After a gruelling morning, the container was finally packed and 4000 mosquito nets, boxes of text books, tools and a host of other items started the long journey to our partner school in Sierra Leone and to the nearby refugee camp.
Our joint venture with Greenholm School – recently voted Birmingham Mail’s School of the Year – and Lichfield Cathedral School has see children and staff raise £27,000 in less than a year to fund this project.
It all started in October 2010 when a group of staff and students went out to Sierra Leone to meet the first container we sent them containing old computers, wire, sockets, tools, desks, chairs and all the rest of the paraphernalia required to achieve our last ambitious project – to set up a computer centre in the rainforest. We did it, too!
But during the course of that visit, whilst some of our staff and students were volunteering in the refugee camp school, a 9 year old girl died in front of them from malaria. 3580 children under 10 had died of malaria in that camp in the past 12 months – a staggering figure. Our students decided they must do something about it. A mosquito net is all it takes to protect a family of 4 from the perils of malaria so they decided to try to raise the £15,000 required to buy and ship 3580 mosquito nets to the camp.
Well, we quickly exceeded the target. Staff gave up a day’s wages for the campaign. Children organised charity talent shows, discos, cake sales and a host of other events. One member of staff organised a series of concerts in a venue in Worcester. We also received an amazing £7,000 donation from the Bransford Trust.
Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development described our work with Sierra Leone as “the best twinning project I have ever seen.”
Over February half term, a team of 4 staff and 4 students from Great Barr School, 4 staff from Greenholm School and 4 students from Lichfield Cathedral School will fly to Sierra Leone to greet the container as it arrives. They will paint and equip 3 newly refurbished classrooms with whiteboards, posters, a library, desks and chairs. Most critically, they will carry out a health education project with the adults from the refugee camp teaching them how to protect themselves from malaria and distributing the mosquito nets to each family.
“Christmas in particular is a time of year when we should realise how lucky we are to live in the UK,” says Neil Morland, the Advanced Skills Teacher who has been one of the leading figures behind all of the work we have done in Sierra Leone. “For just £3.50, we are able to give a family the gift of life, the chance to protect themselves from malaria, a disease which doesn’t even exist in the UK. £3.50 is nothing to us; it’s a very large sum of money to these people. Look at how much we spend at Christmas here in the UK. Do these people even know it’s Christmas?”
Dan Locke-Wheaton, another leading figure in the Sierra Leone work who is leaving the School this Christmas to take up the post of Vice Principle of the new Aston University Engineering Academy, said, “It has been an enormous privilege to work with Neil and all of the other staff involved in the Sierra Leone project from Great Barr and from our partner schools. Our children have been inspirational in their compassion for and commitment to their peers in Sierra Leone. For this and many other reasons, I will hold my 5 years at Great Barr very dear for the rest of my life and fully intend to remain involved wherever possible.”
We’ll keep you posted in the New Year when the nets arrive at their destination. Watch this space.
And in the meantime, have a great Christmas from all of us at Great Barr School!