Bag lady off again 00.00 Saturday 3rd May. Difficult negotiating transfers with two big suitcases, ruck sack & small hessian shopping bag – especially escalators! However, journey from Chester Coach Station to Gatwick was relatively easy.
Arrived very early for flight – plenty of time to chill. Duty free for brandy, such a necessary travelling companion. Plane left on time. Had three seats to myself. Bliss.
Lungi airport a breeze & met outside by Joseph, an ‘A’ level student. Taxi to my bed for the night. Father Peter Konteh & a friend returning to New York joined me, so a very sociable evening. Thought I’d be getting ferry following day and be looking for public transport to Bo, therefore had arranged to be met by Max. Amazingly Peter had another guest who was travelling to Bo the following afternoon so I got a lift with Rogas, door to door! Only downside, he had an inexperienced driver also taking a truck to Bo for him, so it was a slow journey, shadowing the truck all the way. Arrived just after 8.30pm Sunday.
Excited greetings from caretaker, Max and family. Omelette for tea followed by a large ‘oh be joyful’. Slept well. Mattress is new, but it sags in shape to follow your body contour – difficult to get out of, roll back! Have brought new inserts for toilets, but for now, flushing with bucket; George, the plumber is calling to fix on Saturday. The house is great, so airy. Builder still not quite finished, one of his jobs is guttering – bit of a nuisance as rainy season has started.
First day at school I arrived rather late, I wanted the joy of unpacking and putting my clothes in the wardrobe, a very simple pleasure, but so exciting.
Joe Williams pleased to see me. First task – to look at all the school improvements since February. He very proudly wants to show off his achievements. Reinforcement of downspout for the water holding tank, protecting it from the children! Eight board rulers made by a local carpenter; 3 new book shelves, 1 for the office and 2 for the Library; 3 new toy cupboards for classes 1, 2 & 3; finally, the Home Economics cupboard. Great to see progress. Also viewed new furniture for JSS practical room, 10 large tables and 40 chairs. As soon as locks are bought all the toys will be divided between the 3 classes and played with and the Home Economic utensils can be purchased!
My first week is spent watching the staff teach. An interesting experience which gives an instant feel for both problems & progress. This then aids the agenda for Training Day. My first weekend is Registers, Test results and Accounts – can’t wait! Meeting to discuss Sports Day 2015. The school will then have another 40 pupils with our 2nd Junior Secondary class, so we’ll have to move the event to larger premises. A school in Bo, across the Bo/Kenema Highway, called UCC has a big sports field and a pavilion, I believe it’s the preferred venue as far as the staff are concerned. This will obviously entail greater expense, hiring the premises etc – so fees will have to increase. Sports Day is viewed in manic terms, just like our panic over Christmas – just one day! I hope the parents meeting goes well, accepting this inevitability, scheduled for my last day.
Called on lawyer Sam – our land holdings – house, school, development land and Margaret’s site for church/clinic have now been officially registered in Freetown and I have the conveyance documents. Taken about 2 years. Such a relief. Really rather excited – my own land deeds!
Sam is going to research registering OAKS as an NGO in Sierra Leone. He’s organised a meeting next month with a friend experienced in such matters. Will have to wait for his report.
Work has begun on the site for the new classroom, JSS 2 & storeroom. The first task is block making. A little delayed as there was a shortage of cement – apparently a break down at the plant. My mind is racing ahead of building work, I’m trying to gauge the difference in cost, generator versus solar, probably 4x the initial outlay – but then no diesel or oil to buy – it requires some serious thought.
There was mains electricity in November 2013 during my visit, at the house where I stayed, just off Bo Highway, but since then Bo has been dark – 5 months without power, hard to believe. How would we cope? Not even electricity for Christmas! Solar would be a wonderful solution, quality of product & the initial outlay the main factors to be researched. However, it wouldn’t need copious amounts of diesel (approximately £0.80/hr) & an oil change every 2/3 weeks for a generator!
