PAGEANT - "Education is the future"
Pageant Gambia Trip November 2018 - Blog Posts
Once again a team from Pageant are visiting The Gambia this November. Pippa will be keeping us up to date with blog posts on the. However, the internet can be intermittent in The Gambia, so Pippa will be sending me text and photos, and I will post to the blog from this end. As usual, I will be collecting all the posts on this page so you can see them in one place.
Visit to The Gambia - November 2018
Pageant's regular November visit to the The Gambia is about to start. This year Pippa will be accompanied by David & Regina for the first two weeks and Carole will there almost as long. Andrew is unwell, so he and Kathy will be missing out this time. As usual, the Pageant team will be joined by our invaluable agents.
Pippa hopes to get upcountry and to the North Bank - she will decide on the schedule when she gets there. The first day will be spent going through all the school reports that have been handed in from last year and making out a rough itinerary for visiting schools and sponsored students. There are several school projects to see and others to start. The team will also be buying and distributing, as well as a host of other 'little' tasks. Pippa will also have initial talks about the to be held in February 2019.
Most people won't know that posting to a blog like this involves online editing. This can take some time, particularly if there are photos which need to be positioned in a neat arrangement with the text. Internet access in The Gambia can be intermittent, and if the connection fails while composing a post, lots of the hard work may get lost. The solution is for Pippa to compose the text as an email message off-line, attach any photos, and then hit 'send' when the internet is available. I will then turn this message into a blog post here, where things are more reliable.
We hope you enjoy following events during this visit.
Hurray, we've arrived safely...a good trip with no hassle re luggage at either end. One slight hiccup...no smiling agents waiting for us when we emerged from the baggage claim!!! I phoned Wandifa, to find that he was expecting us tomorrow!!! Linda had told him the wrong day..... So, we sat in the little cafe, with our heavily overloaded trolley beside us... and our two lovely guys arrived with the minibus in about twenty minutes.
We are now safely ensconced in our hotel, have had a very good dinner and have now retired to bed...at least, I'll be able to go to my bed when I can see it!!!
Day 1 – Admin & Yundum Barracks
This morning was largely spent doing the admin at the hotel.... checking reports, seeing who had not given theirs in, seeing what payments had been made and so on. Our Gambian guys have done a wonderful job, my list shows far more payments than spaces!!!
We then went off for a quick visit to the supermarket (at Westfield, for our Gambia-aware readers). We stocked up on water, a few stationery items, biscuits and soft drinks for some and a large pair of scissors - my nail scissors are not up to the task of removing our packing cling film! I suggested to our guys that they should each choose something for themselves... Wandifa and Abdoulie both chose milk powder, because fresh milk will not keep well in their climate, and Yankuba chose cornflakes.
Then, off to Yundum Barracks schools to deliver the Worldclass letters... very well received and the replies are promised to be done in time for me to bring them back to UK.
The headmaster also showed us the tables and chairs from our summer shipment, well in use by large numbers of children.
He was also excited to show us an initiative from the Education Ministry.... the foundations have been dug and materials have arrived for a new two storey classroom block, to be completed in time for next September.
We have found this sort of thing happening before...we start to help a school and then the Ministry seems to see this improvement and comes along with further assistance... wonderful!!
Back to the hotel...dinner at Samba's Kitchen this evening....
More about Worldclass -is a club for children at in Hampshire, which has been run since 2005 by Jeannette Mars. The school holds regular fundraising events to help children in a number of Gambian schools. Club members have penpals at these schools and regularly send and receive letters. See for more details.
Day 2: Bees, babies and Brikama
Our first stop today was at the bee keepers' area in the forest between the airport and Brikama. We were there, not just to buy honey as we have often done in the past, but to start the ball rolling on a proposed new project concerning training and education about bee keeping. One of our members keeps bees as a hobby and has kindly donated the considerable sum raised by his own honey sales to help the bee keepers of The Gambia.
