PAGEANT - "Education is the future"
Pageant Gambia Trip February 2016 - Blog Posts
Microscopy & Science Workshops and Other Visits
A Pageant team consisting of Kathy, Andrew and Helen Groves, Bob Skipper, Michal Przydacz, and Pippa and Ian Howard from UK, plus Gambians Abdoulie, Wandifa and Yankuba. are in The Gambia for the eighth year of our Microscopy and Science Workshops. As well as the workshops, some of the team visited schools and villages to look at Pageant projects and also check on how Pageant's sponsored children were progressing. Kathy and possibly other members of the team will be attempting to post their news from The Gambia on the. We will collect their posts on this page so you can see them all in one place.
More About The Workshops
Pageant's Microscopy and Science Workshops are designed to show teachers how to give practical science lessons in schools which may not have the benefit of mains electricity or running water. It all started when Frances Boswell, a Pageant member who was studying Maths, Physics and Electronics atin Horsham, was in The Gambia during a half term break. She realised that science was taught there mainly as a theoretical subject with little or no practical work. She enlisted the help of Collyer's Head of Science, Joe Brock, who developed a science teaching kit, and organised the first Physics Workshop in 2006.
The teaching kits consist of a collection of low cost everyday items, which allow practical demonstration of many concepts in physics. Joe and others from Collyer's have been continuously improving the kits over a series of workshops in The Gambia. He wrote a handbook,, the latest edition of which will be used for the physics workshops. The Institute of Physics is also using Joe's book in in nine African countries. There are now 'sister' volumes being used in the workshops, written by the Students of Collyer's, and the for the first time a Chemistry Handbook, written by Bob Skipper.
The other part of the workshops programme are sessions in Practical Microscopy. run by Pippa Howard, formerly an electron microscopist at ERA Technology, and Kathy Groves, a food microscopist at Leatherhead. In 2010, Pippa and Kathy organised Microscopy Workshops for Gambian teachers, with help and some funding from the. They wrote a book, Practical Microscopy for Schools Anywhere, still being used for this year's workshops. A critical part of Microscopy Workshops is the provision of microscopes for the schools where the teachers work. We would like to thank all who have helped by donating microscopes, or making them available at substantial discounts.
The workshops in 2016 are the second year of a five year programme to assess the benefits of such workshops on students' results. The workshops will take place in three schools; Presentation of Mary BCS, Jambanjelly BCS and Pirang BCS. At each school teachers were split into two groups and swapped over between microscopy sessions and physics & electricity sessions.
2 February - First post 2016
Well it's another year on and we are getting ready to go out to do science workshops for science teachers again, without Chris and Anne this year which is sad. However we do have Bob to run some simple chemistry workshops and my daughter Helen is also coming with her partner Michal. Both are in their first year doing science PhDs at Imperial College in London.
For those who don't know, we have run these science workshops every year for the last 5 or 6 years (losing count !). They involve a microscopy workshop where we take out small microscopes and show the teachers how to use them then leave them there for the science lessons. Most science is taught from the blackboard so any practical can make a big difference in the way the children learn and succeed. We also have a simple.physics workshop and this year a chemistry one. The aim is to show simple experiments that they can do themselves without needing to buy anything.
So this weekend it is a practice pack to weigh everything so Pippa can give us microscopes and lots of equipment to take out. She and Ian are going on Monday so this is the last chance!!
We are really looking forward to going and will keep you posted.
2 February - Second Post with apologies
Well it is now Monday evening 1 Feb. Pippa and Ian left today so I am hoping they are eating their dinner and having a well deserved beer in the hotel. We are staying in a different hotel this year as the Atlantic is closed for refurbishment (sic). It is the Sand Beach Hotel so my next blog will be from there (hopefully)
Just finished the sorting and tomorrow we will close the cases and seal the charity and science boxes. Not much to say except we are all looking forward to going over again and seeing everyone. I gave Bob the Chemistry Workshop booklets to take. They look really good and have the details of the experiments so the teachers can refer to them in the future.
