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A Pageant team are making their regular November visit to The Gambia. Andrew has promised to keep us up to date with their news with posts on the Pageant News Blog, and, as usual, I will be collecting these posts on this page so you can see them all in one place.

Links for this page are on Menu 2

November Visit to The Gambia

 see Andrew's original post

It's that time of year again when the rainy season in The Gambia has ended and Thomas Cook start flying again. Pippa and I will be in The Gambia from 7th to 27th November. Initially we will be accompanied by David, Regina and Mo. We will also be joined by Carol, Ann and Brian, and three students from Christ's Hospital School.

We will be visiting schools, looking for new projects and checking up on existing projects together with visiting many children sponsored by Pageant members and lots of other things too!

We are looking forward to seeing Linda, Wandifa, Yankuba, Abdoulie and all our other Gambian friends.

I hope to blog on a daily basis, but as ever this will be subject to a decent internet connection, so look out for my first post in about a week's time.
Until then - Andrew

Day 1 (7 November) Travel to The Gambia

 see Andrew's original post

Pippa, Mo and I had an early start at Gatwick for our flight to Banjul. We were through security fairly quickly and met David and Regina for breakfast. The flight was about thirty minutes late leaving - something to do with the luggage.

We were met by Abdoulie and Yankuba with their huge smiles. Wandifa was not there. He was at Banjul port sorting out the paperwork for the container which we packed in September (it seems ages ago) but only arrived in Banjul on 4 November.

After a very good dinner at the hotel cooked by the new chef, Jacques, from Senegal we all retired early.

Day 2 (8 November) An Admin Day

 see Andrew's original post

We started the day by sorting through reports for the sponsored children, and identifying those for whom we had not yet received reports.

That took most of the morning. Pippa and I along with Yankuba, Wandifa and Abdoulie then went to Banjul. There were one or two bits and pieces with the paperwork necessary for customs clearance for the container that needed sorting out, and we decided that the speediest way of dealing with this would be to visit the Ministry of Education who are responsible for giving clearance from import duty for educational equipment.

The bits and pieces were resolved speedily and we had the necessary signed and stamped paperwork, which we took to Banjul Port, gave it to the shipping agent and put in hand the arrangements needed to move the container to St Augustine's Senior Secondary School, where on Friday, hopefully it will be unloaded ready for the schools who are receiving items from it to collect them.

Tomorrow we will be going to Brikama to visit some schools, some students and to Gambia College to start making arrangements for next February's microscopy workshops.

I hope that I will be able to take some photos to post on this blog tomorrow!

Day 3 (9 November) Schools and College

 see Andrew's original post

Carol had arrived from the UK late the night before and we were all pleased to see her.

Pippa, Carol, Mo Regina and I along with Abdoulie, Yankuba and Wandifa set off to Brikama today which is about 30 minutes drive away.

We stopped first at a compound to collect a missing report and pay some fees to a sponsored student. The report should have been delivered at the end of the summer term and we wanted to stress the importance of delivering the report on time so that Wandifa, Abdoulie and Yankuba do not have to waste their valuable time chasing these up

On then to Gambia College to see Nakalang Ceesay who is head of science. In February 2018 we will be holding the usual workshops for trainee teachers and may also do other science subjects depending on who comes over. We were there to discuss the days for those workshops and also to discuss the catering arrangements with Madame Touray. At the workshops we give all those attending breakfast and a hot cooked lunch. We wanted to avoid the problems we had in February this year over the pricing. We had thought the price quoted was for the whole two days the workshops run, whereas in fact the price we had been quoted was per day.

We then went to Longman Memorial Methodist School to look for a particular student we thought was there (she was) and then on to Brikama Nema LBS and EDC school.

We had sponsored and paid for the provision of new toilets for the children there. We were disappointed that the work had not been completed as the boys' toilets had not been tiled and some of the money we had paid for the provision of children's toilets had been spent on providing new toilets and a shower for the staff. The school said that those had been in the estimate supplied to us but were unable to find the documentation then. We had not brought the paperwork over from the UK, so will need to resolve this when we get home. We had hoped to fund new projects at that school, but these will have to be reconsidered in light of this.

We then went on to Yundum Army Barracks which is near the airport. In the barracks there is a nursery school, a Lower Basic and an Upper Basic. Until last year we had not even known there was a school on that site. It caters for both children of army personnel and from the local community.

Our primary reason for going there was to see if they could accommodate the three students coming over from Christ's Hospital School for a couple of days doing a variety of activities with the children. They will be delighted to do so. We were also treated to an extended tour of the school. From what we saw the school seems to have an excellent ethos and is getting very good results. The teachers are very inspiring and the children seem to learn well. However, they are desperately short of equipment etc. and we have earmarked this school as one we may well wish to help in the future

Back then to the hotel. Here is a picture of Mo in playful mode, with Carol in the background.