We drove into the small area beside the 'honey shop' and were greeted by Isa and Bakary, both of whom were extremely knowledgeable and kind enough to spend some considerable time showing us around the area in which their hives are situated.
They also showed us some empty hives, described how they bait them with wax to entice the bees into them, explained the difference between the two types of hive used and told us about the training courses they offer when funds allow. They also told us about visits made by school children to see the bees.... altogether a very useful visit that made us feel we could do something really helpful with our 'honey money'.
Their boss is away on a trip at the moment, expected back on Monday, so we will go back next week to discuss finances with him and how best to help them.
Next, to Brikama hospital, to the maternity unit with some beautiful baby hats and blankets donated by various kind groups of ladies. These were very gratefully received by the nursing staff, who took us to meet some of the new mums and their tiny babies. We gave out several items ourselves and left the rest to be distributed by the nurses.
On through Brikama to do some family visiting, buying a couple of sacks of rice along the way - gifts from sponsors. One such family had a new member of the compound to show us...a baby goat, just 4 days old! So cute.....
On to Jambanjelly, more family visiting and catching up with old friends, always such a pleasure sitting under the trees, with loads of small children coming rather shyly (at first!) to see these strange visitors. Regina and I were both 'adopted' by a little girl and boy respectively, who were delighted to play 'Round and round the garden's and 'Insy winsy spider'... MANY times!!
We returned to the hotel using a new road that has been made from Jambanjelly to Sukuta. A really good road, with loads of roundabouts - however, the roads leading to the villages either side of the new road are still the usual sandy tracks, with just a few yards of tarmac leading from each exit!! Very Gambian...but the new road is excellent and made our journey home a lot shorter.
Back at the hotel, sorted out some payments to children who have suddenly produced their reports! Word gets round really quickly that we have arrived....
Day 3: Banking, Kotukala and some senior students
We started the day by going to 'pick' Linda so that she could come with me to the bank to complete the form-filling required by their new regulations. That all went very smoothly and we were out of the (blissfully cool) branch much sooner than I had anticipated.
The school had very good results during the past academic year, of which they are justifiably proud.
On to Kotukala school to check on the chairs we had sent them in our shipment. They are all in good use, so much so that we had to retrieve some of them that had been taken outside for an impromptu dance and drumming show for a group of UK visitors who arrived just after we did - they were taken back outside as soon as we had taken our photo.
Yankuba took aof the dancing, which we have uploaded to YouTube.
We then dropped Linda back home and went on to the maternity unit at the MRC clinic in Fajara. What a wonderful facility that is....bright, clean, spacious, really impressive. We left some baby hats, blankets and bootees with the senior nurse - no photos of the mums and babies allowed there, but the nurse obligingly posed for one instead!
Next, some visits to some senior students to try to sort out a few problems, with varying degrees of success...
While we were in that area we also called in to check the time of the Fajara Cemetery Remembrance Day service on Sunday, as Carole and I think we might go to that in this rather special year. Abdoulie is keen to drive us as he has never been himself.
By this time it was EXTREMELY hot, so we were rather pleased to have the excuse of 2pm Friday prayers to have an early finish!! The air conditioning in my room has never been more welcome....
Day 4... I think!!
Time is starting to take on that rather haphazard effect that it does in The Gambia...however, it is certainly Saturday as we have been doing a lot of family visiting today.
I do have a couple of photos for you all: the first one is the somewhat unusual lawn mower that has appeared at the hotel!
The second is a mystery fruit brought to us by Abdoulie... it grows on a climbing vine-type thing rather than on a tree and is about the size of an orange and a more yellowy colour when fully ripe. You eat the central part containing the seeds ...any suggestions?
Abdoulie would really like to know the English name for this, as he is often asked what it is.... I have added a third photo to show you the outer surface.
