Sierra Leone News

Sierra Leone News

Our partnership began many years ago but more recently with a ‘Rivers of the World’ Project. Teachers from around the world were invited to the British Council in London to discuss this project and how we could connect the classroom work of schools from Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Nepal and many other ‘underprivileged’ schools across the globe. Many inspiring ideas were shared and the collaborative planning began …all to feed into the theme of ‘Rivers.’

The fantastic artwork produced by all the partner schools, Aspire and FSSG included has been exhibited in Hull, London and Freetown. The girls in Freetown were amazed to see their work in a foreign land, it was a true privilege to meet the girls and share the images with them. It was a very humbling experience to meet the girls and see that they had absolutely no materials to work with, everything was donated to enable them to collaborate with us!

After a long few months of completing courses and collaborating with other schools (thank you Miss Jackson and the Art team for the phenomenal Rivers of the World project), Aspire were awarded the International Schools Award! This opened the way to become part of the British Councils: Connecting Classrooms. We became engaged in many workshops which continually pushed our creativity and imagination to ensure we were able to offer pupils outstanding learning experiences. We set targets and goals to become more experimental with the way in which we approach pupil learning.

Upon completion, the British Council explained a unique and incredibly exciting opportunity: Global Team Teaching, we had the opportunity to become Global Educational Researchers! Teachers across Hull were given the chance to apply to travel to Sierra Leone and teach with colleagues across the globe with our partner schools.
In February 2018 the wait was over. Myself and Mrs Ledger alongside a group of teachers from Hull travelled over to Freetown, Sierra Leone. Our primary objective was to share ideas, experience and planning with FSSG. Throughout the time there we were warmly immersed in their culture and society. The hospitality was incredible; the staff at many schools that we visited joined us outside of the school time to show us not only how they plan and teach – but how they live and socialised!

A mere 16 hours after leaving Hull (2 flights, 2 buses and a boat) we arrived at Hotel 5:10, Freetown Sierra Leone. The hotel was named after the ‘national teacher’s day’ in Sierra and is run by the SLTU (teachers union.)
The hotel was basic, yet had a comfy bed with a good mosquito net! We missed our home comforts of: Wi-Fi, electricity and running water at times! Getting breakfast at 6am was no mean feat! It was weird to be served a bread cake and an egg, some mornings we were offered fruit, another morning we had cornflakes with warm powered milk and no spoons!
One evening after a particularly long day, the whole group ordered chips and bread…we nearly had it for breakfast, they don’t seem to rush like us.

Shower Area! A double bed for us to share!

The food in general in Sierra was erm, spicy! Foo Foo (cold baby food) was a local delicacy as were chickens feet. We politely declined the chicken’s feet but tried Foo Foo and the cassava stew, I’m not sure why Mrs Ledger turned her nose up at it, the lady cooking it only swotted half a dozen flies over the open flame! My mouth was aflame after trying it . . . very very spicy!

After catching up on well-earned sleep, we were greeted by a group of lovely welcoming Sierra Leoneans who had planned an amazing weekend full of rich culture. Our link teacher Daisy along with Victoria (the previous link) travelled across Freetown to meet us at the hotel! It was so heart-warming the amount of teachers and families who had given up their time for us!

We explored so many different places, everyone wanted us to see everything: the iconic cotton tree, local museums, parks, churches and restaurants. We soon learnt that Freetown is one of the most exciting, energetic and effervescent cities in the world. The atmosphere was electric: happy faces greeted us around every bustling corner. So many things to take it, it truly was a sensory overload every minute we were there.

The wonderful people who spent the weekend with us shared the good times and the bad with us. A fair few tears were shed, and not just theirs! They are very proud Leoneans! This was going to be a life changing experience for us, we just prayed we could make a difference for them too.

Monday arrived . . . our nerves were jangling and we felt sick!

Daisy and her husband had arranged to pick us up before 7am! It was an hour’s journey through heat, traffic and pollution!

We tried to chat, but both of us were unsure of what to say, anticipation had gotten the better of us…
The gates of FSSG, stood imposingly amongst the street stalls. Girls looked stunning in their blue tunics, berets and white shirts. Walking in was like going back to school…we had to sit and wait for Madam to arrive!!
Freetown Secondary School For Girls is a fee paying school with approx. 3000 girls in attendance… We were introduced to Madam and the staff room…within seconds it became apparent how very lucky we are at Aspire!
We walked around the school met hundreds of girls, each and every one polite and welcoming wanting to be our friends. The classrooms were bare, no glass in windows, broken desks and chairs, chalk boards, no electric. Worst of all the girls were crammed into rooms in rows , 50 girls per class, no text books, no pens, the girls often shared a piece of pencil and wrote in tattered exercise books. Even so…They took immense pride in what they were doing. Such a want to learn, such a need to educate themselves for the future, this is what education is about! Many of these girls walk for over an hour just to get to school, they have no lunch and only one bag of water for the day! Then the long walk home, but they want to do it, they want to be there.

I was amazed that 50 girls in a class can be so quiet and engrossed in learning . . . well the SL version of learning. Girls predominately learned in rote fashion…I soon changed that in the lessons I taught.
Mrs Ledger and I had a wonderful time teaching, I was in my element, display work, lots of interaction, girls writing on the board! We shared our work from 9A and 11c..the girls didn’t know how to react at first. We had to reassure them it was ok to touch the work and talk about it . . . before long we had a collaborative piece of work on display that all the teachers and girls wanted to see.

Our last day in school was very emotional, we wanted to adopt 3000 girls! We had seen some very dark almost draconian discipline systems, heard many bizarre religious message, tasted weird food and had our hearts touched by many . . .

We gave the school lots of resources and personal presents, for which they were very happy to receive. In return we received some beautiful heartfelt gifts for us and SLT from the girls and staff.

We had the opportunity to visit the Penn-Sped school for Autism. It is run by two fantastic leaders called Mary and Alice who have Sierra Leonean family but have lived in USA and England studying Psychology. They moved back to Sierra Leone to set up the first school for Autism. They explained the stigma surrounding Autism in Sierra Leone, which we found very difficult to hear of. It was heart breaking to hear that families think the children are from the devil and hand then back to nature….I don’t think we need explain what this means! Hard to hear and comprehend, is an understatement!

However, we wholeheartedly respect and support the work that is being done to break this down. Along with the help of donations from the area, Mary and Alice have established a very well-structured, welcoming school which is currently home to 25 pupils, one of whom is Mary’s daughter – all with unique and challenging learning needs. Despite the obstacles that they face, all pupils were so happy. This school has been put together in the last four months and already has a waiting list of 200 pupils, so the owners are putting a huge push on the continuation of funding. They are putting together a football game with John Keita, the manager of Sierra Leone national team, facing off the east of the city versus the west of the city which already has got a huge following from the public of Freetown. Mrs Ledger and I have donated a football kit (thanks to Wildcats AFC.)

Mrs Ledger and I took the decision to visit the site of October’s horrific mud slide.
It was horrendous, a local guide bravely and proudly told us how it happened in minutes, literally thousands of people wiped out.

We saw many displaced children, who now live together supported by the local community. No help at all from the government. These children played happily and wanted to touch us and chat, it was terrible to see the sadness in their eyes, at times we just stood silently and shed a tear.

We would like to thank each and every-one of our friends at Aspire who supported our visit, covering lessons, putting up with my stress! Everyone who donated equipment and toiletries to take with us and for the container we have just sent, please know that from the bottom of our hearts we are thankful. Our friends in Freetown are overwhelmed with your continued support, believe me when I say we have made friends for life!

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