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GambiaRising is simply this: donors enabling young Gambian to go to school – Gambians from age 5 to 26 who without that support, would not be able to go to school.

Everything we do is to make sure donations are used as effectively as possible and to enable the most students go to or stay in school. None of our team is paid, and our overhead is paid by a Board member, so all donations go directly to support Gambian students.

Like the 14-year old who started 1st grade this year, much older than others in the class, but in school at last. And the 21-year old young woman who dropped out after 9th grade against her will, but who finally got to go back to school this year, thanks to our donors. Or the sophomore at the University of The Gambia who the Dean called us about when her family couldn’t pay her second term’s fees. 

Every week we post one of their stories on FaceBook, and. respecting your inbox, just once a month we send a short email update. Judging by the email solicitations I receive, it must be that asking for money over and over (sometimes daily) pays off in dollars raised, but we are not going to do that. If someone donates once a year, we’ll ask the next year. If they donate monthly, we won’t ask at all; we’ll just say thanks from time to time.

And every summer, near the end of the Gambian school year, we will write this Annual Report to tell about the cumulative effect of this collaboration between our donors and our volunteer staff, and the miracles it is creating in so many lives.

In the 2016-17 school year, this collaboration supported the education of 708 Gambian students. Of which 500 were girls. And nearly half those girls were of “marrying age”.

Community Coordinator Ebrima Sanneh with some of the supported students in Sinchu Alhagie

Each one of these students has their own story. I won't tell all them today, but we know them because we are community-based. Each of them deserves an education.  And none of them were going to get it without the support of our donors.

When a donor sends money, it changes a life or lives.  It is that simple.  None of the funds go to pay for salaries, or fuel, or phone charges, or "communication". It goes to change lives.  

There are challenges to managing an organization to accomplish this much. Deep commitment, along with modern technology, enables it. Our 10 Coordinators in The Gambia allow our team to know the communities they serve (and to work without using precious funds for rented offices). Peace Corps volunteers currently serving also alert us to situations they become aware of; which further expands that “local reach”.

And the internet (mostly on mobile devices) allows our de-centralized team to stay in touch while staying local. Student records, including photos and videos, are uploaded by our Community Coordinators directly to DropBox, or are sent by WhatsApp or Messenger, so they can be processed by team members with better connectivity, usually in the U.S., and who can update student Profiles, records, accounting, and upload videos to FaceBook (facebook.com/gambiarising) and/or YouTube (youtube.com/gambiascholars).

This networked structure allows work to be done by whoever has the time (or the internet connectivity) that day. We now have 11 Gambian members of our core team (one is in the U.S.); two are former scholarship recipients now with professional jobs (accountant and teacher) but wanting to give back to the program that educated them. 

In the U.S., our Board of Trustees has expanded to 10, all returned Peace Corps volunteers who served in The Gambia, former Peace Corps or U.S. Embassy Banjul staff.  (For our summer Back-to-School campaign, this expands as we enlist others to help us spread the word.)

Every Community is Different

In any effective networked organization, people take a high degree of responsibility for the part they play.  And so each of our Community Coordinators is developing the program slightly differently from the others. 

One of the first schools in which we worked was St. Therese's Basic Cycle School in the rural upcountry village of Fula Bantang. There, the School Management Committee became active partners, advocating for full enrollment of the children from the villages served by the school. The Committee, which included parents, teachers, and community leaders, began visiting families where children were not attending school. Where money was the barrier, they applied to GambiaRising for support to buy uniforms and books. In this way, going to school became the norm.

Hawa came to school with other children from her village of Sare Fally daily. But her grandmother had no money for uniforms or supplies and had not registered her, so she was sent home. When offered support, the grandmother said she had always regretted not having gone to school herself. Hawa is now in 3rd grade.

Kaddy's father is a Koranic scholar and was teaching her the Koran at home; he saw no need for "western schooling". But when offered a scholarship for Kaddy, he agreed she could join the village's other children in school. She started nursery school at 8 years old, and is now 2nd grade.

Abdoulie had never been to school. But when he was offered a scholarship; he started school at age 14. Abdoulie has been among his class's top students ever since. He has done so well that he has skipped several grades since starting.

But What if There is No School?

Our UpCountry Coordinator, Kebba Sanyang, is Principal of St. Therese's. In addition to grades 1 through 6 (lower basic cycle school), St. Therese's is the regional junior high ("upper basic cycle") school into which other lower basic cycle schools feed students for grades 7 to 9. Where the big drop-off occurred then, was after 9th grade. For six years, we focused on supporting students (mostly girls) from the area to board in towns in the region so they could attend senior secondary schools there.

But when donor Jon Vallee learned he had a serious health problem and made what he knew was his last visit to The Gambia, he made an offer to help fund a senior secondary school in Fula Bantang. Far out of our comfort zone, we nevertheless knew we had to try. Building one grade per year, the school now has 10th and 11th grade classrooms. And 60% of the students there are girls.

