated.

Today, he has received the letter that his body has healed itself. He has definitely had both TB and Hepatitis C but he definitely no longer has Hepatitis C. I have cried for him twice this year. I cried first when I heard in March, from the UK, that he had been admitted to the Connaught Hospital which is like a death sentence in itself. Today, I cried with relief.

With more kindness, help and concern from many good friends, he is taking advantage of any opportunity to be taught ICT by friends, preparing himself to come back and undertake some serious participation in the rebuilding of his country.

For those new to Jimiyke's story please read the post on 22nd May 09, 8th, 16th & 28th July and/or follow the link to:]

For more information about EducAid's work please go to:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

He is speaking for himself now

For those of you who have been following Jimiyke's story since the early days, you may be interested to hear that he is telling his story for himself now.

While tests have revealed that he does need intervention to protect his life and health, the good news is that his liver is in very good nick and not requiring immediate treatment as the events in March had suggested. The bottom line is that, now he is in the UK, a clear picture is possible and then wise and informed decisions can be made. None of which is possible with the terrible and terrifying medical facilities available in Sierra Leone.

For those new to Jimiyke's story please read the post on 22nd May 09, 8th, 16th & 28th July and/or follow the link to:]

For more information about EducAid's work please go to:

Monday, November 30, 2009

Women and education in Sierra Leone

My recurring problem: how to get strong women to teach the girls and provide a positive role model.

The women who should be teachers by now have not been invested in at the appropriate ages in the past. Accordingly, finding women to recruit as teachers is a real problem. Sadly, even when we find and want to recruit female graduates we have discovered that, in the main, they are not willing to actually do any work at all as they consider themselves above such things. Also shocking is the academic standard of many of them. I have learned that, for so many women, it is quite possible to sleep their way to success so why would they work hard with that option available to them!!!!

EducAid now has 5 women teachers of varying levels of education but with the right attitude and 3 female ex-EducAid students who teach across the three secondary schools. Of these, 3 have the appropriate qualifications and the remaining 5 will start the distance Higher Teachers' Certificate [all being well!] in the new year.

Sierra Leonean women have mostly been raised in the context of nobody believing in them, nobody expecting anything from them, not believing in themselves, significantly underachieving themselves and therefore they struggle, with the best will in the world, to be the role models we need them to be to the girls in their care.

Training for the female staff this time round was centred on the inspirational model of Ginger in 'Chicken Run'. Between lots of pep talks, occasional threats, much coaxing and a fair bit of fun, maybe we will get there!
The whole female staff team in training.

Friday, November 27, 2009

We're back

Still out of breath after the whirlwind tour organised by Jan and Anne [my long-suffering diary arrangers] Kofi and I are now back in Sierra Leone. It was hectic, but it needed to be and there are many positives from the trip in terms of new fund-raising initiatives and support.

There was a very encouraging meeting of all the UK volunteers - the management committee in the morning, joined by a good number of other supporters in the afternoon and for the first time everyone was able to put a face to the names generally flitting about by email. [Anyone who would like to be part of such a meeting in the future, please do let us know!]. Strangely, large chunks of N22, where the meeting was held, had gone out in empathy with Sierra Leone and had a power cut - a bit chillier in the UK when that happens though.
The Management Committee.

If we can get the engineer to flesh out his time line and 'flesh in' his labour costs, we have a commitment for the funding of a new senior secondary building in Rolal - fantastic news which will result in significant reduction in the pressure experienced in Freetown each year when up-country EducAid students have had to come to the capital to continue their education.

An exciting new initiative, master-minded by Alex Ehegartner [you can see why his pupils call him Mister E / mystery!] of Stockport Grammar School, is gathering momentum and getting interest from other areas too. The 'Link My Schools' project , with the motto 'Stockport Schools working as 1 on 1 initiative' is linking a growing number of schools, largely organised by their student councils, to work on curriculum and fund-raising projects to learn from and about EducAid and Sierra Leone while supporting us at the same time. []

Jimiyke is still undergoing tests, but preliminary results seem positive. He has been speaking to schools and motivating them in their endeavours on EducAid's behalf and impressing people with his quiet confidence as he speaks of his past and of EducAid's role in helping him to a new life.

