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Pageant Gambia Trip November 2016 - Blog Posts

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As usual, a Pageant team has travelled to The Gambia for their regular November visit. They will be visiting families and schools, and checking on progress of various Pageant projects. This year Andrew Groves will be posting their news from The Gambia on the Pageant News Blog. Once again, we will collect these posts on this page so you can see them all in one place.

Links for this page are on Menu 2

24 October - November Visit to The Gambia

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Pippa and I are going to The Gambia on 1 November for three weeks. I hope to blog as often as possible (subject as ever to a good wifi connection). Look out for the first post next week.
Andrew

2 November - Day 1 - Morning of Admin

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After a refreshing sleep following the journey yesterday, Wandifa, Abdoulie and Yankuba arrived for a morning of administrative work. Pippa's spreadsheets were examined and marked up for payments of sponsorship monies paid and checking that the necessary school reports had, or had not been received. We then roughly sketched out what we had to do during the following days. This is of course, necessary planning to ensure that everything is covered. Here's the team at work.

More tomorrow/ I hope

the team at work >>
the team at work
the team at work

3 November - Day 2 - Kotukala & Din Ding

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Off to Kotukala Nursery and Lower Basic School on a very hot day where we were met by Ebrima Cham, the administrator. We had a good look at the tiling work that had been carried out and agreed it was to a very high standard.

We agreed to fund the installation of some ceilings for classrooms that had only a bare corrugated-iron roof. Putting in ceilings provides much needed installation against the heat. We also discussed tiling the library and improving the playground facilities. We asked for a feasibility study into repairing and improving the solar power installations,

A tour of the classrooms followed where we were greeted enthusiastically by all the children then an impromptu dance in the playground. Pippa danced brilliantly - see the picture.

<< children's impromptu dance
 
the team at work
children's impromptu dance

The following photos were posted by Andrew after he returned to the UK.

Kotukala school. The pre-nursery class is in the bantaba
Kotukala pre-nursery class is in the bantaba
A typical classroom in Kotukala
A typical classroom in Kotukala
Pippa at play!
Pippa at play!
 
Pippa at play!
Pippa at play!
<<  left and above  ∧∧

On then to Din Ding Nursery school which Pageant hasn't been to before. This school is funded and helped by a Dutch charity. We went there as a student newly sponsored by a Pageant member went there.

We then went to a few compounds to deliver sponsorship money for students and then to the offices a company that specialises in providing deep bore holes to discuss the installation of a one with associated pipework at a school with very poor water facilities.



The very neat library at Brikama Methodist SSS. Wandifa looking studious! There are two complete sets of Encyclopaedia Britannica >>
The very neat library at Brikama Methodist SSS. Wandifa looking studious! There are two complete sets of Encyclopaedia Britannica
The very neat library at Brikama Methodist SSS. Wandifa looking studious! There are two complete sets of Encyclopaedia Britannica

Tomorrow we are leaving early to go to Gambia College which is in Brikama and then hope to visit Lamin Lodge on our way back after several other visits.

4 November - Day 3 - Brikama

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An early start to go to Gambia College in Brikama. Gambia College is part of the University of the Gambia and is where their teachers are trained. We met with Mr Nakulang Ceesay who is the Head of Science at the college. We discussed what had happened following previous science and microscopy workshops that we had carried out. Unfortunately, other partners in the project seem to have lost interest. A party from Pageant will be coming in February 2017 and will carry out some microscopy workshops. However, it looks as if that party will be smaller than usual, so it was decided to do two workshops at the college for trainee science teachers; a formula that has worked well in the past.

We then made short visits to a couple of schools in the area and then on to Brikama Nema Nursery and Lower Basic School. Pageant has not visited that school before, but we sent a batch of school and office furniture from the container sent over in the summer. The Headteacher was very delighted with what she had received as the school had ben desperately short of furniture. We had hoped to see the nursery classes in action, but it was nearing Friday lunchtime and the nursery children had gone home. Many schools are closed on Friday afternoons. We will go back there later in our visit

A classroom at Brikama Nema with furniture
from the Pageant container >>
the team at work
A classroom at Brikama Nema with furniture from the Pageant container

We decided it was time for lunch too so went off to Lamin Lodge. Lamin Lodge is a building which is built on poles and stands in the water of the Gambia River in the middle of the mangrove forests. There is a restaurant at the top with stunning views, but you usually have to be wary of the monkeys who will come and steal your food given half the chance!

