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Number 11 August 2009


In May the BBC asked me to return to Sierra Leone to film and present a programme about GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunisation and their work in Sierra Leone. The BBC wanted to see if the initiative was successfully reaching people around the country. I readily agreed and suggested we film some of the programme in Rogbonko. We discussed the difficulties of targeting hard-toreach communities and of using aid money effectively.

I explained our success in building and running a school for six years in Rogbonko with the help of a small core of supporters in Britain has been undeniably due to the commitment of the village people who have aclear desire for education. Quite literally they built the school with their own hands. I felt the villagers would be very open to taking part in the programme. I called our school administrator to ask if he would talk to the village about the filming, which would involve them in organising meetings in which government health workers might deliver their message about the importance of vaccinations, as well as a ‘vaccination day’ during which all mothers would be given the opportunity to have their babies vaccinated. The village said yes and turned out in full force on day one to greet the visitors with placards and music. A film crew from the BBC spent four days in the village. Among many other things, they filmed children at school learning about the most common childhood killer diseases as well as enacting related skits. Vaccination day was a huge success. The village barrie (or meeting house) was packed to capacity with mothers and their babies. The atmosphere was positively festive, many women had dressed up especially for the occasion. Everyone enjoyed themselves - with the possible exception, perhaps, of the babies, more than 35 of whom received the new pentavalent vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, meningitis and pneumonia.

The programme was aired to a global audience on BBC World on the 29th July. Sorry to say, BBC World is not available to viewers in the UK. To learn more about the work of the Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunisation, please visit: Aminatta Forna is chair of the Rogbonko Village School Trust.

2009 Breakfast Club opens

Following the success of last year’s Breakfast Club and the continuing global food shortage, we have decided to run the Breakfast Club again this year. The initiative ensures that our school-children receive at least one square meal a day during the traditional ‘hungry season’ which lasts from July to December each year. In Sierra Leone one third of children are underweight for their age. There is also a proven link between school performance and nutrition. We are looking to raise £1,300 - the total cost of feeding Rogbonko School’s 200 pupils a meal a day for six months. All of the preparation and cooking is done by volunteers from the village, which helps keep the costs down. Do please help us keep the Breakfast Club going by sending a donation to the Rogbonko Village School Trust. Every little contribution, however small, really does help.

Fire threatens school

The dry season in Sierra Leone is especially dangerous for bush fires. In the early hours of the 10th of March 2009, our school administrator Morlai woke to the sound and smell of an approaching fire. He rang the school bell and roused the villagers, who fought for the rest of the night and the whole of the following day to prevent the fire from engulfing the school building, which stands on the outskirts of the village and was most immediately threatened by the fire. Thankfully they were successful, though several homes were lost in a neighbouring village and the fire destroyed farm land and some 100 trees.

And finally, our thanks to..

Jane and Bill Richards whose silver wedding anniversary celebrations raised £800 for Rogbonko Village School. Part of the money will be used to fund the extension of a maternal health project which began last year when Rogbonko School housed a seminar led by Isatu Kabia, a Sierra Leonian national and formerly a midwife at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, for TBA’s (traditional birth attendants) and local women. On Isatu’s advice the village is now building a dedicated maternal health centre and Isatu has committed to returning to Rogbonko once the centre is complete to run a two day workshop in childbirth and maternal health. With a Maternal Mortality Ratio of 2,000 per 100,000 live births, Sierra Leone has the highest maternal death rates in the world.

Rogbonko Village School Trust, 161 Waller Road, London SE14 5LX.