In December, 30 students and 4 staff from Cheadle Hulme School in Cheshire travelled to The Gambia for 7 days to visit a selection of local schools and one in particular - CHS Soma.
The link with The Gambia began 20 years ago when teachers, Ian Ray and Sue Matthews first met and made links with local teachers while taking their Geography students on a field trip there. The visits continued biennially and in 2014 the staff and students laid the foundation stones for Cheadle Hulme School Soma.
As of 2019, there are 89 students on roll, 42 girls and 47 boys. The guaranteed “one meal a day” feeding programme, privately funded by Ian Ray, has meant an increase of 48% in enrolment. The children are aged 3-5 and approximately 63% come from very poor homes and will get their main meal of the day from the school.
The school now has five classrooms, an office, kitchen, three toilets and a tap as a direct result of the funding from CHS.
As well as spending time at CHS Soma, students also visited several other schools in the area - The Gambian High School, Samsaang Technical School, Dumbutu Lower Basic School, Tendaba Primary School, Tendaba Nursery School, two Rural Christian and Islamic Schools and Barundeen Islamic School.
Group Leader, Charlotte Parker, said:
“In Dumbutu and also at the Barundeen Islamic School, we saw some of the projects that we had contributed to over the years, for example, the classrooms, toilet blocks and the walls round the schools. The classrooms, staff accommodation and wells are vital to the existence of the school, however so many of them are now out of date or have fallen into disrepair. It needs to be a project that is sustained to make a long lasting difference to the local community.
Seeing CHS Soma was a special moment in the trip. We had been sent photos of the progress of the building that CHS students had fundraised for and it was an honour to open the new classrooms and unveil the names of the buildings. We spent most of the day with the staff and students, meeting the teachers and finding out what the education system was like, what resources they needed and how else we could help.
The students spent time meeting the local children, being shown parts of the village and playing the hotly contested Manchester vs The Gambia football match (we lost 4-2 despite one of the teachers being substituted on at half time to try and claw it back).
CHS Soma is an EDC school which means that is focuses on early years education but for us to make the greatest impact we need to support the education of Gambian children across the age range. Some schools like CHS Soma, have started feeding programmes that have helped to increase the number of students accessing education and if they are able to keep them regularly coming to school by age 8 they are more likely to continue their education throughout their childhood years.
We want to make a difference to schools out there - we took gifts of iPads and laptops, some of which TCBC funded, but they also need the basics of stationary, paper and exercise books. In future we plan to spend more time in the schools we are supporting and want to build on the links both the staff and students have made with our colleagues in The Gambia.”
Since returning from the trip the staff and students are continuing to raise awareness of the needs of the schools and people they met in The Gambia. The trip itself is exactly why experiential education is so important for young people; it gives them opportunities to understand the wider global community and to ignite a passion for altruistic work that will last a lifetime.