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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

British students sell cakes, jewelleries to help ‘affect real change’ in Gambia

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“Other countries will make profit from our students and would not necessarily benefit the country,” the 37-year-old British teacher told The Standard. 

She added: “Affecting Real Change is different. They don’t make profits. All the money goes into the project.

“Also, the money we bring we go to the shops and buy the materials ourselves. So, we know where exactly it is going.”

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Beyond the lure of the charity, Elicia and her students were also bitten by the bug of hospitality that is characteristic of the people of Gambia, a country that promotes itself as the Smiling Coast of Africa. 

“When we first came here, everyone was just so happy to chat with us,” she continued. “They brought us to their homes and people were very welcoming and accommodating. Anything that we needed, someone would be willing to help. So, it’s really nice to see that the community cares so much about the project and about having us here. So, the experience is a lot better for our students.”

Affecting Real Change came about when Alex Ralls, who became the founder, tripped with his Hardington Girls School students to Gambia. This was in 2003 and the students became alive to the gulf in terms of privileges in the UK and here. They wanted to help and found a local partner in Musa Saidy, a young Gambian who talked him to setting up a charity, which was done in 2010. 

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“Alex and his students were interested in coming out to help,” Musa, the co-founder and secretary general of the charity, told The Standard.

“When the students arrived here, they have seen that they have got much more than our children in the Gambia. I talked Mr Alex into making it a charity so that we can have more impact.”

The charity has since been playing host to annual flood of student volunteers from the UK. Each of the students is required to raise £150. According to Musa, some of the students engage in selling cakes, jewelleries, and walking sticks whilst others organise marathons to raise the funds.

“Over the years, we have grown bigger,” Musa explained. “We intervened at New Town Lower Basic in December 2013 where we built 8 toilet blocks there. We have renovated three classroom blocks and provided a hundred desks for the students in Mandinaring Lower Basic School. Last year, we donated a 60-foot container of medical equipment to Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital. As I speak to you, a 40-foot has left the UK, and is bound for the social welfare department.” 

Last year, Elicia led two of her students and followed suit of the many who came before them. While here, they visited Bakau Lower Basic School and through the charity, put up a wire fence for the school’s garden. 

She returned this year, this time, with three of her year-eleven students – George Heath, 15; Nathan Horwood, 16; and David Thorly, 16; as well as her assistant, Chris Drew, 55. 

Elicia told The Standard: “Each of us students had to raise a hundred and fifty pounds in order to come down here. They had to do that through fundraising. Some of them learned new skills and made jewelleries and walking sticks and sold them. 

“Last year we started renovating the garden, but the wires have been wrecked. So, now we are trying to make permanent fence with bricks.”

Fifty thousand dalasis have so far been raised, still short of the eighty-thousand dalasis needed for completion of the fencing-project. 

“I will be back next month with another group from all over the UK,” Elisia promised. “They will be working within our project and be based in three schools, focusing on arts and teaching.”

The principal of the school, Mr Tijan Ceesay, confirmed that the construction of the garden came about upon the request of the school authorities.

“Gardening is part of our school development plans,” he said. “We are training our children, not only in academics but also on skills. Farming is skills. So, if they have an idea…especially these urban boys, they don’t know about gardening. If they can do some work on the school garden, they will have an idea and generate some funds for the school.”

Established in 1947, Bakau is one of the oldest Western-styled schools in The Gambia, boasting a pool of exemplary alumni. However, sixty-eight years on, and located in the heart of urban Gambia, such basic facilities as electricity are not available. 

“We have 1500 plus students here,” Principal Ceesay said. “I want to campaign for more enrolment. Coming to public school is better, but I have realised that most of the people are taking their children to private schools. This school started in 1947 and I think I am the 25th headmaster.

“If you look at the structure of the school, the painting on the buildings is worn out, and there’s a need to refurbish the school. The last time we had a fundraising with the mothers’ club so that we can put into use the computers donated by Affecting Real Change. There is need for them to work; they cannot be like white elephants there. We realised some funds but it was not enough. We have electrified about three blocks. My office is yet to have electricity. We need to use computers; type, photocopy and print.”

Bakau Lower Basic School may still need more support from charities like Affecting Real Change. However, the charity seems to have been given a new direction to intervene where help is needed most. 

“We are looking to expand to schools in the Lower River Region,” Musa disclosed, adding that he had already surveyed three schools in that provincial region. 

“We have received a directive from basic education ministry to expand to schools in the rural regions because they don’t have the opportunities that schools in the urban region have. So we are going to expand to schools in the Lower River Region. We also want to take on more health centres. The government alone cannot provide all that the people need. That is why we are making an yearly commitment to send containers of good hospital materials to the people of Gambia and bring volunteers to work in those hospitals.”


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