Lou Dorley Brown, from Brook, in a new classroom at Roh Meluf, built by Liz Earle Skincare.
WIGHT LIVINGTHE contrast could hardly be more sharp between where the money comes from and where it goes.
It comes from the big heart of the Island and goes to the heart of Africa, where new schools are being built as a result.
The new schools have concrete floors in place of the trodden earth inhabited by jigger fleas and parasitic worms. They have toilets instead of holes in the ground and they have running water — but not that tumbling through the roof and melting the mud bricks like wax.
The Island founders of Schools for Africa recently returned from Bamenda, in West Africa’s Cameroon, where a sea of smiling faces of pupils, who can now learn in proper classrooms, bore witness to what has been achieved in partnership with the local communities.
Retired medical director from Newport's Earl Mountbatten Hospice Ian Johnson and his retired teacher wife, Marianne, from Brighstone, along with the retired owners of the Seaview Hotel, Nick and Nicky Hayward, set up Schools for Africa. It followed their work with a school re-building project with AidCamps International in 2006.
Since then they have raised enough funds for the construction of nearly ten more schools. The real bonus is that every penny of the money raised is sent to a continent that sorely needs it. Pennies raised here are pounds there.
When Schools for Africa was newly established, the two couples hoped to build one new school a year for five years.
Extraordinary and heartwarming generosity of both Island individuals and companies followed. Firms such as Liz Earle, Carisbrooke Shipping and organisations including the Isle of Wight Beekeepers’ Association, have helped make a real difference to thousands of fragile young African lives.
Lou Dorley Brown, from Brook, organised a bingo night in Brook Community Centre and also travelled to Cameroon.
All the Islanders fund their own travel and all other expenses themselves. It ensures every penny raised for a school means a mud brick or mortar, roofing sheet or beam, trestle or desk.
Nicky said: “Each project must have the total support of the community in order to ensure long-term success. The work must be sustainable and each project is subject to a feasibility study.
“Every effort is made to make as big an impact on the wider community as possible by way of adult education, income generation and health education.”
Since starting, the Island organisers have attended a number of courses to ensure there are careful checks and balances in place.
Donors have come not only from the Island but from all over the UK and farther afield via the website www.schoolsforafrica.co.uk.
Lambeth Academy, in London, raised money for a school by holding a comedy night with Jo Brand, a team of Scottish students ran the Edinburgh Marathon, the Fairtrade coffee company with Island roots, Percol, donates 30p of every case it sells of its African tea and coffee, and a number of larger corporations have supplied the funds for whole schools.
The Island team returned to the North West Province to assess where future projects could be started next year and look at the possibility of adding much-needed medical centres.
Nicky Hayward tells the tale of a perilous and emotional journey, a rollercoaster ride in more senses than one:
“Landing in the sweltering heat of equatorial Africa, we gingerly negotiated our way out of the hustle and bustle of Douala Airport to be greeted by Stephen Ndzerem, the head of SHUMAS (Strategic Humanitarian Resources). SHUMAS identifies the villages in need and assesses how much the local community is prepared to contribute to the project.
“Heading north to Bamenda, we didn’t arrive until the evening when it was already getting dark. It is not safe to travel on the roads after dark, as there are many bandits, and we were pleased to settle down in the simple but comfortable Catholic pastoral centre high above the town.
“Over two weeks we ventured out into many areas of the North West Province of Cameroon, visiting 26 schools. We rattled along in a minibus, on unmade roads with huge craters left from the deluge of the rainy season. As we arrived in each remote village it was so rewarding seeing the newly built schools, where bright-faced children in immaculate uniforms ran to greet us and sang about how much they appreciated their new classrooms: ‘We are the leaders of the future...finally, finally, finally, finally, education...’
“We also looked at possible new projects, where we arrived to see old dilapidated buildings that desperately needed our help and children, who had practiced for days, sang to try to encourage us to help them have a new building and a better future.
“We found schools with 600 pupils in three tiny classrooms, schools with leaking, rotten roofs, useless in the rainy season, with earth floors full of fleas which give the children ‘jiggers’ making them scratch and unable to concentrate. Or worse still hookworm, which enters through the feet and works its way up the body attacking vital organs.
“Schools with polluted water where the children regularly contract cholera and typhoid. Schools with tiny 6ft benches with seven children squashed on, all trying to write on scraps of paper balanced on their cheap plastic school bags, as there were no desks.
“At every school the community had prepared a meal. This is the African way, to always feed visitors. So to avoid offence, we had to eat their generous offering but as we once visited five schools in a day, we were very full.
“Also the food was fu fu (a white boiled carbohydrate made from maize and like stodgy porridge), huckleberry (rather like stewed watercress and spinach, which is then swimming in red palm oil) and fish heads, entrails and, worst of all, bush meat, which could be anything from rat to gorilla.
“One or two villages, having fed us, were concerned we had not eaten enough and gave us live cockerels to take home for supper. We headed north right up to the Nigerian border for a couple of days and there met the Fon of Kumbo.
“The big chief of the area had 50 wives (many inherited from his family through his position) and more than 100 children. Concerned we needed feeding, he gave us both a cockerel and a hen.
“Frequently the bus returned to our lodgings clucking, but worse still we were woken at 4.30am by that day’s supper.
“The roads were indescribably bad and on our last day we found ourselves in a torrential rainstorm sliding sideways down an incredibly steep track with huge drops on either side before skidding over a rickety wooden bridge only just wide enough for the bus.
“We spent the last night at Limbe, where we visited the botanical gardens planted by the Germans at the end of the 19th century. As we wandered through the magnificent trees, in sweltering heat, we stumbled upon a service of Remembrance and were invited to join in by the British High Commissioner. It was a long way from the Cenotaph but it felt right as we headed back on our return to the Island.”
• More pictures in the Friday, January 2, County Press.
Schools for Africa.
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