04 December 2016

 
Back in the UK

Here's my final posting following our November 2016 visit to The Gambia. We all think the visit was very successful and we managed to get just about everything done that we wanted to.

We had a good final day in the Gambia, packing and getting items ready to go to Linda's for storage until the next visit in February.

The flight back was very good. Non-stop and the journey was very quick. We went speedily through immigration and luggage collection at Gatwick and were met by my wife Kathy.

As I sit here looking out the window it is a very sunny day, just like in The Gambia, but there the similarity ends - it is of course about 30C colder.

As promised, here is a selection of photos taken. Unfortunately I had some difficulty in taking some of the pictures I wanted as the zoom on my camera broke soon after arrival and I had to put up with a fixed focal length.

Merry Christmas to everybody and to all our friends in The Gambia as we all go into 2017 with hope.

Andrew



Kota Kula school. The nursery class is in the bantabar




A typical classroom in Kota Kula




Pippa at play!




The very neat library at Kota Kula. Wandifa looking studious! There are two complete sets of Encyclopaedia Britannica




The corner of Mrs Bucket's Nursery School. What a shame!




The elephant tree brought down by a storm a few years ago at Albreda Lower Basic



Assembly at Kings Kid Academy







Unity Nursery. It's great to see male teachers working with very young children - a rarity in the UK. Such wonderful enthusiasm



The Grade 9 children at Misera Basic Cycle school singing and dancing




Misera Basic Cycle School. Up country and very close to the Senegal border



A rural scene taken on the road to Soma







21 November 2016

 

Day 20 - Monday

…and so to our final full day in The Gambia. The three weeks have really gone quickly.
We set off to Banjul this morning to visit Unity Nursery again (see day 14). We would like to help with some projects there and asked the principal to let us have some estimates to consider. We asked for estimates for three projects putting these in priority order. We know they want to refurbish a building to convert it to a classroom. She will do this and get them to Ann and Brian as soon as possible. If one or more are acceptable we will be able to give them the money to proceed and hopefully the work could be done by the time we come back in February.

On then to Banjul Methodist LBS to take some photos and then to the Albert Market to see Mohammed, the trader in the market who supplies some of our craft goods. We had been told that he has been unwell for a couple of weeks but is back at work. He is clearly still not right, so we advised him to see a doctor and bought him a box of multi-vitamins to help with his general health.

We then visited Gambia Senior Secondary School to take some photos and then to a compound to pay some sponsorship monies.

Back then to the hotel for a relaxing afternoon in the sun for the last time before the English winter.

I think this has been a very successful trip and we have all enjoyed ourselves immensely. Our thanks to Wandifa, Yankuba and Abdoulie for all their hard work. Abdoulie has, as ever been an absolutely brilliant driver.

I will post a final blog when I am back in England along with some more photos. Pippa, Kathy and I, with possibly some other Pageant members will be back in The Gambia in February.

I have enjoyed writing this blog and hope you have enjoyed reading it.

Andrew



The classroom Unity Nursery wants to convert

 

Day 19 Sunday

A rest day today. After a late start we went to Linda’s for a couple of hours where we went through spreadsheets and money and advising Linda of what projects we still have in hand, and  how much is due to schools where they are taking place. We also looked at what students fees were still to be paid, leaving Linda a list.

Back at the hotel we had a number of current and past sponsored children join us for a drink. Some were paid their sponsorship money, others just for a chat. We also took the details of one boy who wants to be sponsored.

Ann and Brian arrived safely. 1½ hours late as they too, like us on the outward journey, had to stop over at Las Palmas to refuel.


Tomorrow is our last full day in The Gambia, so that will be my last blog from here.

As promised here's a photo of the team













Wandifa, Pippa, Abdoulie, Andrew,Yankuba and Linda







20 November 2016

 
Day 18 - Saturday

A shortish day today

We started at The Water Point where we signed the contract for the borehole at Kani Kunda and made the initial payment. They hope to start work no later than next Wednesday. The school will be delighted.

Then to the stationers to negotiate the purchase of the exercise books. The shop did not have sufficient in store so some were sent for. We were told this would take an hour, but we suspected this would be a Gambian hour.

We then went to a compound for a short visit and then returned to the shop. Two hours after we had first left we had loaded the car with all the books that could be found; just over one half of those we needed. We may look to buy something else with the rest of the money.

Back to the hotel, picking up Linda on the way and we had our first ever formal Gambia Pageant meeting with Abdoulie, Wandifa, Yankuba, Linda, Pippa and me there.
Among the matters discussed were possible schools to visit for our Gambian Team to deliver workshops, and also follow-up visits to schools where workshops had already been carried out, together with the funding to do this. We also discussed ways of encouraging parents to deliver the students’ third term reports on time so that the team does not have to waste their time chasing them up when they have more productive things to do.