He is also seeking to improve his English and ICT skills. We have skeleton plans for a whole ICT programme of work experience and exposure. He is looking forward to having lots of new knowledge and skills to take home with him to Sierra Leone. [For those new to Jimiyke's story please read the post on 22nd May 09, 8th, 16th & 28th July, 11th Nov and/or follow the link to:]
Jimiyke tucking in to his 'white man chop' with great enthusiasm.
St Simon's RC primary school, which hosts Kofi whenever we are in Stockport, have been modelling interactive learning in the early years so that I can go and convert the Maronka teachers. They are hard working and caring, but will greatly benefit from some ideas on how to get kids imaginative and creative.
St Simon's students modelling active learning, to help with training of Maronka staff.

We have a couple of visitors at the moment:
Pat Payton is on loan from the UK, post retirement and is working very hard with the science department and getting ready to train the staff in detection and support of dyslexic students.

And also Brother James of the Korean Kottongnae Community has been visiting to see, as part of their mission to the poor and abandoned, what they might be able to do to support EducAid - exciting possibilities!

Up-country today, and training the female EducAid staff tomorrow, it is as if we never went away.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Jimiyke in shock!

The 'Welcome Jimiyke to UK' fireworks in Battersea Park!
At long last, Jimiyke is in the UK ready to be assessed for treatment. Thanks to the hard work and generosity of many.
He was given a horrible time in the airport. His ticket had somehow or other bypassed the system and there was no boarding pass for him. After two hours of battling for his right to get on the flight, he was eventually given a hand-written boarding pass and allowed on [better than the 7 others behind him who were sent back for another night to stay in a hotel!]
He survived the trauma of his first escalator with dignity and maintained his vertical position. The first week has been spent getting used to the food, the transport, the 24/7 electricity, the fireworks displays and comparing notes on skype with Issa in China.
Next week he starts the medical stuff. Our prayers and thoughts are with him.
[For those new to Jimiyke's story please read the post on 22nd May 09, 8th, 16th & 28th July and/or follow the link to:]

For more information about EducAid's work please go to:

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Just to share a little taste of our tropical joys.....

Fancy a bit of this on your shoulder?

'Champion' is the local name for a little black and red acid fly. Kofi has a little scrape on his shoulder too and they have been walking on my face as well. How delightful.

It may be cold, grey, miserable and wet back in the UK but at least there will be no champion flies! UK and fundraising, here we come.
'champion' all over my shoulder - uggh!

Monday, November 2, 2009

And another one.....

The sun rising over the Malama Hills - the view from EducAid Lumley [Freetown].
A couple of weeks ago, I posted Juldeh's success and consequent plight on the blog. He had gained a place at Fourah Bay College, successfully saved £250 over the year [almost unheard of here] and was in the happy position of needing an additional £250 plus maintenance to make engineering studies become a reality.

Through the generosity of some friends of EducAid, he has achieved this first step of his dream and he is now part of the FBC engineering department. Well done Juldeh and thank you to his supporters.

Today, another of our young junior staff came to see me with a similar story. Emmanuel Bai Sesay has gained a place at IPAM [The Institute of Public Administration Management] to study Applied Accounting and has saved £200 of the £400 he requires. He has achieved this by working as a driver by night and a teacher by day, despite his father suddenly disowning him last year and refusing him further accommodation and support.

It is these little pictures of courage and determination that make it quite impossible to turn our backs on these young people. While they continue the fight, we must continue beside them.

Congratulations Emmanuel and good luck.

Meanwhile, if anyone is in the position to help with fees or maintenance, we will be extremely grateful.

For more information about EducAid's work, please see

Go Girls Go!

The Women's Project started in Lumley, Freetown in March 2006. Its target beneficiaries were girls who wanted to go to secondary school but, for whatever reason, were not at an appropriate academic standard. The project started with 18 girls and Henrietta Sandi [lead women's project teacher] and her colleagues went looking for more every afternoon, until the class was full and overfull.

For many of these girls, school was a discipline that was a complete shock. It was also counter to so many of the expectations surrounding them. In Sierra Leone, horribly, there are many girls who see education as a backwards step for women, as the men will not want you if you think you are smart etc etc.

We are extremely proud, therefore, of Kadiatu Tholley, Mabinty S Bangura and Hassanatu Sheriff [pictured below] who have battled against the prejudices and the difficult home circumstances, and have successfully moved from the Women's Project into the main stream school and on into the examination class. They sat the BECE [Basic Education Certificate Examination] in July and having just gained their results, are pushing on into the senior secondary classes.

We wish them every success and all courage in their on-going studies.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hungry to learn

While kids are kids and we would not pretend that our students are universal saints who always thirst for knowledge, it would certainly be fair to say that we see far greater willingness to put themselves out for education than we would from the average UK teenager.

