Jacobs’ Charlie Oliver’s Greatest Project: Changing Lives in Sierra Leone
Jacobs Manager and military veteran Charlie Oliver plans to revisit Port Loko in Sierra Leone, 20 years after he built a school there, creating a brighter tomorrow for hundreds of children.
Charlie Oliver, a Jacobs Logistics Support Manager based in Bristol, U.K., built a new school in Sierra Leone, West Africa, when he was serving with the United Nations UNAMSIL force.
Stationed in the northern town of Port Loko in 2001, Charlie was shocked to learn how children had suffered during the civil war in the 1990s.
“The rebels would come to a town and demand to be fed. If the people refused, they would take a child and chop his foot off with a machete,” he says.
Labour force of rebel prisoners
Port Loko had a tiny pre-school for 30 children in the Anglican church. Those who didn’t get in would miss out on education altogether and spend their lives in subsistence agriculture.
Charlie recruited some builders and found them a labour force: 40 rebel prisoners from the local jail. He recalls, “We paid them 50 U.S. cents per day. They were no problem to manage. Since we took their guns off them, they had realised they weren’t as hard as they thought.”
Charlie financed the construction with £48,000 of his own money – using the UN pay he received on top of his salary as a British Army Major. He still sends £200 per month to support the school, which now has 90 under-sevens on its roll.
‘I just wanted to do something for the kids’
Earlier this year, heavy rains damaged the roof and water was leaking into classrooms. Charlie and other ex-Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers veterans in Jacobs quickly rallied round.
“We raised £4,800 in 24 hours on GoFundMe and as well as fixing the roof, we got enough for new books and uniforms for the pupils,” says Charlie, who was appointed MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for his military service in Sierra Leone.
A number of ex-pupils from the Charles Oliver Pre-School have gone on to get degrees at universities in Europe and the U.S. and their success enables them to support families back home.
In January, for the first time in 20 years, Charlie plans to go back to Port Loko, where he has been made an honorary chief. He says, “I just wanted to do something for the kids. They suffered terribly during the civil war, even though they had done nothing wrong.”
Charlie recommends that anyone who wishes to support the cause of education in Sierra Leone should donate to the EducAid charity, which runs five schools and a national teacher training programme.