27 February 2017
Sunday 26 February
Our last full day in The Gambia. Over a leisurely breakfast we decided which of the students would receive the microscopes and kits to take with them to their first assignment.
In the morning we packed some microscopes and kits. Wandifa, Yankuba and Abdoulie are going to deliver some workshops in schools up country after we have left. We think this is especially valuable. They will take these kits to demonstrate and then leave at the schools. They will have to work hard there; long drives and overnight stays will be needed.
Whilst we were doing that, Pippa was sorting out some PAGEANT money matters with Linda.
The afternoon was spent relaxing by the pool and then for our final evening we went to Luigi’s along with Linda, Wandifa and Mariama, Abdoulie and Aminata and Yankuba. We all had a very enjoyable evening.
This will be my last blog of the visit. I have enjoyed writing them and hope you have enjoyed reading them. There have been fewer photos than I had hoped for, but when I get back, I will post a few more.
Bye for now
26 February 2017
Microscopy workshops 24 and 25 February
The next two days were spent carrying out the workshops we had planned for with Gambia College.
We arrived promptly at the university in Brikama at 8.00am. We had known that the students were going to clean the laboratory for us and were really thrilled with the job they had done. They had even cleaned the fans by climbing the chairs.
Each workshop was given to 20 student teachers. We had taken with us 20 small stereo microscopes and 10 larger transmitted light microscopes, with some kits boxes containing useful tools for preparing samples to look at and simple lenses and binoculars for the children to use when they are waiting for the microscope.
At the end of the workshops the 10 student teachers whom we judged to be the best overall would receive a kit containing a stereo microscope and tools to take with them to their first teaching post.
The first session on each day explained what equipment they had and how to us it. The teachers were shown how to use a simple magnifying lens, a jeweller’s loupe (which was theirs to keep) and how to use the microscopes, including how to work out the area you can see, using simple measurements on graph paper. We then stopped for breakfast which consisted of a sausage, onion and salad baguette or cold fried egg baguette and tea or coffee plus water. It was very hot on both days.
After breakfast (at about 11.15) the teachers had about two hours to choose and look at samples. We had taken a number of samples with us including cheap and expensive tea in teabags, different types of fabric, flowers and leaves, insects, potatoes, onion and parsley and small electronic parts. The students were especially interested in the tea where they could see the cheap tea contained mostly stalks and the expensive tea was mostly large pieces of dried leaves.
Towards the end of the session the teachers were put into groups of 4 and asked to prepare a lesson for students from local schools who were due to come after lunch.
At 2pm we stopped for lunch and prayers. On the first day lunch was fish benachin. This consists of savoury rice, baked fish and vegetables including cabbage, carrots and cassava. For those more adventurous there were very hot chillies on the side. Mariama, Wandifa’s wife, had previously shown us how Gambians eat their chillies. They take some food and rub it in the chilli before eating it. On the second day we had chicken yassa which is plain boiled rice, spiced roasted chicken and a thick sauce containing roasted onions. On each day fresh fruit and bottled water were provided.
The afternoon sessions went well, with all teachers coping well with the students. We had between 30 and 40 students each day, many from Ann Marie Rivier school which was nearby. We could see much animated teaching with the students clearly engaged with using the equipment, which is the aim of the workshop.
After carefully packing up we returned to the hotel and now have the difficult decision as to which 10 teachers will receive microscopes and kits. We would love to be able to give them all a set.
24 February 2017
Thursday 23 February
Thursday 23 Feb
We needed to get ready for the microscopy workshops we are giving on Friday and Saturday. Unsurprisingly, the van was not fixed so Jereh took us to Gambia college to set up. His taxi is not as big as the van so it was a bit of a squeeze to get all of us and the microscopes and kit in the car. We managed most of it and set off for the university in Brikama where the workshops are to take place.
When we arrived, James the science lab senior technician let us in and we arranged tables and chairs for 20 teachers and removed surplus furniture. We put all the kit into a secure store and were then very surprised because Mr Bah, the deputy head of science at Gambia college had arranged for some of the science student teachers, some of whom were attending the workshops, to clean the room for us. We noticed that the very nice ceiling fans that were working were very sandy and worried that it might fall on the microscopes when we switched them on.
We went on to Faks at Humanity nursery school to discuss the next project and his plans to put a shaded veranda over part of the school playground to provide shelter for the children when they are outside playing. We have agreed that Pageant will fund this project and made an initial payment of about half the totoal so they could start.
