A new building is always cause for celebration, but the celebration is louder and more emotional when the new building revives the dignity and pride of a school.
The new $98,000, six-classroom building for United Methodist Primary School at Mile 91, in northern Sierra Leone, replaces an unsafe building that had collapsing bricks on one side. Parts of the roof had been blown off in a storm.
“This building is a manifestation that when we and our partners work together, a quality result is achieved,” said the Rev. Elizabeth Kamara, United Methodist Yonibana district superintendent.
She said she still hopes the school can get a library, since the children’s reading standards are still low.
Enrollment at the school, once more than 300, had dropped to less than 30 by 2014, as parents withdrew children in droves, said Joseph Pormai, Sierra Leone Conference’s education secretary for secondary schools.
“The school no longer portrayed the good image that we have in the country,” Pormai said at the June 24 dedication of the new building funded by Operation Classroom in Minnesota. Since the new building opened, enrollment has already climbed to 186 as parents line up to register their children.
The dedication ceremony on June 24 was attended by representatives from the Sierra Leone Ministry of Education, the Mile 91 Muslim community, Yonibana Paramount Chief, officials of the United Methodist Church’s Sierra Leone Conference, United Methodist pastors, parents, students, teachers and community youth.
A vivid contrast
Clifford “Kip” Robinson, missionary and engineer with the Sierra Leone Conference, described the scene in a letter to Operation Classroom.
“With the backdrop of the old school only 100 meters away, the contrast was stark and vivid – the previous worst United Methodist Church school in the country situated next to the new building, now the best. The juxtaposition could not have been more pronounced,” he wrote.
Nelson Williams, Sierra Leone Ministry of Education’s executive director of basic education, said most schools in the country had temporary structures when they were established – structures that exposed the children to the harmful effects of inclement weather.
The pupils of the school, he said, should be grateful to God for providing them a modern school building with a good environment for lessons.
Alhaji Abass Kamara, the Mile 91 paramount chief’s representative, said he was a happy man.
“We in the community are happier for the school than you the proprietors because it belongs to us. I am so overwhelmed that I do not have words to express my gratitude and joy. I can only say thank you,” Kamara said.
Robinson summarized the qualities that make the school different from other United Methodist schools around the country:
- The classrooms are large and able to accommodate 50 students with one trained and competent teacher instead of smaller classrooms.
- Each classroom is light and airy, lights in each classroom, as well as multiple electrical outlets built into every classroom to accommodate things that need electricity, like projectors or even computers.
- The head teacher’s office and store are in the middle of the building allowing easy access for any student.
- The aluminum roof is rust-free and the corridors are tiled.
Other planned improvements include a new toilet facility courtesy of partners in Norway and furniture courtesy of partners in Germany, Robinson said.
Williams emphasized that one of the key policies of the Sierra Leone ministry of education is the promotion of quality education and that the ministry frowns on schools that have overcrowded classrooms. He appealed to the school authorities not to overcrowd the classes.
High enrollment is not what makes a good school, rather it the quality of education received, he said.
“Let it not be said that The United Methodist Church has constructed a good school for our children, but the children are not performing well. On the contrary, let it be said that The United Methodist Church has built a good school for our children in which quality education is given. ...Then this United Methodist school will be regarded as one of the best primary schools in Sierra Leone,” Williams said.
Sierra Leone Bishop John K. Yambasu hopes the new school will set the pace for quality investment in the school learning environment. “Many schools I see around the country have poor ventilation with small classrooms where children struggle for space and air creating unhealthy learning environment. The Masorie School is marking the turning point for all our future school projects,” Yambasu said.
The Rev. Lyndy Zabel, who coordinates Operation Classroom Ministries in Minnesota but who couldn’t make it to the dedication, wrote a letter to Yambasu for the dedication. The group also recently provided uniforms for the children in the Yonibana District.
“We pray that those who come to Masorie, whether as administrators, teachers, or students, may come with pure minds, upright purpose, and steadfast endeavor to learn, to do the will of God, and make plain the path of knowledge for all.”
Jusu is director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone.
News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]