Great although very long journey – everything went to plan, marvellous, arriving in Bo 10

pm Tuesday 18th October.  Approximately 19 hours door to door!!

Angela, Max & baby Laurel with older daughter Fifi and son Alusine.

Angela, Max & baby Laurel with older daughter Fifi and son Alusine.

A new baby in our compound, Max & Angela have a daughter born in September whom they’ve called Aunty Laurel!!  Apparently it would be disrespectful to just call her Laurel & she is now affectionately known as Aunty.

Staff & pupils at OAKS school are as busy as ever, lovely atmosphere.  Head teacher Joe keen to demonstrate progress and encourage me to get to grips with school paperwork.  The bursar Rey beavering away, preparing a box full of receipt books, ledgers and folders of receipts.  He’s delighted that all fees are collected including parental extra payments for NPSE & BECE examinations.

The exam groups have extra lessons after school & Saturday morning.  The staff take it in turns to top up, explain & reinforce their subject areas.  The success of the children is a real driving force – after 7 consecutive years of 100% for NPSE (11+) and the beginning of our BECE journey, the staff want OAKS to go from strength to strength.

Saturday morning. Extra maths for Junior Secondary 3

Saturday morning. Extra maths for Junior Secondary 3

We eagerly await BECE, a national accreditation similar to GCSE.  The exam was taken in July – it includes 4 compulsory core subjects, English; Integrated Science; Maths & Social Studies, plus 4 others chosen from RE, Practical Arts, Agriculture, Home Economics, & Physical Health.  The results had been anticipated in early September, however, no sign; according to phone text the awards were released last week, 22nd October, BUT, not available to schools until the Exam Council have made an income from parents for an early preview via the internet.  If it’s anything like the NPSE results, schools will not be informed until early-mid November.

Pupils cannot enrol for Senior Secondary without their BECE scores, so it would appear that Term 1 does not exist, they’ll start in January.  How cynical & what mismanagement from a Government which pays lip service to Education.  Post Ebola education is supposed to be back to normal – this is a cruel blow for a whole cohort of kids who are just ‘sitting’ awaiting their right to the next stage of their school life – which will now be NEXT YEAR!

Alusine in centre, drilling OAKSScouts.

Alusine in centre, drilling OAKS Scouts.

Alusine in our compound is very disappointed with the late BECE results, he’s reading Harry Potter to fill in his time and helping in a small shop until he learns his fate.  If his score is good enough he would dearly would love to attend The Bo Senior Secondary School, starting now in January.

Our new teacher Mathew Jamba was jubilant to inform me he has finally received his BSc Degree certificate from 2014, he has had to pay extra for it.  The calibre of our staff is rising.  He is keen to introduce Basic Electronics to Junior Secondary next September.  He has taken responsibility for ‘Exams’ throughout the school & will be presenting them as typed copy for the seniors.

Mathew Yamba, a great maths & science teacher.

Mathew Yamba, a great maths & science teacher.

Mathew has had computer training & we hope he’ll coach the teachers in his free time.  We almost have one computer between two staff.  If anyone would like a good home for an old, laptop, please let me know!!  As electricity is so unreliable, battery life is crutial, unfortunately, lots of poor batteries, only about half an hour per charge.

Through one of my ‘old school pals’, Alison, from Wirral Grammar, who lives near Carlisle, I’ve received some phonic training and a free ‘School Classroom Pack’ courtesy of Chris Jolly of ‘Jolly Phonics’.  It’s fabulous.  Lovely colourful ‘Big Books’ to introduce the 42 alphabet sounds, a catchy jingle type song with actions for each sound and some puppets.

I’m trialling Jolly Phonics with Class 1, 2 & 3.  The kids love it and so do the staff.  We’ve completed Book 1 – I’m hoping as the teachers grow in confidence, they’ll have all the sounds, letters & simple words well established by my next trip in early February, then we can move onto the reading books and ‘Tricky Words’.  We can then consider developing Jolly Grammar.

Class 2 writing the shape of letter 'P' on one another's backs.

Class 2 writing the shape of letter ‘P’ on one another’s backs.

It’s been lovely to see the children’s animated faces, drawing letters in the air with their fingers, singing the songs along with the actions, the favourite so far is ‘a a ants on my arm, a a ants on my arm, a a ants on my arm, they’re causing me alarm’ along with the ‘i’ sound like a mouse squeaking & scratching it’s whiskers ‘i i i i i I’.