Mo in playful mode, with Carol in the background
Mo in playful mode, with Carol in the background

Tomorrow we hope the container will get out of the port and that we will have the fun of unloading and distributing its contents.

Day 4 (10 November) Container Contents Clears Customs

 see Andrew's original post

The headline above is a very short description of a very full day.

We headed off to Banjul at a reasonable time not knowing at what time, if at all the container would get out of the port to go to St Augustine's SSS to be unloaded. Wandifa went to the port to follow events there whilst the rest of us went to Wesley LBS in Banjul. The Headteacher there was quite impressive The school was currently undertaking some renovation and restoration work on some classroom furniture involving repairing where possible and applying fresh varnish. We saw the possibility of a project there. The school would like some new hard-standing between two classroom blocks to provide a dining area. Metal-legged table would be embedded in the concrete. We would like to consider funding this and asked for a detailed estimate.

On then for a very brief visit to the delightful Unity Nursery School (see Unity Nursery page), where as ever, we were entertained by the children singing.

It was approaching noon, and we hoped the container was nearly ready to be dispatched. We went for refreshments at Timeless (formerly Billy's), whilst Abdoulie and Yankuba went to the port to drop off Wandifa. After a while, Wandifa told us that the container was on a truck and second in the queue to be checked by customs after which it could go. We thought that would take about an hour so ordered lunch. Within 10 minutes of ordering we had a call to say it had cleared and was on its way. We quickly changed our order from eat-in to takeaway and went off to the school.

Unpacking had already started and everyone worked extremely hard. Yankuba especially worked his socks of working inside the container getting the equipment to the loading point where is was handed to others to sort. Every item was labelled with its destination and very soon a number of discrete piles of furniture and packages were formed - one for each school. The whole unloading operation took one and a half hours (compared with 3.5 hours to load it).

Whilst and after the unloading was taking place schools started to arrive with a variety of means of transport: trailer, truck, taxi and private car. In most cases these were crammed to the gills before leaving. Items for remote upcountry areas were being stored at the school and there was one school, which despite having been given plenty of notice had been unable to organise transport. We therefore had to reluctantly tell that school that we would have to give those items to another school. We telephoned the Yundum Barracks Schools who were delighted to accept these and said they would immediately send an army truck.

We then loaded the Pageant van with items for distribution later and headed back to the hotel. Tired, but satisfied with a job well done.

Here are a few photos of the day. We will compile a fuller report with some more pictures when we get back to the UK.

Unloading the very heavy shelving frame from Leatherhead going to St Augustine's
Unloading the very heavy shelving frame from Leatherhead going to St Augustine's
Yankuba (in van) and Abdoulie unloading - almost there!
Yankuba (in van) and Abdoulie unloading - almost there!
Trailer neatly packed for Humanity Nursery
Trailer neatly packed for Humanity Nursery
The Pageant van/minibus fully loaded. Abdoulie on top |of things (as ever!)
The Pageant van/minibus fully loaded. Abdoulie on top |of things (as ever!)

Days 5 & 6 (11-12 November) The First Weekend

 see Andrew's original post

Most schools are closed at the weekend so we decided to spend our time visiting compounds and families and have a bit of rest and relaxation.

A late start after the exertions of Friday saw us heading to the Medical Research Council's main site in The Gambia. The MRC is a UK agency that carries out and funds medical research. It has a unit in The Gambia. That unit carries out research and also has a clinical unit where local people can come if unwell. We had brought over some items, mainly clothing for the baby unit in the unit's hospital and we delivered those. We visited a couple of compounds to see sponsored students and visited The Gambia's best bookshop to buy some school books that some students had requested. The bookshop is punningly named "Timbookto" and would put many a UK high street bookshop to shame.

crocodiles at the Calypso Bar
crocodiles at the Calypso Bar

We had to make a lightning return to the MRC to pick up something left behind and then finished our day out at the Calypso Bar at Cape Point, where the Gambia river meets the Atlantic Ocean. The bar there overlooks a small lagoon. On the far bank of it a group of crocodiles live. Smart readers can tell me what the collective noun for crocodiles is! We all photographed the crocodiles lying on the bank and dipping in to cool down and feed.

In the evening Linda joined us and we went to a delightful sea-food restaurant a couple of miles away for our dinner.

On Sunday morning we started our day at Langtombong's compound. He is one of Kathy's and my sponsored students. After chatting with him and his family for a while we drove to Abdoulie's compound. Abdoulie and his wife Aminata have a new baby, Isatou, who is just two weeks old and absolutely delightful. Abdoulie's other children soon arrived followed by an impressively large number of other children. We played maths games with some of them and Mo led a singsong with a group of the younger (and not so younger children). We had a delightful time and then moved on to Wandifa's compound.

