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The New School Year Begins

Schools have re-opened in The Gambia and our Gambian team is running around taking care of the students who, without our donors 'support, would not be able to go to school this year.

The demand is greater than ever, partly because we have expanded our team and they are becoming aware of more out-of-school students in or near their communities, and partly because we are getting increased appeals from highly-talented senior secondary school graduates hoping to go to the University of The Gambia. (When the Valedictorian of the University thanks GambiaRising for her scholarship on national TV, that's what happens.)

We are still short of our funding goals this year because quite a few people who donated last year, have not yet done so for the new school year.  If you haven't donated this year, PLEASE do so again soon: www.gambiarising.org/donate. Remember, 100% of your donation will go to support someone who without that help will not be in school.

We will talk more about all these students after the dust settles next month.  But let me introduce you to just three today:

Serah is in her 2nd year at the University of The Gambia with donor support, where she is studying Biology.

Bana started 1st grade in Kaimoh with our support, and thanks to the donkey-cart bus we provided to the children of Kayenga.

Aminata started school in Sinchu Alhagie for the first time at age 12, along with her sister Mam, who entered 1st grade with her at age 7.

Education in Farming Communities

Meanwhile, today is World Food Day.  So it seems like the perfect time to talk about something we have been working on since we started: how to support students to stay in school AND for many or most of the rural students to be able to stay in their home villages after school, and be more successful farmers.

My first job out of college was to teach at Christ Church College in Kanpur, India. But I was also studying the followers of Gandhi who did not go into the government and stayed in rural villages doing development work. One of Gandhi's messages was that the British education system was a trap for most Indian villagers. It would train them, he believed, to join the British mercantile system, cogs in a wheel controlled by England, and not learning the skills to live better within their own culture. While I was there, a devastating famine hit the state of Bihar, and I spent six months living in a village simply trying to help keep the women and children alive. After the rains came, we distributed new varieties of seeds to the villagers (they had long ago eaten their seed stock), and then started a school to implement Gandhi's idea of Basic Education. That school, being Gandhian, necessarily included a working farm.

Of course there are innumerable benefits of getting an education, and Gandhi advocated for education for all, but simply defined it more broadly to include "how to live."  And Gambian schools do incorporate some of these ideas in their curriculum, such as Agriculture, Home Science, and Technical specialties.

But you can imagine how happy I was when Kebba Sanyang, at St. Therese's in Fula Bantang, asked GambiaRising to seek support to enhance the agriculture program at the school there. We don't use scholarship funds for such school development, but when a donor offered funding for a cashew orchard and expanded farm at St. Therese's, the entire village turned out to buld a wall and then plant the cashew seedlings that the school had propagated, which was then inter-cropped with annual foodstuffs. (Here are a few photos; you can read the full inspiring story here: http://createsend.com/t/t-2D54FCFBFE7AEC50)

Education for Farming

The teachers at the two schools in Fula Bantang live in the same living quarters; they have a large garden visible to all the students. Every 9th grader also has their own garden plot; and are taught composting and how to make natural pesticide. A non-profit with whom Peace Corps works called  BeeCause included St. Therese's teachers and a student in their beekeeper training and the teachers are now harvesting honey near the school. The new teacher's latrines at the school feature urinals to capture men's urine to be diluted and used as fertilizer. And a poultry house was recently completed at the Upper Basic Cycle school.

Teachers separating the honey from the comb at St. Therese's.

The new teachers' tolletes, which use urinals to capture urine for use as fertilizer

The new poultry house at St. Therese's Basic Cycle School, which will provide income and food for the school as well as demonstrate another way to enhance farming incomes.

The Fula Bantang Senior Secondary School

At the new senior secondary school now being built in Fula Bantang thanks to donors who have donated separately for that major project, an extensive pipe system and solar well have been installed.to support future agriculture projects. Already, every student must plant a tree and care for it, every year, so that when they graduate they will have three trees they are leaving behind. After one year, here's what the once-barren grounds where the school is being built looks like:

And most recently, the school formed a "Fisherman's Club."  Why? Since the River Gambia is at least five miles away and Fulas are herders, not fishers. But the club members traveled to the river, caught more than 500 hatchlings for their daring new project: a combined poultry and fish pond now situated in the center of the school grounds.

Fula Bantang is an agricultural community.  It can also be a thriving farming community (where children no longer need scholarships), if its students learn innovative farming methods such as permaculture, and fish and poultry farming. So, while our focus remains on providing scholarships to students who, without our help, cannot be in school, where we can also influence the quality and relevance of the education they are receiving, and where donors offer separate funds for such projects, we will do that as well. The intention is not to go around the country initiating such projects; the idea is to simply demonstrate what can be done, with not a lot of funds but a great deal of sweat equity, and to provide at least the graduates of St. Therese's a vision of options for a better life that doesn't include moving to the city.

Mike McConnell
Managing Trustee

1500 Park Ave Apt PH503
Emeryville, CA  94608-3578