While the world learns painful lessons from Ebola, the real work of rebuilding life in Sierra Leone is under way. Pioneering Sidcot School has found the answer to reversing the fortunes of one Ebola stricken orphange devastated by the disease – something as simple as an English school uniform.
As the first school in the country to appoint a Director of Peace and Global studies, Sidcot, a Quaker school in Somerset, has been working with leading charity worker and peace activist Abdul Kamar, to help re-build resources at the Dorothy Peace Centre orphanage and school in Sierra Leone.
Abdul explains: “In one month 87 people contracted Ebola and died – leaving Rokel a ghost town. The Peace Centre was suddenly at the forefront of the epidemic and the children still needed to go to school but we had no learning resources and had lost key teaching and support staff as a result of the disease, which has claimed more than 11,000 lives in the region to date.”
Unexpectedly, it was the consignment of unwanted school uniform, sent along with valuable learning resources, which proved the key to rejuvenating the school. According to Abdul: “The children were so excited to receive the uniform which has created such a buzz and gave them hope, pride and a sense of belonging. Attendance at the school has increased and such is the pride in their new uniform that the students have decided to rename the school Sidcot School Sierra Leone.”
Sidcot’s Headmaster Iain Kilpatrick thinks the relationship with Sierra Leone goes beyond being charitable and said: “While many leading independent schools are opening new and very lucrative campuses overseas – we think it far more globally responsible to support projects such as Sidcot School Sierra Leone from the ground up. We know education will provide these disadvantaged children with a future and if a small gesture such as providing a school uniform can encourage and inspire attendance, imagine how much more we can do to support their development and lives in the future” Iain continued: “I would like to see other independent schools joining us in helping to rebuild school life in Sierra Leone, or other parts of world where education is being put on hold while families focus on survival.”
With a Director of Peace and Global studies, Sidcot’s educational values underpin the development of global social responsibility among its pupils who were at the forefront of the project to support the orphanage’s rejuvenation. Although worlds apart the project has inspired pupils from Sidcot to get more involved in the school with Sixth form student Caroline Green planning to volunteer at the school next summer. “I spoke with Abdul and heard his story when he first visited the school and I am really excited about the possibility of helping with this project directly by travelling out to Sierra Leone. If I manage to travel out I hope not only to be able to give as much practical aid as possible but also to open my eyes to a different way of living.”
The Director of Peace and Global Studies, Jackie Bagnall, explains how the school and students plan to continue their work in Sierra Leone saying: “When looking at relationships with other schools around the world we seek to create empathy and understanding between the students in each country. Aid is vitally important to the orphanage in Rokel right now, they need to feed the children and pay their teachers, but the longer term aim is to develop the capacity that helps build self-sufficiency. Our children will create learning resources that can be used in teaching, the advances in computing and web based communications allows us to share and cascade very easily. We seek to develop in our children the moral imagination to understand the lived experience of others, what we learn from our partners is that reaching out brings hope to children in challenging situations.”