Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ali takes to the hills for EducAid

Alison in training for her big run.
Alison Higgs, long term friend of EducAid, who was last featured on this blog in a very fetching Santa outfit, is on the run again.

Alison teaches art at the Bridge Academy in Fulham and has got the whole school behind her fundraising (and awareness raising) campaign.  She will be running the Munro half marathon (all uphill - the woman must be mad!) to raise £2000 for EducAid.

Here is the link to her webpage: http://www.justgiving.com/Team-Bridge-Academy

All the very best with your training and getting the cash in!

Many many thanks.

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

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lily and Richard develop their new radio interest during their trip to SL

In Lily's own words.......

Mics, Chimps and Angel Delight                                                                        Lily Johnson

I was thinking of going to Alton Towers in February half term, but then I got an invitation to spend two weeks with EducAid in Sierra Leone. Guess which one I chose?
My dad, Richard, and I set off with a suitcase full of computer bits and science books for the students (along with Angel Delight and Ainsley Harriott’s ‘Cook in a Cup Cous Cous’ to keep us going). After spending our first weekend in Freetown, the capital of SL, we made the 5 hour journey, to Port Loko, along the dusty road, full of potholes. Well, more like dirt track! Thank goodness we weren’t there in the rainy season.  When we arrived at Rolal School, we were given more than a  warm welcome with people waving and greeting us.  We had been given a project – to lead the students in making a radio programme. Their microphones had been sitting in a cupboard for several months. But briefed by Chris and Julia Mann in radio techniques, we managed to get the equipment up and running. The students were very enthusiastic and formed their own production crew. Chairman was Mohammed. A confident young man who liked to get things done. After 4 days of interviewing, singing, editing and voice overs, the crew had produced a 20 minute radio programme. All 14 members were rewarded for their efforts with a packet of Haribo and a pen. All gratefully received!
After 7 days in such a remote area, Dad and I retreated to the chimp sanctuary called Tacugama, along with two other English volunteers – Kit and Eddie – for a couple of days R&R. In the middle of the forest where all we could hear were the sounds of woodpeckers, the chimps singing and the odd bush baby at night! However, we were quite spooked by the stories of Bruno and the other 30 chimpanzees who had escaped in 2007. Remember, chimps are 5-8 times stronger than a grown man!  Although most of them returned of their own accord to the sanctuary, Bruno is still on the loose!
Fed, showered and refuelled with Laughing Cow cheese and Dolmio pasta, we returned to Lumley school in Freetown. This time we were staying in Miriam’s flat (which thankfully has a flush toilet and not just a lizard infested latrine).  We did a similar project with the Lumley crew, but this time there was a theme of TB. Over the past few years, EducAid has lost several students to this disease. Like most African countries, TB is endemic in Sierra Leone. Treatment is free and very effective.  However, sadly TB often goes undiagnosed. The radio programme was a follow up to the recent awareness campaign the school had been promoting in assemblies. This time, after just 3 days, we had a finished product. Both programmes were played to both schools in assembly and were very successful!
Dad and I spent the final couple of days soaking up the sun. On the very last day we visited the children’s hospital. This was the biggest eye opener for me. It really hit me how lucky we are to have just the basics in hospitals, like a bed per patient, working fridges which store bloods and medicines, not having to share oxygen masks and even space for mummies to stay with their new born babies.  
Then I headed back on the 20 hour journey alone. I had the most amazing and extraordinary two weeks, I’ve learnt and seen so much, but the memories that will stay with me are the stories from the individual students. From the most hideous stories of the war, to their achievements through EducAid’s support. The friends and smiles that I have met have all been amazing. The trip just wouldn’t have been possible without other people’s help. I’d like to thank all the lovely staff and students who were welcoming, smiley and made living in those conditions bearable. Also thank you to the other English volunteers out there – Pat, Kit, Eddie and Sean who showed us around and were a great team. And finally, a big thank you to Miriam Mason-Sesay for inviting me to see the amazing work EducAid is doing.

And the links to the radio programmes are: 

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

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Great initiative taken by the Magbeni staff and students

It is incredibly encouraging when staff and students take unprompted initiatives, for the improvement of the service provided by EducAid, even at considerable personal effort.