Day 5 Remembrance Sunday
Carole and I were collected by our three guys at 9.15am and were at theabout ten minutes later. Very early for the service but worth it to be able to wander past all the headstones in peace and quiet and then get a good seat in the shade. (Essential today as it has been around 36C... the hottest I can remember it in all the years I have been coming here.)
Not only Gambian headstones, but several other Commonwealth countries as well, Canada and Australia in particular. However, the most poignant one we found was Yankuba's namesake... amazing.
The service was very moving, all the armed services, police, scouts and so on being represented plus several war veterans from WW 2, one of whom was assisted to the memorial to enable him to lay the last wreath. It was organised by the staff of the British High Commission, but the great majority of participants and congregation were Gambians.
Our three guys were so pleased to have been able to come.. they said they would not have ventured to go on their own. We got them each a poppy to wear... they were really delighted with them.
After the ceremony we dropped Carole back to the hotel and then went on to do some family visiting. We finished quite early again as it is still SO hot...36C, feels like 46C according to the weather men!!!!!
Day 6 Monday in Banjul
Carole, Regina and I set off for Banjul this morning with our trusty trio... Regina was very keen to come as Ebrima, one of her sponsored children, lives there and is attending Albion LBS. One thing became very apparent as we drove into the city - the roads are still terrible, in places even worse than last year.
Rumour has it that there are some improvements happening somewhere, but we didn't see any!!!
We found Ebrima in school and he arrived in the headteacher's office looking slightly nervous...he was relieved to hear that he was not in trouble but was being invited to come swimming at our hotel on Friday.
We then went round several other schools, seeing and photographing the Pageant students and checking they were all in the right places and classes. At one school we found a group of students enthusiastically painting their names onto their T-shirts. They had cut their own stencils and were now applying the paint... obviously a popular class!
Albert Market was next... mosquito nets and buckets (ethical gifts) were purchased by our Gambians while we kept out of the way. No point in us being around as the prices will go sky high if we are... We went and chatted to the craft market traders who we have known for many years, with Carole coming away with some nice gifts to take home.
Next, on to the big hospital, which is still called the Royal Victoria by most people, even though it is officially called something far less colonial. We found our way up to the maternity wards, but were not permitted to present our gifts to the mothers in person. As at MRC, a senior nurse accepted them on their behalf.
We then went for a cold drink to Timeless, which used to be Billy's in the 'old days'. We made use of the large table there to spread out some drawings and discuss a new project, currently called the Pageant Power Hut (a solar energy project for students in a poor community, of which more details later) and to estimate the cost of the materials needed to build the first structure. The local knowledge of our three guys proves invaluable on this sort of occasion, I feel we now have a good idea of the outlay that will be needed.
Our last call was to the industrial area in Kanifing, where we bought some tools as a start of the equipment for our new woodwork, metalwork and home science building at Misera BCS. Some excellent haggling by Abdoulie in particular got the cost down considerably!!
Back at the hotel now...the electricity has just gone off as I am writing this, so no WiFi and no Aircon. I think I will go out and sit in the shade by the pool...
Day 7, back to Brikama... and bees...
Much cooler today, just 30C, which was very welcome as Brikama is always hotter than anywhere else in the Kombo region.
On the way towards Brikama, our first stop was a visit to one of our sponsored students. Her family has moved since I last visited them and their present house is down a very long and bumpy sandy track... imagine our surprise to find that their little village is called something so appropriate!
This family is one of the poorer ones that we visit, but always so welcoming. They have a small garden in which they grow kassava (for home consumption) and pumpkins that they sell in the market.
When we left, one of the older girls was pounding a mixture of onions and chillies to make a sauce for their lunch - very traditional.
As we left we were discussing our ethical gifts and to whom we might give them...Wandifa in particular thought that this was a very deserving family so we bought a 50Kg sack of rice while we were in the town and delivered in on our way home. The mum of the house was taking a shower when we got back to them...she was so thrilled with the gift that she dressed in her very best outfit for her photo with the rice.
