Who can fail to be charmed by a room full of children singing and dancing? It certainly worked on us the other week when we visited the Diamond Child School for Arts and Culture in Goderich a short way south- west along the coast from Freetown. In fact the location of the school is quite wonderful, with the dining area, which also doubles up as space for two classes, looking out over the bay towards Lumley beach and Aberdeen beyond – it must be very distracting to any pupils liable to day dreaming.
The school was set up some years ago by Anthony ‘Seydu’ Jalloh while he still lived and worked in Spain as a musician, but he has now returned to his native Sierra Leone to live beside the school and oversee its management. Schooling is free and pupils are supplied with uniforms. They are also given a midday meal, which must help concentration in the afternoons. Facilities are basic: desks are a pile of blocks with planks across them and the youngest use small handheld blackboards to practise their writing skills. But, they are receiving an education and the top class are preparing for secondary school entrance exams. Classes are not allocated strictly by age, but by skill level, so each class has a mixture of ages. Each child progresses as they are able. Music and singing is a big part of the curriculum with the emphasis on traditional music using the instruments of all the local tribes to promote mutual understanding and tolerance.
However, this is more than just a primary school to over 250 of the poorest children from the area. In the afternoons, youths (many who have graduated from the school) come to the centre for vocational training and in the evenings it it transformed for adult education: that is making good use of a resource!
One of the projects Seydu is also setting up is Women on the Wheel. They are training a group of women mechanics to maintain a fleet of cars which will be used as taxis with only women drivers. This is an attempt to empower women and show Sierra Leone that women can run a business and can drive vehicles, as well as giving the women involved the self confidence to run this enterprise and benefit from the profits. This will be a ‘call taxi’ service and evening trips will be secured by a security guard travelling with the driver.
Before leaving the area we called in to the local maternity health centre. It was extremely basic. A young woman had just delivered a baby in the only delivery room on a newly received delivery table, gleaming white in contrast to the surroundings which were anything but fresh and clean. There are no drugs available to assist during delivery and only one midwife. The centre is barely accessible to an ambulance, were there one that could be sent here. There is a consultation room which has a fridge and freezer for storing vaccinations, but both were empty and turned off – there is no reliable power supply. A health worker was trying to tell a group of young mothers with numerous toddlers and babies around them, about nutrition. We couldn’t help thinking that family planning might have been a more useful lesson.
Once again it is heartening that small projects show the way forward for Sierra Leone, but unfortunately they are too few to make the difference the country so badly needs. The Diamond Child School shows that it is possible to run efficient, planned and sustainable enterprises and that schools can be well run and deliver free education to those who should be the shining future of the country.