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No Child Left Behind, Fula Bantang version

The World Bank is doing a wonderful thing in The Gambia. They are directly paying school fees for all enrolled children in government schools in the lower grades. The idea is that this will lead to increased enrollment, and it is certainly working. Now, the only ones left behind in these lower grades are the children whose families are either opposed to a "Western" education, or are so poor that they can't afford the few necessities remaining: school uniforms, books, supplies, shoes, and in some cases, transportation. And so, although our focus continues to be on keeping teen-aged girls in school, when an appeal comes for support for such a child in the lower grades, our bias is to find a way to say "Yes".  After all, if they don't start school, they have no chance of finishing.  

The World Bank subsidies have allowed us to focus the vast majority of our funds on students in the higher grades. But it has also allowed us to increase the numbers of students supported in the lower grades as well.  Of the 395 students currently supported by our donors, the number of students in the lower grades increased by 64% this school year, but the lower costs of supporting each student allowed us to increase the number of students supported in senior secondary schools by 59% as well.

We now support students at 82 different schools in The Gambia. But upcountry, we focus especially on St. Therese's Basic Cycle School in Fula Bantang, where our South Bank Coordinator is the Principal. With our support, the School Management Committee there has decided to become proactive: actively seeking universal enrollment by visiting families whose children are not in school and, whenever they determine that finances are the reason, offering scholarships.  

And so in the villages around Fula Bantang, this has had a wonderful effect. If a child is not in school, it stands out.  And of course, they want to be in school with everyone else their age.  Let me introduce you to two of them, and the way they started school.


Hawa lived in the urban area near the coast until her parents divorced after which her mother brought her to Sare Fally, 2.5km from Fula Bantang and left her with her grandmother. When school started, Hawa followed the other children from Sare Fally to school, but was sent home because she was not registered. Nevertheless, she kept coming to school and after several days, Kebba Sanyang, the school's Principal and our Program Coordinator in the region, heard about her situation.  So he spoke with Hawa and asked her to come back with her parents. The next day, her grandmother came to the school; she apologized and said that she had told Hawa not to come to school but Hawa would not listen. When Kebba asked her why she would not allow Hawa to come to school, she said she had no money or support; she does everything all by herself, and struggles just to feed the girl, and cannot possibly afford Hawa’s small educational expenses. Kebba asked if she would allow her to come to school if someone could support Hawa’s education, and she said of course, adding that she has always regretted not being given the opportunity to go to school by her own parents.  And so Hawa enrolled in 1st grade on the spot; here is Kebba talking with Hawa a few months later: http://youtu.be/CthUWxd7_dA.


A nursery school teacher at St. Therese's in Fula Bantang was holding a PhysEd session next to the school. A young girl stood watching them, and so the teacher invited her to join the group in their activity. When it was time to return to the classroom, the girl refused to go home. When her mother came looking for her, Principal Kebba Sanyang asked why her daughter was not registered for school. When she began to shed tears, he stopped her and said GambiaRising would give her the backing she needs to go to school - if the she agreed that her daughter can stay in school all the way to the finish. And so Bintou enrolled in the St. Therese's nursery program - the very class she had refused to leave.  When Kebba later spoke with Bintou for a video in February; she had only been in school a few months so the conversation was not in great depth; but I hope you will agree that she should definitely be in school!  http://youtu.be/SjHREW0WCuU

There are now 70 students attending St. Therese's Basic Cycle School with scholarships from GambiaRising. That is less than 10% of the student body, but of course it begins a virtuous cycle. For every student enrolled, the school collects additional fees.  Thanks to the World Food Programme, the students receive a hot lunch each day (the school asks each student to make a small contribution to supplement the rather bland lunch, and GambiaRising contributes our children's share).  They are gaining is self-esteem, raising their sights on what is possible in their life, and ... getting an education.  

78% of the students supported by GambiaRising donors in grades Nursery through 9 are girls.  And one day, we hope and expect, they will be young women graduating from senior secondary school, and doing what educated women do everywhere: make a better life for themselves, and a better society as well.