Welcome Isatou and congratulations to Aminata and Abdoulie
Welcome Isatou, congratulations to Aminata & Abdoulie

We were met by Wandifa's charming wife, Mariama and his three children along with his extended family. Pippa met a local tradesman there to discuss having some furniture hand-made for Yundum barracks schools who are desperately short of furniture. We now have some idea of what he can make and how much it will cost. We will now have to discuss this with the schools to see of it meets their needs.

We all thoroughly enjoyed lunch which Mariama had cooked for us. It was chicken domoda which is chicken with a spicy pureed peanut sauce served with vegetables and rice.

Back to the hotel then. David and Regina had been out for the day with one of their sponsored children and her mother. They had all come back to the hotel for a swim and we were joined by Linda and her "family".

Tomorrow we are going to the North Bank. This requires a 5.15 start to catch the first ferry.

Day 7 (13 November) The north bank

 see Andrew's original post

An early start had us in the van at 5.15 for our day on the north bank. The hotel had kindly provided us with a packed breakfast and we headed to Banjul Port. The north bank is very different from the south bank; it is much less developed and considerably poorer. The only practical way to get to the north bank is by ferry and in the past that has been slow, infrequent and unreliable. Things have changed for the better here, though. There is a brand new ferry that is considerably bigger, faster and quieter that the old ones.

We arrived in good time and were on the ferry just after 6.20. It was uncrowded and the sun had yet to rise. A sea mist hovered above the river. With barely an engine murmur the ferry departed and 25 minutes later was berthed at Barra, the north bank's port. Our taxi for the day was waiting for us and again we had something of a surprise. It seemed to be a decent car. The ones we have had in recent visits have been old, noisy and somewhat unreliable. All six of us and the driver fitted quite snugly into the car and off we set.

Our first call was to be at Albreda LBS. To get there the car drove along tarmacked roads for about 5 miles, then turned right onto the North Bank Road which is made of ridged compacted sand in which there are countless potholes. The drive to Albreda takes about an hour on that road and we had a driver who went too fast for such a bumpy road. The sounds of parts of the underside of the car hitting the road surface were all too common for my liking.

Nevertheless we reached Albreda safely and met the Headteacher Fafa Jobe. We know Fafa well and have carried a number of successful projects there. He had some ideas for projects. The school has water, but it stops at a tap just inside the school gage. He would like to extend the water by running a pipe to the school kitchen which had been built a few years ago. This would involve running a pipe behind a classroom block, and entering the kitchen at the rear. He would also like a sink and some shelves/units adjacent to this. He would also like to do something with the old school kitchen which is now derelict and wants to convert this building into staff quarters for the female staff. Albreda is so remote that it is difficult to recruit staff who can live within reasonable travelling distance, so Pageant in the past has already paid for the conversion of one building into staff quarters

Fafa will provide us with estimates for the work he would like doing. He then told us he was retiring from the post of Headteacher on 31 December having reached the state retirement age. To ensure the smooth running of the work, the school's long standing deputy head will manage the project. We have known him too for some time. He was one of the first students to go on one of Pageant's microscopy workshops a number of years ago. We will miss Fafa.

After a short stop for refreshments we went to Baccary Saidykhan's compound in Juffurah, a short drive from Albreda. Bakary is Wandifa's eldest brother and we have visited there many times. His children have at some time all been Pageant sponsored students.

We then set of for the return drive to Barra, taking a diversion on route to go to Bakalarr. This involves a drive along an even bumpier sandy track with even more bumps and scrapes on the bottom of the car. Bakalarr School was the first school Pippa and Ian visited when they started coming to The Gambia. It was also the first school helped by Pageant all those years ago. The site now houses both a LBS and a UBS. The person who was head of the school at that time has moved on and we had hoped to meet the new principal, but unfortunately she was out of the school that day. Nevertheless we met the vice principal and some of the senior staff, one of whom had been there when Pageant first went there.

We then started our drive back to Barra. The consequences of all the bumps then materialised. The car's engine overheated. We stopped at a village tap and the driver discovered the radiator had been damaged and was leaking. With the assistance of Yankuba, Abdoulie and Wandifa the engine was cooled by using copious amounts of water and refilling the radiator. This got us back to Barra which included a short diversion to the Amazing Grace Nursery school where we have a sponsored child. At Barra we were lucky and just managed to just catch a ferry back to Banjul. When we got there, unfortunately our car had a punctured tyre and there was a delay whilst the wheel was changed.

It was Mo's last evening as she was returning to the UK the following day, so we all went to a local middle-eastern restaurant for an excellent Meze for dinner.

Day 8 (14 November) Mo's last day

 see Andrew's original post

As it was Mo's last day we made separate morning and afternoon trips from the hotel. In the morning we went to Nusrat SSS where we have a number of sponsored children. We spoke at some length with the principal who seems very able and has a very dry witty sense of humour. We met with all our students who were there that day, but we were especially pleased to meet Ancha who achieved the best possible results in her Grade 9 tests. An "Excellent" in all subjects and we have heard that she got the best results of anyone in The Gambia. Congratulations indeed to her and Pippa presented her with a prize in recognition of her success.

