Tuesday, January 25, 2011

EducAid and some friends from Heathrow

The visitors brought over piles of boxes of collected goodies for EducAid.

You can get more on there than that.  This is Sierra Leone!

Brima, temporary tour guide, with some of his guests.

First on the ferry across to Freetown from Lungi, where the international airport is.
For a long time, EducAid has been friends with Tom, bmi pilot, who has visited EducAid a couple of times and has helped us transport some vital equipment on various occasions over the years.

Recently, we also made friends with Ann Bitar who works on check-in at Heathrow.  Ann was due to visit Freetown on holiday with some colleagues.  After a brief chat when she was intrigued as to what I could possibly taking back in my ridiculous quantity of luggage she had a look at the EducAid website and decided she could help.

Ann and colleagues had everyone they knew collecting for EducAid but then came the joyous task of transporting it all to Sierra Leone and then to the schools.  They managed to persuade Sierra Leonean handling staff to help them through the airport and to the nearby airport hotel and the EducAid staff collected them early the next morning to get the first ferry into Freetown.

It was something of a rude awakening to the visitors but they enjoyed their visits to the schools and indeed to the beautiful beaches around the Freetown peninsular and have professed themselves ready whenever they can to help again.  In fact, Ann joined my besieged sister in packing another mountain of boxes of stationery for transport last week and got them all across to Sierra Leone free of charge again.

The visitors adjusting to slightly different travel arrangements!
Many many thanks to all those involved.  Bringing stuff safely and quickly into Sierra Leone is a significant challenge under normal circumstances and all your efforts on our behalf are greatly, greatly appreciated.

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

Friday, January 21, 2011

EducAid at the top again

A spot of after class down time.
The Junior staff spend their school holidays in teacher training classes but relax a little with a football at the end of the day.
A year ago, EducAid began supporting a pilot distance teacher training course in the Port Loko Teachers' College.   Currently, only around 40% of teachers in Sierra Leone are trained and qualified. The idea of the course was that some of these would be able to access training without having to leave their jobs.  While supporting the pilot through training the lecturers in new teaching skills based teaching methodologies and providing the modules for all of the 70+ students we have sought sponsorship for 22 of our own teachers.

19 of the 22 are our junior staff, i.e. our former EducAid students who are teaching back in our schools but have not finished their own training yet. This has been a wonderful opportunity for them and they are now putting back into the system with far greater competence and confidence as well as developing themselves.

In the end of year exams, all the EducAid backed students shone.  9 got division one and the remaining 3 achieved division two. There were 3 in joint first position, 2 of them were EducAid students.
It has maybe taken Port Loko some time to take EducAid seriously but that is changing slowly.  They are being obliged to now.  We don't have the hallmarks of success that are traditionally valued here: uniforms, painted walls, big loud sports days and thanksgiving ceremonies.  We do, however, beat all the other schools in the area every year in the public exams.  We are praised for the excellent behaviour and standard of our students every time we take them anywhere on a visit.  We are always commended by the public exam invigilators because our students are well prepared and can work constructively until the end of the allocated time without cheating.  We are now making our mark at the college level too. We are seeing youngsters born into poverty finding a way out through education.

Congratulations to all!  A fantastic achievement for your own development and a wonderful way of preparing yourselves to be part of rebuilding the country.  Keep it up!

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

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Sierra Leone experience would be a different one, if all our partners in development were like this.

EducAid has been running its own schools for just over ten years in Sierra Leone.  The challenges, hurdles and blockages have been enormous.  So many of those we expected to help us, actually made life more difficult.  It is hard to not assume that, in a country where providing education is a business not a mission or a passion, we were viewed as unnecessarily disrupting the status quo by providing free education to the poor.
We have always tried to keep in line with the demands of the Ministry of Education but we have found few reliable friends there over the years.
Of late, though we have found a real partner in development.  Mr Sankoh is responsible for the entire ministry of education in the northern area and has proved himself time and again over the last couple of months, for no reward, as a solid friend of EducAid but also of education and of young people.
May he live long to achieve all he dreams of for the young Sierra Leoneans he seeks to help!

