Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Happy New Year and wishing you all the best for 2013 and many more to come! My return to Basse after the New Year was delayed by the President declaring Set Settal (clean the nation) the day before I was due to travel home. Between 9am and 1pm nothing opens or moves, so the thought of being stuck on a gelli-gelli, not moving. For 4 hours plus the journey back, was enough for me to cancel it. This quite often happens, public holidays and such declared the day before by the man in charge!

Schools were supposed to re-open in my region on the 7th January and last week I was on monitoring with the Regional Office to check they had reopened and teachers had reported for duty. Some had opened, but the vast majority had either very few teachers or pupils and in some instances had not opened at all. Even by the end of the week some teachers had still not reported. Due to the vast expanse of the region, we have also been monitoring this week. Some teachers have still not reported, other schools are still not doing anything much in the way of teaching and learning. Some have not even started their afternoon shifts or if they have, pupils have been left unattended. It is very discouraging to witness and at a few schools we visited on the 14th January, the last work on the board was dated 9th January. Even then they still tried to claim that they had been teaching the children since then, despite evidence to the contrary in 4 or 5 classrooms. There is a long way to go with improving education in this country, but what is really needed is a whole mindset shift. I understand that teachers have a difficult job and work with very little resources and do not receive adequate pay for their job, and perhaps this is part of the problem. However, the lack of dedication and commitment to their chosen profession by some of the teachers gives the children the impression that education is not important and perhaps this is why some do not attend school. There are teachers out there who show amazing dedication and work hard. One female teacher in a school I work with would come into school during her maternity leave to teach her class with her baby strapped to her back. She did not get paid for this, but did not want her class to miss out on teaching and learning. When teachers are absent for short or long periods there is no-one sent to cover the class. There is no supply list as in the UK. If a class has no teacher, they are either split between the remaining classes or left unattended. Either way, not much in the way of effective teaching and learning happens.

The rest of this week we will be off on trek to various UNICEF supported schools, to sensitize the local communities to send their children to school. In some communities enrolment rates are very low, despite a large population. Some communities would rather send their children to the local Madrassa than a Government one. The main difference between these schools is that the children are taught in Arabic at the Madrassa rather than English so at least they are still getting an education. However, there are still those who, although are enrolled at school, do not attend for various reasons* or do not complete their education to Grade 6. It is this group that we will be trying to reach. Hopefully, with various village groups involved it will be successful (but I won’t hold my breath!)

Other than that, not much else to report, although I hear there is a solidarity march happening in Basse on Thursday. It is to show the President support in light of the 17 points demand under Article 8 by the EU. The President is very unhappy and went on television to denounce it. I plan to be away in the bush that day, far away in the bush!!

 My time is fast coming to an end here and I will be sad to leave

 *The reasons why some children do not attend school regularly related to mainly domestic duties for girls and farming work for boys. Just before and after the rains are the main farming times. Some girls also do not complete due to early marriage, although this is more common in the Upper Basic and Senior Secondary (Grades 7-12). Other times it is school fees or reluctance by the parents for their children to have what they see as a ‘Western’ education.

(Sorry again unable to seem to upload any new photos.)

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Funding refused. Not sure where to go from here. There is no money so will not get it before I finish. When schools return I will see if I can try and hijack some Jolly Phonics training to try and get some before I finish.

Christmas was a very low key affair. I stayed in Basse and had some friends over for lunch and played some Christmas carols on my laptop, which up until the day before had stopped working. Miraculously it started working just in time to get me in the festive spirit! Even in church they were not singing any of the carols that we sing back home. It was a very nice day and rather simple for a change. None of the stress or anti-climax that usually appears on the day itself. I think everyone enjoyed themselves even though it was not a proper ‘British’ Christmas.

For New Year I came to Kombos and have to say had one of the worst journeys yet! The bus eventually left Bansang, where I had been for the weekend, at 8.30am. It took about an hour to work its way to JJB (a journey of about 20mins!) We arrived to find a crowd of people wanting to get on to the already packed bus. They then proceeded to try and push themselves onto said bus. There were all sorts of arguments between the driver, apparenti (conductor) and passengers. A Policeman was watching on doing nothing. When we eventually did leave JJB, the bus was crammed with people sitting on empty jerry cans or benches in the aisle. Some others were standing for the rest of the journey to Kombos. It was not even over yet, the driver kept stopping by the side of the road to pick up yet more passengers and run what seemed like personal messages of collecting firewood and watermelon or just to have a smoke. The lady behind me at one point tried to push her way out of her seat after having had an argument through the window with him. Personally I would have let her out to face him, but others were not so keen to let her face him! It was not over yet. 3 hours later we reached Soma (should take about 1.5 hours) where we were told we would be leaving in 15mins. 1 hour later we left. By the time we reached Kombos it was about 5/6pm. During the course of this journey I also had the misfortune to have a young girl of about 8/9 fall asleep on my lap and wet herself all over me........not just once but 3 TIMES. I kid you not! I could do nothing, the bus was so squashed I could not even move her and she would not wake up either. The joys of travelling in The Gambia! Definitely not taking the bus again, will go for the gelli gelli next time.
(sorry can't seem to upload any photos today!)