Our next stop, in Brikama itself, was Gambia College where we needed to discuss the February 2019. Nakulang, head of science, had returned from his trip to upcountry schools and was in his office when we arrived. The decisions re dates, numbers of students were all going well until we called in James, the chief technician, to talk about room allocation. The rooms we wanted were probably going to be available but James told us that the really solid classroom tables that have been there in the past have now been exchanged for some chairs, each with their own small 'book rest', to enable more students to fit into the room.
Nakulang had not been aware of this change and he was not happy about it, to say the least!! He says that they will be able to get the tables back in there in time for our workshop...we will have to check up early in our February visit.
Then, a discussion with a senior student about his travel expenses and some more family visits... a day of cute baby goats, the first one a few weeks old, the other just a few hours old!
Last but not least, back to the beekeepers, where Seyaka, the senior man, was back from his trip. We had some lengthy discussions about training and introducing beekeeping to different people. He was very much in favour of school training and outlined a possible schedule and associated list of materials that would be required. To set one school up with ten hives, protective clothing and the other items needed to look after the hives, collect the honey and wax, bottle the honey and utilise the wax (in body cream, soap and candles) will cost in the region of £400.
Seyaka is going to present our proposal of a partnership, whereby the materials are provided by Pageant and the training expenses by the beekeepers association plus school community, to his board and will come back to us with their thoughts on the matter. A step forward, we felt, but we will have to wait and see.
A slightly later return to the hotel today as it was cooler, but not too late as we have a very early start tomorrow for an upcountry trip. We will probably be late back, so there may be a slight delay before the next blog posting....
Day 8: Upcountry trip
We (Carole, Abdoulie, Wandifa, Yankuba and I) set off a little after 6am, down the normally heavily congested, but now blissfully quiet, road to Brikama. Here we turned left to follow the main South Gambia highway to our destination of Soma and surrounding villages, roughly halfway down the length of the country.
It was a delightful journey...good road, villages just waking up for the day, forests and fields looking so green - and not too hot!! As it got towards 8am we passed hundreds of children walking to their schools, first in one direction and then, as you passed through the village, coming from the other direction. Then, several Km further on the process was repeated with different uniforms for the next school...and so on. As Carole said, it put a completely different slant to the idea of the school run!
We arrived atjust before 9am and met the newly appointed headmaster, Mr Ceesay in his office. The previous headmaster has taken a sabbatical to do a university course and Mr Ceesay, formerly his deputy, has been promoted in his absence. The new deputy, Mr Touray, was also there and proved to be extremely helpful regarding the main purpose of our visit. He is the head of technical education at the school and we were coming to see the new building that had been been erected since our last visit - the large woodwork, metalwork and home science classroom block.
They have done a very good job on this building and we were very pleased with it. We discussed the finishing touches that we agreed it needs... a tiled floor for the home science room plus a tiled worktop running the length of the shorter side of the room with spaces underneath for storage; a skim of really good quality concrete for the other two floors to withstand the hopefully heavy use it will get; shutters on the windows for security (two very nice ones have been fitted to the small office windows, so we agreed that similar ones should be made for those in the main rooms). We hope to get the estimates for this work during the next week.
We also discussed the gift of £500 for tools from Battle Rotary club. Mr Touray is coming to Serrekunda this coming weekend, so he hopes to have collected prioritised lists for the various subject teachers and it may be that we can go on a shopping trip with him! We had taken two tool boxes and a few handtools with us as a start for their collection, with which they were very pleased.
There were two requests for further projects - toilets and a staffroom - but we explained that we must finish the technical block before we can start on anything else.
All in all a very good visit... and as we left we passed the new building made to house the food vendors who come to the school to provide lunch for the children...
Our next stop was at Wandifa's old family compound in Kanikunda, to which we were taking a number of gifts. First, some hats and dresses made by some of our very kind donors...
.. and also mosquito nets and buckets for the families, bought as part of our ethical gifts scheme.
