Notes from Freetown - Tim Feast, Trustee, May 2018

First time back in Sierra Leone since 2013. Many changes, most of them positive.

1.       The airport has been upgraded including biometrics at passport control. Easier to get a trolley and customs is more efficient. The scrum of people offering to help is now outside the airport entrance so you can be met without too much hassle.

2.       The seacoach from the airport is a more effective if expensive way to travel to Aberdeen, although it is a less atmospheric way than the ferry to be introduced to Sierra Leone.

3.       Many roads have improved including dual carriage ways and toll roads. Many of the side roads also have tarmac including nearly all the way down to the school. However there are still unimaginable barriers of rock in some roads which reduce speed to a minimum and do great damage to the cars. Improved roads mean greater numbers of cars and on-going problems at bottlenecks like Lumley.

4.       A great deal of construction including hotels, private accommodation and business premises. Often these are cheek by jowl with far more basic accommodation.

5.       Still the vultures circle slowly on the thermals but this time I have seen many more hawks including kites. There are also swifts swallows  and martins  in abundance.

6.       This is my first visit to Sierra Leone  outside the rainy season. Most of the time it has been very hot and humid but it has been great to see the country without a backdrop of dark low clouds and rain coming down like stairrods.

7.       I don't  know if it is because it is the dry season or whether it coincides with the inauguration of a new president but the power supply has been more reliable. Power has been on for longer and at useful times as well. There has been less imperative to dive for the charger when power is on. We have even managed to use computers in training sessions and Skyped with students in London.

8.       The people are just as friendly and welcoming.  Students, staff, parents and the outside community have been very hospitable, so generous when they have so little.

EXTRA MILE SCHOOL

Since my last visit the charity has opened a secondary school. I am really looking forward to meeting the staff and students and seeing how the school operates. The school has been open for two years and has 72 students on role in three classes. Class sizes are much smaller than local schools and the quality of the classroom furniture mean that when the power is on the classrooms have a light airy feel which makes for a conducive learning environment, much appreciated by staff and students alike.

Students start arriving at school at 0645 for a 0730 breakfast. Generally they will wash their hands on entry to the school but sometimes need reminding by a beady eye whilst I am having breakfast. Students value the tea and bread they get for breakfast, sometimes the only food they might have. Others take advantage of food provided by local ladies who offer food to eat at the two breaks during the school day.

Students play well during breaks including the girls playing a type of British Bulldog with a homemade ball made out of plastic bags.  Football  is always popular.

Students are really grateful for the opportunities offered to them by education at Extra Mile School. Some are already thinking ahead to when they complete their WASE and wonder how Extra Mile will support them in the next stage of their education. They are really ambitious, both girls and boys, and really wanting to do well for their country. There are many reminders around them in school of what life might be like if they don't succeed at school, with adults and youngsters working hard as fishermen and others breaking rocks. Both backbreaking occupations.

School staff appreciate the availability of the dongle to give them access to the internet. A first for me to use the internet in the staff training sessions. Much angst as to whether the laptops are still charged and whether they will log on. In the end staff with mobiles with internet access use their phones and this proves most effective. Note to self. See if we can get a larger monitor to use for training. It would be useful in the living accommodation where the tv only works on half the screen so when watching football the ball can disappear for minutes on end. Staff, including those from other partner schools, really enjoy active sessions in the training and our staff  enthusiastically try some of the strategies out in their lessons the following days. I hope they continue to do so when I am no longer around in Sierra Leone.

Really impressed with the morning assemblies, both outside and in class. The students recite prayers like the 23rd Psalm by heart and sing the hymns with gusto. Though some of the students are Muslim they all partake in the Christian-focused assembles, admirably demonstrating the religious tolerance found in Sierra Leone.

 

Holy Spirit Catholic Centre

Since my last visit a new Catholic Centre has been built . Services whilst familiar in many respects to those in the UK also have a number of differences. The length of the service is much longer with

 the record for my visit being 2hours 45 minutes and that's quite short compared to other denominations. When observing to the parish priest that a live chicken was an unlikely offertory offering, he replied “ That's nothing, when the bishop was last here the offering was a live cow. The music is stunning with a full on soul choir complete with backing trio, complete with dancing in the stalls. What is similar is the stunning welcome I was given by the congregation.

