How We Started
We started our fundraising in April 2007, hoping to raise £7000 to rebuild the crumbling primary school in the village of Ntseimbang within the year. In fact, the money was raised in two months and the school was built and opened by November 2007. It is now providing education to hundreds of local children.
The spectacular response from our supporters has encouraged us to continue to raise money to replace as many dilapidated village schools as we can. Promises of funding, both large and small, continue to come in from all quarters and we have attracted a great deal of interest from schools, small businesses, large corporations and international foundations who are keen to support us.
We provide excellent feedback to all our funders, many of whom have travelled to Cameroon to see the projects for themselves. The evidence of what their investment achieves is easy to see: good quality buildings, clean and healthy children, improved exam results – and hope for the future.
What We Aim To Do
There is a huge need for a programme of school building in Cameroon. Very many of the existing buildings that we have seen are in such a poor state of repair that they are not only uninhabitable in the rainy season but also dangerously close to collapse. Children have been killed when structures, like the one on the left, have collapsed on them. Parents are often too afraid to send their children to school in the rainy season; children get behind in their work and they drop out of education.
Participatory Development – a good model to follow
It is gradually becoming more widely accepted that simply giving Aid to communities in developing countries can, ironically, be counter-productive and disabling.
Many of the schools that we help to rebuild are located in very poor villages in isolated rural locations and, in order to ensure sustainable development in its own country, SHUMAS has developed a model of Participatory Development in all its programmes: in fact, they help communities to help themselves. SHUMAS motivates the villagers to contribute as much as they can towards the rebuilding of their local schools. In this way each community participates in the planning and the realisation of their own development programmes. The communities are required to mould 3,000 sun-dried mud bricks per classroom (if the local soil is suitable for this purpose), provide all the stone and sand required for the foundations, all the timber for the roof, doors and window shutters and all the unskilled labour needed to complete the project.
Their investment in the school building project is significant because it ensures that the community takes real ownership of the project, whilst keeping the cost of construction low.
Inevitably, building costs vary a little from project to project because of the nature of the local terrain, the ability of the community to make significant contributions, and the cost of transporting materials to the site, however the average cost of a primary school project is currently just under £20,000. We aim to provide at least three new classrooms at each of schools we support. These classrooms have concrete floors, plastered walls, window grills and doors to keep out the worst of the weather whilst keeping the rooms well aired, and a new roof. The classrooms are easy to keep clean and help to improve the health of the children.
Although three classrooms does not provide all the required accommodation for a village school, it gives the community sufficient boost to enable them to develop the school further themselves. In some cases we have also been able to provide additional funds to help with the refurbishment of some of the more substantial of the old classrooms, thus providing even more accommodation.
The new classrooms attract even more children to the school and the increased income to the school, from the PTA levy paid for each child who attends, helps to provide more teachers which, in turn, ensures greater academic success for the pupils. The life expentancy of these schools is at least 50 years – a real investment in the community.
Construction usually starts at the end of the rainy season but, with climate change, this can be unpredictable. Rain has a devastating effect on the dirt roads and makes transportation of materials very difficult. It is not surprising that village schools have been so neglected for so long: good transport infrastructure does not exist in many parts of Cameroon and gaining access to remote communities is very difficult. In order to overcome these difficulties, BSFA and SHUMAS have modified the school building budgets recently to incorporate additional items so that a ‘development package’ is now produced for each village in which we work.
The ‘development package’ now includes funding to help achieve the following:
1. A block of three new weatherproof classrooms plus an office, built to a very high specification in terms of durability and hygiene.
2. A new ventilated deep pit latrine with discreet cubicles for boys, girls and teachers which ensure privacy is respected. At secondary schools we aim to provide discrete blocks of latrines for boys and girls. All latrine blocks now have hand-washing facilities attached and some have a small changing room.
3. A supply of clean drinking water. Cholera and Typhoid are commonplace amongst the children, who usually have to carry water to school from nearby streams. We ask SHUMAS to undertake feasibility studies at each school to establish the most effective method of getting safe drinking water to the school. Costs vary hugely, of course, depending on the topography and the state of the water catchment, but sometimes all that is needed is some additional pipeline and the construction of a standing tap in the school yard – and this can be incorporated in the ‘package’. We fund more expensive water projects by combining many of our smaller donations – not a penny raised on our behalf is ever wasted.
4. Sufficient school benches to accommodate up to 150 children.
5. A teacher’s table and chair for each classroom.
6. An income-generating scheme – usually tools and seeds for a school farm or some sewing machines which provide skills training for the pupils as well as income for the school.
7. Monitoring of progress at the school for at least two years after the building is completed.
8. The inclusion of a village Women’s Farming Group in SHUMAS’ micro-credit scheme, in return for these women undertaking to keep the school building clean and in good repair.
In addition, a small contingency fund is added which covers unforeseen expenses arising from transportation problems, fluctuations in exchange rates etc., which can otherwise be financially crippling for SHUMAS. We have agreed with SHUMAS that any savings that they can make from this fund will be used to help maintain the vehicles which are so essential to their work.
In the near future, we are hoping to be able to offer an additional facility at our schools – solar powered electricity. This will make the world of difference to both students and staff and will enable the use of computers as well as providing light in the evenings.
With the help of our supporters we :
Governments may talk about their hopes to have a school in every African village – we are actually getting them built!