I have recently had a most incredible experience travelling to support a girls’ school in Sierra Leone. Working with our Deputy Pastoral, Jenny Price, our destination Bo, is a fairly central township and well served by a recently tarmacked road from the capital, Freetown. Freetown is very much indicative of all the country has to offer. A beautiful beach fronted city with a stunning mountain backdrop sets the tone; one of utter beauty contesting with a tough and hand to mouth existence.
It is a 4 hour transit by car or truck to arrive in Bo; the second largest city and a hive for diamond dealers. Arrival at the J&E resort is not impressive by any means, but the welcome is warm, as is the outside temperature at a searing 30 degrees. Our drive across has brought us past a number of growing townships and villages which house a range of small mud huts to larger wooden shacks. The constant scent of burning wood fires, provides you with the evidence that most homes have little, no or unreliable electricity.
The Kate McGrath School for Girls has the same number of girls we do and is located conveniently 5 minutes up the hill from our hotel or at the far end of Bo. Our arrival at the school was met with great excitement. Our visit was a mark of a new era for the community and we were welcomed with open arms. The Sierra Leonies are effusive in their greetings and when they have been looking forward to seeing you, a great deal of back slapping, high fives and bear hugs were in order!
The Kate McGrath School had suggested this partnership when Senesi Fawundu founder and proprietor of the school visited Gloucestershire and a chance meeting at Westonbirt enabled us to find a commonality in our passion for education. Understanding their limitations in finance and facilities and working alongside Sean Mills of Rory’s Well Charity, we were able to arrange a trip where we could provide some teaching in two areas Senesi felt the schools could maintain a bond: netball and music.
Limited resources in both of these areas has been a frustration for the school but with the amazing support of our own PE Dept., Mizuno Netball, the England Netball Association and the North Staffordshire League we took 8 balls, a pump, 24 pairs of trainers, 6 sets of bibs and some fantastic netball dresses which I know will be worn with pride and caused considerable animation upon unwrapping! Similarly, the very welcome addition of 21 trumpets, most kindly donated by ‘pTrumpet’, created an immediate surge towards the music room where only a small number of donated brass instruments were already in use.
The girls have a huge passion for noise and as we approached the school earlier, the sound of singing and drumming was significant; coming from either end of the school compound. Incredibly the drumming was being done on tables, with whittled sticks the girls had been sent to look for and save from the kitchen fires!
Excitement and passion for all they do at the school over spills and the chatter from staff and students never stops. They are so desperate to learn, but not entirely the most organised when it comes to putting this enthusiasm into practice. However, this soon comes and Jenny Price and I were fortunate to spend about 10 hours over our short time in Bo, working directly with the girls and their staff to develop their music and their netball skills. Our aim was very much to leave the staff with development opportunities for the girls and we hope a subsequent trip and some post communication will demonstrate this.
There is no doubt our efforts were worthwhile and after this contact time, the netball basics were in place and an audible ‘When the Saints’ was heard across the dusty compound. In our efforts to teach, both Jenny and I made a point of ensuring that the staff had development areas for the girls to continue with and we very much hope we have enabled and empowered some change for the good.
Natasha Dangerfield, Feb 2017