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Korrop is an isolated community nestled near the River Gambia, up a rough dirt road from the main highway, east of Janjanbureh and McCarthy Island in the Central River Region. It is 7 kilometers from the nearest school, Therefore very few of its children enrolled in school, and those who did started late, when they were old enough to walk nearly two hours each way.

Beginning in a Grain Storehouse

Years ago, the government had come to the village and built a grain storage building. More recently, the village leaders approached the government to see if they could use this building instead for a community school. When given permission, they pooled their funds and hired a teacher. They got used desks from another school that had been supplied with new furniture. They asked GambiaRising if we could plywood and blackboard paint to make chalkboards for the classroom along with school supplies.

The next year, they added another grade to the school (Nursery 2). Although they had only one building, they set up two classes - sitting back to back in the same room.

An Official School

The government finally said it could supply teachers to the school but only if it went beyond Nursery.  So the school used old corrugate to build an additional small classroom next to the old grain storehouse. It was not sturdy, and it was an oven in the hot sun. But the government now provided teachers. With morning and afternoon shifts, the school could now hold up to four grades, serving not only Korrop but the nearby villages of Kerssereh Kunda and Bukary Kunda.

What Then?

At this point, the community was out of ideas. Most parents felt that the nearest school was still much too far for young students to wallk to. But the corrugate classroom was no long-term solution. Could the government help? Not in the near future, they were told; the waiting list was too long.. So the community again called GambiaRising. Could we help them build classrooms?  We had done so several times before, but we never have funds sitting around. Nevertheless we said we would try.

Meanwhile in Cole Camp, MO, a returned Peace Corps Volunteer was talking with the congregation of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church about her experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in The Gambia. (She is a pastor herself and is also married to the pastor of St. Paul’s.) Having no idea about the appeal from Korrop, the church decided to share a portion of its Christmas and Easter collections with GambiaRising. After discussion, they agreed that a perfect use of this gift would be to fund two new classrooms for Korop school. (And added some funds from a summer ice cream social.)

When GambiaRising "builds" a school, here's what that means:

We work with the community to make a construction plan. When a budget is finalized, we provide the funds to buy cement, roofing material, wood for doors, windows, and roof framing. Even nails. Then the community builds itself the school.

So the meetings were began. The village's men (who would provide the labor) signed on.

An agreement was signed.

Materials were purchased, and transported to the village.    The men began making bricks.

The walls began to go up. .

Racing to Beat the Rains

As agreed, the community provided all the labor. The rainy season was coming, but the bricks all got made, the walls erected, and the roof put on before the heavens opened. 

It was fortunate that the plan was to build TWO classrooms, because the rains and wind completely destroyed the temporary corrugate classroom.

And, when classes started in September, 2018, Korrop Lower Basic Cycle School had two school buildings, with three classrooms. And with two shifts, there were six grades (Nursery 1, Nursery 2, and 1st through 4th grade). Enrollment in the school rose to 175.  And 97 of them were girls.

But the School was Not Finished

When GambiaRising visited the school in September, we met with the Head Teacher, Regional School liaison ("cluster monitor" is his official title), and community leaders. Clearly classrooms and teachers were the bare necessity for a school. But only barely. A list of next steps to provide the school the community deserves was created. It consisted of: 

• Benches - the desks scavenged from another school were not nearly enough for the expanded number of students.

• Toilets – the school had only a single traditional reed-screen latrine, right next to the school. It needed toilets for girls and boys, separated from the school, with hand washing stations.

• Water – Students currently walked to the village well for water, while not far from the school, it required them to leave the school grounds. There was an open well on the school grounds, originally built to serve a women’s garden next to the school. It was currently covered with thorned branches to keep kids from coming too close and falling in, and was not being used. It was 14 meters deep and had 4 meters of water in it at the end of the rainy season. All agreed that the water was clean but the open well was a danger to the children.

• Kitchen – There was a broken-down shed on the school grounds, near the well, which the community wanted to re-purpose as a school kitchen. The Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education had confirmed to the school that they could be included in a World Bank-funded school hot lunch program if the school had an acceptable kitchen.

• School garden – If the school well could be rehabilitated, it would be wonderful to have a small school garden to provide fresh vegetables for the lunch program, and also to demonstrate to the children the values of gardening. To create this would require fencing or a wall.

Our friends at the wonderful non-profit Water Charity agreed to fund the improvements that touched on their focus: water and sanitation. With their support, the work began.


The School Well

The old well’s covering of thorns was removed, various residue in the well cleaned out, then the well was covered and fitted with a hand pump to serve both the school’s drinking and hand-washing needs, along with the new kitchen and the new school garden. The village;'s women also have a garden next to the school, which will be much easier to water now.

The School Kitchen

The old shed on the grounds was dismantled and useable materials were salvaged. More bricks were hand made and a new kitchen and storage room for kitchen supplies was constructed. A strong steel door and serving shelf and window were included, and another strong steel door with padlock for the storage room. The cooking area included a chimney to prevent smoke pollution for the cooks.

School Garden, and Toilets

It was decided to locate the garden immediately next to the original school building, thereby using one of the building's walls for one side of the garden, and also allowing rain run-off to drain off the building's roof into the garden. Three more sides were added to the wall, and a garden was planted.

For bathrooms, the community hand dug pit latrines, then made bricks and built two toilets for boys, two for girls, and one for teachers. "Tippy tap" hand washing stations were stationed nearby.

The only toilet at the school, was completely inadequate.

New girls' toilets


That left only the matter of seats for the children. Here, Kebba Sanyang, our Upcountry Program Manager, got creative. About 15 miles away, the new St. Therese's Senior Secondary School, had just been built with extraordinary gifts from a small group of GambiaRising donors. It's newest buildings were the technical labs, and included a carpentry program. If GambiaRising purchased the wood, the students could build benches for Nursery program, and the older students could use the desks already procured. 

Materials were purchased, and the students got to work. Measuring, planing, sawing, nailing struts. These would need to be strong benches.

And Korop Had a School

When we visited in January, we were delighted to see such a thriving school. The community and surrounding villages were thrilled. 

Not only were 175 children getting an education but four teachers (provided by the government) had jobs. Nearly none of these kids would have been in school without this project. And, this school being off the beaten track, somehow if the very poorest of children couldn't afford uniforms, no one seemed to mind. In other words, building this school was the equivalent of funding 175 scholarships. 

Now, there's just one thing more to do: this Fall the school will need a classroom for grades 5....

I have been reading more and more Peter Singer and William MacAskill these days. Their message resonates so strongly with what we do: we have limited funds; how can we do the most good with those funds?  That is why we have no offices, no vehicles, not even salaries. And when we can spend a few thousand dollars to be sure 175 children (and growing) have a chance to go to school, and then a church congregation and a generous non-profit offer to fund most of the cost, we are clear what we need to do. 

Our donors are what make this possible.  We, and the children of Korrop, thank them.  (A few more photos follow.)

Mike McConnell
Managing Trustee

1500 Park Ave Apt PH503
Emeryville, CA  94608-3578