ON THE GROUND: Gambia Family Relief

Dominic Wood

Scheme: To build a nursery school in Siffoe in the Gambia

Funding: £1 million-worth of goods over five years from In Kind Direct, charged at £75,000. Plus £3,000 from Children's Aid (Gambia)

Objectives: To provide 300 children with nursery school education to encourage greater self-sufficiency in the area

The Gambia has a population of 1.5 million and relies on tourism and the export of ground nuts, fish and cotton lint for its income.

This fragile financial base makes it crucial for its citizens to cultivate new skills through a sustainable education system. However, the dearth of schools has rendered half of all Gambian adults illiterate, making it difficult to find enough tutored minds to develop trade.

The Government is building schools, but as families must supply children with uniforms, pens and paper, it means education is weighted in favour of affluent families. That's why a tiny, family-run charity called Gambia Family Relief was set up to help disadvantaged children near the capital, Banjul.

The charity started life in 1997 as Friends of Kaur, named after the settlement it first assisted. It is supplied with goods at 90 per cent of their retail price by UK charity In Kind Direct, which uses surplus stock donated by manufacturers and retailers to 2,000 global charity partners.

In Kind Direct's senior charity partnerships manager, Claire Joof, who recently visited the charity, says: "Gambia Family Relief builds sustainable communities. Once they make an area self-sufficient, they move on to the next one."

Last years' project was the village of Siffoe - a microcosm of the Gambia's educational system. Home to 3,000 children and an hour's drive from the capital, Siffoe had a primary school for 350 children, and a nursery school limited to teaching 40 children under a tree.

The charity built a nursery school for 300 three to five year-olds, just down the road from the primary school. "Crucially, the new school was built for children of both sexes," says Joof. The Gambian adult literacy rate for women is 37 per cent compared with 58 per cent for men.

The nursery school now has four teachers, all funded by the Government and because of In Kind Direct's supplies, poorer children can attend.

Its headmaster, Lamin Badgie, says: "The supply of equipment and toys, which the school could not otherwise afford, has greatly improved the quality of early childhood education."

"The school teaches basic numeracy and literacy," says Joof, "to ensure children have a basic grounding in case they miss school for a few years by working on family farms."

The charity has also equipped the nursery school with a community centre and a playground.

Additionally, the charity replaced a rain-ruined building of the primary school with a new classroom block.

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