The first time I visited Pacharr, I didn't see it. It was 2007 and as the new Peace Corps Country Director I was trying to visit every volunteer, staying too long at each place, and running later and later as the third day of our trek wore on. So when we arrived to visit Peace Corps volunteer Stephanie Stawicki, it was well after dark. Not knowing (or perhaps not caring) about a Peace Corps rule against driving at night, we found her compound and met in pitch dark in the electricity-less village with a single candle for light.
I still had not seen Pacharr when Stephanie called me in 2008 to propose a student for a scholarship offered by an old friend and mentor of mine. The young man she hoped to get support for was working as a goatherd to earn money to go to high school, and he turned out to be the first upcountry student supported through what has now become GambiaRising.
Fast forward to late 2010, when Kebba Sanyang, Principal of St. Therese's in nearby Fula Bantang and now GambiaRising’s South Bank Coordinator, visited Pacharr and saw a village filled with young children - on a school day. “Why aren’t these children in school?” he asked. Because, he was told, the 2-1/2 km. from Pacharr to Fula Bantang was too far for the youngest ones to walk. And one of those few who had walked to St. Therese’s had recently been killed by a car on the South Bank Road. So Pacharr’s children would wait until they were older to start school. And, Kebba knew, far too many would in fact never attend school.
When I visited Fula Bantang in January 2011, Kebba and I brainstormed about solutions. Could we buy a small school bus (too expensive, not sustainable). How about a wagon pulled by a motorcycle (it’s still going to break down and can't bring enough kids). Maybe a fleet of donkey-carts to transport the childen? Kebba would not let it go.
Finally, in the summer of 2011, Kebba found an abandoned building in the village, asked for permission to use it, and asked the Catholic Education Secretary to allow him to send two teachers from St. Therese’s to teach there. And when the temporary school opened in September, to his astonishment and delight, 111 students enrolled.