We also met with Muhammed who is an amputee. Muhammed is not a Pageant sponsored student; he is sponsored by another UK charity called Legs4Africa who are helping him with his education. They wanted to have details of the fees, if any and other costs as they have little experience of The Gambian education system. We were able to get the information they need from him and the principal.

We then returned to the hotel to say our farewells to Mo. She has been great over here and we will miss her. Pippa also took this opportunity to speak to Jerreh whom we will need as a second cab driver for a few days. When the students from Christ's Hospital are over they will be doing different things from us and we are also planning to go upcountry to Misera BCS with them. We will leave them there overnight with Abdoulie and possible Yankuba so they can have two full days there. The rest of us will return on the same day with Jerreh.

Out again for the afternoon. We started at the Gambian Technical Training Institute (GTTI) to see Faks. Faks is a very able entrepreneur. As well as his daytime role as Head of Automotive Engineering at GTTI, he is also the proprietor of Humanity Nursery and has over 800 egg-laying hens. He is also raising some turkeys, presumably for Christmas. He ploughs the profits from the egg-laying back into the nursery school.

Faks and Pippa sorting out college fees
Faks and Pippa sorting out college fees

We were there for a couple of things. Pageant has a number of sponsored students at GTTI. There were some fees to sort out which we duly did. We have also agreed to fund a project at Humanity Nursery. Faks wants to build a multi-purpose hall there.

As the name suggested it will be used for a variety of purposes, but principally Faks wants a secure area where the food for the children's midday meal can be prepared and eaten. We arranged with him to go and see him at the nursery next week when we can give him the first instalment of the money.

We finished our day at the SOS Lower Basic School which is situated in the Hermann Gmeiner children's village, which is an Austrian charitable foundation with children's villages worldwide. It used to run the schools there but has withdrawn from that aspect. We were there to see briefly Amie who is David and Regina's sponsored child and some other Pageant sponsored children there.

Day 9 (15 November) Mostly visiting schools

 see Andrew's original post

David and Carol were feeling a little delicate this morning after a disturbed night, and they decided to stay at the hotel, so Pippa Regina and I set off with Abdoulie, Wandifa and Yankuba.

Our first port of call was to see Buba, a taxi driver at a nearby hotel. The reports for all his children were outstanding. He explained that all of his children had now left school.

On then to Kotukala LBS and Nursery to see Ebrima Cham who is the school's administrator. We have carried out projects there over the last year or two having been introduced to them by Gambian Education Trust (GET) a UK charity that worked closely with that school and closed down in 2015 leaving its surplus funds to Pageant. Just before leaving the UK, Pippa had received an email from Ebrima stating that some people at the school had become ill and the school had been told that it was probably because the school's toilets were too close to the well and waste from the toilets was contaminating the well's water. The school is connected to mains water which is used for drinking, but that supply is currently erratic (possibly due to the frequent power cuts affecting the pumping station)

It has been recommended that the school sinks a new borehole and with the aid of a pump connected to mains electricity, water can go to the school's large storage tank which currently stores the well's water. This water would be used for all purposes other than drinking. Ebrima has already obtained a rough estimate of the cost and we asked him to supply us with a detailed one.

On then to Javouhey Nursery School which is on the site of St Therese's LBS. We talked to the Principal there and gave a newly sponsored child her Pageant Welcome pencil case.

Nest door then to St Therese's UBS to see two of our sponsored children. There are over 2,400 children at that school spread over grades 7, 8 and 9. Grade 9 and half of grade 8 attend in the morning and the other half of Grade 8 and Grade 7 attend in the afternoon. We talked for some time to the Principal who said that this school was one of the top three schools in The Gambia for results. Ancha (see yesterday's blog), our prize winner and top-performing student in the Grade 9 exams had attended there until moving on this year to Nusrat SSS. We will return there later in our visit in the afternoon to see a student in Grade 7.

Next on the agenda was a bit of shopping. Pageant runs an ethical gifts programme and we had some money for this to spend on garden tools. Yankuba and Abdoulie went into the shop to negotiate and buy (they would get a better price) and returned with three spades and four cutlasses (we would probably call them machetes). They are fine sturdy tools which will be put to good use.

Our final call of the day was to a mission in Wallingara. We were trying to find a young man whom we had lost track of. The mission's leader said that the young man had left school, packed up his belongings and left without a forwarding address. We don't think there is much else we can do here.

Back to the hotel and tomorrow we will pay our second visit to Gambia College and take some microscopes for storage there. We will visit a few school and on the way back call in at the airport to collect the Christ's Hospital students who will be arriving.

Day 10 (16 November) At the airport (and other things)

 see Andrew's original post

Pippa and I started the day by driving to Brikama. We went to Brikama UBS to see Mo Lamin, who is not a Pageant student but is sponsored by a pastor in the USA. He had been asked for a considerable amount of money for materials, books and extra tuition. We were able to get this information and leave him with a maths set and calculator.

