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The Gambia
Gambia mother and child
At present SOS Children's Villages supports over 23,000 people in The Gambia through 2 Children’s Villages, a youth home, 2 Nursery Schools, 2 primary schools, an SOS Vocational Training Centre, a Family Strengthening Programme and a Medical Centre. … more about our charity work in The Gambia

Visiting the SOS School in Basse

Children from the SOS Lower Basic School in Basse
Children from the SOS Lower Basic School in Basse

Helen Elmerstig, Education Coordinator at SOS Children, recently visited the SOS Lower Basic School in Basse, Eastern Gambia. Located in a remote part of the country where many schools are overcrowded, Helen tells the story of a school with dedicated staff and remarkably attentive pupils.

“November in The Gambia is very hot. The only time of the day when the air feels fresh is in the morning, so I was up early on the day I was due to visit the SOS Lower Basic School.

I had stayed the night in the SOS Children’s Village which is right next to the school, and was sitting on the steps of the guest house when a white minibus drove through the Village gates, past me by the guest house, and on to the SOS Lower Basic School. The minibus drives round the nearby villages each morning to pick up children from the community who would otherwise not be able to get to school.

Soon after the minibus, a steady stream of children who had walked to the school arrived, some of them accompanied by their mums and dads. The children living in the Children’s Village live so near that I could see some of them rushing out the door and across the playing field just as the first bell went.

Between the first and the second bell is ‘tidy up’ time: all the children and teachers spend five minutes picking up any rubbish which has been left around the school. When they are milling around the playground there is no difference between the children from the community and those living in the SOS Children’s Village: all are immaculately dressed in pale blue school uniforms. On the sound of the second bell, the children line up and go in to their classrooms.

The school is built in a u-shape, with each of the six classrooms opening up towards a playground in the middle. I start my visit to the school by sitting in on one of the nursery classes. They have started the day with some singing: a song about a crocodile, complete with arm and body movements, is demonstrated by the teacher. The children follow with enthusiasm. Singing songs in English is a first step towards learning the language, the teacher tells me later: it helps the children to get used to the vowel sounds and gets them excited about the language.

In the Year 1 and 2 classrooms, the day has started with exams. The teachers write out exercises on the chalkboard, the students copying them down with answers in their notebooks. The atmosphere is tense as the pupils take their work very seriously: it is impossible to get anyone to smile for my camera.

I then meet with the headmaster, Mr Njie, in his office. We talk about how children in this region have little opportunity to succeed academically. Most of the schools are of poor standard, with overcrowded classrooms and few resources. The SOS Lower Basic School has been awarded best school in the region and has many students on its waiting list. Unable to enrol all those who wish to attend, Mr Njie is now working with other local schools to increase their quality of education.

School finishes at lunch time, when the day is at its hottest. Most of the children head home for lunch, but there is a small stall outside the school where the children can buy sandwiches. In the afternoon there are extra classes for those who need it.”

SOS Children supports over 23,000 people in The Gambia, providing education, medical care and helping children to grow up in a safe and positive family environment. Find out more about our work in Basse.