In the late 90’s, Joyce Avard, a lady living in Hastings in the UK visited Gambia, West Africa. Her husband had recently died and they had both been passionate about the need for clean water in communities in Africa. Following her husband’s death Joyce decided to visit Gambia and have a well constructed in memory of her husband. Joyce was a very brave, caring and passionate woman. Whilst in Gambia, she was moved by the poverty and harsh living conditions and fell in love with the country and the people. During her first visit to Gambia she met Ismailla Sissay from Kunkujang village. Ismailla was a teacher in a high school but he was very concerned that there was no nursery school in the village.!
Joyce returned to the UK determined to raise money to start a nursery school in Kunkujang. As Ismailla lived in a large compound, land was not an issue, but building materials needed to be paid for. Joyce worked tirelessly to raise money and eventually three, very basic, breeze block rooms were built, and Joyce’s International Nursery School opened it’s doors to the children of Kunkujang in 2000.
Joyce last visited Gambia when she was 80 years of age and with failing health knew it was going to be her last visit. Amazingly, Sharon Jervis, was on a bird watching holiday at the same time
and had the good fortune to meet Joyce Avard. Sharon was hugely inspired by Joyce’s enthusiasm, so like Joyce so many years before, Sharon returned to the UK determined to raise money to carry on Joyce’s amazing work.
This determination and enthusiasm was how the Gambian Childrens’ Fund charity began. In 2005/6 enough money was raised to build additional classrooms, a toilet block a kitchen as well as install a fresh water standpipe. Eileen Neelands, a close childhood friend of Sharon and co-director of the charity went to live in Gambia for a year to oversee the building project.
With the help of Leicester Grammar School and the kindness of many many individuals, the Gambian Childrens’ Fund has achieved so much since it’s inception in 2005. The school has over 400 children registered and is a hive of activity, laughter and song.
The children are an absolute delight, Discipline has never been an issue at the school, even when there were 100 children to a room. Children are brought up to have total respect for their elders and being rude to a teacher is not a concept that a Gambian would
The charity also pays the teacher’s salaries each month. As it is a charitable school, the Gambian Government offers no financial support, even to the teachers. A space full of 400 children is a chaotic playground, a space full of 400 children and 8 teachers becomes a school.
Of course maintaining the school is a constant worry to us. The school needs repairing after each rainy season with it’s unforgiving wind and torrential rains. Classroom furniture needs replacing. Three classrooms have tiled floors, the older classrooms have sand floors, which in the rainy season is like a mud bath, the roof is made of corrugated metal, which rusts, rots and then leaks.
There is always work that needs to be done.
Every single penny raised for the school, goes to the school. It is not a charity that keeps money back for administration or salaries. We have achieved so much in 10 years and it is a tremendous legacy to Joyce Avard, who has sadly passed away. Her enthusiasm, passion and dedication for this school in Kunkujang village has passed on to all the people who help run the Gambian Childrens’ Fund, and we hope, after reading our website and looking at the gallery of pictures, you too will feel passionate about our cause and help
us to achieve as much success in the next ten years as we have in
the past ten