Had a visit From Peter Nderito, Kenyan director of VSO, Freetown. I was expecting great things – possibility of partnership to start ‘Adult Education’ classes, perhaps renting house to short term overseas visitors, lots of ideas in my head for development. All to no avail – I should have known better, my dreams don’t mesh with other people’s agendas. Big charities don’t do business with very small ones – it’s not part of their game – they’re only geared up for big bureaucracy deals, no flexibility. Having been referred to VSO some 3 years ago by DFID (Department for International Development), I was stunned when Peter suggested I try DFID!! Obviously not possible to play with the ‘big boys’, just yet.
Spent Saturday poring over registers & test results – learnt a lot. Drew up lists & charts for action.
Plenty for Training agenda and Parents meeting. Had a welcome break due to unexpected visitors. Father Peter, from Freetown brought two guests from Austria to meet me – Walter & Alfred. Beer & brandy all round whilst they outlined their charity, Desert Flower – a project designed to start changing parent’s minds about FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), based on a contract for food & education. Will find out more.
The rainy season is certainly here. Rain all day Sunday and a big thunderstorm. Very miserable. Started audit of accounts. When my brain had had enough – a new book. A very sleepless night – big disco, dance music concert in the distance for Bob Marley Night – finished at 6am!!!!
I’m trying to understand and achieve a working overview of the curriculum by updating the core subjects (English, maths, social studies & science) which involves after school meetings, staff quite enjoying this – they don’t have departmental meetings – nice exchange of thoughts & ideas.
The school received some text books for Junior Secondary, hooray. Class of 39 – we received text books on 7 topics out of the 11 studied for BECE, 23 books in total out of a an overall requirement of 429. Certainly a huge improvement on nothing! Must remain positive. Discovered at a staff meeting that collecting this meagre amount of books involved a tip of Le 5,000 for the store man!! I will try and follow this up next visit.
I attended a meeting @ WAEC (West African Examination Council) with the new ‘head honcho’ Mr Bangura and the Deputy Director of Education (DDE), Mr Swaray – hopefully we’ve almost sorted our application for Junior Secondary school registration, all documents in order, we just require a letter from DDE, which he’s promised, again, perhaps this will be third time lucky. This process started in March 2013, the wheels of the Education Department grind slowly. Rang just before departure, still no letter! I’ll ring and chase this on my return. Nothing is easy.
I gather someone from WAEC will come to visit the school, when our documents are all in place and may even recommend OAKS as an exam centre for the Tikonko region – that will be interesting! It obviously depends on the size of our classrooms and suitability of our tables & chairs.
Staff training – my last Friday in Bo. Started @ 8.30 & finished about 1.30! Full and frank exchanges on many topics – challenging at times. When I interrupt I get short shrift “Aunty, please, I’m flying and I’ve not yet landed!” in other-words, shut up!
We spent a very long time discussing our first item of 15 on the agenda – Sports Day 2015 – the budget, the number of officials, an increase in parental contribution, the wording on receipts, who should control the money, the time children arrive – the reasons they’re late – mostly to do with ‘hairdo’s & outfits’, food for the children & the officials, tradition etc, etc. I knew I was in for a very long morning!
Our wide ranging discussions encompassed:-
What have we learnt from our first Junior Secondary class? Admissions policy?; Extended day; Curriculum & staffing problems; Class 6 NPSE – mock results as pointer to outcomes; 2nd term test data review – possible promotions & repeaters; A double year group class for the final time in September or just two large classes for 5 & 6 , which would allow much greater time table flexibility; Designation of classroom space; Subject required for new teacher in September? Why can they not employ 2 new teachers? They need one for English & one for science!; Maths policy; Standard lesson plan; Review of areas to be addressed following lesson observations; Pre-JSS for class 6; Attendance following Easter holidays – introduction of fine system; Rewards; Invisible child; Marie Stopes; Desert Flower, Distant Learning; Equipment for other practical subjects – Agriculture & Creative Practical Arts and finally, a request for a free child place at OAKS for each teacher. Phew!
It was great to at last conclude and get to a group photo! Followed by an explanation for Patrick Goba – ‘How to play Suduko’ – I took Word search & Suduko books for them. I also gave out some memory sticks to those who are computer literate. Will save the others for October, when I hope to be able to take another couple of 2nd hand laptops.