To Gambia College to continue our arrangements for the science workshops in February. We left a number of microscopes that had come over on the container in storage there. Nakalang was unable to confirm that one of the days we wanted was available but is confident that it will be. We were also able to agree the price of the breakfast and lunch for the two workshop days with Madam Touray, so there will be no misunderstanding on the day.

We continued to Anne Marie Rivier BCS to see 4 children and give one of them a present from his sponsor. That school certainly seems to have very good facilities compared to others.

Anne Marie Rivier Basic Cycle School
Anne Marie Rivier Basic Cycle School
In sports gear at Brikama Nema
In sports gear at Brikama Nema

This was followed by our second visit to Brikama Nema School, which had been a recipient of a considerable amount of stuff from the container and we were pleased to see it already being put to good use. The schools had received football jerseys and shorts from Haslemere Prep School and we were treated to a display of children in the kit.

In a previous blog we wrote about the toilets that had been constructed there. Some were currently unused as they had not been tiled and the school did not have the money to do that so we asked them to provide us with two estimates for tiling the floors and one tile course around the wall. We asked for estimates for using broken tiles, which would produce a mosaic effect on the floor and for complete tiles.

The deputy head and Pippa trying out chairs from the container
The deputy head and Pippa trying out chairs from the container

Lunch was then provided which we were not expecting. We ate what the children had, which we think is called yankadamg. This is a dish that neither Pippa nor I had had before. It consists of steamed rice to which ground peanut flour is added along with small amounts of smoked dried fish and vegetables. It is quite a dry dish, but very tasty.

It was time then to go to the airport to meet Tom, Isaac and Yun Shin from Christ's Hospital School. We arrived a few minutes before the plane was due and soon discovered it was expected to be two hours late. Normally we would have checked this at the hotel in the morning, but a lack of internet prevented us from doing that. We used the time to go to Yundum Barracks Schools (where Tom, Isaac and Yun Shin will be going tomorrow) to discuss our plans for providing them with some furniture for some of their lower basic classes. We left them with our ideas and returned to the airport to successfully pick them up. Once again Thomas Cook had to divert to the Canaries to refuel

Back to the hotel. The boys were very hungry as they had not had a proper meal for many hours. An extended power cut at the hotel meant that we decided to walk into go to Luigi's where the boys enjoyed a large pizza.

Day 11 (17 November) Mostly at Yundum Barracks Schools

 see Andrew's original post

Yun Shin, Isaac and Tom, along with Yankuba, Abdoulie, Wandifa, Pippa and I drove to the Yundum Barracks Schools where the boys were going to spend the day helping and doing some sporting activities with the children there. They will also be going on the following Wednesday.

When we arrived we had to report to the MPs there and I was told by the officer that I looked like Boris Johnson! Oh dear!

The boys were going to start with some drawing with the younger children and had brought materials with them. We left them there and had decided to go and buy some chairs which would be suitable for younger children at that school, to go with the tables we were having constructed, and had seen some outside a shop in Serrekunda a couple of days ago. On that day we had stopped and Yankuba and Abdoulie had talked to the owner and established they had about 100 and he would let us have them for GMD40 each. That is about 6.45 each

We had decided to buy them all and hoped we could get a bulk discount. When we got to the shop it was losed. We rang the number on the door and the owner said he normally does not on on Fridays but would open it especially for us and asked that we came back in about two hours. We went back to the hotel and picked up Carol and Regina, then back to the shop.

We were disappointed. The owner had upped the price to GMD50 per chair and would not budge so we walked away. Thinking caps were put on as we drove to the school and Pippa had the idea for getting a price from the carpenter who will be making the tables to also make some 2-seater benches for the children to sit on. That would enable us to still sit 10 children around each table. We will run this past the school.

When we got to the school a large number of children were on the school field playing rugby, a game which is almost completely unknown in The Gambia. They soon stopped as it was time for Friday prayers and the boys told us that many of the children had difficulty in the concept of passing the ball backwards whilst running forwards!

Twickenham?
Twickenham?
Twickenham?
Twickenham?
Twickenham?

We left them to it and went to see Fansu who is liaising with the carpenter and explained our ideas to him and got a price for the tables and benches which we thought was satisfactory. Whilst we were there, the Deputy Head from Brikama Nema School came with his estimate for the tiling. It was not what we had asked for so he will redo.

Back to the school for final time where rugby was still in full flow. When the school bell rang for the close of the day the children slowly and reluctantly left the field. The boys said they had had a great and rewarding time and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They have agreed to write a short account of their time in Gambian schools and I will post it here.