 

Shopping

Limited opportunities to go shopping. Artisan products are very similar to ones seen in Lagos although the vendor assures me they are handmade by him. Bright locally designed material bought in the local market proved a better option. There are duty free shops at the airport but terribly expensive and limited merchandise.

Extra Mile is looking for a new UK Director

Extra Mile is a growing UK registered charity (1130879), that trains teachers and runs a school in Sierra Leone.  The charity has been working in Sierra Leone for over 10 years and in that time, has worked with many local teachers in more than a dozen primary and secondary schools within Goderich, a small suburb of the capital, Freetown. Teacher-training has been provided to more than forty local primary and secondary teachers. In addition to that more than fifty teacher volunteers from across the world have travelled to Sierra Leone to contribute to the work.  They have all been wonderful ambassadors for the charity and become part of the Extra Mile family, often continuing the partnership which they developed with their school and the charity, whose ethos is firmly based on Christian principles.  In these ways, Extra Mile has helped to improve education for some of the poorest children in this deeply deprived country.

The charity is governed by a ten strong board of trustees in the UK, headed by a UK Director, and employing four Sierra Leonean staff who live within the school grounds.  The trustees are now looking for someone to step into the role of the UK Director and to take over the directorship of the charity in 2018 and beyond.

The Post:

The new UK director, who will also act as the school principal. They must be willing and able to travel and work in Sierra Leone at least twice per year to teach and conduct teacher-training with local staff, They should also be coordinating the fund-raising efforts back in the UK at all times.

The successful candidate will ideally have:

·       senior, school/college managerial experience;

·       experience of teaching and or working abroad;

·       experience of planning and delivering fund-raising events at various scales;

·       the capacity to work to fulfill Extra Mile’s Christian principles;

The successful candidate will be able to:

·       develop a supportive network of fund-raisers/event organisers to raise money for the charity;

·       manage the staff in Sierra Leone;

·       lead the strategic deployment of the finances of the charity;

It should be noted that this position is non-salaried and the charity will only reimburse for telephone costs relating to Extra Mile work and transport costs which accrue within Sierra Leone.

If you are interested in this exciting position and would like to discuss it more, please call Mike on 0777 187 4128.                           

Application letters should be sent to the address below. Please include your contact details.

Extra Mile
P.O. Box 4884
Rugby, Warwickshire
CV21 9GL

This week in Sierra Leone

Greetings from Sierra Leone, which is drying out slowly.. stop, .........hold that,..... we had a huge storm last night. The weather here is very changeable!!!

We've reached the end of our first week of term, with the addition of one classroom helper, Ysatu to replace Anita who left in the middle of last year for a job in a bank. We now have an extra class, making 82 pupils in three classes (30, 32, 20). We've lost about 6 pupils who've got fed up of our staff chasing them to attend every day and be on time.

I've been observing lots of lessons during this first week. I know that's cruel, but staff have engaged with that, been very positive and appreciative of the help and advice, and I've been pleased because our teaching is gradually improving!

We've had to avoid going into town over the last few weeks because the driving licences of both Moses and I have expired!!. We've tried to renew them now for over a month but the one and only official machine (Nigerian in origin!!) has broken down......... for the third time in four weeks. It appears that several thousand Sierra Leoneans are driving without a licence. The police are having a great time extracting fines from them, (even Moses yesterday), despite their protestations. Such a crazy country.

The doctors from our little local clinic called on Wednesday to collect the money which we owed them for treating our pupils during last year. The bill came to about £65. However, we managed to reach a deal to halve this by costing the value of some of the medical stuff which people in the UK have very kindly donated to us over the last year. So thanks to all those who continue to be so kind. Our last two barrel arrived this afternoon with the rest of the exercise books and lined paper as well as some medical stuff and some baby clothes for the mothers at the pregnancy clinic so lots more ‘bargaining chips’ for the medical bill next year.