After lunch a visit to the compound of a newly-sponsored child to give him a filled pencil case and take his photo. Then back to the hotel for some late afternoon R&R.

5 November - Day 4 - Banjul

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We woke this morning to light rain. This is the first time I have seen rain in all my Gambia visits, but it was very “British” rain rather than tropical so it made me quite nostalgic!

We had a quiet day. We went to Banjul, the capital city where we met two of our students in further education. One of them, Modou, a medical student, is off to New York City for a six-week placement as part of his training. He is clearly excited about that.

We then went to the Albert Market, a large sprawling market in the centre of Banjul. We were after two things. Some large lidded plastic crates to pack microscopes and associated kit for schools to have. Unfortunately, we were unable to find any big enough, but there are plenty more places to try. We also were after some small carved wooden elephants, hippos and giraffes to take back to the UK and sell at a local school’s Christmas Fair. After some hard bargaining we struck a fair deal and bought some. This is always good, because we help the Gambian economy in some small way and then plough back any profits!

After a refreshment stop, we visited a few compounds to pay fees and then back to the hotel by which time the rain had cleared and it was hot and sunny.

No photo today, but hopefully some good ones tomorrow.

6 November - Day 5 - Wandifa's & Abdoulie's

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We visited Wandifa’s and Abdoulie’s compounds. This is the first time we have seen Wandifa’s new family house that he spent nearly three years building. We last saw it in February when it was obviously near completion and now Wandifa and his family have moved in. It certainly is a great building with plenty of land around. Wandifa is quite rightly very proud of it. There is a picture of it below and we will post some more when we get back to the UK.

In pride of place in the garden is the orange tree planted in memory of Ian on the day of his funeral and over the coming years we shall watch to see it grow and bear fruit (which Wandifa tells me should be in about 3 years).

The orange tree planted in memory of Ian >>
The orange tree planted in memory of Ian
The orange tree planted in memory of Ian

We sat in the garden, chatted and played with the children and then went over to Abdoulie's compound for a very enjoyable time, again just chatting and admiring the garden.

The outside of Wandifa's new house
The outside of Wandifa's new house

Back to Wandifa's where Mariama had prepared and cooked for us the most wonderful lunch. A chicken benachin with chicken (obviously), rice and many different vegetables including, in our honour, ordinary "British" potatoes - something of a rarity in The Gambia unless served up as chips in a restaurant. We all sat down together to eat this splendid meal.

Feeling quite full, we then returned to the hotel. Our grateful thanks to Wandifa, Abdoulie and their families for their hospitality.

<< The outside of Wandifa's new house

7 November - Day 6 - Schools & Compounds

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A day visiting schools and compounds, mostly to pay fees and meet newly sponsored students, who get presented with a filled pencil case and have their photos taken for their sponsor.

Firstly, to SOS Senior Secondary School to pay fees. This used to be a straightforward job of handing over the right amount of cash and getting a receipt. It took about 10 - 15 minutes. It's now a bit more time-consuming. You get an invoice and have to go to a specified bank and pay the cash over, get the receipt and return to the school with it. We also wanted to pay our sponsored student's exam fees which are payable separately. To do this you have to go to a bank (a different bank, of course), pay the fee, in return for which you get a scratch-card, which you take back to the school, where its number is used to confirm payment of the student's exam fees. It took about an hour and a half in total.

On then to the exquisitely named Mrs Bucket's Afrikanaria's Nursery School. Yes, really! The Headteacher named it because she was a great fan of the well-known sit-com "Keeping up Appearances" and its star Patricia Routledge. We went there to meet a newly-sponsored student.

sign at Mrs Bucket's Nursery
sign at Mrs Bucket's Nursery
The corner of Mrs Bucket's Nursery School. >>
What a shame!
The corner of Mrs Bucket's Nursery School. What a shame!
The corner of Mrs Bucket's Nursery School. What a shame!
(additional photo)

The Head is a delightfully enthusiastic and dynamic person and we would like to be able to help the school. The most pressing problem is that in one corner of the school playground there is a dump for scrapped parts of cars - doors, bonnets etc which is not properly fenced-off. This is a real danger to the children as well as an eyesore.