The photo below is of the first half of a girls' dormitory and female staff quarters being built with great support from staff and students.  The students have made the bricks themselves and are helping as much as possible with the construction.

This was not a planned activity and had it been, we would have expected a far greater cost but their willingness to contribute has made the whole structure possible at under £1500!

Well done AA and well done the Magbeni team.

Please keep up the good work!

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

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mohamed Sannoh continues his studies

Mohamed Sannoh, one of EducAid's earliest students (he joined us at the age of 10 when we sponsored him at primary school before we had our own schools) is celebrating again.

We were very proud of Mohamed's achievements when he became our first EducAidian graduate to finish his degree, completing a four year Accounting course at Fourah Bay College.  He was supported through his studies by friends of EducAid.

He has subsequently served his alma mater, working as accountant and logistician.  It is wonderful to have one of our own, trustworthy and committed, taking on this vital role.

Thanks to further friends of EducAid, Mohamed will continue his accounting studies undertaking a distance CIMA course, an internationally recognised professional accounting qualification.  

Not bad for a boy who ran away from his war ridden village at the age of 6 who, after losing all family, ended up living on market tables and pushing barrows in the central Freetown market!

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

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Marie-Aimé tells her story......

On the way to Educaid…

I first heard of Educaid from the website stuffyourrucksack.com. I was still in London planning my move to Freetown and some friends were heading over so I was determined to make good use of their spare rucksack space…

Having bullied / guilt tripped / enticed / encouraged them into bringing various stationery items over, it was then left to me to bring over the cargo to the school… So having arranged for my new favourite taxi driver Farrah to come and pick me up, I set off on the 45 min drive down to Lumley in search of the elusive Educaid. On the way down, I explained to Farrah where I was going and what Educaid did, that it provided free education for secondary school students and literacy and numeracy catch up for women who needed it. He looked thoughtful for a while and then asked: would my daughter be able to go?

The fact that Farrah and his family live about an hour’s drive (on a good day) from the Educaid School gives an idea of how precious a place like Educaid is in Freetown and Sierra Leone. Even government’s primary schools are only free in principle and students have to pay for uniform, books, etc. School kids might look cute in their little dresses / dungarees but it does come at a price…

Back to Educaid though… After some meandering through the bumpy back streets of Lumley we eventually found the building and not being quite sure whether I was in the right place, I asked Farrah to wait for me. Turns out it was quite unnecessary as not only was I in the right place but once I stepped through the gates, I was hooked and never really left…

After I dropped off the bag of goodies I’d brought, I was given a tour of the school and witnessed for the first time the incredible atmosphere throughout the school. What struck me first is the amount of people running around the three floors of the building. Dozens of teachers, hundreds of students all lined up in open space classrooms, three different levels, all open to the elements. The second impression that hit me is how incredibly quiet and studious the whole place was!

Everybody knows where there are supposed to be and what they are supposed to be doing. Even when it looks like the chaos has taken hold of the place between two lessons, within a few minutes all are sitting back down again and taking out their notebooks and pens. It might have to do with the fact that they know that if they’re not, they will encounter the wrath of founder and headmistress extraordinaire, Miriam… But then again, I did a presentation in front of over 100 people and had one of the most focused audience I’ve ever encountered, even when lecturing university students in the UK!

My Educaid

The Women’s Project

Needless to say, I was immediately keen to get involved and after a chat with Miriam, we decided that it would be best if I worked with girls and women at the school. Initially, I helped with the Women’s Group, an initiative within the school which is designed to help women and girls to achieve numeracy and literacy skills they did not get at school. The majority of the women involved are teenagers, from 12 to early 20s, and are eager to learn basic skills that will help them through every aspect of their daily lives.
Teaching reading skills to adults is hard enough, and the inadequacy of the material produced is one of the barriers that I’m sure exist all over the world. Another more specific barrier is the fact that the materials are not only designed for very young kids, but young western kids. It did take some effort to explain what a park was and why on earth would a kid use a bucket if it wasn’t to sell stuff or clean where he lived…