Days 12,13 (18,19 November) The Second Weekend

 see Andrew's original post

Saturday

Fafa Jobe the Headteacher from Albreda LBS was coming over from the North Bank to see us. He was bringing with him some estimates for the projects we had agreed to when we went and saw him. We met him in Westfield where he had already bought a toilet, cistern and hand basin together with some pipework to be used in the staff toilets that were to be built. When we have finished we will drive him to Banjul port where he will engage a porter with a barrow to load these onto the ferry. At the other end they will be wheeled of to Fafa's car.

We went for refreshments at Timeless and discussed the projects. We gave him the money for the first project which will be running water to the kitchen along with a sink and worktop. It was only then that we realised that whilst Fafa had bought the toilets he had forgotten the kitchen sink (sic). When that is finished we will get the money for the second project (staff toilets) to him. By then the new head will be in place and we will get a smaller project to carry out under him before embarking on the largest of the projects - the conversion of the derelict kitchen to female staff quarters.

Abdoulie then drove Fafa to the port whilst Pippa, Regina, Carol, Wandifa and I went to Albert Market in Banjul. Yankuba had gone out for the day with Isaac, Yun and Tom to do some touristy things with Jerreh driving them. We were at the market for two reasons. Pippa was buying some small carved wooden animals to take back to the UK and sell at school craft fairs to children at pocket money prices. There were protracted negotiations over how much we should pay, but eventually a fair price was agreed. We were also buying some mosquito nets from some money raised in our ethical gifts programme. We were able to buy 12 which will give great protection to some upcountry families.

We started the return to the hotel but stopped off at the Atlantic Hotel in Banjul which was regularly used by Pageant members in The Gambia until it closed in December 2015. It has undergone some refurbishment since and was due to reopen on 1 November 2017 but the opening was then put back to 1 December. We had a look round, mainly for old times' sake. All the bedrooms and bathrooms have new furniture and fittings and the place has been given a lick of paint, but other than that it hasn't changed much. There still seemed quite a bit of work to do, and we doubted that it would be ready in what was then 12 days' time.

Nostalgia corner. Regina, Wandifa and Carol being shown round the Atlantic Hotel
Nostalgia corner. Regina, Wandifa and Carol being shown round
Nostalgia corner. the Atlantic Hotel
Nostalgia corner. the Atlantic Hotel

Sunday

A short day. Pippa and I with Wandifa and Abdoulie visited Ebrima and Fatou in their compound. Ebrima and Fatou were both sponsored by our family when they were at school even though they are now adults. Indeed, they were two of the first children to be sponsored by Pageant. We enjoyed chatting with them. Ebrima is the compound's gardener and he told us of his plans to improve the garden. We were able to give him some seeds donated by Manor Green Primary School in Crawley.

After that we went to buy a bicycle for a student who lives upcountry. His sponsor, Alison had asked us to buy him one. Negotiations were successfully concluded and the bike, with a sturdy lock and a pump were loaded onto the van.

Back to the hotel early. Abdoulie was taking the car to be serviced in the afternoon. He wanted it to be in tip-top condition for our long drive to Soma and beyond tomorrow (we are leaving at 5.30)

Day 14 (20 November) Way upcountry

 see Andrew's original post

A longer than usual blog today to record the events of a longer than usual day.

We assembled in the hotel lobby at 5.30 am to set off. We had two cars today. Abdoulie, Yankuba Tom, Isaac and Yun set off in the Pageant van, while Wandifa, Pippa and I went in the other car with Jerreh driving.

Upcountry in The Gambia is so very different from the urban conurbations of Banjul, Serrekunda, Brikama and the other villages that make up the coastal strip. It is quiet, peaceful and very very rural. It is also considerably poorer even by Gambian standards.

We made good progress as the road to Brikama is quiet that early in the morning. After Brikama the road is very good for the next 150Km or so, so we sped along stopping only for the numerous police and army checkpoints, but there were even fewer of those than last year and none detained us for long.

Misera BCS

We arrived at Misera BCS shortly after 8.00 having made a brief stop to check out the scout lodge where Isaac, Yun and Tom will be spending the night. We were met by Mr Faye, the principal who was delighted to see us. He gave us a tour of the school and we were able to see the completed fence (what we call a wall) that Pageant had funded. It is a very impressive structure and Mr Faye has plans for it - more of that later. We were able to see some of the furniture that had come over in the container in the school library. The library there is well-structured and more importantly seems well used. Mr Faye considers it to be the best library in the province. We had also given some bundles of clothes for distribution to the local community.

Part of the school wall which may be decorated, with children singing
Part of the school wall which may be decorated, with children singing

The library

The school was also currently experiencing a crisis with its water then. It has two wells. The pumping mechanism (hand-pumping) in the large one is broken beyond repair, and a person or persons unknown had dropped an engine in the other one. Why someone would sink so low as to do that is beyond me. However, a new borehole has been sunk in the village which is only a couple of hundred metres away. The school will have access to that and the pipework has been laid. They are only waiting for the connections to be made. We heard later in the day that those connections were made shortly after we left so they now have water; good news there.

