Sunday, February 28, 2010

Aunty K

Aunty K with her beautiful smile
Kadiatu [commonly known as Aunty K] comes from Rolal village. She would spend day after day, hanging around the junior secondary school playing in the dirt, hoping for some attention and a bit of rice when they cooked. When she responded enthusiastically to the attempts of Steph and Emma [two British volunteers] to teach her the alphabet and the like, we decided to try and persuade her family to let her go to the primary school in Maronka.

Aunty K's family consist of an unemployed father, a stream of ragamuffin brothers and sisters and a mother who goes mad for 2 years [apparently!!!] whenever she is pregnant. She has been horribly neglected in her younger years and was unlikely to ever be put into school by her family. After some battles with her grandmother, who found her quite a useful errand girl, we took her to Maronka. Under a year later, she is responding wonderfully. She is always at the top of her class, loves school and wants to be a teacher when she grows up.

I don't know what her future will hold, of course, but I am very confident that her time in Maronka will have a dramatic and positive impact on her life chances and potential for achievement.

Aunty K is one of the youngest EducAid pupils but she is one of 100 who attend the Maronka primary school and one of 1400 who attend EducAid Sierra Leone schools.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

More pluses than minuses this week

21 EducAid junior teachers [all but 3 are ex-EducAid students] ready to start their new course.
This week, we did the final stages of training the Port Loko Teachers' College tutors and now the distance education pilot has started there. Only 40% of teachers in Sierra Leone are trained and qualified so there is a desperate need for training. However, it would be even worse in schools than it already is, if all the untrained teachers were withdrawn in order to get them up to speed. The solution: a distance education programme with residential sessions during the school holidays. EducAid is supporting the piloting of this new course in the Port Loko Teacher's College and has 21 youngsters joining the programme. There are 100 student teachers overall and we are optimistic that through this programme the quality of the education on offer in the schools in the area can be dramatically improved.

The new Rolal staff quarters are nearly to wall height.
In Rolal, we are trying to beat the rains and hope to finish this stage of the construction by May or June. I say 'this stage of the construction' because we plan to concrete rather than roof at this point, leaving the possibility of another floor when we have the funds for expansion. We have a junior secondary school on the site. This is the new senior secondary school. We hope that, in time to come, this will become a centre of excellence where teachers from all over the area will be able to come and spend a few days each year for refresher courses in methodologies as well as subject content which is poorly covered at present.

Maronka happy helpers with their new school building.
In Maronka, Forut have a target. They are to hand over the building by 10th March in the presence of some of their donors so they are pushing hard. In reality, Forut provide the technical advice and the materials but it is the community that have built this school. It will be an excellent facility and again, we hope to have it be a centre of excellence for primary training as soon as we are able. The needs at primary level are enormous and the current quality of provision, countrywide, quite scandalously low.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Another day in Salone

Gibrilla Conteh, RIP [14.02.10]
Just back from Gibrilla's funeral. It turns out his crime was that of defending his uncle's petrol from a thief. For this he was stabbed to death. His mother had already died some years back. His father is in a distant part of Sierra Leone and it has not been possible to contact him yet.
A quiet, hard-working boy who had the misfortune to do the right thing at the wrong time. How appalling and extraordinary that someone would be willing to kill for a few gallons of petrol.
Not a great start to 2010. May this be the last such waste of life this year.
The Peer Mediators are preparing presentations for assembly about fighting and violence and their futility. Please God, we can foster a spirit of peace within the school communities.
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Monday, February 15, 2010

Not up for long!

I remember once during my own secondary school days the total shock when we discovered that a girl in the year ahead had been killed in a car accident. The whole school went into slow motion and mourning as our illusion of youthful immortality was shattered.

Today, we have received news of our 7th student death in under 2 years. On this occasion, the terrible medical provision is not responsible. It is the other killer: next to the surface violence that flares up with so little provocation.

19 year old Gibrilla Conteh went back to see his parents in Waterloo for treatment for a minor ailment last Tuesday. On Sunday night, he was involved in a confrontation with a lad over we don't know what and the boy ended up chasing after him and stabbing him. He will be buried tomorrow.

