Maurice Deighton the owner of Seal Shore camping has just returned from 19 weeks in The Gambia where he has been overseeing the building of a new nursery school in an area called Sukuta.
Their is a donation jar in the campsite which has helped to raise funds for the project. All non refundable deposits are put there.
How long have you been going to Gambia?
10 years. Originally I went there for a fishing holiday with my wife, Sylvia. Since then I’ve gone over every winter for longer and longer times. This last winter I was there for 19 weeks.
How did you first get involved in charitable work?
We met some people there who were expecting a container from a British charity and they asked us if we’d like to go and deliver the container. Which we did, and following this we ended up painting a library for a school in the north of the country.
What made you decide to start your own educational project?
For 5 years I helped an established charity out there, but then began to find that I had reservations about the way they were doing things. So I decided to find my own projects to support in a small way. The Gambia have state registered schools which get government support but I discovered there were a lot of small schools missing out on help. So I went along and funded remedial building works in some of these schools.
The first thing I did was a new roof for a classroom where there was just a sand floor, which was then concreted and tiled. I also sourced new resources for them, pencils, blackboards, tables and chairs etc. I did similar things for other schools, however I began to find there was only so much I could do and I also discovered that often the schools I was helping were just loaned properties and, once they were refurbished, the landlords were coming and claiming them back and the children lost the school.
So last year I decided to put all my eggs in one basket and just help one project rather than doing little bits for different places. Inspirations Nursery School was just one room in a rickety old building which I came across 3 years ago. I’d been helping them with materials and I’d been very impressed with the teachers, they were excellent, seemed committed and the school was always spotless. I also noticed that the materials I gave them were still there, cared for and looked after, and were being used on a daily basis which I have found is not always the case.
Can you tell me about what you have achieved so far?
Firstly, I did up the roof, the windows, and the floor of the original school building and also, as rubbish is a major problem in Gambia, I got a 45 gallon barrel sunk in the ground and now the children collect the rubbish and burn it. I also went to the local market and bought material which was made into uniforms for the children by a local tailor. I then thought, how can I safeguard this for the children? I found out the property was owned by GOVI, which is the Gambian Organisation of the Visually Impaired.
I approached them about purchasing the building, and they said they could not sell it but they had some land to the side which had been given to them by the Gambian government as agricultural land to raise funds. They’d tried cows, they ran away, they’d tried beekeeping, they flew off, and they’d tried chickens, and that didn’t work either! So GOVI said they’d ask the government if they could sell the land and raise some funds that way instead.
The government did say yes, but it took 10 months for them to give permission and a further 6 months for all the paperwork to go from department to department to department! I was then able to purchase the land last year with a change of use for building a school. The reason I did it this way is that by owning the land myself I could safeguard the school and the jobs of the teachers, Tedi, Asiya and Hatab. Although Hatab has since done a course, and is now a Child Protection Officer. On the badges, which are part of the uniform, it says ‘Isle of Arran Inspiration Nursery School’, which is what the school is now called.
The plot of land is 30m x 30m and is only 150m away from the original school building. Upon purchasing land in Gambia you have to wall or fence it within 6 months or the government can reclaim it, so the first thing to get done this last time I was over, was to get 3000 blocks made on site for a compound wall. I supplied all the materials and employed local people. They were able to make 35 blocks per hundredweight of cement and they were making 600 blocks a day. The going rate for making a block is 4 dalasi which is equal to 6p per block.
After making blocks, the foundations were dug and the blocks laid and work started on the first classroom. By the end of my stay in March, and the end of the money I had raised last year, we have built up to the top of window level.
So what more needs to be done?
Next year the classroom will be finished, rendered and painted, with tiled floors and a verandah. Also there will be toilets for boys, girls and staff. The external wall will be taken up to its correct height and hopefully we’ll be able to afford gates for the entrances. I purchased the land out of my own money, but all work to date, including labour and materials, cost £2800 which was raised by the charity jar at the campsite reception, along with the odd barbeque.
To finish the whole project will take probably 3 years, and will cost a total of approximately £8000. Eventually we want to have another 2 classrooms, an office and storeroom, kitchen and possibly a little shop in the compound which can be rented out to raise on-going funds. The teachers don’t get a wage, but if they can afford it, the children take in 1 dalasi a day, which is about 2p. There are 40 children in the school so the payment the teachers get, if all the children pay, equates to £4 a week shared between Tedi and Asiya. In a state school a head teacher gets the equivalent of £30 a month, a qualified teacher £25 a month and an unqualified teacher £18-£20 a month. A sack of rice, which is their staple food, is £25 a sack.
If anybody would like further information or to help with the project I have all the drawings and financial paperwork available and of course any donations would be gratefully received. I’d like to add in this respect, that people give a lot of money to large charities doing work in Africa but they don’t always know how it’s being spent and even if it’s getting to the people who need it. With my project, because I’m directly involved and hands-on, I can guarantee that every penny goes to the Isle of Arran Inspiration Nursery School.
Maurice has also been sponsoring a young man called Abduli for the last 3 years to train to be a teacher. He will qualify this Easter. On his course of 34 students he has consistently come out on top and the plan is that when the new school building is finished he will teach there.