BUMPETOKE, Sierra Leone (UMNS) – For the children in a remote coastal village in Sierra Leone, West Africa, school was held under trees near the Atlantic shoreline.

The Bumpetoke United Methodist Primary School would be dismissed whenever the weather turned stormy or the ocean gushed violent currents onto the sand that served as a classroom floor. But classes on the sandy shore are now history.

New school

The 244 students of the Bumpetoke School will hold future classes in a new $36,000 building.

This past Spring, the Sierra Leone government officially dedicated and handed over the building to The United Methodist Church, which already operates 300 primary and 30 secondary schools in West Africa.

The Indiana-based UM-related Operation Classroom supplies educational materials to many United Methodist schools in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The Magic Penny, a New York-based charity that supports the Bumpetoke community, provided funds for the four-classroom structure.

Lucy Sumner, who was raised in the Bumpetoke village, now serves as president of Magic Penny and leads recovery efforts in the village following the conclusion in 2001 of an 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone. The school, which serves six villages, is about a half-mile inland from its former seashore site.

“Without education, I don’t think the children have a future. So with education, there is hope; there is enlightenment; and they can also learn to fend for themselves,” Sumner told United Methodist News Service on dedication day.

Before the building of the school, Sumner said, Bumpetoke children did not feel motivated to learn, and most of the girls got pregnant before they were 14 years old. She hopes the new structure will entice the students to stay in school.

More teachers needed

The number of registered students has already increased from 120 to 244. While this is something to celebrate, it also poses a challenge for the four-teacher staff.

“We are receiving requests for admission every day from parents in all the six community villages,” said head teacher Ernest Kafay during the dedication ceremony.

Sumner fears the new school structure may not be enough by itself to draw additional teachers. Trained and qualified teachers rarely want to travel poor roads to the remote area. She hopes to overcome this by providing additional financial incentives.

Generous sisters

Sumner’s sister, Annie Bangura, administers Magic Penny’s Sierra Leone office, which implements the project the New York office funds.

David Woobay, Moyamba District executive chief, said the community was looking forward to seeing doctors, judges, teachers, paramount chiefs and lawyers graduate from the school.

“Annie Bangura and Lucy Sumner have proved to you how the sky could be the limit to any child yearning for progress and prosperity,” Woobay said.

During the dedication service, Sierra Leone Bishop John Yambasu encouraged participants to make a difference in the lives of the less privileged.

Phileas Jusu serves as a United Methodist communicator based in Sierra Leone.

UMNS photos by Phileas Jusu.

A retired United Methodist pastor (left), now a local chief, cuts ribbon to officially declare the opening of the new school in Bumpetoke. She is assisted by United Methodist Bishop John Yambasu (right) holding the ribbon and Moyamba District Council executive David Woobay (middle).

“So with education, there is hope; there is enlightenment…”

– Lucy Sumner