A couple more visits, then back to the hotel

8 November - Day 7 - Humanity Nursery

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Off to Humanity Nursery School which has a new site that we had not visited before although we are well acquainted with the school at its old site and its energetic and enthusiastic Head, Faks.

Faks showed us round the school which has three classes, one for each year of nursey. He has done a lot of work in a short time. Very good toilet facilities and with a shower to put in.

He explained his plans for this school. He wants to erect a new building to put a properly equipped kitchen and then to pout a large canopy over part of the school yard to give shade. Finally, he wants to concrete over part. All these seem like very good ideas to us and we will take then away with us.

 
Humanity Nursery (new site)
Humanity Nursery (new site)

We then went to the old school building which has been converted into a chicken farm. He has recently sold all the chickens raised as broilers but still has plenty of hens laying a good number of eggs which are sold to raise cash for the Nursery. Pride of place are a brace of turkeys. He wants to hatch any laid eggs to provide turkeys for fattening. Christmas is coming!

Off to the North Bank tomorrow (hopefully)

9 November - Day 8 - North Bank

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To the North Bank today. A very early start. The kitchen staff kindly opened early so we could get some breakfast before we left. In the cab and off to Banjul Port at 6.15am for the 7.00 ferry. A good crossing saw us in our cab at Barra, the port on the North Bank, at 8.00.

The cab we had was exceptionally noisy and bumpy particularly on the North Bank roads which are mostly untarmacked and made of compacted sand with many potholes and ruts.

The North Bank is very different from the South Bank. It is considerably poorer and the villages and communities are fewer and farther apart.

After about one and a quarter hours we reached Albreda Lower Basic School where we met with Fafa Jobe, the head teacher, and the regional schools cluster coordinator. We have carried out projects before at Albreda LBS (see PAGEANT Albreda page) and were here to talk about new projects. Fafa kindly provided us with a breakfast of bread and sardines.

The school has no mains electricity and wants a solar installation; a panel and storage batteries. These would be used to power the computers in the resource room and some security lighting for night time. One of the issues we have is that the school already has 8 solar panels on the roof that are not being used, along with some batteries that don't work. We were told that they could not be used because they belong to The Ministry rather than the school and couldn't be used without permission. Getting permission would be a long process. Bureaucracy at large!

We handed over some money for projects approved so that they could go ahead - the construction of a perimeter walls and tiling of the teachers' quarters. Albreda is so remote that the teachers need to live on site. Fafa than told us of some further refurbishment projects he would like to carry out.

We then went to Bakary Saidykhan's house in Juffreh. Bakary is Wandifa's brother and is also father to Ousman, who Kathy and I sponsor. We chatted and were kindly provided with some lunch.

We then returned to the port via Aja Fatou Bojang Senior Secondary School, Albreda where we met with Ousman. We arrived at the port very tired, thirsty and dusty.

There was one final treat in store. As we crossed the river a school of dolphins passed by. There must have been at least 20 of them. Seeing them certainly helped make a tiring but rewarding day.

Unfortunately, no pictures today as I had a flat battery in the camera and had forgotten to pack the spare. Sorry about that. Pippa will add some when we get back to the UK.

The following photos were posted by Andrew after he returned to the UK.

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

10 November - Day 9 - Reach Centre & Lutheran Schools

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A quieter day. We started by visiting 4 schools to welcome newly sponsored students and giving them their pencil cases and taking their photos. We were also chasing up missing reports. We do need the reports to check on progress.

We then went to The Reach Centre, which I hadn't been to before. On the campus there is a school, a church, a hostel for young students, a study centre and a library. I've not seen anything quite like this in The Gambia before. One of our sponsored students lives there enabling easy travel to school.

The young persons' hostel at The Reach Centre
The young persons' hostel at The Reach Centre

Lutheran Nursery and Lower Basic School >>
Lutheran Nursery and Lower Basic School
Lutheran Nursery and Lower Basic School

On then to the Lutheran Nursery and Lower Basic School. We are funding a project there to provide piped water from the mains into the school premises. Unfortunately, the Water Board has not completed the final pipe work into the schools so we were unable to sign off that project as completed.

We did talk about some other possible projects including running water pipes further into the school to the toilet block and paying for those toilets to be refurbished. Other possible projects there to consider include now windows, as the existing ones are so small that they let in very little light, and possibly some suspended ceilings to provide heat installation.

