Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A little oasis of education in a scholastic desert

A big cleaning and organising task, sorting construction and other toys for the resource library.
Making sure that the education that goes on inside our new building is just as excellent as the building itself.
The North of Sierra Leone has traditionally neglected education in favour of trade. The main towns of Kambia, Makeni and Port Loko have few schools offering what we might recognise as a good education. Although there are pockets of teachers of good will striving to do their best against incredible odds, no-one has given them access to updated thinking or materials for many moons, if ever. The result is that, at all levels, the quality of what is on offer leaves a lot to be desired. It is not even an aim or an issue to be developing creative, independent thinkers and learners.

Training of the primary school staff in Maronka has started and we are seeing some real improvements in teaching and learning.

We have also started offering this training to a few other teachers in the Port Loko district and are putting in place a significant resource library.

Materials donated and purchased from the UK that can be used to develop our students' creativity, strategic and critical thinking, imaginations as well as literacy, numeracy and independence are available for some of the poorest children in the world. There seems no good reason why they too should not access what we would take for granted in a school in the west.

If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid's work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans please go to www.educaid.org.uk.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

UK volunteers getting stuck in

In height order...Flex, Alice, Becky and Kofi.
All the rice is gone anyway!
Flex and Becky have got stuck in to life in Magbeni. Although the staff and students are very welcoming, it is not as easy as it sounds. Magbeni in rainy season is even more cut off than it usually is. There is no internet connection and no phone coverage unless you trek up the hill half an hour. The 5 mile long road from the tarmac main highway is a muddy track which is all but unpassable in anything other than a 4 x 4 for great stretches.

James Burnford is a returnee, having spent a term in Magbeni last year. He too is back into action and apparently enjoying all the challenges once more.

They are working hard with the provisional exam group, the Women's Project and as many others as they can squeeze in. Most of their attention goes on literacy but there are opportunities for creativity with murals on the classroom walls, drama productions and talent shows.

They are doing a great job and are very much appreciated by all. Shame [from our point of view at least : )] that they won't be staying for longer!

If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid's work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans please go to www.educaid.org.uk

Monday, August 16, 2010

A suitable and long-lasting memorial

Oil palm seedling.
Coconut seedlings breaking through the undergrowth.

There was much generosity shown last year when people gathered in the UK for a memorial mass after Alhassan died. A significant amount of money was donated to EducAid in his memory. I have been searching for an appropriate way of using the money that will suitably uphold his beliefs and hopes and keep his memory alive.

Alhassan was very fond of the village, Maronka, where our little primary school is located. He was proud of the progress that had been made there and was very much loved by the chief and community. He was also unusual for his culture in his concern to see women's progress and dignity upheld. We have decided that one way of recognising these things and that work in harmony with all we are trying to achieve in assisting the youngsters in this community would be to use the money to help the women in the Maronka community with the development of a plantation. Accordingly, 110 coconut seedlings and 96 oil palm seedlings were planted last week. We are also optimistic that Maronka will be included in a new project growing Moringa for the export market.
Moringa seeds - the beginnings of a new venture.
Moringa seedlings - the miracle plant which cures so many ills.

If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid's work with vulnerable Sierra Leoneans please go to www.educaid.org.uk

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Just so we are clear......

Just so we are clear that the work is all there to be done still.... there is no justice, there is no equal access to health care. The work ahead to achieve 21st century standards of human rights is enormous.

e.g. Mammy Yabundu, Alhassan's mother - a very unusual 70+ [no-one really knows her age - least of all her!] has buried two husbands, both her sons, two of her daughters in their infancy and her 2 year old grandson some ten years ago. She is a tough cookie. She prays her 5 daily prayers. She scolds and grumbles at the school kids who 5 years ago invaded her life and is number one advocate for mercy when anyone of them gets themselves in trouble. The day before Alhassan's first anniversary she also lost her first grandson, aged 31. What did he die of? A pain in his chest! More than that is anyone's guess.

While we quietly get on with grieving for Alhassan's absence, around us there are endless stories of loss and suffering: young parents leaving their children, young men and women leaving their families without the breadwinner, young healthy women dying in childbirth and so on.

Until there is an educated population that can hold their doctors and nurses to account we will continue to see these events as daily normality. We continue the battle and so long as we are clear that when we educate we involve ourselves in a battle, maybe we will start to see some progress.

If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid's work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans please go to www.educaid.org.uk

Thursday, August 5, 2010

1 year today from when I lost my beloved Alhassan

Many happy memories of our little rainbow family.

1 year ago today, I was woken at 4 by Alhassan feeling unwell and wanting me to bring food. Reassured by the doctor that they would take care of him and he was fine, I went back to sleep. 2 hours later, the other doctor called, knowing that I am the driver, asking if there was someone who could drive me in.

