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.



17 February 2017

 

Friday 17 February

After a restful sleep we set off a little later than hoped as Wandifa had to take someone to hospital. I then exacerbated the situation by leaving some documents I needed in the hotel so we returned for them.

We drove to Kotakula Nursery and Lower Basic school where we met with Ebrima the school’s administrator.  We had been asked to help with the maintenance and additions to their solar power installations. We had received a quote which was for a considerable amount of money. The school was already connected to mains electricity and we couldn’t see that there would be sufficient financial benefit to the school for the outlay requested. After discussion Ebrima thought that he could take a more modest proposal to the school’s management committee to extend the existing wiring into the classrooms to provide power for lighting and computers. We then had a look round work recently completed from PAGEANT funding including tiling and installing suspended ceilings.
The school has some well-maintained playground equipment and Yankuba and Abdoulie couldn’t resist…



On then to a school PAGEANT had not been to before, Hope Daycare and Basic Cycle school. We went there as one of our sponsored students had moved there from Kings Kids Academy and we met her and her father there. The school is currently extending its premises so the school looked a bit too much like a building site.
We dropped in on Faks, proprietor of Humanity Nursery School whose day job is head of the Automotive Engineering Department at Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI). We arranged to visit him at Humanity next week.
As it was Friday, the schools finished early so we returned to the hotel. Pippa and Wandifa sorted out some money, then it was rest and relaxation for the rest of the afternoon. This evening we are meeting Linda and going to Mama’s Restaurant where they do an excellent seafood buffet.
Tomorrow is Independence Day and is also to be the inauguration in The Gambia of President Adama Barrow. Abdoulie and Yankuba are getting up early to go, but it will be very crowded. We are planning to stay at the hotel and sort out the kit for the microscopy workshops next week.




 

Thursday 16 February

We have escaped from the winter dreariness and arrived in The Gambia where it is sunny, warm, yet there is a cooling breeze.
A very good flight over. Through security at Gatwick easily and then a quick direct flight to Banjul. The best sight of the day at Gatwick of a lady with the usual slightly oversized trolley case but clutching a bag of 1,100 Tetley teabags. Clearly there is going to a gigantic tea party somewhere.
We got through baggage reclaim and customs in what must be record time having persuaded a customs official that he didn’t want to unpack our charity baggage boxes that contained sportswear donated by Haslemere Prep School. We were welcomed by our three smiling Gambians, Abdoulie and Yankuba and Wandifa and of course, Pippa. They had just said goodbye to Miriam and Richard who were reluctantly returning to the UK.
On then to the hotel and we were checked-in within an hour of landing at the airport, definitely a record. A beer, unpack then a relaxing dinner at the hotel before retiring early to bed. We are now ready for our first full day which I shall report on later.

Andrew

16 February 2017

 

Wednesday 15 February - Banking & Banjul

On going out to the minivan I was delighted to see that  Mr Happy from the Atlantic Hotel had come to Sand Beach to bring his son's letter form in person - it was so nice to see him.
Our first stop today was a much needed visit to the bank, as we have managed to get through quite a lot of dalasis during the past few days and were down to our last small pack of scruffy fifties by the end of yesterday.  Back to the hotel as I did not want to travel around with so much cash in the car...
Then to Banjul and Unity Nursery to check on progress there.  They are doing very well but the head teacher has told the contractors to come back and make a better job of the plastering, as she was not happy with how they had prepared the surfaces.  She may only be a small lady but she certainly gets things done how she wants them!  She suggested that we should return next Tuesday or Wednesday to see the "job done properly".
We were then invited to visit one of my very first sponsored students, who is now a junior Inspector in the Gambian Police, having gone into the force on an accelerated promotion scheme.  He is currently working at Police HQ in Banjul and took me and Yankuba up to see his office - we felt very honoured.
Next to Albert Market for more Gift Token items: 47 large mosquito nets,    a cooking pot and two big serving bowls and eight strong buckets (for carrying water in the gardens) were bought there with ethical gift money and this was followed by some garden tools, bought at some of the hardware shops in Kanifing.  The tools bought to date are rakes and some rather fearsome 'cutlasses' for cutting down grasses.  Wandifa et al were going to buy some hoes on their way home through Serrekunda and then all the tools will be grouped with the buckets into sets and given to some ladies' gardening groups.
A couple of visits to students, then back to the hotel.  Not very many forms to sort through today as some had been left at home by mistake, so we will have a double whammy to do tomorrow....
Miriam and Richard's last evening, so we went out to dinner at the very good Lebanese restaurant quite near to the hotel.  Linda came too and we had a very nice meal, enjoyed by all.