Tom, Isaac and Yun then left us to start their two days of helping out generally in the school. We are hoping they will be providing a report of what they did which I will post here. Pippa and I discussed some possible projects with the principal. He would like to render and paint the school's perimeter wall. There would be pictures and teaching aids painted on the wall. The school has a talented art teacher who could organise the painting. He would also like to provide a secure area with shelter for the food vendors who come to the school. Mr Faye will provide some estimates for both of those.

We then suggested a possible project. The idea is to create a new building for use by the school on Mondays to Fridays and by the local community at the weekend. The building would be put to use as a skills centre. We envisage it consisting of workshops for woodwork, metalwork and home science. It would be accessible from inside the perimeter wall by the school community and outside the wall by the local community. Mr Faye very much liked the idea and we asked for a detailed drawing of what he would like together with a reliable estimate.

We moved on then to Kani Kunda for a brief visit to Wontu who is Wandifa's sister. We arrived at a nice quiet compound, but within milliseconds numerous children of differing sizes and ages materialised. Pippa had brought some parcels for the women's club there, mainly of clothing, bedding and towels and she also had some shorts and dresses hand-made by Esther, a Pageant member. These were highly appreciated and unexpectedly orderly queues of girls formed to be given a dress of the right size. We handed out some small presents to eager children and then said our farewells, departing for Soma Health Centre, where we met a doctor named Amadou and gave some items to be used in the hospital as they see fit, and including some things for the baby care unit.

Trying on dresses, Wontu in the background
Trying on dresses, Wontu in the background
Wandifa and Wontu with home-grown water melon
Wandifa and Wontu with home-grown water melon

Pakalinding UBS

Part of the water installation at Pakalinding UBS
Part of the water installation at Pakalinding UBS

Pakalinding UBS

On to Pakalinding UBS where we had funded a project to provide a new water tank and four standpipes situated around the school grounds. The school has mains water which is metered but often has no supply as it as at the end of the line from the pumping station. The system will enable the tank to be filled when demand from other users is low.

Back in the UK we had agreed to fund the refurbishment of the staff room which is in a total state of disrepair. We handed over a payment of one-half of the estimate with balance to be paid when it appeared the work was progressing well.

The decrepit staff room at Pakalinding UBS
The decrepit staff room at Pakalinding UBS

The state of the school's grounds is somewhat shambolic and we suggested that tidying them up would help the children to have pride in their school. The school also received quite a lot of furniture from the container that has been put in store, some of it is destined to go in the staff room, but we said that most should be used for the children. We would like to see these when we next visit.

We had a tour of the school. Most noticeable was that the school had proper workshops for woodwork, metalwork and home science, but these were hardly being used for practical work and these subjects were being taught theoretically. This may be partly because what little tools and equipment they have is very old and worn-out. The school also has some microscopes donated by Pageant. A teacher was able to show us some photos of them being used, but we would like to hear of them being used more.

We gave a bicycle along with the essential padlock and pump to a Pageant student, Nfamera which was paid for by his sponsor and then went to his family compound nearby. We had some mosquito nets and garden implements from the ethical gifts programme which we wanted to give to an upcountry family where there is greater need for them, but we have only a few sponsored children who live up there.

We set off back to the hotel speeding along the main road stopping only at a local tourist attraction for a drink and a bite to eat. The first part of the journey was very quick, but then we hit the interminable traffic jam that spreads along in the Banjul direction from Brikama so we fumed our way slowly along it arriving back at the hotel just after 7.00. A quick shower followed, then down to a nearby restaurant. It was David and Regina's last evening here. A good fillet steak, peppercorn sauce and chips was a popular choice!

Day 15 (21 November) Farewell to David and Regina

 see Andrew's original post

A shorter blog today to balance up yesterday's long one. Actually it is because we had a short, quiet day.

We said our farewells to David and Regina and hope they have a good journey home. They have been great fun and very supportive. We will miss them. Shortly after they left I received a Met Office warning on my phone for gales in south-east England, so I hope they don't have too bumpy a landing.

After that we went to see Ebrima Cham at Kotukala School. As mentioned in an earlier blog, the school cannot use its well-water because of possible contamination. He has provided us with an estimate to sink a new borehole at a proper distance from the toilets and we have discussed and agreed to fund it, so gave him the necessary cash.

A quick meeting with a student who has completed his G12 and has applied to go to the Nursing School in Banjul. He has found out the cost of this and will know if his application is successful in December. We told him that funding is available and to contact Wandifa when the outcome is known.

On then to Ding Ding Nursery. I have not been there before, although Pippa has, but not for a few years. We wanted to see the work of one of the sponsored nursery children there.

Our final visit to the day was to KJM Nursery in Wallingara. Tina and Frances have both been there before and Tina would like to provide the school with a shipment of some teaching and learning aids for use by the children. We went through the types of aids with the principal who said she will be delighted to have them. We will sort this out when we get back to the UK.

