PAGEANT - "Education is the future"
Abuko Lower Basic School
Abuko is a community on the southern edge of a densely populated area administered by Kanifing Municipal Council, adjacent to the city of Banjul. Abuko has excellent transport links, being close to the main Brikama Highway. Abuko is probably better known for the famouswhich is adjacent to the community. Pageant became involved with Abuko Lower Basic School early in 2005, at the suggestion of Wandifa, who thought that the school needed some assistance. The school was a village initiative and was launched to provide local primary facilities for children, who would otherwise have to travel some 5 km to school. It had been started with just two year-groups of children, Grades 1 and 2, and was using buildings that were once part of the Veterinary College and were then surplus to the college's requirements.
The Bishops Waltham Link
in Hampshire, has maintained close links with Abuko LBS since 2005. This school was known as Ridgemede Junior School until September 2008, so you will find that name used in many of the early news items about Bishops Waltham. A lot of the help they have given to Abuko is through their Worldclass Club which has its own . The Bishops Waltham children exchange letters with the children at Abuko, and send them all sorts of things, such as teaching aids and sports kits. The children and staff organise annual Worldclass Fayres to raise money for their projects at Abuko. Pageant has run a stall selling Gambia handicrafts at several of these. You can see photos of Worldclass Fayres and Pageant's stall on .
Pageant's First Visit - February 2005
When Pippa and Ian first visited in 2005, there were two classes in progress, both of Grade 1 children. There was not enough accommodation for both Grades at the same time, so Grade 1 was at school in the mornings, Grade 2 in the afternoons, with approximately 100 children in each Grade (50 to a class). One class was learning about the local plants that are sources of food while the other class was doing PE out in the playground.
Vic and Jackie Edwards, a couple who joined Pageant after meeting Ian and Pippa on a previous visit, also went on this visit, bringing a large quantity of pencils and exercise books for the children. Each child was delighted to receive his / her very own book and pencil - however, there were not enough for all the Grade 2 children who came in the afternoon. To remedy this Wandifa was given enough Dalasis to buy further supplies and took them to the school the following afternoon. Inevitably, the most popular event was the donation of a sweet to each child - and a full quota was left with the teachers for the afternoon children, as well as footballs, pens and other goodies.
The main problem for this school was overcrowding - the furniture that they had was old but sturdy, and the children were to sitting 4 to a desk. The problem would get worse in the following year when another year group arrived.
Another serious problem was payment for the teachers - the two class teachers (both student teachers, hoping to qualify later that year) had not been paid for at least two months. They were both teaching in the mornings and trying to earn some money in the afternoons - they said they were keen to help in the village initiative to provide a local school, but they obviously could not work without pay for a sustained period.
The State Education Department was supposedly helping with a new building, but at the time there was little evidence that anything would be ready for the following September. Pageant sent about 35 small (i.e. child-sized) chairs to help with the seating problem in the container which arrived in April. Pippa and Ian planned to go back later in the year to discuss further assistance. Before they left, Ian and Pippa met the ladies who provided the small lunch-time snacks for the children - another example of community effort - and the children of both classes sang them a selection of songs, ending with the Gambian National Anthem. It was a memorable visit, sure to be repeated.
In addition to the gifts for the school, Vic and Jackie had organised the collection of a considerable number of pairs of spectacles through their local optician, Optical Express. These were distributed by medical assistants to people attending up-country health clinics. Pippa later received a letter of thanks from Bakary Congira, a Clinic Assistant working in Basse, Upper River Division, in which he says "On behalf of the Association GFPA Branch staff in Upper River Division and the beneficiaries I wish to thank you for your kindly support in the offer of lens (spectacles). The beneficiaries are thanking and praying always for your good gesture... We thank you very much and hope for more support."
