When British Zoologist, Chris Ransom with his local guide and translator, Mallam, visited Yiben in 2006, they were warmly welcomed and treated with great hospitality. Chris was employed by the World Bank to conduct wildlife surveys along the Rokel River and they stayed in the village for several days. They spoke at length with the young and charismatic Chief, Bangali Tholley and the other village leaders. They watched the children going off to farm, cook food and collect water and learned that there wasn’t a school within a ten-mile radius. The villagers expressed that they wanted their children to be educated so they could have ‘a better life than us’, and Chris wished he could somehow help.
Before he left the country, Chris purchased books, slates, chalk and other teaching materials, and hiked back to the village with Mallam. He hoped someone could begin to teach the children. Eight months later, back in the UK, he received a phone call from Mallam to tell him how the villagers had constructed a schoolroom with bamboo and palm fronds and how Chief Bengali, himself educated to the age of 14, had begun teaching the children. Mallam had been the driving force, encouraging the village to make the most of this opportunity.
Five years later Gympie teacher, Jude Coates visited Yiben with Mallam and received the same unforgettable welcome and caring hospitality. The tiny school had progressed with support from Chris. There were more than 30 boys and girls, in four year levels with a dedicated, experienced teacher, Mr Bah, and an active school committee. The children wore the uniforms their parents had proudly provided and worked hard with their lessons which were delivered in English, a new language for most of the Limba speaking village.
The original schoolroom had now been improved; but it was seriously outgrown. There was no longer room for desks and the children sat on benches or little cane stools and worked on their laps. A sturdy new building with multiple classrooms and a permanent, waterproof roof was envisioned and the villagers had already stockpiled hundreds of mud bricks. The enthusiasm of the whole community for their school and the children’s enthusiasm for learning were inspiring.
Also inspiring was Mallam – working tirelessly to encourage and advise, regularly making the 16 km walk from his own village of Kafogo to support the vision, keeping Chris updated, and soon to be managing the construction of a government-standard school building.
Construction on the new school began early in 2012. Mallam liaised with both Chris and Jude and funds needed for the building were contributed by friends in the UK and Australia.
By September 2012, Mr Bah and about 70 students, some from neighboring villages, began using the school. Following this, a second teacher was engaged, and toilets were built.
The community are very proud of the development of their school and this year achieved their long-awaited goal to qualify for Government registration.
In 2013 Chris founded the UK-based organisation, Set4Life, to ensure ongoing support for the Yiben Primary School. Mallam became the official Project Coordinator and Jude served as a Trustee until 2015 when SET4LIFE Australia was established as a charity. This allows the Australian supporters to publicly fundraise for the village.
While the UK group continues to support the primary school, the Australians support healthcare, which includes maintenance and improvements to the facilities, clean water and improved access. We are also supporting the children who have gone on to secondary school and, like their community, are showing all things are possible with motivation and opportunity.