Shieldra, the school that started under a mango tree. Shieldra the project that grew wings and flew. Shieldra, the project that shouts, ‘I am not finished yet.’

Before continuing any further with this report ARET has to acknowledge the wonderful financial support given by Maggie and Ron, Julia’s Shetland Community , Unite Oil and Gas, Lunnasting Primary School and North West Lochaber . Without this support Shieldra would not have a fraction of the hope they currently experience. There is no doubt that those living in Amputee Village, and its close neighbourhood, know of a country called Scotland.

It was hot when we arrived and it was going to be a lot hotter before the afternoon was over. Many people came to greet us. The children and pupils were there, parents, the enterprising women’s group and representatives of other interesting groups. We had speeches and presentations, we had songs and dance, we had demonstrations of crafts and time to wander through the building, talk to individuals, ask questions and listen to stories and dreams.

The women’s group are quite boisterous. They came armed with a pot that substituted as a drum and empty plastic bottles filled with pebbles (or perhaps seeds ) to make music. Indeed there was plenty rhythm and song. For once it wasn’t just old grandma making a fool of herself (arthritic knees and African dancing are not a good match) but all the visitors were expected to take their turn and join in.

Currently latrines and structure are being built and this is a health priority. Ensuring teaching staff are trained is another important priority. Not all the classrooms are furnished, this will be ongoing over the next few years. The classrooms are small with traditional furniture. The emphasis now is to keep the classes small and have child centred learning. This is moving away from the traditional rote learning which is a lot easier to implement when resources are very limited.

The school building is turning into a community school where local teachers participate in teacher work shops; where women come together to learn about health and become trained in new skills. With these new skills they hope to set up a small cooperative which will allow them more self sufficiency and enable support for each other and the children.

As we mingled we could see evidence of the crafts being taught. The women were recently given money to start training in the making of traditional soap and to buy a sewing machine. There was evidence of skill in gara dyeing. A woman is skilled at crochet and willing to teach others and another to teach very traditional weaving. Abdulai was showing a keen interest in this and you could see that he was wondering how he could have the weaver come and train at his adult school.

Traditional weaving local to the area.

It was gratifying to see that some of the boxes of items we had sent out were being put to good use and it is also heartening to know that the project is reaching out and embracing the community. If we were not sure that the support sent was appreciated the messages on the doors soon persuaded us otherwise.

The name of the school is Shieldra, meaning shield in Krio. The motto of the school is ‘Shielding us in our youth.’ This motto would be more accurate if it read ‘Shielding our Community’ because this is exactly what the school is doing but that is another story.