Kebba also found that the further from Fula Bantang the villages from which students were coming, the lower the enrollment. Visiting these villages, he found high numbers of young children not in school and was told that it was too far for 5- or 6-year olds to walk; in Pacharr one had recently been struck by a car and killed as well. In the two most distant villages Kebba, organized those communities to build themselves schools for those early grades. GambiaRising supplied cement for the hand-made bricks, roofing materials, and benches; and the community built themselves schools. Today, more than 400 children are attending these schools.  For these communities, it wasn’t school uniforms or books that students lacked; it was the school itself

Pacharr Lower Basic School started in temparary quarters in 2012, while these classrooms were being built. The government later added several more classrooms.

Njie Kunda Lower Basic school opened in September 2015

New teachers's housing & more classrooms are being added in Njie Kunda this summer

Other Communities, Other Solutions

130 miles west of Fula Bantnag, Coordinator Isatou Camara manages 27 scholarships from Kaimoh, where she boards and teaches at St. Mathew’s Lower Basic Cycle School. When Isatou discovered that one of our scholarship students from Kayenga village, about 2 km away, had a twin sister, Adama, who had never walked because of a spinal deformity at birth, she took action: 1) She took Adama to a clinic in Sibanor. 2) When they confirmed that the problem was inoperable, she persuaded the clinic to give Adama a simple wheelchair. 3) Then she requested funds to purchase a donkey and a cart so Adama could get to and from school.

And so while Kebba was asking for roofing materials for two villages without schools, Isatou wanted a donkey cart school bus. And lo and behold, when our donkey-cart school bus arrived at school, there were up to 12 other students riding with Adama (the oldest student "drove"). And half of whom had not been in school before. Because, like the villages where Kebba was organizing school-building programs, Kayenga was also too far for some of the very young to walk to school.


Cutting Costs, Adding Students

The most difficult thing our Coordinators do is decide which students we will help. As generous as our donors are, we are a small program addressing a large need. When Coordinator Ebrima Sanneh told us how long his waiting list last September was, we asked him to narrow it down to only those who had not been in school the previous year. He crossed only 2 students off the list - everyone else had been out of school for at least one year. We told him we still could not possibly fund all those. A few days later, he sent us a photo of a sewring machine. "What is this?" we asked. "I used my own funds and bought my brother a sewing machine. He can sew the uniforms; GambiaRising will only buy the cloth and thread." We still couldn't fund all of them right away, but with the costs lowered, as funds came in during the year, we accepted more in February, more in March, and more in April, until they were all in school. Here are two of them, along with another remarkable story from Sinchu Alhagie.

Fatoumata was 14 when we were able to offer support to her this January. She is about to complete 1st grade.

At age 11, Adama had never been to school. Nor had her younger sister. This year, with support from a GambiaRising sponsor, both girls are together in 1st grade..

First Fatoumata's father died, and her mom re-married. But when her stepfather died too, she dropped out. And sat. We were able to offer a scholarship to her three years ago, and this year she will graduate as the Head Girl of her school.

So is the cup part 1/10 Full or 9/10 empty?

75% of Gambia girls still do not finish high school. Many of those who don’t, are married at puberty. And as you can see, some never go to school at atl.  We can not, we must not stop here.

Our first mission is to support those who we have begun supporting.  We have raised their hopes and we must not let them down. That means simply that we hope everyone who donated last year will do so again this year. Everyone. And we need to find ways to encourage those who have not recently, to include a Gambian student or students in their financial lives. It costs $25 to support an elementary school student for one year. Think of the difference that will make in their life. And the cost for a girl to finish senior secondary school (high school) is just $200 per year. That's $17 per month. Can you imagine the difference that will make?

I am confident that we can continue to expand our networked organization as needed. What will determine how many we will say “Yes” to (and how many we will say “No” to), is how much we can raise. I know it must seem like we/ve got plenty of donors now; we don’t need you as much as before. It is simply not true. When you bring hope to a community, word gets around. I am confident that our Gambian team is qualified and able to tell the difference between those who will not be in school without our help and those for whom paying school costs is merely very difficult. But I also know that our waiting list of the truly needy will be longer this year than last, and that those we can't find funds to help will not go to school.

So the mountain remains high, and the climb steep. The good news is that every year, more are joining that climb. And for today, let's celebrate those 708 miracles created by the tireless dedication of our volunteer team, and the generosity of our donors. To all of them, and on behalf of the students, thanks. Now let's roll up our sleeves and do it again.

Mike McConnell
Managing Trustee
GambiaRising Charitable Trust
1500 Park Ave., Apt PH503
Emeryville, CA  94608-3578

Now here are some of the students in school with our support this school year:
































Mariama (at UTG)

Mbemba (at MDI)

Mariatou (at UTG)




Ousman (at UTG)

Adama (at UTG)



















Salimatou (at MDI)











Ya Anna (at UTG)

Nyima (at MDI)







The GambiaRising team - Kanifing, March 2017

Some of the Students Supported at St. John's School for the Deaf

The Kayenga to Kaimoh Donkey-Cart School Bus