The Gambia is ranked 174 out of 189 on the Human Development Index 2018, making it one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Quality education and employment opportunities in The Gambia are a challenge. Only half the children who enrol in primary school transition to secondary school. Literacy rate in people over the age of 15 is 51%.
Approximately 18,000 children in The Gambia live in traditional Quranic education schools, ‘Majalis’, run by religious teachers ‘Marabout’. These are traditional, unregulated, residential education centres with no entry or maintenance fees. Parents give the children to the Marabouts because they do not have the resources to provide for them or afford the costs associated with education, and because they want their children to receive traditional education. However, the Majalis provide poor standards of education, accommodation, nutrition, hygiene, sanitation, and healthcare.
Weak child protection mechanisms increase the risk of neglect, abuse, and trafficking. Most children also end up leaving the Majalis lacking a basic primary level education, which significantly reduces their employment prospects, often confining them to poverty.
The serious overcrowding, poor sanitation, and hygiene conditions of the Majalis, as well as the lack of income of families and the Marabouts as a result of the strict lockdown and curfew measures imposed by governments, make these children even more vulnerable and at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are working with our local partner in The Gambia, the Institute of Social Reform and Action (ISRA), founded in 1990. They are one of the few NGOs in the country working directly with children and young people in the traditional education system (Koranic schools or Majalis). ISRA has a strong track record, having worked with over 4000 children and young people in 50 Majalis across The Gambia. They run community and education programmes to advocate for equal access to quality education and protection for all children and young people, and meet the basic needs of the most marginalised.
We will work with 3 Majalis in the West Coast Region of The Gambia to improve the living conditions and quality of education of 270 children and young people aged between 5-21 years.
Over the course of three-years, we expect children and young people to improve their literacy and numeracy skills, transitioning from level 1 to level 3, which is the minimum requirement to effectively transit into mainstream primary education. During that time, we will also work closely with the Marabouts to improve the general living conditions in the Majalis so that they can provide a protective environment where children and young people can grow and thrive.
Our project will also benefit 1,000 people within the local communities and villages through the different advocacy, awareness raising, and livelihood activities. The soap making business will not only benefit those living in the Majalis, who will have increased income and supply of soap as a result, but also others in the community who will have access to affordable soap. This is even more crucial now with the Covid-19 pandemic. The wider community will also benefit from the Covid-19 and WASH outreach campaign.
This project will work as a pilot to be scaled up to other Majalis and used for advocacy purposes with the government.
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