Thursday 16 February - Changeover

Today Miriam and Richard departed on the same plane that brought Kathy and Andrew out.  Not much else to report from today... and I am now handing over to Andrew as far as blogging is concerned.  He has a very swish new camera, so you should get some good photos.


15 February 2017

 

Saturday 11 February - Children and Letter Forms

(Pippa has been unable to send any news for the last few days. The power situation has not improved and the internet has almost completely vanished. She managed to send this to Dave on Wednesday.)

Yankuba and I, with Jereh driving, had a really good day.  We covered a lot of ground, visiting, photographing and taking letter forms to children in Bakau, Banyaka, Tujereng, Jambanjelly, Siffoe, Sandele, Brikama, Farato and Tabokoto.  Quite a marathon effort - we were very pleased with ourselves!

Sunday 12 February - A Quieter Day

Miriam and Richard came with us to visit a couple of compounds in which they were specially interested.  First, a very poor compound, where a Mum and her seven children live in a house that was only partly completed when the Dad passed away suddenly about two years ago.  We have managed to arrange sponsorship for the elder five children and the next one is just starting at Nursery, so we will try for him too.  One pressing problem is the roof of the house, which leaks profusely when it rains.  It is not just the corrugate that is the problem - the supporting timber joists are riddled with termites, so the whole roof needs replacing.  Miriam has received several donations and felt that this might be a good project on which to spend the money.  We asked the Mum to get estimates for the work - Wandifa and Abdoulie said that they would help her find reliable workmen.  We will have to wait to see if Miriam's money will be enough...
A brief visit to another sponsored child and then on to the family compound associated with the KMJ Nursery School that we have been visiting and helping for many years.  Miriam and Richard have a special interest here as they sponsor a younger daughter of the head of the compound, a delightful older man who we have grown to be very fond of over the past years.  It was with great sadness that we heard that he had passed away a few days before our arrival in The Gambia, so this visit was to pay our respects and offer our condolences as well as to see the sponsored children there.
We returned to the hotel fairly early but then spent some time sorting the increasing number of returned letter forms and the associated sponsorship payments.

Monday 13 February - More Children and Letter Forms

Two newly sponsored girls received their 'welcome to Pageant' pencil cases and we bought a large number of exercise books that had been donated under our ethical gifts scheme.  A visit to Lutheran LBS and Nursery was rather disappointing - the installation of the tap and piped mains water into the school seemed to have gone well, but the work on the toilets left rather a lot to be desired.  I hope that our next visit will see a big improvement... Abdoulie is going to check to see that the workmen know exactly what they have to do.
One fascinating visit was to see how the cooking pots, that we buy so many of as gifts, are made.  I had always assumed that they were made in a factory but no... they are all made in compounds by small groups of men in handmade moulds made of a special sand.  The whole process was explained to me by a very kind man from one such group  - I took several photos and will add them and some explanatory text to a postscript to this blog when I get home.
More sorting of letters and money when we got back to the hotel, after which I was really delighted to see Modou, our first ever medical student, who is just about to leave for New York to do his elective studies in his final year.  He is to spend about six weeks in the hospital there and is so excited about it all... wonderful, I am so thrilled for him.

Tuesday 14 February - Even More Children and Letter Forms

We really are getting to the end of them now.  Two more newly sponsored children received pencil cases and we agreed the cost of the meals for the Gambia College workshops... and paid the catering manager accordingly.  
We then called in to Brikama Nema  LBS to see how our first project there had gone.  We had agreed to fund an extension of the mains water supply to provide two taps at the existing toilet blocks in the school.  We were very pleased to find three taps, one at the staff toilets and one at each of the girls and boys toilets.  The third tap had been funded by the SMC of the school and was a very welcome surprise.  Our next project at the school is the building of another block of toilets - at present there are only two girls and two boys cubicles for the whole school.  The new block will provide six more toilets, three girls and three boys, so should help the situation.  We gave the head teacher half of the estimated cost - she will call Wandifa when that money has been used and he will release the second payment if all is going well.  To say she was pleased with the whole thing is an understatement!
More completed letter forms and money sorted on our return to the hotel - our first port of call tomorrow will have to be the bank...

11 February 2017

 

Thursday 9 February - Bakau to Latikunda

More letter forms delivered today, over quite a large area including several schools and a lot of bumpy, sandy roads.  A wide range of experiences, too, from one girl who was really cross with herself for having slipped one point down from the perfect score (only for one term), to another who has not attended school at all this year.... the excuse made by her sister was that she was waiting for her uncle!  I have yet to find out from her father exactly what that means...
A visit to the bank to withdraw a chunk of dalasis went well - no problems there, I was pleased to find.
Another success was a visit to Mr Abolly's school supply shop... some readers will know that this is always a memorable experience.  This time I did not buy any exercise books from him, but got a good deal on several other items of school-related stationery.
Back to the hotel in time for a swim before meeting up with Linda to go out for dinner at Seashells.  We had a delicious meal - Miriam and Richard are already planning another visit there before they go home (or maybe two, said Miriam).
  

