Continuing our links with Sierra Leone and the Freetown Secondary School for Girls, in October, Mrs Wilson and Ms Gilchrist represented Aspire Academy in the on-going partnership.
Read below the highlights of the visit in snippets from Mrs Wilson’s diary …
“The journey to Sierra Leone was both exciting and very long. We were very tired at the end of a 24 hour journey, yet still super excited!!
We woke early on Sunday and set off on our first adventure to the church. It was very hot as we travelled up the bumpy road. Finally, we arrived at a packed-out church where we were warmly welcomed. It was a Mothers’ Union celebration, so we fitted in very well!
After church, we were eager to meet our link teachers and our support network. We did so during the afternoon, then it was back to the hotel. This hotel was specifically built for teachers and named after the official Day of Teachers which is annually celebrated on 5th October.
Monday morning soon arrived. Daisy, who had visited Aspire in March this year, arrived before 7am to collect us for the arduous drive through the centre of Freetown. Believe us when we say we it was a sensory explosion!
Arriving at the gates of FSSG, we were greeted by the Man in White!
Before we could meet the girls, we were introduced to Madame.the principal of FSSG, a school that educates 1500 girls. Yes 1500!
Assembly is held outside in the grounds at FSSG. They do have a hall, but not one big enough to accommodate 1500 girls!
It was truly a sight to behold, all the girls standing awaiting instruction! Ms Gilchrist and I introduced ourselves and the girls gave us a round of applause. We weren’t too sure how to respond, so we just clapped with them.
We spent the day getting our bearings and watching a few lessons. Learning English is soooo easy compared to the local languages of Krio and Mende. Finding out that there were 7 double consonants and vowels that look like ours but do not sound them blew my mind. I was not sure who laughed more at my feeble attempt at Mende, the girls or Ms Gilchrist.
Ms Gilschrist had organised some fantastic lessons and was eager to get started. With resources in one hand and chalk in the other, we took a deep breath and embarked upon the reason we were there: to share our skills and teach the girls health and well-being through a quality education (3 of the United Nations sustainable development goals, no less!)
The girls absolutely loved Ms Gilchrist teaching them. Having classes of 55 would normally be a bit scary, but we just immersed ourselves in their enthusiasm. It was an amazing and humbling experience.
Ms Gilchrist and I spoke to the girls about what made them happy/sad/worried. The girls created posters (sad to see they had no idea how to colour in) about their thoughts after they helped us create mind maps on the board. They loved taking part in interactive learning. We even managed to reorganise seating in the classroom so we could differentiate the learning.
Hearing the girls shouting out their positive affirmation cards was amazing, even more so when they wrote on a sticker a positive comment classmate they didn’t really know. We both had tears in our eyes when they proudly held aloft their hand-made worry dolls. This was an experience neither of us will ever forget.
At times it was overwhelming to be in a class of so many girls who wanted to be there, fully aware that they could only have a future if they were educated. At times it was sad too, as we could see from our own experiences that some of the girls wouldn’t be able to achieve exam success. Often this was due to financial constraints: no money to buy their books, no money to buy a pen, no money to buy a uniform. Often no money to buy food or even water. This was very sad and very hard to accept. We thought long and hard about what we could do to actually make a difference.
The girls were always so happy to see us:
Ms Gilchrist was always interested to see what was on offer for lunch: her boiled banana, sweet potato and black-eyed beans stew sounded weird to say the least, but actually tasted delicious!
I totally enjoyed myself outside helping the girls play volleyball. However, it must be said that next time I need trainers and a time check as it was midday and scorching hot!
At Aspire we need to show more appreciation for many of the things we take for granted. There were no mod-cons at FSSG!
Food was prepared in this area by ladies from the villages. The girls could buy it… if they were fortunate enough to have any money.
Daisy and FSSG had a top made for us to wear when we visited Conforti. It was a very strange experience being taken to a store to select material and then somewhere else to be measured. Both of us immediately said, ‘no pink!’ It just wouldn’t have helped our complexions!
It was very sad to say good-bye to the girls. Teaching there for a week truly felt like only just a day. Our time passed by so quickly.
As parting gifts, we gave friendship bracelets that Aspire had made during Community Week and Miss Davies had finished for us. The girls loved them! At this point they were still unaware of our gift to them. After much soul-searching, we decided to take a practical approach and consider what the girls actually needed.
Every last penny we had (and then a fair bit more!) was well spent. To last for the rest of the academic year (we hope), we purchased exercise books, pens and sanitary products for (Junior) FSSG.
Our wonderful experience in Freetown, Sierra Leone, wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the British Council, Aspire Academy and own two families.
So ‘thank-you’ to everyone who supported us and let our journey continue…”