Pageant Visit November 2005
Pageant visited Abuko LBS again during the 2005 Autumn trip. The school had grown from 2 to 3 grades, about 300 children in all. We gave them seeds and explained about the tools. We also gave them a folder of letters, photographs, drawings, poems and so on, that had been sent to Abuko by a group of children from Ridgemead Junior School, to start a link between children from the UK and Gambian schools. The Abuko children (and teachers) were thrilled with the folder and promised to write letters in return. We were delighted to receive a packet of letters from the Abuko children a few days later - these have been put into another folder together with photographs to send back to Ridgemead after our return to UK. The good, sturdy double desks and seats sent out in the latest Kamino Redcoat container consignment were being used in the Grade 3 classroom - the children using them said they were the best desks in the school! Thank you, Bramley...
Pageant Visit February 2006
Pageant visited Abuko LBS with another folder of letters, drawings etc. from Ridgemede School, and took photos of the 27 Abuko children who are writing in reply.
Pageant mini-market at Bishops Waltham Worldclass Fayre
In April 2007, Ian and Pippa went to Ridgemede Junior School (as it was then called) to run a Gambian mini market for the children and their parents. Jeannette Mars suggested they took a selection of Gambian craft items for the children to examine (and possibly buy) and this suggestion met with enthusiastic approval from the pupils.
The Pageant stall and a raffle of two paintings with Gambian themes raised a total of £305.50 in just under an hour.
Jeannette Mars visit June 2007
Jeannette Mars visited Abuko LBS to meet up once more with all the children who write letters to her Worldclass children at Ridgemede and to take them a special gift of 'Mr Majeika' books. The money for the books was raised by some of the Worldclass children themselves, by running a stall at the school for Pageant - we felt that this should be used to buy gifts for their Gambian friends.
Another very special event was the sponsoring of one of the Abuko children by Jeannette and her family, complete with presentation of his named Pageant pencil case. This makes a total of six children at Abuko LBS who are being sponsored by Pageant members.
June & Brian's visit February 2009
Perhaps it is not wise to tell the Pageant webmaster your holiday plans. My friends, June and Brian, told me that they were going to The Gambia on holiday for the first time. In no time at all they had volunteered to take a consignment of textbooks. They were staying at the Atlantic Hotel. so they could conveniently hand over the textbooks to Pippa and Ian when they arrived later. As well as the textbooks, they also took pens, pencils, seeds, toothbrushes etc. donated by their family and friends. During their stay they contacted Wandifa, who took them to visit Abuko LBS. Here is June's account of their visit:
It was a very interesting trip made even more fun by the rather ancient taxi which broke down every time the driver slowed or stopped. He then persuaded anyone hanging around to push start the car for him! We gave him a good tip for the entertainment!
We were given a tour of Abuko LBS by the Deputy Head (the Headmistress was at a meeting, but we met her later). We were greeted by the children and one class sang us a song, when suddenly two little boys rushed out to the front, did an impromptu dance and then rushed back to their seats after a 'look' by the teacher!
The children were delightful and very well behaved. We were impressed with their ability to learn, with sometimes three to a small desk and with different levels of ability in each class. Also we were surprised to learn that due to the shortage of schools the children were divided into two shifts - morning and afternoon which meant that some teachers worked from 8.am until 6.30pm. There are still a lot of children who do not attend school as their parents cannot afford to send them. We learned that the Government build the schools but they rely mostly on donations and charities to supply them with essentials. Hence Pageant are doing an invaluable job. Everyone we met was very friendly, helpful and proud of what was being achieved - and quite rightly so.
We were also very impressed with the productive vegetable garden, which the children learn to cultivate themselves - I would imagine a very necessary practical skill.
May 2016 bringing things up to date
Over the years since Pageant's first involvement, the Gambian Education Department has built a large new Lower Basic School at Abuko and the numbers of children attending it have increased greatly. Pageant still has some interaction with the school from time to time. For example, one UK school that sponsors a boy attending Abuko LBS, financed the gift of a geometry set and simple calculator for all 48 children in his class AND their teacher. Other small projects have included seeds and tools for the school garden and improvements to the school kitchen (and aprons for the cooks!)