We are addressing a community problem that originated in the aftermath of the Liberian civil war (1989 to 2003). The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) repatriated to Liberia most of the 300,000 refugees who were in Guinea. Some refugees, mostly women with children, could not return for various reasons including the fact that, for some, their villages had been destroyed and there was nothing remaining. Many of these English-speaking refugees transitioned to a subsistence livelihood in N’Zerekore, the regional city in south-eastern Guinea. Many refugee children were growing up under difficult conditions and with no education.
Recognizing the vulnerability of the children whose families could not afford the Guinean schools, an English school was established in 2005 by concerned volunteers that included former teachers and the current Director, Edmund Wilson. An older, rented building with three rooms was converted into a school. The school operation included the administration, teachers and supplies. 45 children attended the school in its first year.
Since 2005, our school has promoted the welfare of under-privileged children in N’Zerekore by providing a quality primary and elementary school education for children up to the Grade 9 level. The children receive from the school copybooks, pens/pencils and rulers to facilitate their learning, and there are first aid supplies to treat children with minor injuries.
In addition to teaching, we make a special effort for school children who don’t return to the classroom, often because of the lack of support at their home. We endeavour to seek out and talk with the parents or guardians wherever they might be. We understand and have empathy for the tough life that many of our students and their families lead. Usually, we can enable the child to return to school.
The community we work with is comprised mostly of people who survive by farming and petty trading. Many are single mothers who have sales stalls or locations in the market and work long hours. Sometimes these parents find it very difficult to even feed their families. They may be unable to take good care of their children, particularly during the day, and often leave them to roam about. OSEM helps these parents significantly because they know their children are safe at school during the day.
Moreover, the Ebola crisis was hard on the community. A number of children at school lost one or more of their parents and grandparents. The Covid-19 pandemic has reached Guinea but, at the date of writing, has not peaked. The children are now in school.
The common thread of the families with children at OSEM is their inability to afford any more than very modest school fees. Because of their limited incomes, the only hope that virtually all the parents (or guardians) have for getting an education for their children is OSEM. In consequence, OSEM endeavours to provide a good education at a price that the community can afford. This objective is a challenge. The school has shortcomings mainly in terms of its infrastructure and equipment, and the supply of educational materials from which to teach.
There continues to be a large number of children in N’Zerekore who are in need of an education but cannot afford it. We want to continue educating an increasing number of these children by building the capacity of OSEM at a sustainable rate. Also, we want to provide options for our students graduating from Grade 12.
Our vision is to expand into trade skill development. We hope to offer training in such programs as computers, nursing care, auto-mechanics, bookkeeping, hotel and restaurant work and other trade skills that will help our students make a significant contribution to society.