Men on a mission

THE NEW Year has only just got under way but already two ambitious friends who strive to help others, have set themselves a challenge to raise £7,000 for a poverty-stricken school in Africa. From an early age, Daniel McGinn, 24, of Southfields, Letchworth

THE NEW Year has only just got under way but already two ambitious friends who strive to help others, have set themselves a challenge to raise £7,000 for a poverty-stricken school in Africa.

From an early age, Daniel McGinn, 24, of Southfields, Letchworth GC, and Mark Mardlin, 43, of Chennells Close in Hitchin, have been encouraged to help others and have raised money for charities such as Shelter, The British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK.

But during a holiday to the remote village of Juffereh in The Gambia two years ago, they were overcome with emotion when they came across The Roots Nursery School which was in a serious state of disrepair.

Mark said: "We came across the school by accident, witnessed the state it was in and got really upset by what we saw. I have always wanted to help people and everyone should help someone in their life, even if it's just once and this was the perfect opportunity for us."

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Daniel added: "I've always wanted to help an organisation in some way but never found anything that hit home. With some charities you don't know where the money is going.

"But when we saw this school first-hand I could see these people really did need our help."

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Since then they have raised £4,500 and hope to raise an additional £7,000 this year. A proportion of the money has paid for teachers' wages but the rest will be put towards building a new kitchen for the school.

In November last year Daniel and Mark visited the nursery to kick-start the project.

They were told that once the kitchen was up and running it would enable the locals to receive a grant for 10 bags of rice a month from the Gambian government.

But during the trip they discovered that the nursery is no longer entitled to the bags of rice because the food, which is provided by the UN, has to be rationed and for the next four years private nursery schools will lose out.

Daniel said: "As the school is so remote the only way we can help encourage some children to attend is with the food. So no food means we lose some children as the journey is too far for them to walk without eating as some children have to walk more than 6km a day.

"This for us is a major setback that we will overcome. Money we budgeted for other essential things will now be allocated for food. This will leave a dent in our funds and means it's going to be longer before we get the kitchen up and running."

During the trip they kitted out each of the female pupils with school dresses so that one could be washed whilst the other was being worn.

And the teachers were also provided with uniforms.

Daniel said: "They were overjoyed because it's a tradition in the village that if a man is dressed beautifully, a lady would throw their shawl down for him to walk over, which is pretty much an outward sign that the man is fine and that she wants to date him. This happened to the teachers on several occasions!"

Daniel and Mark are revisiting the nursery in March to do more work to the kitchen and take out equipment for the school such as text books, stationery and clothing.

The project, which is expected to take five years to complete, will also involve refurbishing the existing school building, kitting it out and installing solar panels.

Daniel said: "Ideally we would like to get the school up and running so it's self-sufficient - even though we will never abandon it. And then we will think about looking for another school to help. We hope to gain as much experience as we can from this school before passing our knowledge on to another school."

Mark added: "Another option would be to amalgamate the school with another local school in the area."

Since Daniel and Mark launched the project they have seen an increase in the number of pupils attending school because they now have access to better equipment.

Daniel said: "The buzz for us is seeing the kids learning and the facilities getting better. The children are a lot happier and more committed to coming to school which is great."

The duo have just launched a mobile phone campaign and are encouraging people to donate unwanted mobile phones so that they can sell them to a phone bank and claim back £3-£5 for the school. Phones can be any make, model or condition.

They are also appealing for fund-raisers.

Daniel added: "Unfor-tunately we cannot pay anyone we take on board as all money we raise must go directly to the charity."

If anyone can help either fundraising or wants to make a phone donation, please call Mark on 07999 656 288 or email him at

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