Where it all began.

It's with thanks to Belgian ladies Sonia Dhondt and Els Beeusaert of the Demaro Gambia group that Bakindik got it's very first Early Childhood Development (ECD) School. A juice seller from Bakndik who had helped Sonia and Els in other parts of The Gambia wanted to show them his village of birth and his childhood home Bakendik. The Demaro group was even more touched by the simple way of living in that area. Across the river on the North Bank, all small villages are so poor and in need of help. The juice seller discussed with the village development committee the need of a nursery school in the village and proposed the property of his own family as a location. Everything was also discussed with Sonia and Els and Demaro built the school, following the rules of the education department on the North Bank at that time. Over time Demaro became smaller and smaller. In the end, only Sonia, Els and the Juice seller, run the whole organisation. It was a lot of hard work, but they managed.

Unfortunately Els was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, but she fought through the illness. In 2013 it was Sonia's turn, during an operation she became infected with a streptococcus flesh eating bacteria. Sonia's recovery took 2 full years during which time she lost her force and energy to run this organisation again and that is why they were forced, against their will and intentions, to stop the help in the Bakindik. The school buildings were handed over to the juice sellers family Both Sonia and Els But feared for Bakendik ECD School, because -like other ECD Schools - it had no income from school fees, that could help them go forward in the future. 

In May 2015, fuelled by compassion and a profound desire to make a tangible difference, Sharon and I established the charitable organisation Siiboo. Our inception was inspired by our eye-opening journey to the Gambia in February of the same year. During our travels, we found ourselves deeply moved by the impoverished conditions in the village of Bakindik. It was on our way to James Island that we witnessed first-hand the hardships endured by the villagers. Struck by the urgency to contribute positively to their lives, We engaged with the headmaster of the ECD School, learning about the formidable challenges he faced none more so than the fact that he- and his team – hadn't been paid since Demaro stopped all their support in the winter of 2014. Moved by the resilience and spirit of the children, who sang, danced, and studied amidst adversity, we were inspired to take action and registered Siiboo and started managing the school as we embarked on our mission of compassion and change. 

The early  years

Sharon and I established a strong relationship with the school owner and head teacher, Pa Ebrima, enabling us to implement positive changes in Bakindik's nursery school through a UK-based sponsorship program and various fundraising events. With these efforts, we secured salaries for teachers, provided uniforms, shoes, learning materials, and suitable toys for the children. Additionally, we installed a solar PV system, generously donated by Love Solar, which not only illuminated the school but also allowed for phone charging, generating income to support a teacher's salary. Unfortunately, we discovered financial mismanagement by the juice seller, who owned the school premises, leading to doubts about their trustworthiness. Hesitant to invest further in a privately owned structure, we decided to acquire our own land in the village to build a new school, ensuring a morally sound foundation for our charitable efforts.

New beginnings 

The old School and the land acquired

Sharon, the village Alkalo and I

After two years of successful fundraising in the UK, luck smiled upon us, and we seized the opportunity to acquire a sizeable parcel of land formerly owned by N & N Nursery and Day Care. Following productive discussions with the Alkalo (village head) to secure approval for constructing a new school and negotiating a price within our budget, we finalised the purchase of the land. The existing building on the property, along with the adjacent toilets, was unfortunately in a state of disrepair. Nevertheless, this marked the beginning of Siiboo's journey as the proud owner of the land, serving as our initial milestone.

Upon acquiring a larger parcel of land than initially anticipated, an unexpected opportunity emerged to foster some financial sustainability for the school. Following extensive deliberations with our dedicated team in The Gambia, it was unanimously decided to capitalize on this space by establishing essential small businesses. Thus, plans were set into motion to construct both a bakery and a poultry farm.

The old building on the land we bought

Pa Touray and Mr Faye concluding the purchase

These ventures would not only align with our mission to enhance educational resources but also serve as vital pillars in supporting the school's financial endeavors. Through these initiatives, we aimed to create a symbiotic relationship between community development and educational empowerment, paving the way for a brighter future for both the school and its surrounding community.

Builders were appointed and work began immediately to transform the dilapidated building into 1 classroom, an office and a store. As the building work continued in Bakindik so too did the fundraising back home in the UK as we needed to fund the materials and labour costs for classrooms 2 and 3, the bakery and a poultry farm too.

  • Work began in earnest to create a new place of learning

Constructing in The Gambia presents unique challenges, especially in the North Bank provinces, where the process is markedly different and significantly more labor-intensive than in the UK. The manual mixing of sand and cement, hand-molding each block (reminiscent of crafting a sandcastle with a bucket and spade in the UK), and manually digging every trench are essential aspects of the building process. However, our dedicated team of builders worked tirelessly, putting in every daylight hour to ensure the progress of our project. Before long, classrooms 2 and 3 were prepared for plastering, and the floors were ready for tiling.

Fortuitously, the village of Seascale in Northwest Cumbria, not far from us in the UK, was in the midst of constructing a new primary school. Surplus desks and chairs from their project were generously donated to Siiboo and shipped to The Gambia, along with additional contributions from Bookwell and St. Bridget's schools in Egremont, our local community.

With the completion of classrooms, the installation of furniture, and the formation of a dedicated teaching team, the only missing element was the children. Fortunately, they soon arrived. Despite initial doubts about reaching our goal, Siiboo ECD opened its doors, ready to welcome children aged 4 to 7, regardless of religion, tribe, or ability.