Rob from the impressive Brufut Education Project dropped in at the Hive this week to explain how a group of friends went from organising squat parties in London to setting-up a school in Gambia.
While many of us imagine ourselves setting up exciting new projects few of us get them off the ground let alone see them through. But eight years on 350 kids are going to school each day with eight local people employed to teach them thanks to their hard work.
Some achievement considering they had little to no experience in education or construction before they began.
Children growing up in Brufut were either sent to a religious school where they were at risk of exploitation or sent to work. Regular schools were too expensive for most. A girl’s chance of an education was even more remote.
This sad reality inspired Mustapha Ndure, who grew up in Brufut, to propose the project to his European friends, and his father, a village elder who already taught kids who weren’t getting an education, to donate some land.
So in 2007 they set about fundraising and by 2009 the first convoy set-off from the UK with trucks full of materials and volunteers to build the area’s first free and independent school.
“It started as a well intentioned romantic idea,” explained Rob, “but as the work progressed it was like a Pandora’s Box and you realise there’s more and more to do. It’s spiralled out of control many times, but we’ve learned loads by doing it because none of us are particularly specialist at what we’re doing. Ninety per cent of us were London squatters who ran sound systems. But from running parties to running a school is a whole different can of worms.”
But building the school wasn’t the half of it as they soon discovered.
“You start off building the foundations, doing the concrete and the re-bar and build the school, but then you realise that’s not even one per cent of running a school and engaging a community with activities they feel are relevant to them.”
The team soon learned what was important and useful to the Brufut community by the time the school opened in 2012 and it wasn’t maths or science.
“We’ve wavered between being an academic kind of school and a skill centre. Now we do bike building, carpentry, welding, IT, screen printing, sewing, material recycling, a nursery school and an Arabic class.
“We operate on a shoestring budget, but anything is possible and we’re moving into environmental activism; planting trees, particularly Maringa, a super-tree that we might be able to start exporting.”
Education, jobs and money are all difficult to come by, so it is little surprise young Gambians are making the perilous journey to Europe.
“Eighty per cent of the population is below 26 or 27-years old, so it’s a young country full of youthful energy and we want to give these kids skills that are relevant to them and – by us being there – dispel the myth of having to come to Europe.”
And as is so often the case when money is tight, it is women and girls who lose out most, so the Brufut Educational Project ensures they’re given a chance of a better life too.
“As a policy at least half of our students have to be female. Many of them wouldn’t get the opportunity and they want to go to school because it’s a lot more fun than being stuck at home carrying water and doing the manual chores that so many of the kids are expected to do; especially the girls.
“They wake up early, bring the water from wherever, help with the cooking, collect firewood from a great distance, and then, if they’re lucky, go to school. That’s the start to the day for any of the girls. They start at six in the morning, and get breakfast at eight; if they get it at all.
“We have kids coming to school and passing out because they haven’t eaten. So now we’ve just finished building a kitchen and we’re about to start serving school lunches for all the kids six-days a week.”
Amazingly the school runs on £670 a month. That’s 350 kids taught and fed plus eight Gambians employed to do so.
“That’s less than £2 per kid per month, which is nothing, but we’re struggling to raise the money and want to do so much more.”
*If you want to support this amazing project you can do so by visiting their site and making a donation or even a regular payment.
*You can see their full promotional video here