By: Ann Carlson, Chair of the Baiwalla, Sierra Leone Ministry Team at Hennepin Avenue UMC (Minneapolis)
Through OC Ministries, 50 Minnesota United Methodist churches contributed to an effort to build The Rev. Richard Ormsby Secondary School in Baiwalla, Sierra Leone, which will open its doors in September. Their contributions helped to heal a broken world in a tangible way and extend God’s love to children in another part of the world. Rev. Judith Banya—an elder in the Minnesota Conference who returned home to Sierra Leone after serving two Minnesota churches—has been instrumental in planning for the school. It is named after Rev. Richard Ormsby, a retired Minnesota elder who served as her mentor and helped her through the process of becoming a pastor. This is the eighth school that OC Ministries has funded and built in partnership with Minnesota churches.
The new school
Minnesota United Methodists have been steadily contributing money and volunteer time to construct the new secondary school, which will provide an opportunity for 800 children to graduate from high school. This school is located in a remote area of Sierra Leone where people live on $1 per day, and where few children have had the opportunity to obtain a high school education. Students at the school will receive two meals a day through a partnership with local nonprofit Feed My Starving Children, and more than 120 students have already received scholarships to attend the school. The whole region is celebrating and anticipating the opening of this new school as it will give the graduates a chance to have a more prosperous life than their parents have had.
And what a beautiful school facility it is! It’s a U-shaped, two story facility containing 14 classrooms, a library, an auditorium, a teachers’ work room, and administrator offices. Constructed of concrete, the school has white stucco and tile throughout. A covered walkway connects all the classrooms on one level with each other. Near the school site, Pastor Banya has acquired 40 acres of land that will be used for farming crops and animals; the goal is for the school to be self-sustaining in five years.
The new principal
A.V. Fomba will become the first principal of the new school. He has been a certified English teacher for 15 years and possesses bachelor’s degree, with distinction, from the University of Sierra Leone, Freetown, as well as a diploma in social work and human resource management. He grew up in the Baiwalla area so is happy to come “home” to serve his people. Fomba is married with three adult biological children, but has raised additional children whose parents died or were not capable of raising them.
A mission team of five from Hennepin Avenue UMC traveled to Baiwalla in March to work with Banya to do administrative work required to get the school open in September. Fomba, who is now a teacher in Freetown, Sierra Leone, joined the mission team and Banya for a series of meetings with both church and state officials to negotiate the opening of the school. They also had lots of time to discuss the philosophy and operations of the school.
Banya, Fomba, and the mission team decided that the school will be designed as a “model school,” one that uses the best teaching methods available in Sierra Leone. Fomba’s vision for the school involves hiring college-educated, certified teachers; discipline without corporal punishment; the establishment of a computer lab and training for faculty and students; and hands-on scientific experimentation for the science curriculum.
“I want to design a ‘model school’ in a rural area because kids in rural areas often don’t have qualified teachers because qualified teachers don’t often want to live in rural areas,” said Fomba. “I want to make this school so appealing that qualified teachers will want to teach here.”
Fomba is already working on developing the new school. One of the mission team members pledged to pay his salary for the first year. Other members of the team bought him a motorcycle to get around the country, and he was given a smart phone and a computer to help him try to line up funding sources.
Financial support needed
To make this dream of a “model school” a reality, significant financial support is needed and being sought from United Methodists, international foundations, and the Sierra Leone community. Funds will be used to purchase solar panels, computers, laboratory equipment, books, teaching materials, and uniforms for the students. Funds are also needed to cover staff salaries until the school becomes self-supporting through the income from the farm. If you would like to contribute, you can write a check to OC Ministries with “Baiwalla Secondary School” in the memo line. Checks should be sent to Minnesota UMC c/o Rev. Lyndy Zabel, 122 W. Franklin Ave., Suite 400 Minneapolis, MN 55404.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church