Friday, January 29, 2010

In pursuit of excellence...

Headboy, Yayah by his new store.
The Women's Project teachers with their progeny.
The Headboy / girl teams.
We have today, instated our new headboy and headgirl team. Headboy, Yayah and his two deputies. Headgirl, Ngadie and her two deputies as well as a mirror team at the Junior Secondary level.

Particularly worthy or note are the junior headgirls. All three of these girls joined the school way behind their expected standard as education for them, had not been prioritised by their families, for a variety of reasons. They entered EducAid via the Women's Project in order to gain confidence and competence appropriate for the mainstream secondary school. Despite difficult educational beginnings, when given the opportunity by the women;s project, they have done excellently. Not only have they got themselves out of the Women's Project and into the pre-exam classes, they are able to stand in front of the school and speak in English with confidence and clarity. They are also setting an excellent role model for other students and particularly for other girls who, like them, strive for education against a range of very difficult circumstances.

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

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Maronka City... well, maybe one day!

The current school building made of mud blocks with a tin roof.

When we first started visiting Maronka, there were three houses and that was pretty much it. Obai Santigie [the chief] always made me welcome and encouraged return visits but there was little to draw outsiders in apart from the palm wine, the peaceful environment and the warm welcome. After some time, I asked Obai why there were six children, clearly of school age, not going to school. He explained that they would have to cross the jungle about 3 miles and at their age that was not a daily feasibility. It would have been a significant financial challenge too, of course. I bought him a couple of blackboards and a box of chalk and suggested that he got somebody who had been to school themselves to at least teach them the alphabet and some basics so that, when the time came for them to go to school, they would not have to start at zero.

Next time I visited, the six children had become twelve. A young woman who had completed a couple of years of secondary schooling had been recruited to teach them to read and write. The next time twelve had become twenty eight and Obai had started feeding them once a day so they could concentrate in class. The class was actually his 'barrie' [is this where the word barrister comes from???] where he heard and settled cases arising in his chiefdom. The next thing was that, while the children continued to grow in number, their teacher was taken on to greater things and moved out of the village. Obai asked me what we should do now. I wondered to myself, how there was a 'we' and found that I had accidentally started a primary school and was required to find a teacher to run it.

Mani Abu, childhood friend and best man of Alhassan's, had come from Freetown to teach in Rolal and was proving himself invaluable in terms of his hard work and commitment to the EducAid cause but he had left his wife behind in the city. Fatmata was asked if she would be interested in moving a bit closer to her husband and take up the responsibility and the rest is history! She has been running the school for 5 years. There are now over 100 pupils. EducAid took formal responsibility for the running of the primary school about three years ago and started sending senior Freetown students on 'community service' to work alongside Fatmata. 2 years ago, we added a bright young man by the name of Saffa Musa, who is an ex-EducAid student. Now there are 4 junior staff [i.e. ex-EducAid students] who work with Fatmata and run the school. They are also undertaking a distance teacher training course at the same time.

Maronka sent 12 students on to Rolal Junior Secondary School this academic year and they are more than holding their own with their fellows from other schools in Port Loko and elsewhere.

With the new building, my slowly growing confidence at tackling quality issues in terms of the teaching and learning [Kofi is my principal educator when it comes to how primary stuff works - it is otherwise something of a foreign country for me!] and some requests to help with teacher training in the area, we are looking at Maronka becoming a centre of excellence and really being put on the map.

Obai is inordinately proud of the development in his village and in turn, his hard work and total commitment to his people make working with the Maronka community always productive and very encouraging.

The appreciation of the community women was demonstrated on my last night there last week with all night dancing. Not sure there was quite so much work done the next day as there usually is.

Obai's right hand man and younger brother, Alhaji, hard at work making bricks for the school building.
The new building steps down the hill towards the village.
The new building seen from the side. The community are providing all the labour for this project in return for 'food for work' but no pay.

If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid's work please go to

Thursday, January 21, 2010

More good news

Had a really good meeting today with the Director of the organisation funding the Maronka building. It turns out that actually, it was the local guy who had completely failed to pass on the message about requiring a slightly different building and structure. Authorisation was given to adjust the building to suit it to our real, rather than imagined needs. Participation in development is now restored!

If you are interested in finding out more about EducAid's work in Sierra Leone please go to

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

So much happening there is no time to write about it...

Since Kofi and I got back, I have not had the heart to send him back to the local school he had been attending. He has been dreading going back as he really has been spoilt for it by the wonderful, positive, creative environment that he has been exposed to in the UK on various visits but in particular to St Simon's in Stockport. His attendance was due to be somewhat disrupted for a couple more weeks anyway, so I have been home schooling him again while we work it out. He infinitely prefers this to the sit and copy education available nearby and I enjoy him being around too. I do not, however, see myself cut out for life as a primary school teacher. I do not have the patience! It is becoming the means though, for me to educate myself so that I can start really tackling the quality of what we offer in our Maronka primary school.