Although reading skills are predictably low, what immediately impressed me was the relatively high level in numeracy many of these girls had. While they were not at schools, most of them spent their time on the street, working and doing trade. The streets in Salone and Freetown especially are lined by little stalls selling anything and everything under the sun, from oxo cubes (a favourite) to little packets of detergents, via dried fish and mobile phone chargers. Most of those stalls are held by women and, too often, girls, trying to make a bit of money to buy food themselves…
So here I was, all convinced that my slightly dusty but once fairly good maths levels would see me through no problem, having to use the calculator on my phone to try catch up with them and make sure that I was not telling them anything wrong when doing the exercises…

It’s precisely because these girls are so promising and talented that the work done by Educaid and the Women’s Project in particular is so crucial…

Girl Power !!

The other aspect of my involvement in the school was also related to women and girls, but aimed at the whole school via the animation of a Girl Power Group. One morning a week, all students take part in special interest groups, doing activities revolving around religion, geography, current affairs or indeed, girl power!

Miriam had mentioned to me the girls’ reluctance to put themselves forward and their lack of self confidence, sapped by a particular culture and the effects of the civil war ten years ago but I was still taken aback when confronted by it… The object of the group was to promote positive self talk amongst the young teenage girls, to try and counteract the disastrous effects of the presumptions made about women and especially the poorest.

We talked about what it meant to be a girl, why it was so great and also what they thought was negative about it, only to realise that all the negative points came about because of other people’s reactions and not themselves… We watched a great film (Akeelah and the Bee, I really recommend it!) and talked about many things but what I will never forget is the morning we had to go round the group saying two things we were very good at.

In terms of the work I did at Educaid, this was one of the most eye opening things I have done. After struggling myself to come up with two things I was good at (try doing it in front of a group of 15 people, it’s a lot harder than you’d think!), we slowly went round the group, the girls squirming a little at the thought of what to say, some looking down, others laughing uncomfortably… It took a few rounds but eventually we had each found two positive things to say and we repeated them a couple of times, with the strict instruction to repeat it in front of the mirror or to someone else at least once a day for the next week! Seeing the awkwardness give way to smiles made me see they were indeed starting to believe their talent and worth…

I had to leave Freetown earlier than planned and had to say goodbye to the girls that day and explain to them why I was leaving. Their enthusiasm for the Girl Power Group and my affection for them made me feel very guilty for leaving them and I was dreading having to say I was going. Yet again they were amazing and for those last minutes there, the roles were reversed and they were the ones reassuring and encouraging me… That was the precise time I knew I would always be coming back.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Amazing what some people will do for money!

Thank you Leweston.  Greatly appreciated by us all at EducAid....

World Book Day 2011 – promoting reading and supporting EducAid

Following the success of our World Book Day efforts last March we decided to run a similar event on Thursday 3rd March this year and we celebrated with a dress-up day and book sale. 
Our visitors on the day were surprised to find the girls in various forms of fancy dress rather than their school uniforms.  Mrs Claxton made a fabulous Puss in Boots and Mrs King had vivid orange hair to match her ‘Goblet of Fire’ ensemble.  Other celebrities spotted were a mad hatter or two, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and a Crash Test Dummy (representing the series of guides for Dummies!). 
Girls from all years and staff brought in plenty of books for the sale and were generous in their purchases of books and raffle tickets.  A sale of Cadbury creme eggs added to the proceeds and encouraged a stampede into the book sale during morning break.  Holly in Year 7 was pleased to win a cuddly owl and More won the house prize for the most books donated.  The fundraising also had a head start of £80 from our staff room book box.
We are thrilled to have raised a whopping £400 for EducAid, a charity in Sierra Leone providing an excellent education for children who would otherwise not be able to go to school.  Miriam Mason-Sesay, who is our contact with EducAid is looking forward to visiting Leweston again and passes on her warm appreciation for our support.
Happy reading!
Anne King
If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid's work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans, please go to www.educaid.org.uk

The beautiful strong young women of EducAid

While we remember women all over the world, today, and seek equality of rights for us all, I am thinking of the beautiful strong young women of EducAid.  May they be given the chance to fulfil their potential and have their impact on the world.  Here are some of them......
If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid's work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans, please go to www.educaid.org.uk