BRADFORD couple Hilary and Steve Lawther received MBEs this month for their tireless work to give children in The Gambia an education.

Trustees with The Gambian Schools Trust - which has provided both schools and resources across the West African country - they were awarded the honour for services to Education in The Gambia.

The charity has funded six schools, 15 libraries and also pays for trips to educational and historic sites in The Gambia for pupils, many of whom have never been beyond their local market town.

Thanks to a legacy from Carolyn Williams, a long-term supporter of the trust, they recently completed a school at Njalal Samba, with a four-classroom block and facilities including toilets, a kitchen, library, teachers’ quarters, solar borehole well and school garden.

“Water had to initially be brought in from Senegal by donkey cart as the completion of the borehole was delayed by the rainy season,” says Hilary. “Special thanks go to Kebba and the building team including Pa Sallah, the headteacher Mr Bah, who kept us posted with developments, the Alkelo (village chief) and the regional director of education Madam Jallow who gave us advice and support.

“Special thanks also to volunteers Paul, Steve, David and George not just for their painting skills but their after-work activities cementing a great relationship with the children and villagers.

“School enrolment is already increasing, especially after Pa Sallah, gave an impassioned speech at the opening ceremony insisting the villagers sent all children to school, not just some, as is tradition.

All together the six schools have around 1200 pupils at any one time

The trust - who as well as Steve and Hilary, is made up of Christine Brown, Linda Gunn, Paul Neimantas and David Oldfield - is also supported by volunteers from both the UK and The Gambia, who work incredibly hard to bring the projects to fruition.

“The Gambian Schools Trust is a team - the honours are for everyone involved, fellow trustees, supporters and volunteers alike, both in the UK and The Gambia, without who none of this work would be possible,” say Steve and Hilary.

As well as building schools the charity also collects books and a wide range of school materials which are shipped to The Gambia every year.

It all began back in 2001 started when the couple, from Idle, went to The Gambia on holiday. They had previously visited another African country where the local children asked for pencils, so they packed some, anticipating the same thing happening.

While on a day trip looking at the history of the slave trade, they asked their taxi driver to take them to a school where they could leave the pencils.

He took them to a primary school in the village of Essau, which served a wide area. “We arrived to find 2,600 children and no books,” says Hilary. "The headteacher took our pencils and said he would take the little stubby ones they had been using to a school worse off than his."

They heard how parents had to make desks, tables and chairs and also found out that most teachers were not qualified at that time.

The revelations as to how the school struggled for even the basics, horrified Hilary and Steve.

At the same time, two Shipley women Christine Schofield and Kathy Tristram had also discovered that The Gambia desperately needed money to fund education. The pair founded the Gambian Schools Trust to raise the desperately needed funds.

“Christine and Kathy went on holiday to The Gambia the same year we went, and began helping a nursery school,” says Hilary. We joined forces in 2003 and continued the work together.

Following their initial visit, Hilary, who worked at the tax office in Shipley and Steve, who previously owned the Bradford live music venue Rio Rokz, flew there eight times over the next three years.

Their determination has helped thousands of children work towards a bright future. Hassan Jallow, a former winner of West African Entrepreneur of the Year, now employs 20 people in his hugely successful software business.

He says: “I didn’t have much growing up, but I never lacked computer equipment and books- I am forever grateful to Gambian Schools Trust for providing me with opportunities that I would otherwise not have had.”

Adds Hilary: “While things have improved greatly in The Gambia over the last few years, including teaching qualifications, schools are still in need of materials and books. We would particularly like globes this year as many remote villages still believe the earth is flat and square.”

Volunteer David Wright says: “Having previously helped load the annual container full of school supplies I decided to make the trip to Gambia with other volunteers.

“It was without question the most rewarding experience of my life and is quite difficult to convey it into words. The villagers and teaching staff were an absolute delight to be around, we all felt very safe and comfortable in our surroundings even though we were 20km from the nearest town and 7km from the nearest road.

“Village life was rudimentary with no electricity or modern amenities but you soon get used to it - and that includes no internet. We worked all day in searing heat but it never felt like hard work at all. Steve and Hilary do a fabulous job on the ground in Gambia and I am literally counting the days to my next trip in early 2023.”

Ousman Bah, governor of Gambia’s Central River region, has been working in close collaboration and contact with The Gambian Schools Trust since 2008.

“They have been supporting education by building classrooms, libraries, teachers’ quarters, kitchens, walls for school gardens and boreholes, as well as funding wages for teachers, teaching and learning materials, food for kids, sponsors for needy students, medicines and medical items for both people and animals,” he says.

“On behalf of the government and the beneficiaries and my humble self, I thank the charity, its partners and most especially Hilary and Steve Lawther who are coordinating all the activities in complementing the government's effort. This has gone a long way in positively changing the lives and livelihood of the people of The Gambia. Thank you all.”

For anyone who would like further information contact the Trust on or visit their website

*To donate, there is a donate button on the website which gives the bank details, or you can donate via PayPal.

*Another way to help is to shop on Amazon Smile. Click on Gambian Schools Trust as your chosen charity and they receive a small percentage.

This poem was written by Salifu Bah the headteacher at Njalal Samba:

You have given us light

It is the light that ignites our minds

With education and knowledge

The light paves the way for our youth

Our children shall be schooled

They shall no longer sit on stools

For you have built and furnished

To see our seeds of tomorrow flourished

Our teachers slept in huts

Those are bygone days

School Gambia Trust UK wills it; it occurred

Library! We no longer learn in fantasy

Caroline William gone yet, never gone

For her pledge is like a river and we swim

Trust UK stands and see her words done

Our community smiles and wins

Sixty-five meters deep well, our mothers toil

Your monumental gesture, makes that history

For it shall be told for generations in tales

We appreciate it for you have given us victory

You indeed have given us light