By Evelyn Davies, Head Teacher at Coldfall Primary School.
I was first introduced to Miriam Mason-Sesay, EducAid’s Country Director, in 2005, by a teacher colleague from my son’s primary school. I had little idea that that first meeting would spark a long-term relationship with EducAid and my school, Coldfall Primary, which has been transformative, enriching and life-giving. It is a story worth sharing given the powerful impact it has had on my school, staff and children and on me personally.
Miriam began with telling us all about her journey to set up schools in one of the world’s poorest and most challenging countries, Sierra Leone. Her courage and personal commitment had such an impact that we felt compelled to support her in some small way in this amazing work. I can recall that very first assembly in which Miriam shared personal stories of individuals who had faced war, disease, and homelessness, but who now had renewed hope in their lives through the work of EducAid, who provided not just an education, but a family – a home, food and shelter, people to look after and care for these youngsters. The children at my school were astonished to see the photographs of the Sierra Leonean children learning so eagerly with the very limited resources available to them. The stark contrasts between our daily lives and the struggles of these children struck a chord with us and our journey to work with EducAid was cemented.
Miriam visits us often, always with new stories of hope and success, but also of the tragedies and sadness experienced and the ongoing commitment of her staff through troubled times. Our relationship has seen Sierra Leone go through the Ebola crisis and the devastating mudslide of 2017. The response from the children at Coldfall has always been – why are the lives of Sierra Leonean children so different to ours and what can we do to help? They ask the most incisive of questions and are keen to learn about life in a very different part of the world.
Miriam’s teaching has enabled our Coldfall children to learn and grow as individuals with a core set of values and a commitment to global citizenship. Miriam talks about the EducAid children as not being helpless and hopeless, but as being strong, resilient, courageous and joyful…values we share and learn from. She has also introduced us to the concept of Ubuntu, which has become a school wide motto known by all the children, staff and parents in our community. Ubuntu infuses the life of Coldfall and reminds us that we are all interdependent, inter-connected and affect the lives of each other. Ubuntu prompts us to work and play together and share the joys and sorrows of each other. Ubuntu is a powerful concept that has had and continues to have far reaching impact on my school community.
During the years our partnership has led to wide ranging fundraising and celebratory events. Our children know how much it costs to educate an EducAid child in Sierra Leone for one year (£250) and are keen to raise as much money as possible to enable as many children as possible to have the quality education EducAid offers. The school website has an EducAid page and you can read there about some of the fundraising events we have undertaken as a school or as individuals. Coldfall Primary School has had parents and teachers who have run marathons for EducAid, children who have initiated their own little fundraising projects in their own time as well as the whole school events.
In an era where fundraising seems to be getting more difficult, our work with EducAid has been so uplifting that fundraising events have just become a normal part of our school’s practice. Each term we think about what more can we do…not just because we know the hardships faced and the inequalities suffered, but because it creates in us a sense of community (Ubuntu), a common vision to share, and a way to help and learn from each other. The staff are great too. They come up with creative ideas to help. We recently had a “Ladies Night” with a glass of bubbly and a fashion swap which raised £500. It’ll be the guys turn next to come up with a great idea! We have a newly-established community choir which rehearse each week and their subsidies all go towards EducAid too.
Music is big at Coldfall. All children need to sing and all our children love to sing and perform as do the staff! Concerts for EducAid are just an extension and celebration of the music work we already do. The concerts bring in the crowds as we have 3 choirs (including a very inspiring staff choir), an orchestra, and a range of ensembles. The children and staff love to perform and even more so if they know it is for EducAid.
After 13 years of knowing Miriam, and her visits to Coldfall, we decided last year to send a team of 6 of us (the Coldfall 6) out to Sierra Leone to see first hand the work of EducAid and do a little bit of voluntary work teaching students on the BAM degree course out there. There is a separate blog about this on Coldfall’s website, but suffice it to say it was a life-enhancing experience and enabled us to bring back to Coldfall the experiences first hand. We have made a full-blown film and a shorter YouTube version of our visit. When we showed the film to parents, staff, governors and children, there were many tears as well as some laughter. It renewed our commitment to EducAid and also to each other as a community. One governor commented on the remarkable impact the relationship with EducAid has on the whole school. Every child knows Miriam and about the work she does, every child is learning about Ubuntu and citizenship and our responsibility to others in our world, every child is growing up with deep core values of caring for others.
This year Coldfall and EducAid are working on a joint “Empathy Project” based on the 9 habits of empathy and the work of Michelle Borba in her book “Unselfie.” Each month the EducAid schools and Coldfall focus on a new empathy habit. We learn about it, read stories about it and share our learning through a Google drive platform. What it is teaching us is that the children of Sierra Leone are just the same as our children here in north London. We have the same feelings and emotions and share the same humanity.
So our work together is a two-sided thing, because we learn and grow together. Although we seem to be privileged with our material resources and finances and aim to do as much as we can to support EducAid, we are poorer in our community spirit. We have gained and learned much from EducAid that we could not have gained from our usual day-to-day curriculum. I hope and pray that the work we have done has planted a little seed in the lives of our children at Coldfall Primary to grow up to make a difference in our world…
Congratulations on 25 fantastic years EducAid! Thank you for enhancing our lives and giving us so many opportunities at Coldfall.