Bamako school support program
“Every brick counts”
Zalka Zsófia, Szekeres Noémi, Huszár Eszter, Faragó Ibolya, Kovács Andrea, Meleg Zsófia & Bóna Anita, Dr. Kovács Gabriella, Mark Paterson, we thank you for your support! And we say thanks to all those who helped build the school in these past years.
École Cherifoula – An Island of Hope in the Slum of Bamako
In Mali, 30% of children don’t receive any education at all, and almost 80% of the population is illiteratre. Parents rarely consider sending their children to school, because they didn’t go to school either. In many occasions, however, they would send them but they cannot beacause they need the child to work at home. For many people in the country, there isn’t even a school near or far. Bamako is a fast-growing city where in many areas the government is behind with the development of schools. One of such areas is Sanfil for example, in the middle of town. It is surrounded by industrial parks, a slaughterhouse, trash piles and wholesale vegetable and livestock markets.
École Chérifoula is an island of hope surrounded by a dirty swamp covered in green slime in a city where cows and sheep graze on rubbish dumps, where playful children jump around next to the unbearable stench of open drains full of black, rotting garbage and human faeces. And of course, the usual 45°C heat, inside the ruined tin-roofed houses. Those who attend École Chérifoula (which is a private school) are lucky enough to have parents who can pay the school fees, or at least try to. In local terms the school only costs as much as three bottles of 1.5 litre mineral water. Those living in the slum of Sanfil either attend École Chérifoula, or don’t go to school at all.
Let’s forget about the world of rich private schools for a moment. Here, luxury means that only 56-78 students sit inside a classroom unlike in the state schools, where this number can reach up to 200. Classrooms are usually 16-20 square meters big. Due to the lack of space, the first graders cannot fit one room, thus they were separated into two smaller classrooms with only one window. One is 2x2m big , the other one is 3x4 metres big. The smaller room was originally built for a computer room, but problems occurred with getting the electricity sources to work, so it cannot be used for it’s original purpose. A computer was donated to the school, but it is now sitting in the headmistress’s study covered in foil, collecting dust. Instead of computers, the room is now being occupied by 30 young children who can barely fit inside the tiny room. Their small desks built by putting together 6 planks. Up to five students use one desk, even though it is only supposed to be big enough for two young children. But at least they have desks. In Mali, often there aren’t enough desks at school, so the children assemble their own stools at home by using a few planks. Around October, one can see 6-7 year olds wobbling on the side of the road with a bag on their back and a desk around their waist. If they can’t keep their desks safe at school, they have to make this difficult journey every single day.
École Chérifoula opened its doors in 2004, with one first grade class. Today, almost 600 students go to this school every day. They are separated into 8 bigger, and 2 smaller classrooms. (In Mali, primary school finishes after the 9th grade.) The school was built next to a filthy swamp. It has two concrete blocks, which both have 4 classrooms. The rooms on the right hand side, the ones that are used by later grades are only half the size of the ones on the other side because there is still a large number of children that fall out of school during the years. The courtyard is kept clean, and the children spendi their break time here under the shade of the small trees. (Which were planted 2 years ago by one of the parents.) The teachers’ corner is organised on two benches carefully positioned at each break to be in the shade. Here the teachers make their tea on a little stove on the floor. Four holes in the concrete floor serve as a toilet, which is not very hygienic, but at least the children have somewhere to go when it is needed, unlike in many other schools. Water is kept inside a big plastic barrel inside the classrooms. Students can drink from those using the ONE designated plastic mug placed on top of the barrels. The way they signal the end of the break and beginning of lessons is that an appointed child starts hitting a discarded gas tank hung up by the entrance. The teaching is in French, which every child has to learn along with other subjects. The local Bambara and Peul children don’t speak the French when they start the school. On top of French, some English is taught from year seven.
The energetic, enthousiastic young headmistress’s nine children go to École Chérifoula, too. She and the teachers dream about building three classrooms on top of one of the main blocks. These classrooms will be for the pre-school class, the first grade and the ninth grade. These are necessary because every year they turn away more and more children due to the lack of space. A concrete staircase has already been built leading up to the roof of the classroom blocks. Here they have laid two rows of bricks then stopped the construction. The rest of the bricks are piled up waiting for continutation when money will allow.
40% of parents are in debt with the school fees, or just can’t pay at all. That’s why there isn’t enough money for construction or sometimes even for paying the teachers.
Our foundation wants to help build three new classrooms. This is why we sell “brick tickets”. The money raised in this way can only be spent on the building and development of the school. This is our agreement with the local management of École Chérifoula and we inspect the results regularly.