'Improvisers' of distinction

4th April 1997 at 01:00
How Gambians are expanding education

Good news in the Gambia: the number of schools is expanding by 15 per cent a year, but money and resources to run them are scarce, as TES staff photographer Neil Turner discovered on a recent trip there.

A day trip into the bush included a visit to the Amulie Demba Day Care and Nursery School in Sekuta, above, where the teacher and four helpers invite tour parties every two to three weeks to talk about their plans to educate some 300 children aged two to seven.

The group of 39 tourists and guides were greeted by 47 children sitting in rows in the playground.

"This was suddenly unlike any other school visit that I had made in over eight years working for the paper. I was simultaneously enchanted by the children and appalled at becoming part of a depressing tableau. Cameras started to click and the silence was broken, to the enormous relief of the more sensitive members of our party," said Neil.

The teacher spoke of plans for a desperately needed new classroom and of the shortage of materials. On cue a "donations" box did its first lap. "Seasoned visitors to Africa will know that pens are a hot commodity, and ballpoints and pencils appeared from rucksacks and disappeared into the box.

"Those in the party who had not come prepared shifted awkwardly until the box came round again with a slotted top inviting cash, any currency, as much as possible, please."

A guide explained that the school was one of a rota in the area which depended on these visits for up to two-thirds of their resources, representing a week's wage bill.

"Suddenly the feeling that we had been voyeurs was tempered by the thought that our visit really had aided these children," said Neil. "Education in the Gambia is on the up. It is typical of the nature of its people to find ways to fund schools; they are improvisers of the highest order."

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