Facebook icon Twitter icon Forward icon

Njie Kunda in person: better than I dared to hope

We recently told the story of Njie Kunda, where GambiaRising provided cement, roofing materials, benches, and blackboards to that community which had more than 100 students out of school, but only if they would build the school themselves. They did, and we did, and the government blessed the project and sent teachers.

That's a great story, but seeing it in person as I did a few days ago, blew me away. 

We turned off the South Bank Road just east of Fula Bantang on a donkey-cart path that I could barely discern, and fifteen minutes later arrived at Njie Kunda. Before I saw the school, I heard it. Aside from birds and cows, it is normally wonderfully quiet away from the main roads, but filling the air was the sound of children chanting lessons; one group learning to count numbers, the other chanting the days of the week. Here is a 48-second video I made just as we stepped out of the truck; it stills gives me goosebumps: https://youtu.be/0Ehm3-IP5hw

We like to visit unannouced, so we will get an un-staged view of what is going on, but when he heard our truck engine, the head teacher stepped out of his classroom to greet us. Surprisingly, his class did not stop; one of the students took over the class!  Here is a 29-second peek at "her" classroom: https://youtu.be/iNIhNFCZcuU

Double shifts, already!

I knew that the community had built two classrooms plus a small office, so I expected to find 1st and 2nd grade in session. I was wrong. BOTH classes were nursery school. The community wanted to have the youngest children benefit from one year of pre-school classes, as they do in other communities, and the demand was so great that they had enough for two classes of nursery alone. But having never had a school, there were also enough older children to fill two more classes, so they went immediately to split shifts: nursery in the morning and 1st grade in the afternoon. And instead of two classes, they have four; 31 students per class in nursery and 26 per class in 1st. For The Gambia, these are small classes. And the government has sent four young teachers to teach them, so the afternoon shift teachers are fresh. The head teacher also serves as school administrator.

And the school keeps growing; a total of 114 students are now enrolled. Best of all, 64 of them are girls.

So many pleasant surprises

Already the afternoon 1st graders were gathering, so I switched on the camera while Kebba Sanyang, Principal of St. Therese's and also GambiaRising's Upcountry Program Coordinator led them in chanting the name of their school (https://youtu.be/ljY_pATBfNQ).

You will notic that no child is wearing a school uniform; the community I am sure allowed this to keep the costs of school as low as possible and to make education universal; apparently the government has acceded to this at least at the lowest grades.

There were other pleasant surprises as well: the community has built a small traditional latrine, and on the other side of the school, a small bantaba (shelter) as well, so that afternoon children could gather in the shade. The community and teachers have formed a School Management Committee and a Mother's Club; this is a full-functioning, community-led, school (more photos below.)

The future, and lessons learned

I don't know what will happen next year, whether the government will build the new classroom(s) necessary for 2nd grade, or whether the community will propose another joint venture with GambiaRising. (In Pacharr, where we first joint ventured a new school, the government has now completely taken over the school's expansion.) But I do know that in several more years, it will be a full Lower Basic Cycle School. And there is no doubt that the school will continue to grow, as education becomes the norm instead of a dream in Njie Kunda and the villages surrounding it. Of course, as children proceed through the grades, all of this will create more students for St. Therese's Upper Basic School and the new senior secondary school we are building there, both of which we hope will be centers of excellence in the region. And students who otherwise would have been out of school, repeating the limited options of their unschooled parents, will instead be able to go from nursery through grade 12 without leaving home.

What is most encouraging to me is the way that, given the right circumstances, a small amount of money carefully applied can act as a catalyst to significant results. There are lots of places in the world who will say "Please give me a school" and hope you will bring in the contractors. But here a tough-minded Principal, backed by GambiaRising's donors, met a community who truly wanted a school but were stymied by lack of such a small amount of funds for building materials. The timing was perfect, since with the World Bank paying school fees at the lower grades, more students equals more fees to pay teachers. So the normally-strapped government was able to hire four new teachers without blinking. Take all this, add a little cash, and magic happened. Total cost? Less than $2,000.

Driving away, elated, I said, "Kebba, this is a transformational project; where else in this area needs a school?"  And this seasoned leader replied, "No, we should not decide that.  Let them come to us."

Mike McConnell
Managing Trustee

GambiaRising Charitable Trust
1500 Park Ave., Apt 503
Emeryville, CA  94608

School with Shaded Bantaba

Traditional Latrine

Head Teacher in School Office

School Management Committee

Mother's Club

Class Schedule

Mission Statement, Vision Statement, Code of Conduct


Class is in Session