Bo’ness Academy’s £6000-plus gift to The Gambia

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BO’NESS Academy kids are flushed with success - thanks to them raising over £6000, African schoolchildren will have their very first plumbed-in toilets, hopefully in time for exams starting next month.

The 1700 pupils at the Sukuta Upper Basic Secondary School in The Gambia currently have to use holes in the ground, in high temperatures, with just corrugated iron to protect their privacy.

But after the Academy heard that a modern, hygenic toilet block topped its link school’s wishlist for ways it could be supported, pupils pulled out all the stops to make it a reality in just 10 months.

From a sponsored ‘run, row and cycle’ between Scotland and The Gambia, to a Sainsbury’s, Linlithgow, bag pack last Saturday, the entire price tag has been covered.

Depute headteacher Catriona Reid witnessed the work underway during her recent Easter holiday visit and said the hope was it would be more or less finished by the end of this month, avoiding the rainy season.

Catriona and colleagues Sarah Clark and Garry MacDonald led a party of 13 S4-6 pupils out to Sukuta in February, for a week that included a day spent at the school, taking part in lessons and an open-air assembly.

Memories of the ‘lifechanging’ trip are still vivid.

Families pay for their children to attend the school in morning and afternoon shifts, some walking long distances to get there, and up to 60 youngsters can be in a class.

Kids have to stand for some lessons, up to an hour, due to a lack of furniture.

Claire McCallum (16) said: “I think a lot of them were shocked when they heard what our school was like compared to theirs. But everyone was happy and grateful to be there learning.”

Robyn Burns (18) added: “There’s things they could learn from us, in terms of education and the economy, but there’s so much we could, and have, learned from them - to be content with what we have.”

Rebecca Alexander (18), who joined in a French class, said: “They were all listening and seemed to really appreciate school and all their lessons and really try hard.”

Mrs Reid said: “When we started off, we never thought we would raise the money. Everybody put in such a massive amount of effort and when everyone was out there, they really represented the school fantastically and were a credit to themselves as well.”

The toilet block funds were handed over before community representatives and the parent council chairperson.

“What we’re doing is fairly high profile and there is a great deal of interest from the director of education at district and at ministerial level,” said Mrs Reid.

“The pupils and staff at the school are overwhelmed by everything we have done and we had a large assembly when we were out there to present the money.”

And the Academy doesn’t plan to stop its support, with three smaller projects identified as the focus for future donations.

Sschool furniture would be the priority, then a fence for a community garden to keep straying cows and goats from eating the produce.

And a playpark is earmarked for a local orphanage that cares for 90-plus children who may have lost their mums and dads, been abused, neglected, or whose parents simply cannot afford to keep them.

Meanwhile, the Academy pupils have been sharing vibrant African dance and dress with P7 cluster children under the transition project.