Now, it feels like years and years since I held Alhassan for the last time, his body still warm but all life gone. A terrible painful unforgettable moment.

Since then, on so many occasions, I have turned to tell him something, or to phone him, to share a joke, a concern, a fear..... It used to take my breath away all over again when I would realise once more that it could never be again. It has been like learning to breathe again. I am learning though and thanks to the great love and support of so many, we have been able to keep moving forwards, and furthering a cause that Alhassan was so proud to be involved in.

Alhassan was a very special man, with a love for life and a love for people that made him beloved by so many. I may not have considered myself fortunate this time last year but I know now that I was lucky to have had him and be loved by him, even if our time together was so short.

I will never forget him. I will never stop loving him. It will be a while before my tears are completely dried. I believe I am not alone. He was brother, father and friend to so many. Kofi, without whom I would have been so lost this year, is the most special gift from him I could ever have.

To all the students, staff, and friends who loved and appreciated Alhassan and who, with me, miss him still now, Kofi and I extend our thanks for all your support, strength and love. May we all continue, faithful to his memory, to fight for a just and peaceful Sierra Leone where every life has value and where death is kept for the very old and for unavoidable disasters.

If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid's work with vulnerable Sierra Leoneans, please go to www.educaid.org.uk

Justice Salone style

The two faces of the poverty in Sierra Leone - the lack of health care and the lack of justice.

We are conscious of the battering ram of needless deaths which demonstrate all too ably the terrible state of health care in Sierra Leone. Here are a couple of examples of the appalling state of justice:

15 year old girl [she had her birthday a couple of weeks ago] taken from her family in Guinea by an aunt who had no children of her own and wanted to raise her. After some time the aunt got fed up with paying school fees for her and set her to work, despite her previous promises to the girl's parents. After trying for many weeks to persuade her aunt, the girl, in desperation, stole Le200,000 [approx £40] to pay for her fees and to buy some books [she still has all the receipts.]
The aunt discovered the loss and took her to the police, accused her of stealing Le800,000 and told the police to lock her up.
Whenever her case comes up in court the aunt refuses to attend the session. The court is so ineffective that they have not issued a subpoena. 'Defence for Children International' [DCI] whose work it is to protect children in conflict with the law, have shown no interest in her case at all and 4 months later she is still in prison because she had the audacity to want an education despite being a girl in Sierra Leone.

Middle aged mother of three [aged six, twelve and seventeen] comes from Guinea to Sierra Leone to visit family and undertake some trading. The police do a raid of the area she is staying in and fail to catch the marijuana traders so collect anyone they can to satisfy their bosses that they have not been sleeping. She has no lawyer, no powerful friends and no justice. She has been given a twenty year sentence and has not seen her children for years.

Justice is imperfect in all countries. In Sierra Leone, it is non-existent.

EducAid hopes to be able to help by a. providing classes to the women while they are in custody [contracted by AdvocAid]; b. providing a home and education for the 15 year old as soon as a means can be found to get her discharged; c. providing a home and education to the children of the 2nd woman so that she has at least some peace of mind as to her children's future while she is not there to protect them.

If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid's work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans, please go to www.educaid.org.uk

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The beginning of a dream being fulfilled.

Interactive games for literacy learning.
The teachers engage with a range of activities that they will be able to take back into class.
Enjoying testing and timing each other.
Long and short vowels games.

In February this year Forut handed over a beautiful new school building to EducAid in Maronka. A dream was born. EducAid has traditionally focused on secondary education but it has become very clear over the years that the needs at primary level too are very real in terms of quality thinking education. We decided to start to work on really ensuring that the quality of the education we provide in Maronka was just as beautiful as the building in which it takes place. Our hope was that we could start providing some training for nearby teachers from other primary schools and that Maronka could serve as a centre of excellence.

We have not finished all that we need to do to make this a reality but we have started. Teachers came from 3 other schools and joined the Maronka teachers and started a process of exposure to more interactive, engaging and thinking ways of teaching literacy, independent writing and numeracy.

'I enjoyed the workshop for it is very important,' said one visiting teacher who had travelled 60+ miles in order to attend.

We plan to provide some support in terms of supervision to see what things are being implemented from the training and do some follow up in their locations as well as providing a resource library that schools can come and sign for games and materials for a period. As they say in Salone.....small small...small small..... One step at a time. Let's hope we can help the youngsters in the Port Loko district have a greater chance of gaining a meaningful foundation in education on which can be built fully participating, thinking citizens.

If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid's work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans please go to www.educaid.org.uk