Next stop was Wonto's compound (Wonto is one of Wandifa's sisters, a truly lovely lady). We gave out some more gifts and Wonto gave us a large bunch of bananas and a huge bag of shelled and roasted peanuts. We sampled a few of the latter at her house and ate most of the bananas on our way home - delicious!!
Pakalinding UBS was next. We had gone to see how the very long wall, funded last year, had been done. It looks really good and we congratulated them on their excellent work.
At the very end of 'our' length of wall was an old section that is two blocks lower. The students have scraped out footholds in this section so that they can climb over and go out of the school unnoticed when they want to!! We agreed to fund the extra height on this section of wall and the filling in of the footholds, but I am not sure that this will stop them if they are determined!!
We did NOT agree to adding the height to the entirety of the old school wall, as this would be very expensive and the students do not seem to wish to escape over those parts of the wall!!! So far, at any rate...
We then discussed their proposal to make a long smooth pathway from their entrance to the centre of the furthest classroom block, to enable wheelchair access for several students who wish to enter the school but cannot do so as the terrain is extremely rocky. They have already provided an estimate for this, so we can discuss it at our next trustee's meeting.
A couple of our sponsored students are at that school, one of whom had only just given us his last year's report. We went on to his grandma's house to give her the money, for which she thanked us...one of her great granddaughters was there and she was delighted to receive a very pretty poncho made by one of our donors.
We had heard that the proposed bridge across the river Gambia was nearing completion, so we felt that as we were only.a ten minute drive away it was worth going to have a look. For Pageant members who have accompanied me on previous trips, the bridge is at the place where the small ferry crosses to Farafenni. (Some people will no doubt remember the cow that jumped off the ferry into the river...)
All this will soon be a thing of the past as the bridge looks to be very close to achieving its advertised opening date of January 2019.
What a difference that will make.. there must have been fifty or so lorries queuing for the ferry when we were there, most of them Senagalese crossing The Gambia to get to the other part of their own country. The ferry only takes two at a time...need I say more?
(One of the cars coming off the ferry was of particular note, mainly due to what was on its luggage rack!!)
Our last stop was at the local hospital, once again to the maternity unit, with baby hats and bootees. This time we were allowed to go into the ward and give out some of the items ourselves...maybe because we have helped the nurse in charge in the past.
Finally, back into the minibus for the journey back to the hotel, stopping off at the Tendaba complex on our way. We had some cold drinks and a very welcome loo-stop!
A very good run home...until we got into the traffic at Brikama. From then on it was the normal crawl, taking so much longer than in the morning. Even so we were back in the hotel by 7.15pm...a good, if exhausting day!!
Our so grateful thanks go to our great Gambian guys, in particular to Abdoulie on this occasion, as his driving, in often extremely trying circumstances, was as immaculate as ever.
Day 9, Thursday, back in the Kombo
Today Regina and I were playing postman, delivering letters and gifts from sponsors to 'their' students. This is not always as easy as it sounds... the visit to one family took nearly an hour, across really terrible terrain and eventually driving down a narrow path through the scrub to end up in their back garden!! On our way we passed the huge sand and gravel pit from which most of such building materials are taken for the local housing projects.
Sadly, the heavy lorries that remove these materials have done terrible damage to the already poor roads in that area, so we were bouncing around in the minibus as Abdoulie fought to keep it on the track.
However, when we reached our destination, the father of the family was really so delighted to receive the gift of a sack of rice plus some cash that we felt it had been worth the effort.
In all we delivered two sacks of rice, nine letters and three cards with money enclosed. It doesn't sound a lot, but it really was a considerable effort!
I have taken a unilateral decision for us to have a day off tomorrow, so our guys can have a well earned rest... and so can I!!
Linda is due to be bringing the children of 'her' Gambian family to play in the hotel pool tomorrow afternoon and we hope another couple of sponsored children will be coming as well, so we won't be bored!