Columbia Star

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The Dabompa School— Part Two: A plan for improvement

Originally published January 28, 2005

Students at the Dapomba School in Guinea sing the Guinea National Anthem in English.

Students at the Dapomba School in Guinea sing the Guinea National Anthem in English.

The Dabompa School is a poor school in a poor country. The founder, Ahmed Soumah, gave up the opportunity to live in America so he could work for the “cultural development of the youth of Guinea.” He established a non–profit organization, recruited six teachers, created a curriculum rich in language and culture, and solicited enough money to get started six years ago.

I visited Dabompa School where I was impressed with the eagerness of the students and teachers and saddened by the poor conditions. One hundred students pay $2 a month tuition for a total school year revenue of $1,980. Ten students are on free tuition. Rent ($420) and teachers’ salaries ($4,860) alone exceed the revenue by $3,300.

“How do you manage?” I asked.

“ We are proud of our school,” replied Ahmed. “Half our students pass the government exam and move into secondary. But many months, teachers don’t get paid. We all sacrifice for the children.”

“What do you do for desks and books?” I asked.

“We make our desks from wood we salvage from local shops. We sometimes receive books as gifts, but most of our lessons are written on the chalkboard, and the students write them down in their notebooks,” he replied pointing to a few smiling students with notebooks.

Ahmed spends much of his time fundraising from the parents. He calls it investment. Last year he got one large investment of $250 and several smaller ones of less than $10.

Jim Fisher and I asked Ahmed to work with Bah Oure, director of ERA/Guinea, to come up with a plan whereby we could help the school. We said we would not simply give money. We had to have a definite plan, and the results would be monitored.

A few weeks later, we received an email from Bah. The plan focused on making the school more attractive. This, they reasoned, would bring in more students and allow them to raise the tuition. The cost to paint the school would be $664.

Linda and I agreed to put up $500 if Ahmed could raise the additional $164. Jim agreed as director of ERA/ USA to pay Bah $50 to serve as contractor and inspector. Bah drew up the contract, and all parties signed them. The understanding was that success would bring more “investment.”

We sent our money and hoped for the best. In the meantime, the economy of Guinea hit rock bottom, the price of rice soared, students protested and were jailed, the university was closed, and a nationwide teachers strike was called.

Next week: A plan that works

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