Mr Sankoh, Deputy Director of Education, pleading with the Magbeni community to change their attitude towards female education and girls' and women's rights.
If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid Sierra Leone's work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans, please go to www.educaid.org.uk

Friday, January 14, 2011

Basic stuff in a UK context maybe but rare in Sierra Leone

For some reason, during the war, anything with equipment of any sort (and the more incomprehensible the more it was the case) became a target for the rebels.  Schools were burned down but laboratories seemed to rouse an additional level of frustration and nearly all school labs and equipment were destroyed.

Now, great swathes of the country send students for practical exams in which they encounter equipment, terms and activities that they have never before heard of, never mind practised.

It has taken some amount of time and contributions and donations from multi-various sources but we have made a strong effort to build up our practical resources for the sciences, so that our students access the necessary means that will make their practical exams a meaningful test of their knowledge and skills.

Today, Ishmail Kamara, teacher in charge of Biology, led the exam class in food testing practicals.  Just one way, in which we feel we can level the playing field between the rich and privileged students from the top fee paying schools and our youngsters from vulnerable and deprived backgrounds.

The science department has another reason to celebrate: Pat Peyton (retired chemistry teacher) is on her way back for her 4th visit to EducAid and Ken Hall (retired biology teacher) is on his way out for his first trip.  Pat and Ken will be spending time building up the skill levels of teachers and students and will focus particularly on practicals.  Well taught science is hard to find in Sierra Leone but we are proud of what is being achieved in the science departments in the EducAid schools.

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

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Yet another needless TB death.

Sheku Turay, 20, disappeared from the Freetown school a few months ago and after many enquiries we eventually found that he was staying with a distant relative and was seriously ill in the Magbeni community.

He was losing weight dramatically but had only been treated with local medicines.  AA, the lead teacher in Magbeni, intervened and got him to a hospital about an hour away and after four days of battling to be seen by a doctor, he was finally placed on the anti TB drugs programme which is free in Sierra Leone.  Apparently, it was too late.  5 weeks later, he is no more, having died this morning in the TB hospital in Lakka.

This death is completely needless and marks once more the terrible lack of basic medical know how in Sierra Leone.  A totally treatable and curable disease with free drugs has now killed two of our students because the medical personnel seem to resist diagnosing TB.

Around the same time, Bockarie Tamu, now a tertiary student sponsored by friends of EducAid was experiencing similar symptoms.  But for the timely intervention of a British doctor who saw his chest x-ray and advised TB treatment, he would probably be in the same place as Sheku.  Bockarie's doctor, supposedly one of the most experienced and best in the country, diagnosed pneumonia and nobody dares gainsay an old experienced doctor here.  Thanks to the intervention and assistance from elsewhere, Bockarie is now significantly improving.  He had more or less given himself up.

We pray for Sheku and for the repose of his soul.  We pray for the consolation of his friends and family. We pray for Sierra Leone and her people that they may emerge very soon from the darkness of ignorance and poverty.
Sheku Turay being taken yesterday to the hospital.
Sheku had deteriorated almost beyond recognition.  Here he is the day before he died.

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

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Max and Charlie getting into their new life.

Offloading stuff at Magbeni, a couple of stops before their final destination.

Nervous grins as Max and Charlie move into their new accommodation.

Chez Max and Charlie for the next few months.

Moved in and working out their next steps.
From the wilds of North London to the wilds of Maforki chiefdom, Port Loko district.  Excited?  Maybe.  Mixed with trepidation?  Definitely.

Max, long term fund raiser for EducAid, and his friend Charlie have bitten the bullet and moved out to Rolal for three months of volunteer teaching.

A couple of days and a few football matches later, their teaching timetable [literacy, numeracy and lots of ICT] is in place, they have worked out their budget for the term and made friends with the whole school community. They sound much more at home.

