College students bring aid to African school

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


LONGMEADOW Bay Path College junior Jessica Toner never realized how much she appreciated a hot shower until she didn’t have one for two weeks.

“It’s definitely one of the things I take for granted living in this country,” she said.

Toner along with fellow Bay Path College student Kelly MacIntyre, graduate student Nyillan Fye and English and Communications professor John Jarvis spent two weeks in Gambia, Africa, gathering information and footage for a needs assessment and a documentary film on students in Barra, Gambia.

The college has been working with the Sajuka Community School in Barra for two years, even funding the tuition payments for 10 girls who now attend the African school. Fye, a native of the country, is working with Jarvis to make the school financially independent.

This year the group’s goal is to see what the school will

need to become self-sufficient, Jarvis said.

“The key to this will be the skills center which allows teens to apprentice with local artisans to create things that can be sold,” he said.

MacIntyre’s documentary, which will be shown at the college on Sept. 29, will serve as a tool to garner support for the project. She spent several days following a young student at the school as she went through her day.

“I filmed her doing everything from getting a bath ready in the morning to attending school and then helping her family after school,” she said. “It’s amazing to see how much harder things are for them, even the simplest things like taking a shower.”

Both students were surprised by the contrasting beauty and despair in the county.

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“It is a beautiful country, but Barra is surrounded by trash and the roads are awful,” Toner said. “Most of the students live right on the beach, which sounds beautiful, but the beach is basically used as a dumping ground for trash.”

Toner is considering getting a group together to clean up the area, especially around the school. However, during this trip Toner focused on the needs of the school.

“What they really need are projectors and textbooks,” she said. “Right now they barely have books for the teachers and none of the students have their own books,” she said.

Also because there is no projector teachers spend most of the class time transcribing textbook information on the board.

“By the time they are done doing that the class is over,” she said. “The teachers are passionate about their work and they really want students to learn, but they just don’t have the necessary equipment to do it properly.”

Many of the students go to school, but also have to work at the market until it gets dark to help support their families, Toner said. The school has about 200 students from nursery to middle school. High school students attend a school in the capital which can be a trip of several hours.

The school also has the skills center which Jarvis hopes to expand and modernize.

“They make beautiful things with cloth and wood, things that would be valuable to customers around the world if they could just get connected to the Web,” he said.

Jarvis hopes that MacIntyre’s documentary can be used to collect seed money, which will be used to purchase a computer with Internet access and other equipment for the center.

“The people there are so kind and welcoming and they are such hard workers,” he said. “Our hope is that they can start to depend on themselves and be successful even if we are not always around to help them.”