Welcome! My name is Mary Van Kampen and thank you so much for
I often get asked how I came to be serving in The Gambia. It’s a rather long story so I’ll share the short version: Surviving cancer opened my heart to my personal potential, infinite possibilities and immense gratitude. That open heart led me to a delightful surprise. I became an artist! And my paintings introduced me to The Gambia. I was invited to visit and instead of saying 'No' I found myself saying: Why Not? And here we are years later.
The rural village of Burong in the Lower River Region of Kiang West is primitive and poverty runs deep. In 2010 there were 65 students attending Burong Lower Basic School. The conditions were deplorable yet the energy there was filled with excitement, joy and eagerness. Students were so happy and just loved going to school! Learning that there were many, many children unable to attend because parents couldn’t afford the school uniform, lunch or even a pencil was heartbreaking. Driving away that day hearing the sounds of clapping, singing children… I just knew. I knew exactly why I had said 'Why not' to The Gambia, West Africa.
I had no experience with non-profits. None. I did have purpose, fierce commitment and clear intention. I cared and I knew others would too. And I was willing to do whatever it took. I’ve seen how access to education can spark miracles in the most unimaginable circumstances. And I believed wholeheartedly that was true for the children of Gambia.
The value of what we are accomplishing through Reason2Hope goes beyond providing the basics of school uniforms, a daily lunch and school supplies to over 300 students. Learning gives them a sense of pride. Learning allows them to dream bigger, bolder and brighter. Knowing that there are people out there who believe in their value and potential expands their view of the world and gives them a real reason to hope for a better future for themselves, their family, their village and country.
Education is Hope. Education is Power. Education changes lives.
Promoting Progress Through Relationships.
"After a visit to the remote, primitive village of Burong, Gambia, Mary Van Kampen had no doubt that she would return to America and do something to help educate children in Gambia. She began by personally providing school uniforms to the 65 students enrolled at the Burong Lower Basic School. To her surprise, enrollment increased quickly and Mary knew she could no longer do this on her own. . . . "
The Gambia is called the Smiling Coast for a reason. The people are very warm and friendly in spite of extreme poverty and few jobs. Extended families live in compounds with sometimes 30 people in one compound and 4 generations. Music, dancing and food are part of all celebrations such as Koriteh, Tobaski, marriages, naming ceremonies and now some birthday celebrations. Traditional clothing is very beautiful and colorful and often ornately embroidered.
The Village of Burong, where Reason2Hope works, is located in the Kiang West district of the LLR ( Lower River Region). It is now accessible by car on one dirt road instead of only by boat and donkey cart. Burong and surrounding villages still have no access to electricity.
The school in the village serves students from 4 villages surrounding Burong. Most of the villagers are Mandinka with the Jola and Fula tribes also being represented. Almost everyone is a farmer growing whatever vegetables the season allows. Cassava and rice are the most common staples while fish is the most affordable form of protein. Most foods are cooked in oil and prepared with vegetables, roots or leaves in a sauce to add on top of rice. It is common for people to eat from the same large bowl using right hand fingers or a spoon if available. Food is always shared and anyone is welcome.
In 2011 the school had one building with 2 classrooms and another building that was crumbling to the ground and unsafe for classes. When R2H began helping there were 65 enrolled students. As needs were determined, R2H decided to provide uniforms for all enrolled students. Soon after that a daily lunch was added and then school supplies. That increased enrollment past the capacity of the buildings very quickly. Unable to raise the funds at that time and keep all students with uniforms, supplies and food the Dutch Embassy took notice of the increasing enrollment and built several new classrooms. Now there are enough safe classrooms and offices for the 300+ students and ever-changing staff.
The children begin ECD at age 3-4 and go up to grade 6. The subjects taught are : English (including phonics), Mathematics, Science, Nutrition, PE, SES (social environment studies), and IRK ( religion).
If you happen to visit you will probably be warmly welcomed with drums, dancing, singing, clapping, lots of smiles and little hands to shake.