Back then to the hotel for a spot of R&R. Tom, Yun and Isaac will be returning from Misera this evening and we are looking forward to hearing of their time there.

Day 16 (22 November) Mostly project and assembly work

 see Andrew's original post

Yun, Tom and Isaac set off with Jerreh shortly after 9.00 to go for their second visit to Yundum Barracks Schools. Shortly after them Carol, Pippa and I with Wandifa, Abdoulie and Yankuba set off in the opposite direction towards Banjul.

Our first port of call was to Banjul Hospital to give them parcels of very small woollen hats and blankets for neonatal and very young babies. The staff were very grateful for these.

On then to Wesleyan LBS in Banjul. We had told the principal that we had agreed to fund their project for hard-standing for a catering area. She was delighted and we gave her the money to carry out the project.

St Augustine's SSS was our next stop. That was where our container had been unpacked almost two weeks ago. We had left with them some modular shelving units that had been disassembled in Leatherhead and shipped over. St Augustine's was the lucky recipient, mainly because the frames were so heavy that it would have been nigh on impossible to take them anywhere else.

The shelving now had to be reassembled but we had no instructions and its assembly was not particularly intuitive. With the aid of photos taken as the shelving was disassembled we could work out how to do it and showed staff at the school the method. We did a small section and then left the rest in the capable hands of the staff.

Assembling shelving units
Assembling shelving units

We then headed out of Banjul and stopped off at St Therese's Lower and Upper Basic Schools to see a couple of children who were sponsored and one who wanted to be.

Heading now towards Yundum which is where the barracks schools are, we picked up our carpenter's liaison, Fansu and then returned to those schools. We are having made some tables and benches for the lower basic school there. We know what size table top and bench tops we want, but not the height. We all discussed this at some length and agreed on the height suitable for a G2 or G3 class. After leaving we gave Fansu the money to get the work done; he thinks it will take two weeks.

Tom Isaac and Yun had not finished at the school, so we drove a few kilometres down the road to Kings Kid Academy in Lamin village. We were hoping to see our old friend Bishop Dennis but he was in Senegal, so we spoke with the new Headteacher who started in September. We knew he had a project to create six new classrooms on two levels and we were given a very professional document including architect's plans and estimates to take away and consider.

Back then for the final time to the barracks schools to pick up Isaac, Tom and Yun who were still playing rugby with delighted children at that time. They said they had had a great time there.

Team photo: Left to right: Abdoulie, Carol, Andrew, Tom, Yankuba, Isaac, Wandifa, Yun, Pippa
Team photo: Left to right: Abdoulie, Carol, Andrew, Tom, Yankuba, Isaac, Wandifa, Yun, Pippa

Day 17 (23 November) Farewells and Hellos

 see Andrew's original post

We left the hotel at about 9.45 heading for Humanity Nursery School in Farato. We had planned to meet Faks the owner there and hand over the first stage payment for his project to create a multi-use area which could be used as a canteen and kitchen as well as being used for other activities.

Unfortunately he had called earlier to say that he now had a meeting at GTTI, where he is head of automotive engineering, which he couldn't get out of. Nevertheless we met Ebrima, the Headteacher there who showed us around and led a great singing performance from the children. We also saw the canopy that had been erected by means of a Pageant project. It is very impressive.and provides valuable shelter.

Children singing at Humanity Nursery under the new canopy
Children singing at Humanity Nursery under the new canopy

Humanity Nursery caters for special needs children, but as they don't attend every day there were none at the school today. We would still like to discuss their individual needs because we would like to help with any materials etc. that may be of use.

After that we went to Faks's farm which is on the original site of Humanity Nursery. We were shown his 800 or so laying hens the five turkeys he is rearing. All profits from the sale of eggs are ploughed back into the nursery.

Our final visit to Yundum Barracks schools followed. We had brought over many bags of school uniforms from Haslemere Prep School. Included were a large number of grey school shorts. Somewhat surprisingly it seems that very few schools have grey shorts as part of their uniform, but Yundum Barracks schools do. They were delighted to have them. They will be suitable mostly for their lower basic grades. We also had with us some beige shirts, pullovers and socks, which may be of use. They were delighted with these. We had only brought 3 bags with us. We have many more.

On then to the airport which is nearby. Tom, Isaac and Yun were flying home today. Ann and Brian were arriving on the inbound flight, which were pleased to hear was more or less on time. After refreshments we said our farewells to the boys. They have enjoyed themselves immensely and have contributed a great deal to the schools they have visited. We welcomed Ann and Brian and then returned to the hotel.

Gambian internet access - please be patient!

Internet access in The Gambia is difficult and intermittent, and upload speeds are often so slow that Andrew can't add pictures to his posts. We will add these as and when we get them - even if we have to wait for Andrew to get back to the UK.

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