I do not remember, while teaching in a British boarding school, ever having to threaten to confiscate the books of a student who I caught studying in the middle of the night. It is not an uncommon event here. [There is a conviction that getting up and working through the night is the only way of really being serious about your study.]

Equally noteworthy is the attitude of the staff to opportunities for training. I was one of those who grumbled whenever the mention of 'inservice' training was made, when I was teaching in the UK. I am genuinely impressed, therefore, at the willingness of all the EducAid staff to participate in whatever training is proposed.

It is worth saying that it is not a comfortable enterprise either. All the up-country staff camp in the Lumley [Freetown] school during trainings. This can involve sleeping bodies all over the place and everyone putting up with the discomfort, in order to access whatever new knowledge is going.

The entire staff has just returned back to base, having spent most of half term doing training in curriculum issues, IT and designing materials. There would be a rebellion amongst UK teachers who had such a programme proposed to them!
The leadership team: Serious engagement with the complexities of a skills based curriculum.

The junior staff: equally willing to think through the quality of their work.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Congratulations to the EducAid staff and students

Newspaper cutting from 'Awoko'.

It doesn't matter where our staff go at the moment, they are congratulated at every turn. Once again, we have 100% pass rates in the junior secondary [key stage 3 equivalent] public examinations [BECE] and Magbeni, in particular, are right at the top of the whole Northern area.

Our aim now is to help more and more youngsters achieve this success and to increase provision at senior secondary level [Key stage 4 equivalent plus a bit].

At the moment, we cause an increasing problem for ourselves, by all the Port Loko district students having to come to Freetown to continue their education after BECE. Each year therefore, we add another 60 students to the live-in population in Freetown. We have hopes that we will secure a donation for £40,000 to build a new structure in Rolal, Port Loko this year. The man with the money is due to visit in early November and will decide any time over the next few weeks. We are optimistic.

The other problem is that, because of our success and the never ending need, we are experiencing greater and greater demand programme-wide. For example, the Magbeni school has overflowed out of its original building into an enterprisingly constructed bamboo classroom.

Junior staff, Bai Bundu and Joseph Kai, in front of the new bamboo classroom in Magbeni.
AJ's tutor group inside the bamboo classroom.

Sadly, we really need to reduce the overall programme population by about 150 youngsters, in order to really do the quality of work we want to. Or, maybe another saviour will come forward with the means to construct something more durable in both Magbeni and Lumley, so we can stop turning youngsters away. Here's hoping!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Really good news this time

At long last! Thanks to the kind efforts of a talented lawyer by the name of Paul Chiy, who took up Jimiyke's case, his application was resubmitted and today we got a phone call to say that the visa has been granted. He has taken his passport up to the British High Commission today and will collect it on Monday. Justice has been served this time.

If all goes well, he will travel with Kofi and me in early November when we go back to the UK for fundraising. We now have to make arrangements with the consultant and can hopefully set things in motion for a full diagnosis and appropriate treatment. The medical situation here continues to daily appall us.

[For those new to Jimiyke's story please read the post on 22nd May 09 or follow the link to:]

If you want to know more about EducAid's work please go to

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

24/7 electricity - too good to be true?

EducAid at night with it's new electricity provision.

I met someone from World Bank in June. I was simultaneously outraged at the impunity with which, those who can, blatantly steal donor funding and at the incompetence of the aid agencies who unquestioningly hand over large amounts of donor money; amused at the woman's naivety and extraordinary incompetence and frustrated that once again the poor at the mercy of such people. She had been shown receipts for fuel and so on for the NPA [National Power Authority or No Power At all] and they had assured her that they were providing 24/7 electricity across Freetown. I laughed out loud. How long had she been in Freetown and not been able to work out that it was not true? We were generally getting 'government light' once or twice a week for a matter of hours.

The construction of the Bumbuna Dam to supply Freetown with hydro-electricity has been on-going since Alhassan was a child, as he remembered, and probably before too. It has been one of the new government's top priorities, however. And, in the last ten days we have finally seen some changes in the extraordinary non provision of power. We have had electricity most nights and most days [daytime power in most residential areas is generally unheard of]. It is life transforming to not have to head off to someone else's office, after your battery runs out, in order to recharge and continue working!

Please god, it lasts and someone didn't just lean on the wrong switch by mistake.

If you would like to know more about EducAid's work please go to

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Difficult choices

Sitting up in their bench beds.