Kate from Ridgeway High has sent some text books and small science equipment which has thrilled Patrick & Mathew.  Apparently the Physics text book is amazing and the spring balance is wonderful!!  I’m constantly amazed how much we just take for granted.

Friday, Mr Jarrett the bursar took me to meet Pastor Patrick Sartie who runs a skills programme called Craft Share.  An interesting man who provides skills training to young single mums and disaffected youth.

Engineering at Craft Share

Engineering at Craft Share

He offers training in Cookery, Hairdressing, Tailoring, Carpentry, Metalwork & Vehicle maintenance alongside a Nursery, Primary facility and slowly venturing into Junior Secondary.  Quite an inspirational outfit.

Pastor Sartie is helping us to transport 6 sewing machines from Freetown to Bo.  I’m hoping the ship will dock & we’ll receive our machines before it’s time for me to go home.  This has been made possible by Alan at charity ‘Tools for Self-Reliance’ based in Southampton.

The sewing machines will be housed in the Option Room and will initially be used for Home Economics & Creative Practical Art.  I’ve brought a template from Bebington Soroptimists to sew washable sanitary ware for the girls.  This, if successful, could become a mini business enterprise.

My first weekend meant committing the timetable to computer, analysing staff free time and trying to make it more equitable, particularly for Isata who teaches Home Economics and is also responsible for Class 1 with her assistant, Max.

Another audit.  Interesting what snippets ‘the books’ reveal – the septic tank from the ‘bush toilet’ has become a little odorous, initial advice was to pour spent oil over the surface & that didn’t work, they now sprinkle it with Milton, something I associate with sterilising babies bottles!  Once the rainy season is over and during the Christmas holidays, the tank will be dug out and emptied – a job for the ‘night workers’.

Local grafter known as ABC tracked me down wanting the money for a new cutlass for his work on the 24 Town Lots, almost a 3 acre site.

ABC our human JCB, displaying some of the tree stumps he's dug out.

ABC our human JCB, displaying some of the tree stumps he’s dug out.

He is doing very hard labour intensive work referred to as ‘stomping’, digging and cutting out tree roots by hand.  Part of this area will be the arena for Sports Day in February next year.

I made an appointment to meet the Chairman of Bo District, Mr Bindi.  Quite a journey on the back of a Honda bike, stiff legs & sore back – after all that he’d gone to a meeting in town!  Another trip there & I met him later that day.

Always on the quest for text books.  He indicated he’d see what he could do, however, he wrote nothing down, so we’ll see.  I also invited him to visit OAKS.  We await.

When Nic & Margaret visited in June they brought some money from Queens School, raised at World Book Day for our Head to try & purchase some text books from the Government Book Shop.  Paucity of text books really slows learning as everything has to be written in chalk on the board.  Joe has managed to source quite a few texts which the children can start to use after half term.  This will be a massive boost all round.

Chris & Joe with new books for Class 6.

Chris & Joe with new books for Class 6.

OAKS had a visit at morning assembly from the Police Family Liaison Unit.  They are trying to tackle the worrying increase in teenage pregnancy and also petty crime.  They informed the pupils of the criminal age of responsibility, 14, & that it brought consequences for their liberty.  The girls were urged to seek help and advice.  It’s really so important they complete their education.

Joe has been to meet the new Manager of Marie Stopes in Bo.  Hopefully we can forge a new relationship, post Ebola, and we can be in receipt of informal meetings regarding contraception and family health for class 6 through to Junior Secondary 3.  I hope their outreach workers will have set up a programme before I return in February.

We were fortunate to be on the list for some ‘stock’ courtesy of UNICEF, 60 large exercise books, 12 packs of small exercise books and 4 packs of coloured chalk.  Although not enough to give all pupils, a welcome addition to our cupboard.

I’ve written another letter to World Vision in Bo trying to enlist their support for our after school group ‘Kid’s Club’.  Maybe we’ll be successful second time around.

Scouts playing games & singing. Centre picture is Fatmata, Junior Secondary 2.

Scouts playing games & singing. Centre picture is Fatmata, Junior Secondary 2.

The scout group have plans for a day trip with a lunch time cook in the bush.  They also want to make some street signs for the neighbourhood as part of their practical work in the community.  We are very fortunate, Birkenhead 5th scout troupe continue to support us, they have worked really hard to raise money for OAKS, consequently, both these activities can take place.

