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Patricia, 12 - a President in waiting
PATRICIA SAWIE is a girl with ambition. She may be only 12, but ask her what she wants to do when she finishes school, and she doesn’t hesitate.
“The first thing I would like to do is teaching because I would like to repay what my teachers have done for me,” she says. “Then I would like to be President of this country.”
Her lofty ambitions are not based on a whim. She is determined to ensure that future children in Sierra Leone are spared the hunger, hardship and pain that her generation has endured. As a young child, Patricia often went without meals as her family struggled to support themselves, and it has shaped her view on life.
“We felt so bad,” she says. “I can still feel it – and it made me not pay attention to my learning.”
Science is her favourite subject, and she wants to use it for good. “If I was President of this country, I would provide a lot of food for people; there would be a lot of food and a lot of money for my people,” she says. “That is why I want to learn – to be President of this country.”
Patricia is one of 213 pupils split between three teachers at the school in Gbap village. The school is bursting with life, colour and enthusiasm. But it wasn’t always so.
During the 1991-2002 civil war, the village was a rebel stronghold and they used the school as their base. Villagers fled, many children began their education in refugee camps, and when the families returned, they found that the rebels had destroyed the old school records, while the building – constructed in 1947 by Irish missionaries – was falling down.
There were cracks in the walls, the desks and chairs were broken, and the leaking roof meant that lessons stopped as soon as the rain began.
“We would feel so upset during the rains,” says Patricia. “The moment it started raining, school was over. It was a big problem for us because we want to learn, and when we learn better things, we can do big things in the future for our parents.”
Head teacher Michael Tucker says the old school was a “death trap”, but it has now been replaced by a new building, partly funded by Christian Aid, which has brought renewed cheer.
The school teaches the national curriculum, meaning graduates have a formal qualification, and humanitarian organisations help buy books. There are pupils right through from age 5 to 17, and the school day lasts six hours.
It costs only about £4 a year to send a child to school here, but many struggle to afford that, says Mr Tucker. There are problems too in paying teachers, with parents often having to dip into their own pocket to ensure staff are paid and retained, and a dispute with the contractors means one of the classrooms is currently locked. But compared to ten years ago, the problems are trivial.
Fatmata Jayah, 15, a classmate of Patricia, wants to be a nurse and to work in the big cities, and says the new school has given security. “I am very happy because we now have this new school building; we are no longer uncertain. We thank those who have helped us have this new building.”
Patricia, for her part, says she loves the school and hopes it can help her to better herself.
“We love the new school and we want it to develop like in the big towns,” she says. “In the future, I would like to be a very good person, take my people from the village to the city and bring a lot to my parents. And if I have money, I will build a big store packed with food stuff for my parents because in our town here, there is hunger.”
HOW TO DONATE: To donate to Christian Aid week, phone 08080 006 006 or visit http://www.caweek.org/
•Gavin Aitchison visited Sierra Leone on a media trip organised by Christian Aid.