What can be said in the face of such a terrible futile loss of life? Again, for me the other sadness is the other students' acceptance of his death. 'It is a pity.' is the strongest comment I have heard. Death and violence are so common. They are not brought to a standstill by their regular appearance.

For those of you who pray, please do so for our young people that they use their young lives well and are able to change something in this amazing but terrifying country.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

The ups and the downs

Last week seemed to be overshadowed by the disaster in Magbeni but this week things are looking considerably more positive..... I have just got back from a trip visiting all the schools and although the roads were hard - once again we witnessed the remains of two fatal accidents - the news from all sites was good:

The Magbeni community has started pulling its communal socks up, making it possible for us to stay on and commit together to finding a way forward. Further discussions to be held in one month's time.

The Maronka building has the beginnings of a roof and the doors and furniture are ready and waiting.
Obai Santigie of Maronka with the new school furniture.
The Maronka building continues apace.
Obai with the new doors.

The Rolal building is well on its way and we have started the negotiations with the Ministry of Education officials. Previously, this has always been a very frustrating business but the initial encounters with this round looks very different as we are able to deal with Port Loko based officials who are lending a hand and a word of advice as to how to go about it most efficiently.
Rolal foundations and pillars in place.

In addition, and how this escaped me to this point I really do not know, I have just discovered that, not only did we come 5th in the country in the last WASSCE [the senior secondary public exams] but also that the highest scoring student was an EducAid student. I asked him why he had not told me and he said he, himself, only discovered much later that he had been on SLBS [Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service] on television and radio. A quiet and unassuming young man with a quirky sense of humour, Malikie Barrie is highly intelligent and now serves as a junior member of staff in Rolal, teaching science. He will start on the distance teacher training programme in a couple of weeks but is also applying for a scholarship to China to join Issa Fowai for engineering studies. We wish him all good luck with this endeavour.
Malikie Barrie, highest scoring WASSCE candidate in 2009.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

And back with a bump!!!

After my first ever week offline and away from EducAid, on holiday with some concerned school mates, we are now back! And we know we are back, not only because of the crazy humidity and heat! On arrival I was summonsed to an emergency meeting in Magbeni.
Before my departure, one of the village community had broken into the staff quarters and stolen a camera from one of the British volunteers, staying in Magbeni for 1 term. The thief had been identified and had been locked up in police cells.
The plot had considerably thickened by the time I got back. The paramount chief had had the suspect released so that local investigations could be done to locate the camera. He had been re-arrested and re-released before we eventually got to court yesterday and pushed for the matter to be taken seriously. During this whole period, a small but seemingly out of control minority within the village had started threatening to 'deal with' the teachers rather than see the thief prosecuted and things were not looking good. They had even gone and made a counter-report with the police accusing a couple of the teachers of having the camera and keeping it under wraps.
After several hours in court, the theft case was adjourned for judgement later this week and the thief was refused bail. The paramount chief then issued a summons to the elders in Magbeni insisting that they find the camera or risk arrest themselves. We had a meeting with the elders and insisted that they take control of the situation and all threats and allegations be dealt with appropriately. The teachers cannot stay in a village or community where they are not safe. While it was a minority causing the trouble, the majority took no strong line against the trouble makers.
The current compromise is that the teachers did not leave the village, as threatened, but are not running the school either. The prefects are supervising silent study for the live-in students and the community students live with their parents awaiting some change in attitude.
Some of the youngsters, who have been through EducAid and are now serving as junior staff, were literally sobbing while pleading with their compatriots to see sense and ensure the school is protected. The elders who promised action and protection, say the right thing but seem unwilling to commit themselves to standing out against bad or even criminal behaviour when it comes down to it.
Today, community representatives have been to the teachers to plead with them to restart teaching. They have not however, gone to the police and withdrawn the allegations. I am gently optimistic that they will see sense and it will be sorted out but there is a small possibility that we will have to withdraw from Magbeni. Once again, the future of the young and vulnerable is put in jeopardy by the greed, thoughtlessness, and weakness of their elders. A battle worth fighting to protect them? I think so!
Rolal is in the process of being extended and all staff and students who want to come with us will be welcome there.
Please God, it does not come to that ......

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