Another long trip on the bike to visit a ‘bush school’, Largoh Primary, which is inland on the far outskirts of Bo.  They have 5 classrooms and are teaching Class 1 – 6.  All the classes are small apart from Class 1 which is huge.  They are very short of furniture.  The teachers are paid a stipend from the fee the parents pay each term.  I’ll try & visit each trip to assist and take them some supplies.  They were very grateful for ‘Barclays Bank’ pens and pencils & crayons donated by Castlehill Primary, Wigan.  Much work is required to make their curriculum more child friendly and accessible.

Pupils from Largoh Class 1.

Pupils from Largoh Class 1.

Prices in Sierra Leone are constantly rising.  The staple diet of rice is becoming a luxury for many.  The drop in the Pound Sterling against the US Dollar hasn’t affected us yet in this Dollar based economy, which suggests that Sierra Leone is in a financial mess, inflation in excess of 10% and rising.  By rights there should be an election next year, but this has already been postponed until 2018.  Inflation and government mismanagement would suggest an election is required, time for a much needed change.

Halloween and it is staff training, taking place on mid-term break when the staff should have been enjoying a day off!  An introduction to Jolly Phonics, singing and sky-writing letters, staff threw themselves into it & had fun.  Swiftly followed by a calculator exercise completing a Summary Progress Report, a document they must tackle at the end of term.

Working in 2's Staff learning to complete statistical analysis of school exam results.

Working in 2’s Staff learning to complete statistical analysis of school exam results.

We then discussed Performance Management targets and Lesson Observations, dry stuff.  The whole school target is to improve reading.  After a break we ploughed on covering Sports Day, the Library, Text Books, Letters for the UK and a Times Table competition.  A four hour marathon, all business concluded, happy & productive.

Tuesday 1st November and it’s back to phonics.  The kids are rock solid on the first six sounds and remember every word of the songs – it seems to have gone down a storm.

Teacher Francis is off school today, he’s at the police preparing a case for the Magistrates court, prosecuting a neighbour who wrecked his house last May, fingers crossed the issue is resolved.  I covered lessons for him with class 5, did a marathon times tables exercise & then supported class 1, singing number songs & telling the story of the Three Bears with all the actions.

Class 1 phonics with the sound ';e' - note 'The 3 Bears' on the board!

Class 1 phonics with the sound ‘;e’ – note ‘The 3 Bears’ on the board!

Mr Swaray, the Deputy Director called to see me on his motor bike, his Ministry car is in the garage for repair.  Amazed he visited, quite an honour, I usually go to his office.  He’s off to Freetown tomorrow for a meeting, so I have asked if he’ll raise our JSS Registration once more.

Having trouble with my generator battery, it was new in May, but it’s being very temperamental.  I sat in the dark until nearly 8pm when all of a sudden it decided to work – hooray!  Had my clothes ironed and managed to charge my laptop and do a load of photocopying.

Went with teacher Francis Rogers & Max to view progress on the 24 Town Lots.  No sign of our workman ABC & he’s not answering his phone.  It would appear he’s not been working.  I’ll have to try and sort this matter before I leave for home.

Back at school met the scout group and joined Mr Williams’ Class 6 extra class for ‘Verbal’ –  verbal reasoning, a good lesson which the pupils enjoyed.

Mr Bindi from Bo District called at school on Wednesday.  I introduced him to Jolly Phonics, he thought it delightful, a fun way to learn English.  He is keen to try and raise school standards within the many schools in his district and is beginning by targeting 50 with the aid of a grant from the EU.  I agreed to send him some of the documents and ideas I’ve used with OAKS staff.

The builders called to look at the rain damage to the eaves caused by leaking gutters, which were repaired in May!!  An estimate will be prepared.

The builders. Mustapha, Lawrence & James.

The builders. Mustapha, Lawrence & James.

Thursday the CTA – Community Teachers Association meeting.  Probably about 90 parents attended.  Our agenda was wide ranging, the two most important topics were Late Fines and Sports Day.  Sierra Leonean parents are very lackadaisical about returning their offspring to school after a holiday so we have introduced a rising scale of fines.  In September 40% did not return on time!!  Parents were full of apologies.  We don’t want their money, we want their children in school on time so the fines will be significantly increased in January.  Perhaps that will chivvy good time keeping!

The Sports Day topic led to an election of a Committee.  They have to organise the levelling of a sports arena for December ……. A huge task.  Only a small area, the football pitch, suitable.  The arena they desire is 50’ x 225’.  The CTA have collected nearly 4 million Leones to pay for a machine, in the region of £450.  In February they’ll also need to help create temporary shelters for the pupils and spectators alike.

