POINT PLEASANT — When Emily Thompson had the opportunity to travel during her education endeavours, she encountered a need, found solution and created a way to make a difference across the globe from home.
Thompson, of Point Pleasant and founder of The Jarrol Project, traveled to Africa last year, where she discovered an educational and financial need for the children of Jarrol, a remote village in Gambia.
She initially traveled to Gambia last August for a professional development requirement she needed to finish her Master’s Degree in International Public Management with a concentration in Human Rights and African Studies from Sciences Po, The Paris School of International Affairs. While in Gambia, Thompson worked with a women’s rights organization in Gambia called GAMCOTRAP, where she was connected with an individual that helped bring her attention to the need for education sponsors for the children of Jarrol.
“While I was there I met a friend — he was sort of delegated to show me around and teach me about the traditional culture and stuff like that — and he took me to his home village where his family is from. It’s a really remote village in Gambia called Jarrol, so that’s why it’s called The Jarrol Project. While I was there, I saw this little boy. He was probably 5 or 6, and he was selling water on the side of the street, walking around asking people if they would buy water off him. I asked about that — if he was doing that to help support his family,” Thompson said. “My friend said that he was probably doing that so that he could raise money to go to school.”
Thompson said that the government in Gambia does not help pay for schooling for children — including other expenses such as books, uniforms, special shoes and backpacks. It is the sole responsibility of the child’s family to fund their education.
“If you go to school you have to buy all of your books, where here you go to school for free and you get all of your books for free and all of that. They have to pay for all of that,” she said.
Consequently, many children in Jarrol often attempt to raise money themselves for their own schooling, Thompson said.
“A lot of kids are so desperate to go to school that even at that young of an age they realize how important that is. They will help raise money so that they can go because the families are so poor that a lot of times they can’t send any of their kids to school, let alone all of their children,” she said.
After learning about the financial need, Thompson began asking questions that fueled the beginning of The Jarrol Project, a endeavor that aims to supply children in Jarrol with the funds and supplies needed to pursue an education and ultimately foster development in Jarrol.
“I hypothetically asked how much it would cost to sponsor a child to go to school. We figured it up, and for a child that age (5 or 6) it’s only $20. I was like, ‘OK, so I could just skip a couple runs to Starbucks and I can send a child to school for a whole year,” she said. “So it’s like, ‘OK, I’ll sacrifice going out to dinner so I can send a kid to school for a whole year.’ That’s kind of how I saw it. I could do that easily. We just don’t realize. I guess we take for granted how much we have and how much, for instance, if you get a $20 pizza, that equals a whole year of school for them.”
To sponsor a child in Jarrol for a year it costs $20 for a student in primary school, $40 for a student in junior school and $120 for secondary/senior school.
Thompson said these amounts cover the costs of school fees and all of their books, and that the $120 for secondary/senior school also covers all of the students’ exams and graduation expenses.
“Really, it’s pocket change to people. Not $120, but $20 … if you really think about it,” she said.
Since being back home, Thompson said many friends and family have also sponsored kids.
“Once I got here, people were pretty interested in helping out with it,” she said. “I just thought I would kind of start this little project to see how people would respond to it or if people wanted to get involved. Even if a couple kids are sponsored, that’s better than before.”
So far, Thompson has received funds for The Jarrol Project via personal donations and various fundraisers.
Her father’s restaurant, Tom Tom’s, recently held a fundraiser in which Thompson was able to collect enough money to send 16 children to school. She said her family plans to host another fundraiser Sept. 3 at the restaurant, where 15 percent of the day’s total sales will go toward the project.
“I’m pretty sure that, as of right now, the project is going to be able to send about 60 kids (to school),” she said.
Currently, Thompson is still the sole coordinator of the project and will return to Gambia on Sept. 9 for seven months. She said she hopes the project will continue to grow and plans to return to Jarrol once a year to maintain the project.
“Ideally, I would have liked to cover a backpack, a pair of shoes and a uniform as well. I figured since I was just starting I would stick to the basics and then build from there if it’s successful,” she said. “I think if we keep this going and it keeps growing, it could potentially be sustainable.”
Individuals interested in sponsoring a child for The Jarrol Project can visit Thompson’s GoFundMe site at www.gofundme.com/5h604o, the project’s website at www.thejarrolproject.com or contact Thompson via e-mail at email@example.com.