There was a follow up with a few parents as regards test results, children still borderline after repeating on more than one occasion. Two pupils who are in class 3 who should be in class 5 and one coming to the end of her second year in class 4. Bit of a pep-talk, no idea if it will help! Trying hard to instil pupil promotion year on year as the norm, teachers encouraged again to analyse test results and find solutions to problems.
Saturday 17th was the meeting for the new entants to Class1 accompanied by their parents. It was a very wet morning. Supposed to start at 8.30am, I got there @ 9am. Meeting started after 10am! African time is crazy. After an overview of fees & outline of the school day – done with Joe Williams interpreting my every word in Krio, we went through each application. Such little tots with big eyes – most unsure of the ‘strange white lady’, one or two had quivering lips and didn’t want to get too close! All vetted by Isata & Max the Class 1 staff; we refused two on the grounds they were too young. No birth certificates to check, so it’s all done by eye & instinct.
Late afternoon I went down to the ‘Palm oil farm’ – a grove of trees, about a 15 minute walk, to listen to a parents meeting for the Scouts. Fatmata & Alusine, Maggie’s wards, have joined a new Scout group. The Scout leaders are trying to get the schools in the area to start their own Scout troupes. Our teacher, Frances Rogers, is extremely keen on the idea. This Lewabu group will meet Monday, Wednesday & Friday 4pm – 6pm, practical Monday & Friday and written work, Wednesday. Scouts & Guides have been in Sierra Leone for over 100 years!
The manager, Mary Sheku, from Marie Stopes ‘de mammy fo wel bodi’, came to talk to JSS 1. When she asked for a definition of Family Planning, the pupil definition was – ‘Mammy & Daddy business’. The talk was conducted in Krio, presenting a relaxed environment, encouraging the class to speak. I was somewhat amused that the description of falling pregnant was ‘get belly’! She suggested we get in touch with their ‘Outreach’ department for some regular visits.
Wednesday 21st May. Red letter day – Home Economics practical. Had 3 charcoal burners on the floor for rice, soup (veg mix) and chicken. Igniting charcoal with lit plastic bags – ugh – the smell! The best bit was the feast – all JSS1 & staff. Lovely aroma. Pupils and staff very excited. Such a contrast to cookery lessons in the west – will post the pictures.
I asked builder Lawrence to find someone to give us an estimate for solar. Amazingly, Basharu Koroma ‘Bash’, turned out to be a parent, five children at OAKS! Qualified Civil & Electrical engineer. He’s going to send an email estimate. Await with interest.
The new build classroom, sponsored by ‘Beers’ was more or less up to wall-plate height as I was leaving. The guys posed for photos with a hard hat and placards representing the company – told me they were the African subsidiary!!
Parent’s meeting (CTA) on my last night. Also a written practical session for the small Scout group, using one of the classrooms. Great to catch a picture of them reciting their promise, just as the CTA meeting finished. The builders were still working and extremely keen to have last photos of air bricks being put in place, very eager to please.
The CTA late afternoon/early evening covered many topics. The parents were keen to have a talk from ‘Desert Flower’ – food money and school fees quite an incentive for an urban family. Cultural ties perhaps stronger in the more isolated village communities. I will try and organise this through Peter Konteh. There were no decisions made on increasing the fee for sports day, not enough parents present (30/40) to deliver a democratic result for the whole school. The decision to be made next time, in July.
Early start for Freetown, up at 3.30am, collected at 5am, lift was expected at 4.30! Government bus left promptly at 6am. Great journey until Freetown when we were snarled up in traffic. Spent middle of day with Peter Konteh at St Edwards and then his driver took me to the ferry. Pleasant chap called John gave me a lift onto ferry and to the airport. All worked out well.
Full flight, midnight. Nearly missed plane – I’d curled up & fallen asleep on the very uncomfortable lounge chairs – fortunately, not like London airports, only the one flight out, so someone awoke me! Economy had one loo – challenging, caused some friction with German flight crew, who displayed very little flexibility or sense of humour! Arrived Gatwick 8am. Another successful trip. Laurel. 24/05/14