The Gambia is ranked 174 out of 189 on the Human Development Index 2018, making it one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Quality education and employment opportunities in The Gambia are a challenge. Only half the children who enrol in primary school transition to secondary school. Literacy rate in people over the age of 15 is 51%.

The problem 

Approximately 18,000 children in The Gambia live in traditional Quranic education schools, ‘Majalis’, run by religious teachers ‘Marabout’. These are traditional, unregulated, residential education centres with no entry or maintenance fees. Parents give the children to the Marabouts because they do not have the resources to provide for them or afford the costs associated with education, and because they want their children to receive traditional education. However, the Majalis provide poor standards of education, accommodation, nutrition, hygiene, sanitation, and healthcare.

Weak child protection mechanisms increase the risk of neglect, abuse, and trafficking. Most children also end up leaving the Majalis lacking a basic primary level education, which significantly reduces their employment prospects, often confining them to poverty.

The serious overcrowding, poor sanitation, and hygiene conditions of the Majalis, as well as the lack of income of families and the Marabouts as a result of the strict lockdown and curfew measures imposed by governments, make these children even more vulnerable and at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Our local partner

We are working with our local partner in The Gambia, the Institute of Social Reform and Action (ISRA), founded in 1990. They are one of the few NGOs in the country working directly with children and young people in the traditional education system (Koranic schools or Majalis). ISRA has a strong track record, having worked with over 4000 children and young people in 50 Majalis across The Gambia. They run community and education programmes to advocate for equal access to quality education and protection for all children and young people, and meet the basic needs of the most marginalised.

Project objectives

We will work with 3 Majalis in the West Coast Region of The Gambia to improve the living conditions and quality of education of 270 children and young people aged between 5-21 years.

Over the course of three-years, we expect children and young people to improve their literacy and numeracy skills, transitioning from level 1 to level 3, which is the minimum requirement to effectively transit into mainstream primary education. During that time, we will also work closely with the Marabouts to improve the general living conditions in the Majalis so that they can provide a protective environment where children and young people can grow and thrive.

Our project will also benefit 1,000 people within the local communities and villages through the different advocacy, awareness raising, and livelihood activities. The soap making business will not only benefit those living in the Majalis, who will have increased income and supply of soap as a result, but also others in the community who will have access to affordable soap. This is even more crucial now with the Covid-19 pandemic. The wider community will also benefit from the Covid-19 and WASH outreach campaign.

This project will work as a pilot to be scaled up to other Majalis and used for advocacy purposes with the government.

Our activities

  • Children and young people living in the Majalis receive a minimum of 10 hours a week of literacy and numeracy
  • Train facilitators in disability inclusion, WASH and First Aid.
  • Provide teaching and learning materials to facilitators, children and young people. ISRA is also working closely with parents, Marabouts, local schools, and communities to encourage the transfer of children and young people into mainstream schools, providing comprehensive education, including the education of girls.
  • Provide child protection and safeguarding training sessions to Marabouts, facilitators, children and young people.
  • Develop safeguarding frameworks in each Majalis and effective monitoring and reporting mechanisms.
  • Provide children and young people with hygiene and sanitation kits and handwashing facilities to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Key information about COVID-19 and WASH practices are being shared with the community. Facilitators are training students and other members of the Majalis on First Aid and hygiene, and First Aid kits are being provided to each Majalis.
  • Soap making livelihood initiatives will be set up in each of the Majalis, allowing them to increase their income to provide food, school materials, and healthcare.
  • Women (Marabout’s spouses) and those young people who are not able to integrate back into school will take part in vocational training and livelihood initiatives, allowing them to develop vocational and marketable skills.
  • The project builds on ISRA’s advocacy efforts with the Ministries of Basic and Secondary Education, Women, Children and Social Welfare and the Department of Community Development, heads of Majalis to ensure that all institutions are a safe environment for children and offer quality, relevant education.

Our donor

This is a 3-year project funded by the Angus Lawson Memorial Trust, which started in April 2021. The total budget for the project is £53,713.

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