Mamadou “Junior” Diakhaté, a teacher in the small town of Kaolac, Senegal, has been drawing on his popularity on Twitter (nearly 16,000 followers) to raise the money to fix up dilapidated classrooms and substandard toilets in local schools. In late August, the Ousmane Sembène de Yoff High School asked him for urgent help fixing six unusable classrooms in time for the start of school.

When two more classrooms are renovated in the Ousmane Sembène de Yoff High School, located in the largest district in northern Dakar, the school will have space for the 300 students meant to sit an exam known as BFEM (Brevet de fin d’études moyennes). This exam marks the end of middle school, on September 14.

Under normal circumstances, there should be 600 students sitting for the exam in that building. But without enough functional classrooms, roughly 300 students had to be moved to other testing centers. Of the 33 classrooms in the high school, only 12 are functional. The rest are in a state of intense disrepair-- worn out roofs, corroding window frames, peeling paint. 

Diakhaté’s tweet, translated from French: “We have the urgent challenge of fixing up six classrooms. We have 19 days. Students are supposed to sit for the BFEM exam here. Instead of getting angry, let’s fix what we can and allow our young brothers and sisters to perform brilliantly


Facing this impossible situation, Awa Ndiaye Sarr, the head teacher, reached out to Diakhaté and his team of volunteers to fix up the remaining six classrooms so the high school could welcome students in good conditions.



 

"We realized that a lot of classrooms weren’t functional”

Although Diakhaté, known as Junior on social media, is neither a mason nor a carpenter, he has a reputation on Twitter for fixing up dilapidated school buildings. Over the past few months, Diakhaté, who works as a teacher in Kaolac, a town 190 kilometres southeast of the capital of Dakar, has been gathering donations on social media and fixing up dilapidated classrooms. He told our team how he got started:

All the schools in Senegal have problems. They often don’t have the means to address their needs. If the roof isn’t worn out, then there aren’t enough classrooms, white boards, or other educational materials. The schools are overcrowded, and the teachers face poor working conditions.

Currently, we are fixing up our fifth classroom at Ousmane Sembène, and we will be able to finish in time. We are really happy to have risen to this challenge of fixing up six classrooms in less than three weeks. We started asking for donations on August 25. We needed a budget of about 3,000 euros to do the work properly.

We posted videos of the classrooms on Twitter. We raised a third of the necessary budget in the first day alone. In less than a week, we had already raised two thirds of the amount, so we were able to start working.

We fixed the roofs, which were damaged. We installed 26 new windows and new doors, too. We are currently repainting.

Admire the before and after!” reads Diakhaté’s post in French.

Every evening, we post our receipts on Twitter, as well as videos showing the work that we’ve done just to be transparent. We also show everyone who's donated. People need this kind of transparency to trust us.


“Here are the expenses for today, Tuesday, September 1, 2020. If you click on the link below, you can see the budgets, our expenses and the donations, except for omissions. We’ll keep this document up to date,” reads Diakhaté’s tweet.

It all started back in March. A few friends and I started trying to raise awareness about Covid-19 and distributed free masks. In June, after just over two months of lockdown, the schools were supposed to reopen. We decided to volunteer to clean up the schools so the children would have the best possible conditions when they returned. But we quickly realized that in many schools, the toilets and often the classrooms weren’t functional.

We first took to Twitter to ask for donations of materials to redo the toilets in the Issa Kane elementary school. We did it quickly and posted the photos on Twitter. Several other schools saw the images on social media and reached out to us to ask for help. We also raised enough money online to redo the girls toilets at Blaise Diagne High School.


"Not for the faint of heart!" reads the caption in French.

We started renovation work at Blaise Diagne High School. The first step, as usual, is to redo the plumbing, which dates from antiquity. We prioritized the girl’s toilets because, most often, they are forced to go home when they have their periods because there aren’t proper facilities at school. They miss class, which affects their grades.

"When the children are inside, they see the sky”

Awa Ndiaye Sarr, who is the head teacher at Ousmane Sembène High School, smiles. Without Diakhaté’s help, she says she would have had to wait at least a year for the national educational building organization to send workers to renovate the classrooms:

 

The classrooms that Diakhaté is renovating were built in 1979, and they are very dilapidated. The conditions are far from ideal for learning and teaching. When the children are inside, they see the sky. And when it rains, we have to cancel classes. 

We wrote to the schools inspection office in Dakar, and leadership from the educational construction department came to see the classrooms, but they couldn’t do anything because renovations weren’t part of the 2019-2020 budget.

But we can’t wait because we are also a testing center. What really struck me about Diakhaté is his diligence and the swiftness with which he launched the project. I sent him videos and he came the very next day.

"Schools don’t have the means to address their needs"

Diakhaté, who also launched an organization called the Association for Simple Citizen Action (SAC) in 2018, said that he has received at least forty requests from schools to renovate their classrooms or toilets.


We aren’t trying to stand in for the government. But we want to raise our voices and do our part. Local communities want to become more invested in education and have an impact. But they struggle to find the right initiatives. Social media is a unique way to do connect them.


Article written by Hermann Boko