On then to Fatou Lisa’s compound. Fatou Lisa is the mother of Alaghie who is the holder of the Ian Howard memorial scholarship. We spent a nice time chatting and giving out presents before returning to the hotel.
In the evening we went to Shiraz, a nearby Lebanese restaurant, where we met with Linda and Mike and Patti. Mike is the former CEO of the US Peace Corps (Gambia). Since leaving that post he has formed a charity working in the Gambia. Patti is a sponsor of that charity and this is her first visit to the Gambia. Both had flown in from San Francisco the day before. We spent a pleasant evening chatting over a good meal before retiring for an early night as we had a 7.20 start the next day.
23 February 2017
Wednesday 22 February
A new experience for us all today, but more of that later!
We had decided to go up country to visit schools in villages
around Soma, and also to visit Wandifa’s sister, Wontu.
Soma is about 2.5 hours’ drive with good traffic and for the
most part is a very good road. We made good time despite many stops at police
We went first to Misera upper basic school which is right
next to the Senegal border and you could just walk across the field to the
country. When we arrived the head was out visiting the regional office. On
hearing we were here he quickly came back on his motorcycle that some teachers
in the remote parts can buy at a subsidised rate. Misera is a lovely school and
we inspected the perimeter wall we were paying for. They needed some more
funding to complete the wall and will provide us with an estimate. The wall is
made of concrete blocks which are made onsite using a mould. Three brickmakers
using one mould have already made 3,000 blocks which have been incorporated or
were ready to go.
We gave the school ethical gifts of a first aid box and
refills and some exercise books. Then we had a look at the school garden which
is in very good shape. We had supplied some seeds to them back in November.
On then to Kani Kunda LBS school to look at the water
installation we had agreed to in November and has now been completed and paid
The contractors have done a fine job and the tower and storage
tank can be seen below. There are 7 standpipes with taps dotted around the
playground and gardens
The head is delighted with this and an added bonus is that
the school has sufficient water to enable the local community to use the
On the downside, the school has been funded to build a
perimeter wall. The first funding was made by a Pageant member a number of
years ago and the wall is nowhere near complete. There are made concrete blocks
lying around becoming broken. We reluctantly told the head we could not fund
any more projects there until the wall was completed.
On then to visit Wandifa’s sister, Wontu at her compound. We
had some presents for her and also some ethical gifts donated by Pageant
members. These were some cooking pots and pans given to a newly-wed couple
setting up home, and some mosquito nets and some school bags. We also gave the
mother of a new born baby a quilt handmade by Doreen, a Pageant member.
Our final school visit was to Pakalinding school. We had
some Haslemere Prep School football shirts and shorts to give them along with
some footballs. They have a girls’ team and a boys’ team and the schools’
competition was about to start, so very timely. We also gave some exercise
books provided as an ethical gift.
This school has mains water but the storage tank was leaking
and was not sufficient for the children and the school vegetable garden. We
agreed that they will provide us with an estimate for a new tank and tower and
some additional standpipes for us to consider funding.
We then set off back to the hotel stopping off at Tendaba
bird watching reserve for refreshments. About 10 minutes after leaving there
the engine in the van cut out and we stopped by the side of the road in the
middle of nowhere. It was about 5pm and still very hot with no shelter from the
sun. All attempts to restart including trying to push start the van failed. We
phoned Faks who would send out a car but he was about 2 hours away.
After about half an hour we hailed a passing bush taxi which
was able to fit us in and the driver insisted on towing our van.
Abdoulie gave a hero’s performance in steering and braking
the towed van for about 2.5 hours (about 120 Km), especially as the tow rope
was very short (less than 2 metres).
The van was dropped off at a garage in Farato and we were
given a lift back to the hotel by Lamin, a friend of Faks. We arrived back at
the hotel at about 8.45 having left that morning at 6.00 am. We quickly washed
our hands and faces before rushing in to a late dinner. Never has a Jul Bru
been more welcome!
Tuesday 21 February
A late departure as the van wouldn’t start. Jereh picked us up and then Wandifa and Yankuba (Abdoulie stayed to fix the van), we didn’t have much planned for the day, however.
We drove to Banjul where we dropped Pippa and Yankuba off at the bank to sort out Pageant’s internet access.
