Foundation The Future In Our Hands
Jan and Didy Steenhuis have formed the foundation “the Future in our hands”.For several years they are engaged in the Gambia on a project consisting of a nursery school and a medical post.
The Gambia is one of the poorest countries in western Africa. Since 2000 we are in the Gambia and what we saw then was terrible. What a terrible poverty! It was really a culture shock.
Regularly we see on television pictures of these poor countries, but often later on you forget it. When you see it with your own eyes you know that we can do something here with each other. We always say; we are not changing the world there, but to help.
We found a school in the Gambia. Four walls, a roof like a Swiss cheese and furniture, which gave the children splinters in the legs and arms. Teaching material was barely available. A pencil was cut into three pieces so that three children could write. A forceps was used to use the chalk to the end. Heartbreaking to see if a child had written something on paper which was erased from the paper so the next could use the same paper again!
When we left the first time we were sure that we will come back in order to help the people. By now we have been more than 20 times in the Gambia.
On the school you can read : F.I.O.H. l which means The Future in our Hands. The future of the Gambia is in the hands of these children, but the future of these children is in our hands.
In the Nursery school there are children from 3 to 8 years to learn math in a playful manner, write and read in English. When they are 8 years old they go to primary school.
In the beginning we took a lot of teaching materials with us .The last six years we took money with us because we wanted to renovate the school. A new roof, new furniture and paint. The money that was needed for this was offered to us by schools in Zuidhorn, Noordhorn and Aduard by means of various actions. In this way we could improve something every year.
Now we see according to African standards a nice school. We noticed that the children were not present each day. It turned out that not all the parents could pay school fees and many children are often sick. Since 2005 we have decided that we will pay all the school fees for the 250 children , 12 Euro per year per child.
The school fees are monthly paid to the school by the bank in The Gambia, in order to pay the teachers . This money is obtained through a variety of actions of the schools in the Netherlands such as sponsored walks. Also a fantastic gift from Rotary Club Groningen West, gifts from Lionsclub Westerkwartier and many private donations.
We have now sent three containers with materials such as blackboards, good Dutch furniture, metal cabinets and much teaching material. Everything in wood which we ordered to produce in the Gambia was “finished” (bad stuff) after two years or eaten by termites (We learn every year). There is so much in the Netherlands which is not used anymore but is used in a good way in The Gambia.
We noticed in school that many children were often sick. We looked what we could do here. Medical care costs a lot of money for the Gambians and they must often travel which also costs money again. Money is something they do not have .Most people have no work. Often the people do not visit a doctor and then you see the consequences of fatalities among children.
However, especially malaria can be healed when you go in time to see a doctor. Hence we started four years ago a small medical station, where not only the children can go but also all the inhabitants of the village and surrounding Kololi. We found a wonderful nurse who is paid by the foundation.
We have a very good contact in the Gambia with the Ministry of Health, especially with the minister, Dr. Tamsir Mbowe and Director of Health. We talked a lot with him about the health of the children and what we can do together here. Many children die before their fifth birthday
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In May 2007 the minister spent a few days at our home to visit, honor and express recognition for what we do in the Gambia. He advised us to build a maternity hospital to help the women. The women and children are very important in the Gambia.
In January 2008 this dream became reality. Kololi even got its own ambulance, it was offered to us by UMCG Ambulance Tynaarlo, a 4wheel drive ambulance of Schiermonnikoog which is particularly suited to drive there on the sand. This ambulance together with a truck with medical and school supplies and a station wagon were driven by seven people to Gambia, a journey of fourteen days. The truck, provided by the owner of Drive In Box, and wagon have been sold in the Gambia. From this moneythe clinic could be built and all classrooms were provided with tile floors.
Our project is now not only the school, but our goal is to give the children a good start from their birth. A good support during pregnancy, delivery assistance, after-care of mother and child and then from their third year four years Nursery School for the child. Many babies and sometimes mothers die during childbirth (1 in 13). In this way the child makes a good and healthy start.
In 2008 we were able to realize a well by a grant from the Municipality Zuidhorn.
This well can be used by the entire village.
“Education, Health and Water are important and belong together”
Our project is focused on the future of young children, but we also started two projects for the older children and adults . First we started with adult education. This is given in the afternoon hours when young children are at home. We saw a gap between parents and their children, because most parents can neither read nor write. When a note was given to the kids with a message for their parents the parents were not able to read! Adult education has become a success because every afternoon the two classrooms are full.
Secondly, there has been realized a computer room with 10 computers. Here the older children and adults can be taught by a qualified teacher. For this they pay fees and receive a diploma at the end. We have also provided this place with a photocopier. To use them they pay a small fee, so there is an additional income again. The computer room should be like the clinic to be “self-supporting” in the future, but help is still needed for electricity costs.
In June 2008 we received a letter from the President of the Gambia where he thanked us for what we do for his country, especially the way we are working. It is important to have a first consult with the ministries and villagers about what is needed and then act. Fortunately, we have good contacts in all ministries and we often visit them to talk about everything. This is so important!
In the future, the clinic must be “self-supporting” , but we want help the people and this certainly takes time and cost money. Ensure that there are good medical equipment and medicines. The school is now running well, but every year there is still something to be done again like repainting, repairs, and most important to get school fees. And that’s why we ask for help , because we always say : “A project is never finished.”