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Sierra Leone: a new school brings new hope

Kono, Sierra Leone, 24 September 2009 – Susan Mansaray, 14, is a petite, bright young girl.

She is a class six student, whose favourite subject is social studies. She also likes to draw and wants to study to become a nurse.

Susan is one of the nearly 300 students of the Supreme Islamic Council (SIC) Bendafayie Community School, who just recently received a new school building.

The bright blue and white building is replacing a semi-permanent building originally constructed six years ago and caters to the needs of 279 students.

It is accompanied by a nursery school and has separate latrines and hand washing facilities for boys and girls.

The presence of separate latrines can have a huge impact on girls’ school attendance rates.

Before the new school was built Susan had to walk four miles to reach school.

Because of the long distance she had to skip school every now and then.

The new school is much closer to Susan’s home and she is now able to attend school regularly.

"This new school is better than where we were before," Susan says. "We have the basic supplies and I’m learning."

Bringing the Community together
The Bendafayie Community School is a focal point of community activity and has a strong support network.

The 75 mothers in the Mothers Club operate a large garden, maintain the school’s playground, supply lunches and help students keep their uniforms clean and in good repair.

The School Management Committee, made up of parents, teachers and students, is actively involved in daily decision-making and school operations.

Mr. Andrew Pessima, a veteran teacher at Bendafayie for 15 years, teaches class six students and proudly notes his improved teaching techniques and the successes he’s seen.

"I teach with basic resources and we have to be creative when we learn about science, insects, gardens and the environment. We spend time outside, learning and recognizing lessons from our textbooks."

Increasing access to education for the thousands of primary school age children currently not attending school is a key component of UNICEF and the Education sector plan 2008-2010, with the Government of Sierra Leone.

So far 63 schools have been built since 2008, 38 of them with Icelandic support.

All in all 56 schools have been built with Icelandic support since 2007.

Each school has three classrooms, a head teachers’ office and store.

Each school has a separate block of latrines, one for boys and one for girls with three cubicles in each block, and a well with a pump and hand washing facilities.

In addition, each classroom has been supplied with student desks and benches, teachers’ furniture and a supply cupboard.

Students show success
When Isatu Kamara, 40, first started teaching class one children six years ago she had 40 students.

Her classes now are up to 55 students. Isatu is a community teacher and is currently enrolled in teacher training programs run through the distance education department of the local teacher’s college.

"Some of the students I first taught in class one are still at the school," says Isatu, "and at the end of this year they’ll write their national primary school exams to hopefully get into secondary school."

Last year, according to head teacher Mr. Richard James Tamba, eight students wrote their national primary school exams and six passed – three girls and three boys.

"We were very proud of the fact that the second place student was a girl who’d been at the school for six years," he said.

"And, at the end of this year there will be twenty students to write their exams from class six and eleven will be girls." Susan is one of those girls.

She is looking forward to writing her primary school exams and is planning to attend a local secondary school.

According to Mr. Pessima, Susan’s teacher, "She’s a student that shows tremendous potential and I’m sure, as we prepare for the exams, she’ll be successful."

By Stephen Douglas and Karolina Roiha



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