Kathy, Wandifa and I went to Unity nursery to see the work carried out to convert and make good two new classrooms. They had done a fine job in tiling, installing a suspended ceiling and electrics including ceiling fans. This really is a first class school and we were able to agree to make a further payment to allow the next project to proceed- work on the outside walls and tiling.
On the way back we stopped at Timbookto, a bookshop, to make a few purchases. Then we went back to the hotel for an afternoon by the pool.
21 February 2017
Monday 20 February
We got up at 5.00am and left the hotel without breakfast at 5.40. We arrived at the port at 6.10 just in time to see the ferry pulling away from the ramp. You can imagine our feelings!
There are two ferries that cross the river and we could see signs of activity on the other one. About an hour later it left its moorings and came to the loading bay. We expected to get on straight away but were disappointed. The ferry had engine problems and needed some spare parts fitted. Finally at 8.10 we left- two hours after we had arrived.
Our taxi was waiting for us at Barra. It was relatively intact for a north bank cab. Nevertheless the journey was not uneventful as we had a blowout needing a wheel change. While the wheel was being changed Kathy saw a monkey by the roadside.
Our first visit was to Albreda LBS to meet the head teacher Fafa Jobe, where we inspected two recently completed PAGEANT projects. These were completion of a wall around the school grounds and installation of windows to the staff quarters. Albreda LBS is so remote the teachers have to live on site.
We agreed to fund a new project there – tiling of the staff quarters. We gave the school a First Aid kit with refills funded as an ethical gift from a PAGEANT member and a complete set of football shirts and shorts donated by Haslemere Prep School. We had also brought with us a couple of footballs for the school
As we had been up now for 6 hours without anything to eat we went to a nearby café which is part of the Kunta Kinte “complex”, for some welcome omelettes and chips.
On then to Bakary Saidykhan’s compound. Bakary is Wandifa’s elder brother. Kathy and I sponsor one of Bakary’s sons who is now in Grade 12 and we visited him at school on our way back.
We concluded our visit to the north bank by stopping off at a school and compound en route to the ferry.
20 February 2017
Sunday 19 February
We left at 6am to go for the first ferry to the north bank expecting to catch the 7.00am boat. We arrived at the port at 6.30am to find the ferry had left at 6.20. The second ferry was not operational, so after a short wait we decided to postpone the north bank trip and returned to the hotel.
We then spent the day visiting some of our sponsored children, both past and present. It was very good to renew old acquaintances.
After that we went to Wandifa’s new compound which has better furnished than when we visited last November. Mariama cooked us a delicious lunch of rice and sorrel puree, vegetables and a bit of smoked fish.
We finished our day out at Abdoulie’s compound where we chatted for some time and had a demonstration of Abdoulie’s skill in climbing his orange tree where he picked some of the few oranges- it has apparently been a bad year for oranges.
These visits are also useful for Pippa as several sponsored children come to these compounds to hand us their reports and receive payment of school fees.
We returned to the hotel to find the pool was finally full! We went to a local beach restaurant for dinner.
We decided to have an even earlier start tomorrow so we could get the first ferry to the north bank.
19 February 2017
Saturday 18 February
I shall start today’s blog with the previous evening. The pool in the hotel had been drained to have some flaky paint removed and repainted. The hotel had started to refill it using 2, or sometimes 3 ordinary garden hoses. We had made a rough calculation that at that rate it would take a few days to fill the pool! The hotel’s solution – bring in the fire brigade. A fire tender arrived and deposited all its water into the pool through a fireman’s hose. Once empty the tender returned to base to refill. It did this at least 5 times. The pool was then still only half full!
February 18th is The Gambia’s Independence Day and this year was to be something special as it was to be President Barrow’s Gambian inauguration. The official inauguration was a low key event held in the Gambian Embassy in Senegal whilst negotiations for the former president to hand over were still in progress. Many, many people went to the celebrations, and we had expected, and were right that the roads would be very busy. Abdoulie and Yankuba went and managed to get into the stadium
We stayed at the hotel and spent the day getting together and checking the equipment for the microscopy workshops next week. We packed 40 folders (one for each participant) and 20 kits of equipment such as microscopy slides, tweezers, cutting implements, specimen bottles and small magnifiers. We also checked 20 small microscopes and 10 larger microscopes to make sure all were working satisfactorily. Tine is tight at the workshops and we don’t want to spend time having to sort out non-working equipment.
We interspersed this with a bit of R&R and then walked down to Luigi’s Italian Restaurant with Linda fora very enjoyable evening meal.