A European school coordinator in The Gambia: Interview with Annette Müller Jaiteh

Written by Alieu Khan

Anette

German-born, Annette Müller Jaiteh is the coordinator of The Swallow, a charity funded school in Manjai Kunda that provides a free, high-quality education to over 200 children.

What’s On-Gambia: What attracted you to The Gambia?

Anette: I met my Gambian husband, Abdoulie Jaiteh in 1994 in Germany.  After I finished my university education in psychology we went together to The Gambia in 1995. We built our first 3 apartment line house and returned to Germany after 6 months to do some further education.

My husband studied hotel management and I worked for the municipality of Frankfurt/Main as a psychological counselor for 36 nursery schools and after school institutions. In 2001, when our daughter was six months old, we returned to The Gambia.

The situation in Germany for a foreigner is not easy. If you are working hard and you are able to invest, opportunities in The Gambia are better, the weather is sunny, the ocean is near and people are friendly.

We have a guest house, The Rock Garden Apartments that I used to co-manage.

Tell us about your school, The Swallow.

The Swallow Centre for Emancipating Education was established in 2002 by a Belgium educationalist, Els Salembier.

It is a nursery and primary school. We are giving FREE quality education to children, who will otherwise not be able to go to school, because of financial constraints. Even to buy a pencil is sometimes difficult for them. We are further more offering a free meal every day and free studies for every pupil. Each summer holiday there are also free holiday remedial classes for children from The Swallow and for outsiders and one class for nursery children going to grade one. In 2013, during the national survey of schools (CCM), we scored 93 out of 100%.

A team from of pedagogical experts from Belgium was recently in the school to observe and they were also impressed.

Anette

As the coordinator of the school, what are your responsibilities?

We have a team consisting of the assistant coordinator Suwaibatou Bah, a well-trained primary teacher, with a lot experience, the accountant Haddy Jatou Kebbeh and myself.

I'm a team player and believe that it is part of our success, as everyone contributes with her/his knowledge. The teachers during meetings and ancillary staff also do play their role.

We also have a strong board. I do the coordination, public relations and a lot of other administrative work. Together with the assistant coordinator and a volunteer teacher from Belgium Kristien Samson, we monitor the teachers and this is followed by discussions about their strength and weaknesses, to help to bring improvement.

What do you think sets The Swallow apart from other schools?

We are giving chance to underprivileged children to enjoy a free quality education with a free meal every day in a secured and child friendly environment. Corporal punishment is strictly prohibited. If teachers are caught doing so, instant dismissal is the rule. Zero tolerance to corporal punishment, as children in fear are not free to learn, the self-esteem will be lowered and they learn aggression instead of peacefully solving a problem.

We are aiming to develop a high self-esteem for our pupils to be able to be a strong and responsible citizen of the country, who can help to further improve development in The Gambia.

All this in a comforting atmosphere, where everyone can feel like at home.

We encourage our children to take responsible. We encourage them to criticise - in a respectful manner - not only their fellow pupils, but also teacher, as no one is perfect.  They should learn not to fear mistakes, but to use them as a challenge to learn from it.

Every Monday, during assembly, we have dramas on social issues like stealing, fighting, lying etc. Telling the truth has a high value among all of us at The Swallow.

Does the school have any religious affiliation?

Our school is open for children from all religions. The majority of our children are Muslims, with a few Christian children. We have both an oustass and a Bible studies teacher.

What I like very well in The Gambia is the peaceful togetherness and respect among the different religions!

Has the number of students increased over the years?

The Swallow started with only one nursery class. Now, we have 235 nursery and primary children. The Swallow is also paying school fees to children graduating from the school in SOS and other Upper Basic Schools up to Grade 9.

What is the biggest challenges facing The Swallow?

As The Swallow is fully sponsored, charging no school fees, finding financial support is the biggest challenge, as it is not a project for a short period. Donor fatigue is a problem we are facing recently. We are looking for NGOs or philanthropists for further support.

Anette

Can you share with us what you like about The Gambia?

Gambia is a peaceful country, people are friendly. My job is fun because everyone is supportive from the children up to the Ministry of Education.

I like the weather and the ndanka, ndankamentality, as Europe is very hectic.

Where do you go to relax and can you share a local secret with us?

I'm living in a typical Gambian family system, married with my husband over 20 years.  I enjoy my family very well. Relaxing among them is great..... and the beach is always good for a peaceful time out.

Any final words?

Treat everyone as you want to be treated.

Anette