The Gambia – September 6 2019

Access to quality education: Mildred just needed a chance

Mildred always had the intelligence and the drive. She just needed the opportunity.

Twelve-year-old Mildred* was born in a poor family in Kerawan Badala, a small village in The Gambia’s Upper River Region. Mildred lives with her father, a single parent, who struggles to feed his family. Mildred’s father owns a canoe and generates his little daily income from transporting people across a river that separates the south and north bank villages of the region.

Mildred knows very little about her mother, who abandoned her and her younger brother with their father. Her mother claimed the father was too poor to care for her needs. She remarried another man across the border in Casamance, a town in neighboring Senegal, south of The Gambia.

Access to education for Mildred

From the little income he makes, Mildred’s father is able to provide for Mildred's basic needs and pay for her education, hoping to empower the child to follow her dreams.

“I want to study at the University of The Gambia. It is my wish to become a medical doctor, so that I can change my family’s situation when I grow up, and make my father proud,” said Mildred.

For this dream to come true, a child needs access to quality education. Mildred's father is very aware of that fact.

Mildred was first registered in a local public school in her village, where she completed first and second grade. However, due to the poor quality of education in the school, Mildred was transferred to the prestigious SOS Hermann Gmeiner Lower Basic School in Basse.

At the SOS school, Mildred could not be admitted into the third grade as expected, because the results of her entry test were not good enough. She was then admitted into grade 2 to give her a sound foundation for her education.

The beginning was tough for Mildred at the SOS school because she found the standard very challenging compared to her former school. But Mildred was a fast learner. With the help of her teachers, she improved and began to excel.

Mildred lives very far from the SOS school. To get to school, she has to wake up very early, prepare herself and sail across a river that separates her village from the school... by 7:00am. Phase two of her journey begins on the other side of the river where she rides on her bicycle for a distance of nearly two miles.

But Mildred—who is now attending fifth grade—has braved the challenges for years now. She is always punctual and often appears on campus neat in her school uniform: a virtue for which she is admired.

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Achieving excellence in school

Mildred’s father always encourages her to give her all at school. And her hard work is paying off!

Mildred has become a very brilliant child with many achievements in school. She scored 100% in the National Assessment Test (NAT), an external exam organized by the West Africa Examinations Council. She sat the exams while in the third grade and excelled in all core subjects (notably English language, mathematics, sciences, and social and environmental studies). Her excellent results qualified her as outstanding in her school... and in the entire region! Mildred was also ranked first in two regional exams, including regional mathematics and spelling competitions organized by the regional board for education. She has also recorded the best results in all internal exams organized by her SOS Hermann Gmeiner School in Basse.

“Mildred is an excellent, very obedient and respectful student. Her behavior is exceptional and makes us [teachers] proud of her,” said her class teacher, Wally Mamadi.

Her academic brilliance goes well along her social skills. Mildred is very active in sports. She participated in a regional sports competition, organized by the directorate of education for lower basic schools in the region.

She also took part in the annual inter-house sport competition organized for SOS families in Basse. In both competitions, Mildred raced in the 100m and 200m categories and won first position in each!

Locals have praised the hard work and quality of teachers in the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School in Basse, describing the school as a beacon of hope for the population of The Gambia’s Upper River Region.

Opening the door for girls

Education is a fundamental human right for every child, but so many children don’t have this opportunity. 

Around the world, girls face barriers to literacy and education that boys do not. 130 million girls are out of school globally. Educating girls can break cycles of poverty in just one generation, impacting not just the child but the whole community.

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SOS encourages girls to read, attend school and prepare for self-sufficiency in adulthood. This path is critical in order to empower girls and guide them to achieve independence.

The Gambia: Improvements needed in education

The Gambia is one of the least developed countries in the world, with very high poverty rates. The country was ranked 165 of 187 countries in the 2013 Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Program.

The country’s constitution mandates free and compulsory primary education in The Gambia, but a lack of resources and education infrastructure has made implementation difficult. SOS Children’s Villages is working to bridge the gap by providing quality education to children in the country through SOS schools in Basse and Bakoteh.

*Name of child changed for privacy reasons

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