I continue to chase a mosquito in my shower which seems to have attacked me several times over the last few days and then gone into hiding, unless, of course, it may be several of them working in a ‘pack’? Not sure what the collective noun is for maybe two or three mosquitoes, but tomorrow is ‘judgement day’. Its me or it/them. I’ll let you know the final score.

Mike

Christmas Update

 Here is our new school badge! let us know what you think!

Dear Friends,

Jan and Mike, on behalf of Extra Mile, wish everyone a Happy Christmas and New Year. We are so sorry not to have had time to send everyone a Christmas card but hope you’ll understand how little time we’ve had since Mike returned from Sierra Leone last week.

Whilst Mike was out there we held our first Governor’s Meeting and the staff and pupils completed their second main assessment and also their termly exam. Staff completed their end-of-term report cards and held a parents’ meeting to share their successes. Overall, pupil’s academic progress has been very good and with attendance at an encouraging 88%. We now have three full-time teachers, including the deputy Principal, two part-time teachers and four volunteer teachers. We offer bread and tea every morning at our ‘Breakfast Club’ from 7.30 till 8 am and a small drink of water at lunchtime, around 11.30am. Brian Hoy (ex-Bolton RUFC) has been with us for a month repairing the roof, building shelves and cupboards and re-organising the weather blinds, for which we are very grateful indeed. Mike ran two half-day computer workshops with one of his ex-pupils and a half-day teacher-training workshop before coming home, thankfully without any further illness.

Finally, another piece of good news is that our full-time teachers are now offering extra classes after school and at weekends for our Class X (NPSE primary class) to help them prepare for their forthcoming external exams in May 2017. We especially thank all our wonderful donors who have helped and supported Extra Mile once again this year.

Best wishes and God Bless you all.

Mike

PS We hope you like our new school logo at the top of this letter, which now forms our school badge. Extra Mile, Ober-Funkia Community Secondary School – EMOFCSS

The school opens!

Good afternoon, on a very wet and windy Sunday, (18th September, 2016). Only another two months left of the ‘rainy’ season, “glug!”. One benefit of so much water is that Jan (one of our volunteers in SL) has transplanted most of Africa’s flora now, and hopefully its all going to filter out most of the salt crystals blown in from the sea which corrodes everything so quickly here.

With all the rain, the leaks from the roof into all the classrooms have increased. We tried to spread more than twelve huge, blue tarpaulins across the roof but sadly the rain crept beneath them and over a few days the leaks started again. Time for more serious action and this time we built sloping, wooden frames covered with eight feet long zinc panels with guttering, to run water off into a new water tank we’d built at the back of the school, sadly we've had no water for almost six months. Over the course of the month of August we stemmed the flow to a few drops wiped off the desks each day. Only then could we finish off the plastering and later the painting of the classroom walls and corridor before the pupils came for induction on the 12th September.

A phone call on Tuesday last week to tell me of the sudden death of one of our former headteachers. A stroke had paralysed him for the last two years. We had visited him only the week before to put a canvas over his leaking roof. Forty-eight years is no age to die. Rest in Peace, Komba Mbayo.

The last of our three volunteers has now left, back to Texas via Brussels. We’ll miss his ‘southern drawl’. He was a little bruised as he left, having ‘flipped’ off his bike and onto the road when he and Ismael tried to share a ride the night before.

We began interviewing pupils and their parents/guardians on the 18th August. We had filled all our places by the following day. Stories of complete destitution and despite such poverty, many of the orphans of ebola had been 'adopted' and now seek an education with Extra Mile. Traumatic interviews were only part of our difficulties, the turning away of so many more pupils and their guardians over the pervious four weeks was equally hard. Every day people would come from miles around, through intensive thunderstorms and unbearably hot days, only to be told that, ‘the school done fl-op’ (full up). Even today another two ‘aunty’s’ prostrated themselves on our verandah, praying and pleading that I would  ‘admit’ their wards. If only we could build another ten classrooms, but even then we would need another ten. Our mission now is to do the best we can to raise the hopes of those pupils we have admitted into the school and help them achieve the impossible, an enjoyable and successful education.

Please pray that we can achieve this ambition.

Mike.