More tomorrow...

11 November - Day 10 - Kings Kid & Kanu Kunda

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A slightly later start than anticipated because Wandifa's eldest son, Mo Lamin had been taken ill during the night and Wandifa had taken him, along with his mother Mariama to the local hospital to see a doctor. We all hope he gets better soon.

Off then to Kings Kids Academy, a school we have visited many times before and where we have funded a number of projects. We were met by the proprietor, Bishop Dennis. We attended a school assembly at which Bishop Dennis gave a short eulogy about the work and dedication given by Ian to Pageant and the ways he had helped the people of The Gambia. In honour of Ian a building in the school has been named after him.

Ian Howard House
Ian Howard House
 
Assembly at Kings Kid Academy
Assembly at Kings Kid Academy
(additional photo)

We then went on to discuss projects. We had agreed to fund tiling in two classrooms. One had been done but Bishop Dennis wanted to use the rest for something else. We were unable to agree that then and asked him to provide us with a new project proposal with costings. Bishop Dennis then showed us his long term plans for the school involving major expansion. These plans will cost a large amount of money and would take considerable time to complete.

We then went to the offices of a company called The Water Point that specialises in drilling boreholes for water

We are looking at a project to drill such a borehole at Kani Kunda School which is way upcountry. That school has no water at all in the school premises, not even a well. The proposal is to drill a hole deep enough into the aquifers and then pump the water up with an electric pump powered by solar energy. Needless to say, the school has no mains electricity. The water would then be stored in a 4,000 litre tank which would automatically be replenished when used. Mr Touray from the company had already supplied us with an estimate, but there were a number of points in it which required clarification which he was able to do. We will now go to the school next week to discuss this exciting project.

Being Friday, we decided to have a short day. We stopped off at a bookshop appropriately named 'Timbooktoo'. We bought a few school books there and then went for a drink at the Calypso Bar at Cape Point. The bar overlooks a lagoon lying between the beach and the land. It is home to 20 or so crocodiles that can usually be seen basking on the far shore, but there were few to be seen today. We did see a great display of fishing and diving by a heron, some kingfishers and numerous other birds, small and large none of which we knew the name of (no twitchers among us)!

Back then to the hotel at about 3pm

12 November - Day 11 - at Wandifa's

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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 kilos and buying a large container of cooking oil and selling it in 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.

Ladies of the loan group
Ladies of the loan group
Pippa helps the girls try on dresses
Pippa helps the girls try on dresses

13 November - Day 12 - visiting compounds

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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

<< Ebrima with seeds donated from Manor Green Primary School
Ebrima with seeds donated from Manor Green Primary School
Ebrima with seeds donated from Manor Green Primary School

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.

Alhagie with his scholarship certificate
Alhagie with his scholarship certificate

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.

14 November - Day 13 - South-west school visits

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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.

seeds from Manor Green School
seeds from 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 fact 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.

15 November - Day 14 - More school visits

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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.

Mohammed Ansah
Mohammed Ansah
Kaddy Sowe
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.

The following photos were posted by Andrew after he returned to the UK.

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

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

16 November - Day 15 - Bits & pieces

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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!), nd 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 3 hours to get to our first destination.

No photos today, alas.

17 November - Day 16 - Upcountry

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

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.

The following photos from Misera were posted by Andrew after he returned to the UK.

Misera Basic School. Up country and very close to the Senegal border
Misera Basic School. Up country and very close to the Senegal border
The Grade 9 children at Misera Basic Cycle school singing and dancing
The Grade 9 children at Misera Basic Cycle school singing and dancing

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.


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

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.

A rural scene taken on the road to Soma
A rural scene taken on the road to Soma
(additional photo)

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.

18 November - Day 17 - More bits & pieces

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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 nd 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!

19 November - Day 18 - Shortish day today

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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.

20 November - Day 19 - Rest Day

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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 Brain arrived safely. 1 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 Linda
back row - Wandifa, Pippa, Abdoulie
front - Andrew, Yankuba, Linda

21 November - Day 20 - Last full day

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…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.

The classroom Unity Nursery wants to convert >>
The classroom Unity Nursery wants to convert
The classroom Unity Nursery wants to convert

On then to Brikama 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

4 December - Back in the UK

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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.

Webmaster's note - I have added the new photos to the appropriate post. Here are the links to where I have put them:

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

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