It is quite something to really go out of range of electricity, running water and proper phone or internet coverage, for that length of time, when you've been used to all the usual western creature comforts.  We greatly appreciate those who do make this effort and commitment.  Their input can be really significant for our youngsters.  Max is the latest in a line of youngsters to come from the St James Church community in Muswell Hill.  There are two more on their way to Magbeni next week.

Good Luck Max and Charlie.  I am sure you will leave having made lots of memorable friendships and we hope that this will be the beginning of many more visits.

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

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Visibly on the mend....

For those of you that have followed the ups and downs of Jimiyke's progress over the last 18 months, these pictures will gladden your hearts.  After an extremely traumatic childhood, Jimiyke turned his life round when given the opportunity of free education, even becoming head boy when he reached the top of the school.  Just before he was due to sit his final exams he nearly died of TB.  He responded well to anti-TB treatment and so the doctors stopped his treatment. The course is an 8 month one. They treated him for 3! It could only happen in Sierra Leone. It was only later that we understood exactly what had gone on.
During his treatment around this time, he was also detected as Hep C positive which is a sure killer for 85% of cases if left untreated. At one point, we were told he might live for a year if handled carefully! Thanks to the intervention of some UK volunteers and their families, Jimiyke was taken for assessment to the UK. Extraordinarily, he turned out to be one of the 15%  who self heal and he was eventually declared fit and well.
TB is deceptive though.  Because he had started the anti-TB treatment, the infection had gone underground and could not be detected.  It came back though.  Earlier in 2010, an enormous TB abscess developed on his back which eventually put so much pressure on his spine that he lost the use of his legs.  I could not tell him so, but my doctor friends were telling us that there was little likelihood he would ever regain movement.
He is not fully fully recovered and still experiences some pain at times; he is not playing football yet but he walked several miles with me on the beach during the holidays and this is him dancing the new year in with the usual smile in place!

Jimiyke continues to be a role model to his companions.  He is making great strides in his IT competences and is taking a strong lead in developing the IT department across the programme.  We wish him every success in his future and a happy healthy 2011 and more.
If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid's work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans please go to www.educaid.org.uk

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The New Year birthday boys

Yahyah Kamara and Musa Bundu, both 19 on 1st January 2011. Yahyah is head boy and Musa is his deputy.  Delightful and highly intelligent boys, they are also products of the EducAid Magbeni Junior Secondary School.

Why do we carry on battling against the odds in a community as difficult as Magbeni?  Yahyah and Musa are examples of the answer. Musa's older brother Ibrahim Bai Bundu and his friend and colleague Foday Kargbo are two more.  These two, having finished their senior secondary exams at EducAid Lumley are now teaching back in Magbeni while pursuing a distance teacher training course.  Bai Bundu shared equal first position in their first year exams last week.

We wish Yahyah and Musa happy birthday and a very positive 2011. May they continue to be an example to all their younger colleagues following in their footsteps, using education to climb out of poverty.

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

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Paradise and back!

Early morning in paradise.  The unromantically named Number 2 River Beach is one of the most gorgeous places imaginable.  Two days with nothing to do but read, swim, play, eat and drink, it was hard to imagine there were places in trouble in the same world.

Maybe needless to say, the illusion did not last long.  After two days of idyll, it feels as if we have had three days of war.  Quite apart from in-law troubles, we have had a very full couple of days up-country getting the Magbeni 50+ year old Sheik arrested for marrying a 14 year old girl who he seduced out of the women's project; getting the Magbeni community to guarantee that they will no longer support such behaviour; persuading Port Loko Teachers' College to treat our students fairly; sorting out the sleeping arrangements of the growing number of littluns in Maronka; checking the three building projects still underway; persuading the paramount chief in Port Loko, at long last, to sign the Rolal land documents so that we can register the Rolal school and so on........

It will be a very happy day when we can take for granted the good will of our supposed partners in development.

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