A new opportunity

A month later, Gambia was slowly drifting out of my thoughts. I was reading Muhammed Yunus’ book “The Business Solution to Poverty”, where he wrote “start small and start today”. Then I got a watsapp with photos from Lorenzo: “This is your school. If you agree.” A school in the town of Jakoi Bintang where a driver named Lamin was from. The school was built, but it was limping along, with a teacher barely getting paid. Lorenzo gave me the push I needed. A week later I committed and sent the following watsapp to Lamin:

Hi Lamin, here is my offer: 

Next school year, I will pay 1500 dalasi per month for your teach Merry Mendy. If the town hires a second teacher, I will pay the same for her. I will also pay for school materials: pencils, notebooks, etc. 

I commit to paying this amount during one school year. I will pay a second year under these conditions:

  • the people of the town work hard to keep the school and the school zone in good condition (painting, cleaning, etc). Please put one person in charge of making sure everybody contributes.
  • The rest of the salary and other costs (like paint) will be paid by the town. The school uniforms will be paid by the parents. (If the parents can’t pay, they can use the land behind the school to grow vegetables for sale). 
  • All prices and costs told to me must be exact. Total honesty here. 
  • I would like for the second teacher to be a woman, and capable of being head teacher.

If the conditions are not met, then the agreement will end at the end of the school year.

We will clarify these conditions in June when I come to the town. If the town agrees at a town meeting, then we start.

My goal was (and is) that it be the town’s project, not mine. I didn’t want to come in and dictate how things should be. Lorenzo had just told me how he had bought a lot of posts to make a fence, only to have the posts eaten up completely by termites. It’s so easy to come in and start making decisions. I’m determined to delegate all decision.making. I just finance. (All right, most. I can’t help it: I’ve pushed that the fruit trees to be planted next to the well near the school are all different varieties. I love exotic fruit. But that’s it! No more decisions. Well, except…)

I also wanted the town to pay a portion of the salary, figuring that when you pay a portion, you’re more invested in it. I showed my conditions to Lorenzo. He reviewed it and said maybe I should buy the paint too. I thought about that. Maybe if we all painted together, that would be a good bonding experience, a way to communicate. When I got there, the paint turned out to cost the same as in Europe, naturally enough. Paint for the school cost 5 months of a teacher’s salary, so there’s no way the town could have paid for it. Lorenzo was right again, of course.