Finally today an apology for the rubbish mistakes in the blog, (now mostly corrected, I hope). No matter how hard I look there is always at least one I miss.
Look out for the next blog probably Friday
PS I have just worked out how to post the blogs this year - not as
easy as before. So it is Tuesday evening and we have survived the
cling filming of the cases with only 4 things left out!. We will
stuff them in Helen's case tomorrow evening before we check in
Now for a beer!
A Note about Blog Posts
Internet access in The Gambia is a bit hit-or-miss. Kathy has found that when trying to post directly to the Pageant Blog, the connection can fail before she has completed her post, and everything gets lost. So she is sending text and photos to Dave, who is then doing the posting.
6 February - Workshops at Pirang
Today we had the first of the workshops at Pirang school. Had breakfast at 6 and ten out of ten to the Hotel Sands Beach since all was laid out and they cooked eggs to order.
Left before 7 and the minibus broke down at Brikama. Luckily Abdoulie knows everyone and we soon had a replacement bus to take us all on. The day went well and the teachers enjoyed it all especially the chemistry which they hadn't had before.
We were late back to the hotel as we had to wait for the bus to be fixed. Abdoulie did a fantastic job getting it sorted so quickly.
All just finished dinner at 10.30 so off to bed as they say.
7 February - Relaxing & Visiting
Sitting in the lobby of the Sands Beach Hotel Resort. It is fairly cool at 7.45 in the morning but the cicadas or black crickets are chirping away still as the sun has only just risen. There are a few mossies around but not as many as at the Atlantic Hotel where we used to stay. Odd that they vary so much in a small distance.
Yesterday was such a long day we are all a bit tired. Today is visiting day. We will go to a few compounds where we sponsor people. We will end up at Wandifa's and it will be lovely to see his family again.
Tomorrow is a "rest" day so we might go to the North Bank. This is an expedition in itself. If you come to The Gambia it is worth taking a guide to visit the quiet North Bank.
I hope we can get back at a good time today to get a swim
in the pool. It is about 34C here most of the day and seemed
hotter yesterday. Very muggy at night. Thank goodness for
air conditioning. The rooms here are generous. The bedroom
is separated from the large bathroom by a lobby. You think
in the bedroom that it is quite a good temperature then walk
into the lobby and realise how hot it is everywhere else.
8 February - Tourist Day
Well, following a day where Bob had gippy tummy, Helen was ill during the night too. However, both were recovered enough to come out on a tourist day today. We went to Calypso, which was next to Ocean View Hotel. It was a very scenic spot, with a small lagoon just behind the beach, which had about 12 crocodiles sunbathing on it. A great place to view them. Nothing to stop them walking on to the beach.
Then we visited Lamin Lodge which is as lovely as ever, with the naughty monkeys that steal your drink given the chance.
We hope to visit the MRC at Gambia to show them a novel microscope developed by scientists from Cambridge who feel this could be of use in the field. Maybe tomorrow after the school workshop we are doing on the morning.
Weather has been very hot today. Probably about 36.
9 February - Workshops at St Augustine's
A fairly quiet day today but an early start. Off to St Augustine's in Banjul for a science workshop with senior boys in grade 11. We started off OK but got stuck in an M25-like traffic jam on the approach to Denton Bridge. Lots of cars were being pulled over to a large parking area so the traffic was very slow and we were late arriving at the school. Given that the boys were charming and keen to learn asking lots of questions. Yankuba did the lever experiment where they found the weight of different objects by comparing against a known weight using a metre rule and a pivot. Pippa, Wandifa and I looked after the microscopy area, and Bob demonstrated surface tension and the ability to generate electricity using a potato clock.
Then back to the hotel for a lazy afternoon while Pippa
and the others went to visit children. Last night we
ate at a Lebanese restaurant up the road, and the food
and service were really good.
10 February - Tidy-up Day
Well today we spent the morning at the hotel sorting through the stuff as they were in a mess after the first workshop. When we tidy up after a workshop we are so tired we tend to lob all the stuff into our large bags so we had to sort through them and separate the chemistry physics and microscopy. After this we had a swim and lie in the shade. It is so hot here this year.