We welcome Ann and Brian Keating tomorrow who are coming over tomorrow for just over three weeks. It will be good to be together if only for a short period


I had hoped to take a photo of all the team at the meeting to publish here 
but I forgot. I will try again tomorrow when we are all together.

18 November 2016

 
Day 17 - Friday

A slightly later start today to make up for yesterday.

We went first to The Water Point. After some negotiation Mr Touray from the company agreed to provide an additional two standpipes to the school at no extra cost to us. We told him that on that basis we wished to proceed and will return tomorrow to sign the contract and make the initial payment.

We then went to buy some exercise books for Banyaka LBS mentioned in an earlier blog. We got a quote from a supplier, but thought we would get one also from the shop that usually supplies us. He wasn’t in so we left a message saying what we wanted and will return tomorrow.

A quick call to Bishop Dennis from King’s Kid Academy to tell him we had approved his latest project and that we had the money to pay him. He happened to be in the neighbourhood buying a new radiator for his car so he joined us, we paid him and he rushed off to the bank.

We managed to get in contact with the two students who went to SOS Senior Secondary but we had lost contact with. I wrote in an earlier blog that Mr Drammeh, the former principal of SOS had told us of their whereabouts. I am pleased to say that both are doing very well. One has just finished a six-month internship at a hospital laboratory where she gained experience in haematology and microbiology. She has now applied to do nursing at the university. She will hear if she is successful in about 3 weeks. The other has enrolled to study law at the university and is enjoying her course. We will keep in touch with both of them.


An early finish today!

 

Day 16 - Thursday
Upcountry today. It is a long drive and we left the hotel at 5.30 with a packed breakfast (thanks to the kitchen staff for this). During the day we heard that Mo Lamin has been discharged from hospital. We were all pleased to hear this.

Once you get beyond Brikama the road is very good, a new highway that is every bit as good, or indeed better than your average British ‘A’ road. We made good progress only being slowed down by the numerous police, army or immigration checkpoints, but they were all in a good mood today.

We arrived in good time at Soma, our main destination., Our first school was Misera Basic Cycle, just out of Soma. It is right next to the border with Senegal, so close that I think if one of the students there had given one of the footballs we had brought a really good welly it would have landed in Senegal!

We were greeted by the principal, Mr Modou S Faye. We were soon dignified by the presence of two pillars of the community, the village imam and the village chief. All three are delightful and enthusiastic people. We were there to give the school some money to build a fence around the school (we would call it a wall). The fence serves not only to protect the children, but also to keep out people and the goats, sheep, cows and oxen that wander about
.
We also had brought over the first two of many holdalls containing sports kit donated by Haslemere Prep School when it closed. Each holdall contained a full kit of 12 football shirts, shorts and socks, along with 2 match balls and 2 practice balls. 12 eager young students were called for to try them on.

The school also has a large garden so we were able to give them a selection of seeds donated my Manor Green school.

After that we were entertained by Grade 9 girls with a traditional song and dance and some readings and a poem from senior students.

Misera school is in a Fula village.We don’t often go to Fula villages and we think that it is very important that we keep touch with villages such as this which are some way off our “regular” area.

We then went to Kani Kunda LBS where we met with the principal, Sainabou Sonka and were joined by two members of the School Management Committee, both called Saidykhan – we were in Wandifa’s home village. We discussed the proposal for the sinking of the borehole by The Water Point mentioned in an earlier blog. They are very keen for the project to proceed. One issue we will need to address is that they would like 7 or 8 standpipes running off the tank, but the estimate only provides for 5. We will see what we can negotiate. 

We also had a look at some of the furniture delivered to the school from the last container and how it is being used.

To Wandifa’s sister, Wonto Saidykhan’s compound next for a chat, some freshly picked groundnuts and bananas ripe from the tree. For those who have never eaten a fresh ripe banana, they really are sweeter and juicier than those that have been transported from the tropics and ripened in the UK before being delivered to supermarkets.

A brief visit to Pakalanding UBS to pay some sponsorship fees and look at how the furniture delivered was being used and then to our final call in Soma, the Soma Health Centre where we were very pleased to donate some baby clothes. Included were some very small hand-knitted baby hats suitable for premature babies, some hand-knitted jackets and more conventional clothes such as baby-grows.

On the drive back we made a short diversion for refreshments at Tendabar Nature Reserve. Whilst there Yankuba spotted that the printed menu had a photograph with Pippa in it taken on an earlier visit some years back. I will try and publish that when I get back to the UK – it needs some enhancement.