3 years ago or so, we realised that the one room in Alhassan's mum's bungalow which was for the live-in girls, was just not sufficient, in comparison to the need. We put steel doors on the top floor of the school to secure it at night, found space for a couple of cupboards for their bags and things and installed a small shower and loo [The Anne Hewlett Toilet]. The nine girls that had been sharing downstairs then had a decent space to live in at the top of the school. In the rainy season, it was awash with water when the winds were in a certain direction, so we sorted out shutters to protect them from the wind and the weather. Slowly it has become home to an increasing number of girls who would otherwise have had to lose their education.

Now, there are 35 girls all sharing the one loo and the limited cupboard space, but keen to complete their schooling. This is in the context of a country where many girls see gaining an education as a negative step backwards, as the men won't want you if you are educated, as you might think you are their equal [not a universal point of view but a very common one nevertheless] so we are keen to encourage the few that think differently.

The problem now is that we daily have requests from other girls who are horribly vulnerable, whose families do not prioritise their education at all and who will have to leave school and return to domestic chores or worse, if they do not stay with us.

My fear is that, if we carry on squeezing them in, we do a lower and lower quality job with the ones we have with us already. However, turning girls away when the consequences are so horrible does not seem like a morally acceptable option either.

Very difficult choices ahead................

Meanwhile, any woman who fancies an unpaid but rewarding boarding mistress post, with a significant training element to it, please apply to!

For any more information about EducAid's work please see
Margaret saying her night prayers.
Hannah sorting out the cupboard.
Lined up along the wall, like sausages!
And more and more....... in between the desks.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

EducAid on the BBC

Some of our youngsters have the most harrowing tales from the war. A few of them interviewed each other as part of the BBC 'Hunger to Learn' series. Although, the versions they told in the interviews were quite calm, it gives a little taste of what they have been through. The courage and determination of these unknown heroes is exactly the sort of small scale focus that makes it possible for me to keep battling on. They are so determined to use education as a means to take control of their lives again that we have to carry on beside them too.

Please follow this link to read more:
Yayah & Margaret
Abu Bakarr Koroma


For more information about EducAid's work go to

Monday, October 12, 2009

Issa settling in

A month or so ago, Issa Fowai, our second student to achieve international scholarship, set off across the world to study engineering in China. This was a fantastic achievement and was, surprisingly, done entirely on merit [Sierra Leone not being known for its meritocracy!].

He has kept us posted with news of the ups and downs and challenges. The first very difficult thing was that everyone had to undergo another medical examination on arrival. Many African students from the group were returned to their country of origin when it was discovered that there was something the matter with him. One Sierra Leonean, although he had done a couple of years in China already, tested positive for leukaemia and was put straight on the next plane back to Sierra Leone. Death sentence!

Issa has survived all the tests and has thrown himself into his Chinese studies with great enthusiasm. He has one year of Chinese before starting the engineering course proper. He is terrified, though, as they have told him that he will be going to some far flung part of China where the temperatures go down to -40! God bless him. We continue to pray for him and wish him all the very very best.
Issa, dressed for the weather, sets off to class.
Issa takes on the massive new challenge of learning Chinese.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Working it out at 4 years old

Today, the family held the 40 days' ceremony for Alhassan. Lots of money was spent on lots of food and lots of people came and said some prayers and then ate lots. The family and friends came from near and far once more. I struggle to find much meaning in the whole thing.

More meaningful, by far, were the conversations I had with Kofi before he dropped off to sleep. He has been trying to think of ways of getting up to the sky to get Alhassan's spirit back, over the last couple of days, which is more than heart-breaking. Just as it has been when he has been telling me how lucky I am that he did not go in the car that day, with Alhassan, as he would have died too and then it would just be me left.

Today, he cried for Alhassan, for the first time since the funeral. He has continued with questions all the time and had accepted that he will not see Alhassan until the end of the world. Today though, suddenly, he twigged that the end of the world is a long long time away. Then, as we cried together, he looked at me and told me not to worry, dried his eyes, dried mine and moved on to other things. I look at him and am so sad that Alhassan is not here to share how he is growing and learning and feel the terrible injustice that he has no father as he grows up and then I look around again and everywhere I turn, in the school, there are stories considerably more difficult than ours.

We interviewed a handful of our youngsters yesterday, for the BBC, about the impact of the conflict on their education. Only one of them had both parents and some didn't even know whether their parents were alive or dead as they have had no contact since the 1990s when the rebel attacks separated them. For each of them, though, education was the way forward. The resilience here is amazing. I hope, though, that it will be spur to more than just deadening acceptance of whatever gets thrown at them. I hope that the resilience will become the strength to stand up to corruption and fight for a Sierra Leone where that is not the standard fare for so many youngsters.