11 February - Jambanjelly Workshops
Thursday was a workshop day in Jambanjelly. Another very early start - up at six and arrived without any breakdown or trouble so a great start. Only issue was Helen was not well, so we had to go without her which was a shame. All workshops went better than the first which is always the case. We get into our stride and everyone knows what they are doing. A very hot day again but you can't get too tired as the teachers are so keen and really bright and pleasant.
Some photos to show the workshops. Michal lost his voice from talking so much demonstrating the electronics.
12 February - Workshops at St Joseph's
Friday we had booked to go to St Joseph's girls school for a workshop with the senior girls there. They were waiting for us when we arrived at 8.45 and all had lab coats which was unexpected. They were due to have a practical chemistry lesson so all the tables were covered in bottles of acid, ammonia and alkali as well as beakers test tubes and other equipment. This made the setting up and using of the microscopes and the lever experiment for physics quite tight for space and unfortunately at one point someone did knock some glassware onto the floor. However the teacher was very tolerant and the girls had a great time as we did too.
Friday evening was dinner at Luigi's Italian with good pizza, if you fancied a break from Gambian food.
13 February - Workshops at Presentation
Saturday we went to Presentation school for the last workshop. It was cleaning day today, so this meant everyone was supposed to clean their environment and no cars were allowed on the roads between 9 and 1. So the teachers were all on time at 8.30 - which was a first.
15 February - After the Workshops
Kathy has returned to the UK, so Pippa now takes up the story:
We spent most of today sorting out all the remaining science kit that is left after the workshops. The home-going part of the team piled all their boxes and bags of kit into our room yesterday, so we had walls of stuff down each side of our little entrance "lobby" at the door to our room.
Our three lovely Gambian guys helped us take it out to the quite large bantaba bar area and we spent a long time spreading it all out over the tables and floor, counting it, making up some kits for a few places and then repacking the rest of it into crates and boxes to store til the next time! It all took a long time but at least we now know exactly what we have got - and where!!
We had time to visit a couple of schools afterwards and got back to the hotel for a very welcome Julbrew....
A long day of school and family visiting lies ahead tomorrow, so we are just heading off for a fairly early supper.
16 February - Optics and Visits
A hot day in Brikama today! Ian was suffering from a sleepless night and a bit of a cough, so Wandifa, Abdoulie, Yankuba and I set off just after 9am.
First, back to Pirang school to take to Mr Darboe, the very keen
science master there, a light kit of laser plus lenses for the
school and also to show him the prototype "WaterScope" that is
being developed at the Cavendish at Cambridge. This tiny microscope
is made on a 3-D printer and the images are accessed via a Raspberry
pi onto smart phone, tablet or pc. This sort of imaging was just
what Mr Darboe had been asking for last year, so to say that he was
enthusiastic is an understatement! He was extremely sad that we
could not leave it with him.... next year, maybe...
We then went to Gambia College to leave a kit of materials there for one of the new lecturers to use with the trainee teachers and then a long list of families and schools to pay sponsorship, check on progress, give out letter forms and take photographs.
Back in time for happy hour!!
17 February - Chickens, Sewing Machine and a Bicycle
Lots more visits to schools and families.
We have now seen the chickens in residence at
Humanity and there is another building for more
under construction (I'll add the photos when I return to UK).
Faks is very pleased with how it is all going in
general, although he did lose some of the birds
during a very hot and windy spell of weather.
He has now learnt how to cope with such conditions,
and all the current inmates look very healthy -
the older ones are just about to start laying eggs.
We have arranged to take one of the older students, who is just finishing his tailoring apprenticeship, to buy a sewing machine as the final gift from his sponsor - this is planned for next Wednesday, in Banjul.
We have also arranged to buy a bicycle for another student and a special tablet for school for yet another, both on next Tuesday if all goes according to plan.
In the evening we had dinner with some other Pageant members,
who are staying at Ocean Bay, and have arranged a trip to the
North Bank with them for next Monday. Very early start for
that as we are no longer staying in Banjul, of course..