The long drive back went smoothly until we reached Brikama when we had to join the usual smog-filled traffic jam from there back to the hotel.


An excellent day out. For those who visit the Gambia and haven’t been there, I heartily recommend going there. It is just so pleasantly different from the “usual” areas.















The football kit with the principal, vice principal and the village leader





Wonto, Wandifa's sister (The baby is not hers!)

16 November 2016

 
Day 15 Wednesday

A short blog today as we did relatively little by way of visiting schools and compounds. Wandifa reported that Mo Lamin was still in hospital, but feeling a little better.

As mentioned earlier we are carrying out some microscopy workshops in February 2017 and have stored a number of microscopes and ancillary kit at Linda’s house. To free that space up we decided to move it all to The Gambia College in Brikama which is about 40 minutes’ drive away. Having it there already will make it simpler to have all the kit checked and ready when we come back in February.

We also had a chat with Nakalang Ceesay, the head of Science and Technology at the college who is our liaison there, to start getting the details sorted. We also had some spare maths text books brought over in an earlier visit and were pleased to donate these to the Maths department.

We then visited a few compounds to pay some fees and check reports, took fresh photos of our students and presented a pencil case to a newly sponsored student.

Back to the hotel via a supermarket to buy some toothpaste – (all the UK varieties can be bought here as well as Pepsodent - for those of you who wonder where the yellow went!), and some Walkers Ready Salted crisps.

At the hotel Pippa and Wandifa spent some time going through their records of payments made, reports etc. to make sure all was in order.

An early start at 5.30 am tomorrow to go upcountry. We think it will take about 3½ hours to get to our first destination.


No photos today, alas.

15 November 2016

 

Day 14 - Tuesday

We had planned to go upcountry today, but Mo Lamin, Wandifa’s son had become ill again and Wandifa, Mariama and he were at the hospital. We do hope he gets better soon.

So we changed our plans and will go upcountry later in the week. We started with a brief follow-up visit to Kotakala school where we went last week. Ebrima Cham hopes to start the works we have paid for before we go back.

On then to Nusrat Senior Secondary. This is one of the most highly respected senior secondary schools in The Gambia. As well as taking photos of Pageant sponsored students who are there, we were going to give prizes of tablets to the two Pageant students who gained the highest marks of all our students in Grade 9 last year. Our congratulations go to Mohammed Ansah and Kaddy Sowe.

On then to Banjul. We went first to Unity Nursery where we have been many times before. As ever the children are an absolute delight and the staff very enthusiastic, dedicated and hard-working. The school is clearly successful as it has expanded into newly-acquired premises on the other side of the road, whilst keeping the original. The school will double in size. Each site will have three nursery classes and has its own toilet facilities. At the moment the new site has only two classes which have been well converted. A third classroom still needs to have work done to make it usable, and the school hopes to have it ready by September.

Next was St Augustine’s Upper Basic to take some photos from where we were given directions to find Banjul Methodist Lower Basic. This is a most imposing old building. Above the main entrance is a sign from the past “Banjul Boys High School, 1921”. 

After taking some photos of students we concluded our school visits for the day at St Augustine’s Senior Secondary. We have one new student there, but we also were after some information. We were anxious to trace one of Pageant’s most able students, Francis, who had received a very good Grade 12, but we were unable to find him. His phone went unanswered and a number of contacts from previous schools, etc. also did not know how to find him. Fortunately, the Principal found a student who knew where Francis lived. It turned out to be very close to where we were and the Principal kindly allowed the student to show us where he lived. We were thus reunited.


Back to the hotel then where Abdoulie, Yankuba, Pippa and I spent a fruitful hour and a half putting together some microscopy kits for workshops in schools to be delivered by Wandifa, Yankuba and Abdoulie





Mohammed and Kaddy receiving their prizes









 

Day 13 Monday

After saying goodbye to Regina and David at breakfast, Pippa and I set off to visit some schools in the south west of The Gambia.  The purpose of the visits was mainly to take photos of our sponsored children, but in some cases to pay sponsorship monies. It took just under an hour to get to the first school, St Francis. That school has a Lower Basic and Upper Basic on the same site and a Senior Secondary a short distance away. We had just brief visits to each and then on to Banyaka LBS where we were met by Jerreh Manneh, the Principal.

Pageant has one sponsored student at that school whom we met and then the discussion turned to some funding we had received to spend at the school. Chestnut Grove Academy in Balham, South London had raised the equivalent of 40,000 Dalasi and wanted it to be spent directly on helping the children there, rather than on, say, buildings. After discussion it was agreed to spend a small amount in marker pens for teachers and the rest on exercise books for the students. There are about 900 children at the school and this will be sufficient to buy about 3 for each.

