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  • Writer's pictureElena Edwards


It was the beginning of 2015, and I have just completed the trip from the South Coast of England to Banjul – the capital of The Gambia, on the old tracks of the Dakar Rally, in a Fiat Punto. Once we reached the finishing line, I decided to join one of the rally teams and went to visit a local school, in a village not too far from our hotel. It was called Busumbala.

Our trip was a charitable venture. We sold our cars at auction, and the money went to various charities in The Gambia. It was all organised to go that way. I am not aware of where exactly the money from selling our Fiat Punto went but I was happy that they went to a good cause.

We were now driving to the little people’s school to hand over notebooks, pencils, and £1000 that my drivers’ friends raised to help put some cement pillars inside the school, to hold the roof.

When I was little, I dreamt about becoming an Architect one day. My dad was already working in that industry and I became fascinated about carbon pencils, white paper, and large computers (the size of one room) who made lots of dots on cardboard paper.

I almost got involved in another building project in Kenya, the year before, but the landlord decided not to sell the land so nothing happened there. It was during my car rally to Africa that I received the email from the landlord to say that he no longer accepted my offer of £12,000 to buy the land. The news saddened me at the time as I was looking forward to travelling to Kenya, after completing the “Dakar Rally”.

As we were getting closer to the school, I saw lots of children playing outside their homes and I asked the African guides why they were not in school, at that time of the day. There was no school for them, I was told.

When we entered the schoolyard, there were 100’s of children crammed in dark rooms. The walls were infested with termites. There were no chairs for the children to sit on. No tables. The roof was hanging on a few hinges. And we wanted to put a few pillars in to hold the roof. What about the walls? What if the walls collapsed, once the termites finished their works?

So, how much is going to cost to demolish this thing, and build a new school? – I heard myself asking… There was another school built nearby. I asked the teachers how much the other school cost? About £8,000, they said. Ok, I said, so if you have £8,000 you could build a new school, right?

Yes, they said, but we don’t have the money, and we have been trying to raise the money for over 10 years, without much luck.

I’ll give you the money, I said. Yeah, do you know what? All the foreigners who come here, and see the kids, say that. Nobody kept their promise, said one of the teachers, I think.

I will come back and build a new school for you. You just need to trust me. I don’t know you either, but I feel that we can build this together. We exchanged telephone numbers, I took some pictures, and went back to the hotel. I was excited to tell my co-pilot (who I left asleep) that I was going to build a school for the little people. Of course, he told me that I was crazy.

“Honey, you don’t know these people, are you sure they are going to build the school with your money? …”

“Someone has to trust these people, and I am going to be that person”, I said.

Finally, I found what I was looking for. It was a new challenge for me that was not only going to give me a lot of buzz but also was going to offer 100’s of people a starting point on their education journey. I was about to build a school in Africa. How exciting is that? I returned home, in the UK, and all I could focus on was the new school.

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