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!