That school has a large garden and we were pleased to donate some of the seeds donated by the parents of Manor Green School.

On then to Jambanjelly school. We are familiar with this school as we carried out science workshops there in February this year and last. A quick visit and discussion with the  new Headteacher and on to Sifoe school for our only disappointment of the day because the students who we wanted to see were not there.

Next was St Marks LBS in Sandali. This was a quite astonishing drive. We swung off the highway onto what looked like a fairly narrow footpath. It was in face a narrow drive. With bushes scraping the sides of the car Abdoulie drove superbly for about 3 miles on very sandy tracks. Although we had to have the windows shut because of the bushes, the car was filled with the most magnificent scent from the shrubs – a bit like lemon balm.

A final visit to Tujering Senior Secondary then the longish drive back to the hotel.


In the evening we met Mr Drammeh, who was the Headteacher at SOS Senior Secondary until he retired earlier this year. We have been trying to trace two of our most able students who left that school in July. He was able to give us some information that should enable us to re-establish contact.





13 November 2016

 

Day 12 Sunday

We spent the day visiting compounds which are home to some of our friends in The Gambia.

We started at Lang’s compound. Lang is 13 years old and Kathy and I sponsor him. We chatted for some time and learned that the last book he read was “Animal Farm”. I think we will bring him a few reading books when we come in February.

We then went to Fatou and Ebrima’s compound. Fatou was the first student we sponsored in The Gambia which was about 10 or 11 years ago. She is the same age as our daughter, Helen and we have kept in touch all the time. Ebrima was sponsored by my father until he died four years ago and we have continued to help him. Both are in their mid-twenties now.
Ebrima is a very industrious young man. He is a qualified electrician and has started his own barbering shop, which he proudly showed us. As well as raising pigeons and chickens he is also a keen gardener with very green fingers.

You may remember reading in Pageant News (24 October 2016) that the parents of Manor Green Primary School donated packets of seeds to Pageant from their Harvest Festival celebrations. We gave a selection of those seeds to Ebrima who will grow vegetables for all the people in the compound. We also gave him a couple of packets of seeds bought in The Gambia to see how they grow compared with UK seeds. We will check when we come in February. We have already given out some packets of seeds and have some more to give out over the coming few days mainly to schools

On then to Fatou Lisa’s compound, an old friend from our days at The Atlantic Hotel where she worked.  Alhagie, her son was sponsored by Ian and he is a very bright boy. He read to me and was word perfect with a good understanding of some quite difficult words.

As a result of donations received at Ian’s funeral in September, the Ian Howard Memorial Scholarship has been set up and we were very pleased to award this to Alhagie. His continuing education can therefore be assured.

We spent a very pleasant couple of hours chatting and playing with the children and then returned to the hotel. Tonight is David and Regina’s last night before they return to the UK. They have been great fun whilst here and worked very hard. We will miss them.





















Ebrima with seeds donated from Manor Green Primary School








Alhagie with his scholarship certificate

 
Photos from Day 11












 

Day 11 – Saturday

Once a month on Saturdays The Gambia has a day where the people have to clean and tidy their neighbourhood which includes picking up and properly disposing of the surrounding litter and rubbish. Today was such a day. To encourage people to do this, all but essential traffic is banned from the roads until 1.30pm. We could not therefore go out in the morning, so combined a bit of R&R with starting to put together some microscopy kits for future use. 

We had some microscopes and equipment brought over in an earlier visit.
In the afternoon we set off to Wandifa’s compound. We were very pleased to hear that Mo Lamin was much better.

The purpose of our visit was to inaugurate a small loan scheme for women living in a village or local community. The scheme is designed to help women set up small businesses and earn themselves a bit of money. In our scheme each of six women are lent 1,800 Dalasi for a period of six months with the loan repaid by monthly instalments over that period. At the end of the six months all of the loans should have been repaid and the total money is then available to lend to a new group. Each of the women had to state what they were going to do. The ideas the women had were generally of buying in bulk and selling in smaller quantities. Examples of these include buying a sack of onions and selling in smaller quantities, buying a sack of fertilizer and selling it in smaller quantities of approximately ½ kilos and buying a large container of cooking oil and selling it in ½ litre cups
.
Mariama, Wandifa’s wife, is coordinating this and will be responsible for accounting and collecting repayments which will be deposited in a bank account which will be opened to handle this. We wish them every success.


Pippa had brought over from the UK a good number of children’s clothes which had been made by Esther and a group of her friends in Horsham. There were dresses for the girls and shorts for the boys. All these had been home-sewn. A large number of children suddenly appeared and the clothes were given a good home, matching as far as possible sizes with the children. We are very grateful to all those involved in their making.

I am having problems uploading photos today. I will try again later.