Friday 10 February - a mixed bag

Today started off with a Naming Ceremony.  The wife of one of our very first sponsored students gave birth to a son a week ago and I was invited along to the celebration.  Lovely baby with very proud parents - a delightful occasion.
Back to the hotel to change out of my "smart" gear into something more suited for clambering in and out of the minibus and then off on a relatively short round of visits, this time in the Serrekunda to New Yundum area.  The minibus was not behaving too well today and we had a number of stops to re-prime the petrol pump.  Abdoulie was not happy... a lot of muttering about maintenance went on before the team departed rather earlier than usual.
Linda had mentioned that the Gambian children who live with her were very excited to hear I was coming and would be staying at a hotel - would they be able to come and play in the pool, they asked.  Susan here at Sand Beach said it would be no problem at all, so, as I had returned early, I gave Linda a call and she brought them over for the rest of the afternoon.  They had a WONDERFUL time, playing in the children's part of the pool for nearly two hours and then finishing their visit off with a drink and some chips.  Delightful children, really well behaved - it was lovely to see them having such a great time.
Miriam had joined us but Richard had not been feeling too well - however, I am pleased to say he recovered in time for a very good hotel dinner -  butterfish went down very well with the three of us.
Tomorrow will see a splitting-up of the Gambian team... Abdoulie and Wandifa are booked to help Miriam and Richard take a load of children to the beach (something they always do while they are here) and Yankuba and I will go with Jereh for some more visiting and handing-out of letter forms.
More to follow..... internet permitting...

09 February 2017

 

Pippa's First Post

Pippa reports that accessing the internet in The Gambia is worse than usual, mainly due to frequent power cuts. However, she has emailed me her news for the first three days - and here it is:
  

Monday 6 February - Arrived

My trip started badly.... My alarm did not go off, so I woke up two minutes before the taxi was due to return!  Then, my favourite breakfast restaurant at Gatwick was closed for renovation (Andrew and Kathy beware...) and finally my seat on the plane was not as booked, so I was nowhere near Miriam and Richard.  Having got those three mini disasters over, the fates relented and we had a very good flight, arriving early, to find our lovely Gambian team waiting for us as planned.
All was well at the hotel and we booked in, unpacked, had an early supper and crashed out for the night.
  

Tuesday 7 February - Banjul Day

We visited Unity Nursery and took some photos of the work they have done on their latest project  -  all looked good so we gave them the second half of the allocated money.  I am sure we will see the results of this before we leave.
Then, on to several Banjul schools to leave letter forms with sponsored students. These are the pages, one specially prepared for each student, that are received by sponsors in due course.
We managed to meet up with one of Miriam's students, about whom she had been particularly concerned.  He did very well at Grade 12, but then seemed to have become rather depressed..... however, he has now got himself back on track and has decided he would like to read Agricultural Science and Biology at university, so Miriam was delighted.
We then went to Albert Market to buy some of the ethical gifts for which we received money over the Christmas period.  Abdoulie and Yankuba negotiated a very good deal for some schoolbags and checked prices of mosquito nets while Wandifa and I went to see the cooking pot man (not there as he had gone to the hospital to see about an injured hand) and did a lot of haggling over some small wooden animals to bring home to sell at our various sales events.
Then, a rather late lunch at Timeless, and then back to the hotel via the Westfield supermarket to buy water, geometry sets and dictionaries!
We had a delicious supper at Luigi's with Linda and then walked back to the hotel under the stars.... but with a torch!!!
  

Wednesday 8 February - Brikama Day

Miriam and Richard decided to stay in and around the hotel, so I set off with the team for Brikama.  The primary objective was to check out the arrangements for the Microscopy workshops that we plan to do towards the end of our stay.  We saw Nakulang, head of Science, his deputy, the catering manager and finally James, who looks after all the lab equipment.  All the arrangements went well, although I have not yet received the estimate for the catering, so might need to do a bit more haggling!!  We delivered one large inverted microscope to James for use in the University and collected all the boxes of equipment that he had kindly stored for us since our last visit.  My room at the hotel now has its normal cardboard box wall!!
We also visited a large number of schools and families to deliver letter forms - the policy of getting the students to write their letters before they get their second sponsorship payment seems to be working well, as several of the forms delivered on Tuesday have already been completed and arrangements were made for them to get their money on Wednesday evening.

Note from Dave - It looks like posts to this blog might all be via emails to me, and there may not be any photos for a while. But we will do our best to bring you all the news whichever way it happens.