The cousins in their Sunday best for the ceremony.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

More memorials

The differences in cultures is nowhere easier to see, between Europe and Africa, than in the bereavement process. To my mind a significant contributor to many families' poverty is the amount of money that has to be spent on burying the dead in order to avoid 'bad name', and to avoid losing the dead person's blessing and so on and so on. The funeral is a big deal. The 7 days ceremony is a smaller deal, but resources go, and the 40 days ceremony is another big one. Tomorrow will be the 40 days ceremony for Alhassan - more food, more money!

Today again, was a memorial football gala, held by the local football youth, Alhassan's friends. EducAid contributed a team which came in 2nd. It was very interesting that there were those who wanted to put pressure, on the referee, in order to ensure that we won, in Alhassan's honour. In what way do we honour him, if we reinforce the corrupt, unjust thinking and practices that effectively killed him? More people die daily here of poverty and corruption than ever died during the war. What these young people are prepared to do to win football, they will not hesitate to do later on in life or in public office in the future. If we wish to honour Alhassan's memory, we must encourage them to think in new ways or everything we are fighting for, in terms of education towards an equal playing field between the rich and the poor, is all completely in vain. I did make that point when I was asked to speak after the match!
The EducAid team.
The goal scorer - Joseph Kallon [Karishma]

Pa Foday and Kofi, spectators, clowning around at the final.

For more information see

Tertiary difficulties

The problems at the tertiary institutions continue apace but we still somehow or other need to be fighting that while continuing to push to get as many of our students in as we possibly can.

This year we have managed to obtain sponsorship from some very generous friends of EducAid for one engineering student, five student teachers and Issa has gained his scholarship for studies in China, and another young man has got assistance from a friend of his father's. This leaves us with a significant number who have already served as junior staff for one year and are ready to go on to the next stage but simply do not have the means.

One other young man has greatly impressed us with his determination. He should really have gone to study medicine but the stories of corruption at the College of Medicine have so daunted him that he has decided that Engineering is more likely to give him a fair chance. From a stipend of £8 per month and doing security work overnight for £24 per month, he has managed to save an impressive £250 while as well taking care of his younger sister. He bought the application form and got accepted. He has paid all his admissions costs, put the £250 as a down payment towards his fees and now needs an additional £250 + maintenance. We are hopeful that someone will come forward to help him. With an environment here of every NGO and his uncle in operation, many people are not willing at all to take responsibility for helping themselves and sit, passively, waiting for everything to be done for them. Juldeh has demonstrated himself as absolutely the opposite. He has done amazingly.

Of course, the following years are not sorted yet either but maybe he will get a grant, maybe a sponsor will be willing to help, maybe, maybe..... One step at a time.

For more information, see

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mike in Berlin

More goodwill and support from outside Sierra Leone.

While the Paris to Brussels cyclists were training and foraging for funds to complete their bike ride, my very dear friend, Mike, was training for his first marathon. One week after we completed our mad trip, Mike made his own trek across Europe and participated in the Berlin marathon. He not only finished in just over four hours, with approximately half of the runners in front of him and half behind, he has also raised a considerable sum for EducAid. The final total is not available yet - in fact anyone who would like to sponsor him can please feel free to do so via the website on this link:

I know you were asking Alhassan to keep you going and you felt that he had indeed been with you in spirit as you ran.

Thank you Mike - Good luck for the next one!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Is it progress or not?

The Human Development Reports [Annual reports prepared by the United Nations] for 2009 are out. Last year, Sierra Leone was 179th out of 179 countries on the Human Development Index i.e. the poorest country in the world. The HDI ranks all countries, with statistics, according to a compound measure combining Gross Income per capita, school enrolment rates and average life expectancy.

Norway is 1st on the index, the United States rank 13th and the United Kingdom is 21st. This year, Sierra Leone no longer ranks as poorest of the poor. It is 180th out of 182. Does this represent progress or not?

Amnesty International is currently undertaking an investigation and exposé on maternal and infant mortality in the country. Any attempts at exposing the realities are rejected with vicious attacks in the local press. Corruption holds the whole country to ransom and it is hard to see where the progress might be, if there is any. The Anti Corruption Commission has an enormous task at hand.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A few drops of hope in an ocean of injustice....