18 February - Independence Day
Breakfast was very colourful as a large group from Senegal is staying at the hotel, having come for the Independence celebrations. All the ladies looked beautiful in their best outfits, it was a delight to see them. The group has taken over some of the villas at the far end of the hotel complex, which works very well - we see them at meals and later in the evening if there is any entertainment, but they do not seem to want to use the pool area and do not use the corridors in the main hotel building where we have our rooms.
Just family visits today, as schools are closed on Gambian
Independence Day. Over the last two days, we have seen
36 students - not bad......
More to follow.....
19 February - MRC and more visits
We started off today with a highly successful visit to the
labs at the main Gambian MRC facility in Fajara. We phoned
early and were able to make a 10am appointment with the
laboratory manager. We took both the schools version of the
Waterscope, which was similar to the one we took to show them
in November, and the higher magnification version that has
sufficient resolution for the MRC malaria and sickle cell work.
The tablet and smartphone from staff of the in-house lab
facility had no problem interfacing with the microscope and
we have left it for them for a week, to try out in earnest.
We also left a selection of baby clothes with the staff of the MRC post natal ward, who were delighted with them. They would love more, particularly hats, mittens, little knitted jackets and tiny socks or bootees... all these are of particular benefit to the malnourished babies, who have a very poor thermal regulation system.
Then, on with more visits... most schools are still closed for an extra Independence holiday, so it was a good day for finding families all at home together.
I managed to catch up with one of my earliest sponsored students - he has been able to follow a path of accelerated promotion within the police force, due to the qualifications he worked for during his sponsorship, and is now an acting Inspector. He should be made up to full Inspector after a couple more months, when he has finished his final 'rotation' through various posts that are giving him expertise in the sort of things he may encounter. He was full of enthusiasm for what he is doing and I feel sure that he will do well.
Back to the hotel in time for a swim and....you guessed it...
happy hour!!! I'm not sure what we are doing tomorrow but
I am sure that Wandifa et al will tell me when they arrive.
20 February - Visits to Sponsored Children
Ian had a poor night with a lot of coughing, so stayed in bed today. So, the three Gambian musketeers and I have had another day of family visiting and tracking down children who weren't where they were supposed to be! One young man has changed schools every year during the five years he has been sponsored, although his family has not moved house in that time.....why, one wonders?
We are gradually filling in the pages of children with signatures (the parents sign when they receive their payment) and the file containing the letter pages (for the children to write letters to their sponsors) is weighing a lot less than the 1.5Kg that we brought out on the plane.
We finished a little earlier than usual so that I could check on Ian - also, I had bought a supply of tonic water that has been unobtainable in the hotel for about two weeks and it seemed advisable to bounce it around as little as possible...
The weather has mercifully cooled down a bit during the past two days and today the on-shore breeze was so strong that we had real breakers crashing onto our beach. It almost looked like Newquay!!
Linda is coming to dinner here this evening - we have been
promised a staff show, so I felt we should support it.
I believe Eddie has been training them.... past Atlantic
guests will know who I mean. I'll let you know how it goes tomorrow....
Sunday to Thursday - More Visits
A hectic few days... but I remember that I was going to tell you about the A-team show on Saturday evening. Eddie was not there in person, but Ebrima followed his pattern exactly, even including the two count-downs at the start of the show.... ex Atlantic guests will know exactly what I mean! All in all an entertaining evening - if not quite as polished as some.
The past few days have passed in a kaleidoscope of children, schools, paying out sponsorship, taking photographs and doing general Pageant "stuff". I have been hard put to keep my daily log up to date and in pace with our spreadsheets. Wandifa and I each fill one in during our trips, and keep check on each other as we go along... it generally works pretty well.
The Pageant van has been out of action for the past two days and is not yet fixed (clutch problems again) so Jereh, our trusty " relief driver" of many years, has stepped into the breach once again. We are very fortunate to have so many good Gambian friends.
Tomorrow we are due to go to collect the WaterScope from MRC - I will be very interested to hear what they have made of it.
I'll try to do better during the next day or two but don't bank on it!