Torontonian Makes Simple Plan to Help Gambian Kids

April 18, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
The students of Kotu-Erinjang school all set to read. (Lise Watson)

There’s plenty of controversy about foreign aid in Africa. It’s common knowledge that NGO corruption has often left out the needy and instead paid the salaries of administrators who don’t personally dig wells, hand out mosquito nets, or build schools.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea for people to help each other.

Lise Watson, a bursary administrator with the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, is holding an event to help small friends she’s made in The Gambia.

Watson has been visiting The Gambia since 2005. She loves the music and culture there. During her 2012 visit, Watson met Bubakar Ceesay, the headmaster of a small school in Kotu-Erinjang.

The community needed a school, so in 2007 they started one. As time passed, the community began to rely on the school. The students are 5, 6, and 7 year-olds. The parents pay fees and provide uniforms, but the budget is extremely tight.

“I don’t think that Bubakar is able to take much of a salary,” says Watson.

When Ceesay and Watson met, the school had 50 students and three rooms. Since then the number of students has nearly doubled, but the space and the number of desks has not.

Government inspectors visited the school and threatened to close it because of the lack of desks. The government doesn’t fund the school, so it is subject to private school regulations. There is no government-funded school close enough to Kotu-Erinjang.

So to save the school, Watson has taken it upon herself to raise money for the desks.

“I got so much joy from being there that I wanted to give something back. I asked them what they needed and they said they needed desks,” explains Watson.

The price of one wooden desk is $25. Watson is asking others to help in the fundraising by making donations online at

Watson is also holding a fundraiser on Thursday Apr. 26 at Toronto’s New Bilan restaurant, legendary for its spectacular and inexpensive Somali food. Maryem Hassan Tollar, Roula Said, and Naghmeh Faramand will present music from Egypt and Syria. The price at the door is $20 including food.

All proceeds go directly to Bubakar Ceesay, who has already received his first order of desks.

Watson will be leaving for The Gambia on June 8. She says pictures of the desks bought by the donations will be uploaded to the fundraising website in mid-July.