I am, at the moment, staying in Maronka during a week of training at Rolal. Sleeping outside in the open air school, to be woken by swarms of overactive weaver birds, is very enjoyable. We have been doing some additional training with the primary school teachers in the evenings and they are excited at using new phonics materials and getting their kids more confident at working out new words and reading independently; at using new techniques for developing the pupils' listening and speaking competence; at finding ways of developing creativity. How fantastic if we can stop playing catch up at secondary school and can, instead, get our youngsters to a universally acceptable standard of literacy, thinking, creativity and so on from primary onwards. This is currently not happening in any school in the country, with the possible exception of the American School i.e. not for the average Sierra Leonean at all.

Maronka has a new building on its way too. We are very appreciative of the donors' efforts but do really wonder why they were unwilling to discuss at all the layout of the building and whether what they proposed suited our needs. We will of course be very happy to have the use of a purpose built school with walls and windows!!! In order to use it fully however, we will have to do some significant adaptations. It is interesting that despite all the literature, research and global discussions, a lot of aid is still done to the beneficiaries, rather than in consultation with them.

Work on the teacher training programme continues to dominate. EducAid Rolal is the venue for the training of the Port Loko Teachers College lecturers this week. The reception of new ideas has been encouraging and because this programme is on a much more modest scale, we are able to really emphasise the point of the workshop. The workshop culture here has completely undermined people's value for new ideas and the opportunity for development. So many NGOs run so many workshops that they have become very seriously devalued. Many people attend workshops because there will be a good lunch and decent per diems. They have no intention whatsoever of changing their practice or behaviour as a result. In this case, however, there are no per diems, the lunch is modest and the accommodation cramped. We are therefore far more confident, than with the big NGO sponsored workshops, that we have got the people that care with us this time.

In Rolal too, construction starts this week, of a new senior secondary school: a very significant step forward for Rolal and for EducAid. This project has however been designed entirely by us and for our needs.

We have had very positive meetings too, this week, with some potential partners in development who will hopefully be funding EducAid to run a new school near Waterloo. Rogbere is on the way from Freetown to Magbeni so just about feasible within the weekly day trip tour of the current schools. The school is to be called the Rogbere School of Excellence. We will be delighted to bring this to reality. Initial relationships on this project were somewhat strained due to a number of misunderstandings. We were so pleased therefore, to find that the Rogbere community had sent a spy to check EducAid out and discovered that we were providing something they would definitely like to have access to. After many false starts, this surreptitious initiative ended up being the foundation for all the next stages.

So many steps forward...Please God, they will have an impact on the real problems that suppress the citizens of this country. We strongly believe in education as a destroyer of poverty. I hope that time will prove us right as we strive to provide better and better quality and thinking education to the poor and vulnerable here.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Hopes for 2010

This year, EducAid will celebrate 10 years of having its own school (now schools). EducAid Lumley opened on 18th September 2000.

There have been many successes but equally many difficulties, many challenges and many sadnesses. In 2009, we not only lost Alhassan but also 4 students (and we know of several ex-students too) to the attrocious medical provision. We are hoping for happier times in 2010.

These are some of our dreams and where our energies will be focused:
  • A new teacher training programme is being piloted and at least 12 of our youngsters will be involved. This programme promises to provide opportunities for our ´graduates´ to develop their skills and therefore ability to better build the country but it should also have a significant impact in all the schools where teachers are engaged on the course. The quality of teaching and learning, in so many schools in Sierra Leone, is absolutely terrifyingly low.
  • EducAid has new construction work on three out of four sites in 2010. The new primary school building in Maronka has already started. The new senior secondary building in Rolal will start in January. The new ICT building in Lumley, in Alhassan´s memory, will start as soon as the new store has been finished.
  • Alongside the Girl Power Group, which seeks to help girls understand and realise their rights, responsibilities and educational potential, we hope to start a ´White Ribbon Campaign´group, which will encourage boys to use their strength for the defending of women and women´s rights, instead of going with the cultural flow and continuing the suppression of girls and women.
  • Out of these two groups, we hope, too, to start a newsletter for young people about these gender equality issues. The suppression of women, particularly in education, is a massive issue for development here.
  • ICT seems to be the most likely way forward for EducAid students to make an impact, on their own life situations but also on the country´s. We hope to move into an era where we have all students, from primary to secondary, using basic applications competently so we can move on to a stage where thinking is being developed and ICT becomes a tool for problem solving, creativity and enterprise.
  • The health situation is where we feel most vulnerable. We hope to start looking for ways of accessing proper medical care for our students. If we can find ways of supporting medical education, even better. This is the real face of the day to day poverty in Sierra Leone.

We have many long term dreams and hopes too and truly want to work to extend the reach of our impact so that ripple by ripple the EducAid effect may change thinking, attitudes and skill levels in more and more young people and thus destroy poverty.

If you are interested in reading more about our work please go to