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How it started

By Els Salembier:

'Why are you not starting a school yourself?' are they asking, 'so we can see what you are talking about.'

In 1997 I am moving to The Gambia. Being a teacher and master in pedagogical sciences I am visiting tens of school in West-Africa. Discussions with organisations, teachers and parents make me think a lot. There is time for this in Africa: sitting under a mango tree and think. Even schools with a reasonable infrastructure are not performing very good: there is lack of adapted educational systems. Starting a model school seems to get support but I am doubting: it is a huge challenge and the expectations are high.

When my daugther Maïmouna becomes 3 years old, she is the extra motivation to speed up. The Swallow is born... in a popular area, with a small group of toddlers and uneducated but enthusiast parents. It is more than a challenge, with hundreds of obstacles. Step by step we are buidling up a basic school. Not a copy of a European model, but a system adapted to the needs of the children in Africa: now and later. These basic needs are our starting point: children who are sick or hungry cannot learn. So the program on health gets a particular place, next to programs about belonging, respect and so on.

Nowadays there are about 220 children in The Swallow and some years of graduated pupils, who are doing very well in secundary school. There are some ambitious youths among them, for sure we will hear from them later! For a while I am living in Belgium again, and The Swallow is doing very well with the local team and the support of enthusiast sponsors.

And my daugther? She adapted without problems to the level of the Belgian education, passing through secundary school and doing fine there!

Although we do miss the mango tree...