Thursday evening I put together all the documents pertaining to our ‘Application for Junior Secondary School 2013’ with the various updates to both staff and pupils ready to send to a contact at DFID, Freetown.  The promise is to put the details on the correct desk to ensure we receive our Index Number.  This is something I’ve been chasing for 3½ years, it is required so we can sit the BECE exam in our own name.  The Methodist High School in Bo hosts OAKS exam pupils at present and the results will be accredited to the Methodist School for 2016 & 2017 as we do not have the required certification.

The rainy season should now be virtually over, it’s still raining heavily at night and my last school day it is pouring down.  I had a 9am appointment at World Vision.  Fortunately a little showery but cold during my Honda bike ride to the office – I had to wear a fleece, unheard of, I’m usually too hot!

We’re trying to find partners to help finance school expansion.  Although World Vision has funding it is specifically targeted at relieving the pressure of numbers and poor sanitation in secondary schools, a post Ebola measure.  The advice is to discuss these matters with the Education Department and Bo District Council.

Our problem is OAKS is classed as ‘Private’ School, funding is always allocated to Government Assisted Schools.  We are eligible to apply for Government Assistance, we’re approaching our 10th anniversary, next year, but the current political regime is so mismanaged we wouldn’t ever progress to even having the application looked at, if we cannot get our JSS registered, despite being thoroughly inspected with all the correct paperwork we stand no chance with a complex full blown application.

As far as all agencies who could assist us are concerned, we are caught in a ‘Catch 22’ and no-one is keen to help.

My last school day included an after school meeting with the School Management Committee.  Although invited, the local education department did not send a representative.  It was virtually a re-run of the CTA meeting, however, the Chairman Mike Baio was most insistent that we have a running board and sandpit for long jump and the apparatus for high jump at Sports Day – he’s a retired PE teacher.  It is up to the school committee to spend their budget, not me and there has been no report as yet.

Back row - Mathew, Eric, Francis, Joe, Patrick & Chris. Front row - Max, Solomon, Mike & Augustine.

Back row – Mathew, Eric, Francis, Joe, Patrick & Chris. Front row – Max, Solomon, Mike & Augustine.

Lucy, Isata & Princess, our female staff.

Lucy, Isata & Princess, our female staff.

The builders were waiting on my return.  Looks like another reseal attempt and a replacement of rotten woodwork.  I must also call the plumber to fix the shower and a new tap ready for February.

Saturday and it’s scouts, plus a last visit to Saturday school for Class 6 and Junior Secondary – Biology, Physics and English.

ABC has been located, he’s not been working due to a painful boil.  We toured the 24 Town Lots.  An area has been declared for him to clear in the next two weeks, so he will be closely monitored.

Paperwork - ugh. A boring necessity.

Paperwork – ugh. A boring necessity.

Time to file paperwork.  Sort documents to be brought home.  Start packing.  Tonight it’s watch a film with the compound kids.  We’ve seen The School of Rock, Home Alone 1 & 2, perhaps it’s Spiderman tonight!

Local ‘Defence Lawyer’ Sam called to see me with his two daughters.  It must be two years since we’ve met.  Great to discuss another element in the life of Sierra Leone and to hear views on the economy and politics.

I introduced Sam to ‘a Kindle’.  Wow, yes please!  He consumes books like chocolates – they are his favourite stress buster.  I’ve promised to source a second hand model.  He went home with the ‘Hello’ magazine for his wife and a couple of novels.

Lawyer sam with his 2 daughters.

Lawyer Sam with his 2 daughters.

The builders called for their money and a final discussion about how they’re going to get it right this time and cure all leaks!!

The evening concluded not with Spiderman, but Home Alone 3!  Interrupted by local odd job man Claude who wants me to sponsor him in a business venture!  He told me “Yes aunty I’m a black African, I work hard, I’m not completely trustworthy, but I’ll try hard to be 95%”, how endearing is that!!

Great journey to the airport.  Set off at 9am.  Stopped to change a tyre.  Stopped again to buy a new second hand tyre and replace the wheel again.  I discovered the driver is the partner of one of our School Management Committee and their son has just left OAKS, awaiting his BECE results before moving on to Senior Secondary.  Small world.

Ready for home & a 'hair do'!!

Ready for home & a ‘hair do’!!

Arrived at the airport at about 1.30.  Through to departure by 3pm and flight due out at 7pm.  For a change I ordered Cappuccino, no, it was off the menu, so, Hot Chocolate …. No it was off the menu.  Nescafe, yes ….  However, it came with a teapot full of hot water & 2 sachets of coffee, no milk.  I’ll have Carlsberg next time!

Laurel.  6th November 2016