Five years ago, Sona Jobarteh sent her long-standing vision into reality by setting up The Gambia Academy, the first institution in The Gambia to educate young Africans in their culture, traditions, history seamlessly alongside their everyday academic education. According to the Sona, Africa faces the crucial and urgent challenge of addressing the education systems across the continent. Children who are fortunate enough to be able to attend school spend most of their waking hours in school, however in most cases the environment, culture, approach and curricula content within these schools are invariably oriented around a post-colonial value system and subsequently a foreign perspective.
"It is detrimental for future generations of the continent whose values and concepts are shaped during their school years, to continue to be trained within a system where African culture, African history, African traditions and their intrinsic values are either non-existent or at best, relegated to the position of extra-curricular activities.”
- Sona Jobarteh
Founded in 2015, Sona hand-picked 21 students from hundreds of applicants with the aim of developing an educational blueprint that would challenge the very core of the standard, outdated training systems. Sona’s vision has always been to create a curriculum that can be replicated and implemented in schools across the country, thus creating a true education system that places the student, their cultural identity and values, rightfully at the centre of their learning experience. This approach transforms the mindset and mentality of young people, overhauling the age-old underlying premise of Africans being second and third class citizens of the world. It instils the essential qualities of self-worth, empowerment, social responsibility and confidence within every student, demonstrating that to be educated is synonymous with being a proud African.
"Sadly today, the standard education curricula in The Gambia and in fact the African continent at large, are still heavily influenced by the European ex-colonial, rote training systems and this in turn has had a significant impact on the mentality of generations of Africans coming out of these systems. The Gambia Academy seeks to systematically decolonise this system, and instead educate African children from the African perspective, thus empowering them with an innate sense of self-worth, and motivating them to take up active roles in reforming, developing, building and harnessing the resources of their own countries, rather than aspiring to leave their country." - Sona Jobarteh
For the past five years, Sona has focussed entirely on the challenging task of developing the curriculum and the internal workings of the Academy. However, there is now a pressing need to bring the material facilities up to the standards of its thriving operational structures. In order to have reached this point thus far, alongside smaller donations, Sona Jobarteh has personally financed the entire project, primarily utilising the earnings from her international touring and album sales. However, the demand is now fast outstripping the means for Sona to continue to finance alone. Currently, there are a total of 37 students and 14 members of staff at the Academy, all being financed by Sona. However, there remains a long, ever-growing waiting list for new applicants. In order to expand and meet the demand as well as provide adequate facilities for students, the construction of the Academy campus is absolutely essential and well overdue. This will serve not only as the full time campus for the current Junior Students, but will also become a centralised hub for African cultural and academic excellence, catering for both children and adults as well as national and international students. Due to its carefully selected location, the Academy will also support social and business development opportunities for the local communities.
In moving forward, we are now seeking external funding in order to bring this vision to reality.
"We dont just provide education for these students, I take pride in the fact that we take on every student holistically, meaning their medical needs, food, clothing and even family support is taken care of. In order for a child to reach their full potential we have to do whatever we can to support their complete existence, not just their existence during school hours . This is why every single donation goes such a long way in helping to ensure these children receive the support that I know they deserve in life. The foundations of the future are being laid within these children. " - Sona Jobarteh
Sona keenly welcomes volunteers to assist in the growth and development of the Academy as teachers, administrators, curriculum developers, and particularly fundraisers. Sona is especially seeking volunteers to assist in the development of the maths, science, English and African History curriculums. If you are interesting in supporting Sona's academy in any way as a volunteer please contact us.
The Academy currently hosts international student courses in Kora, Balafon, drumming and dance. Accommodation is also available. For more information, and to book, follow the link below.
Over the course of two years, Sona Jobarteh secured the purchase of 2.5 hectares (6.2 acres) of land to be dedicated exclusively to the construction of the Academy campus. In 2018, the project attracted the attention of the highly sought-after London-based architectural firm Penoyre & Prasad who subsequently devoted significant pro bono time and resources, designing the above layout and 3D mapping of the entire campus. The company’s eco designs incorporate the harnessing of solar energy, whilst remaining in-keeping with the natural beauty of the surrounding area.