On the one hand, things are pretty tough, coming back without Alhassan as guide and back up. It is hard having to face the day to day attrition of grinding poverty, the most powerful face of which is the daily category of meaningless and needless deaths. It is equally hard facing the wearing corruption, our latest contact with which is our tertiary students being frustrated by a total lack of transparency amongst the lecturers.

What sort of backwards thinking allows heads of departments to fail 85% of their students without either querying them or sacking them?

What sort of country, with such a terrible and fatal lack of qualified doctors, allows the college of medicine to kick out medical students without any warning, explanation or possibility of query?

I am even concerned that my mentioning this here may result in more direct targetting of EducAid students or of me. If you see me in the local press, having supposedly been discovered doing something outrageous, scandalous and illegal, do not be surprised. This is standard treatment of those who dare to question the ruthless elite here.

On the other hand, we are greatly encouraged by the goodwill and support from outside Sierra Leone. We have had wonderful support through the sponsorship of the cyclists. Children in Crisis are doing their best to get us support for much needed new buildings. There is the possibility, if we can get past the bureacracy etc. and get the primary school registered, of a new building from 'FORUT' [a funding organisation] for the Maronka school.
The current Maronka building.

Also, from within Sierra Leone, a female judge, new to the case, has after 18 months quashed the charges of 1st degree murder against the boy who inadvertently killed his cousin when having a fight. [For the original story please see the newsletter for September 2008 on this link:]

This weekend, I was, at long last, allowed to take him into hiding in a far flung village where he can do some community service and continue his education. Nobody was arguing that he had done well in fighting and stabbing his cousin but the somewhat terrifying youth remand centre and a charge of 1st degree murder, rather than manslaughter, were most assuredly not justice either.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Admissions madness

Admissions with a difference in EducAid Lumley, Freetown!

Ground floor - Last minute revision before the final, final entrance exam.

Middle floor - continuing Junior Secondary students.
Top floor - Continuing Senior Secondary students.

Each year, the whole admissions process is somewhat unbelievable, with countless numbers applying for places in the EducAid schools. Often amongst them are many who have not meaningfully ever completed primary school, so are not able to come close to the appropriate standard. We test at the end of summer school, so that during the summer classes we can bring some of those who would be in our target population within range of secondary school work. This year, when we tested the new students at the end of summer school, we were really shocked at the poor standard of so many of the students, so we decided to give them a little more input before re-testing them. This has meant classes with standing room only for several weeks. On Monday we tested them again. Results were out this morning. Somewhat heart-breaking were the gleeful faces of those whose names were called and they realised they were being given a chance to continue with education. More heart-breaking were the faces of those whose names were not called, when they realised they weren't!

The girls who fail the entrance exam have joined the Women's Project and will work there until they are confident and competent enough to go to the mainstream classes. To the boys who fail the entrance exam, we have, reluctantly, to say 'Goodbye'. EducAid has, however, admitted over 250 new students to the Lumley school and over 100 students each in Magbeni and Rolal.

EducAid Magbeni - students packed in like sardines too!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

We were initially disappointed but.....

5th in the country in the WASSCE [West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination] this year! .............

We still don't have the full picture as the overall results have not been sent to the schools yet, but a few of our students have accessed their results on line [great new facility here!]. On the whole, we have not been as impressed as we are used to being. We were conscious of a couple of issues which would have contributed to this being the case but even so.....

So, we were somewhat astonished to hear over the radio that we have come 5th in the country. It does rather tell us that the standard countrywide is not what it should be. It does also tell us that despite competing with the privileged and protected, our students, who come from some quite extraordinarily difficult circumstances and deprivation are achieving extremely well relative to general expectations. We continue to push for greater excellence and to combat all that will hold our students back and we will not be satisfied until we see all our students achieving their full potential, but meanwhile we are gently encouraged by their achievements despite the challenges.

We understand too that one of our students has one of the highest results in the country with 9 credits. We don't know who it is yet but, well done whoever!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The team rallies round

Saturday morning, when school kids all over the world enjoy a bit of a lie in and some time out.... EducAid Lumley was action stations. No dragooning, no Alhassan directing proceedings. There was a last minute request and they sorted themselves into teams: water fetching, 'bailing' of sand and buying of cement. The downstairs classroom was cleared and a production line set up. A couple of hours later and we had 250 bricks ready for the store construction.
Meanwhile in the new workshop, under the store to be, Murray and Mambu started work on a new set of tables and benches to accommodate the additional numbers we have acquired in the admissions process.