PAGEANT - "Education is the future"
Gambia Trip October 2009 - Blog Posts
Pippa and Ian visited The Gambia during October 2009. Details of their visit were posted on our, and these posts have been collected on this page so you can see them all in one place.
Tuesday 13 October - Arrival in The Gambia
We met at the airport by Wandifa, his 3-year-old son Mo Lamin and our great driver from last April, Abdoulie. Having been unable to take any excess baggage on this trip we arrived with a mere 4 cases - however, that was soon rectified as we drove to the hotel via Linda's, where we collected a large number of packages that had arrived on the container in August. When we arrived at the hotel we managed to completely fill the lobby (those of you who know the Atlantic will know that is no mean feat!) so it was fortunate that the tour bus had not yet arrived from the airport!!
Having squeezed all the parcels into our room we were marched firmly to the pool bar by Mo Lamin for 'juicy'.. his English is improving all the time! Loads of welcome back hugs from all the hotel staff - it was great to be back.
Wednesday 14 October - Campama LBS and GTTI
We started our family visiting to pay sponsorship money - mainly in Banjul today. We visitedto discuss assembly of the book shelving we had sent on the container and agreed to start on theirs the following morning. We also dropped in to GTTI to take a couple of packages of useful stationery from the container, and found that the Automotive Department has just started running a new Practical Automotive course, rather on the lines of our NVQ course, which would be suitable for the less academic but practical students who have not done too well in their Grade 9 (similar to GCSE) exams. We discussed this with Malik Faal, the Automotive Department Head, and it seems to be a very positive step on their part - we could well have some students for him in future years.
Thursday 15 October - Campama LBS and Latrikunda
Off to Campama LBS again to do the shelving. Wandifa, Abdoulie and Yankuba provided the muscle, assisted by a number of eager Campama pupils and Ian directed operations:
Pippa took photos of the new nursery class and discussed work done since our last visit (tiling the verandah and part of the kitchen floor) and future improvement plans. We then went off to one of the Senior Secondary Schools where one of our students had been excluded from school despite having paid more than the first term fees and all his book fees. We sorted that out, Lamin went back into class, and we then went off to Latrikunda and nearby areas to deliver more sponsorship money to another seven families.
Friday 16 October - King's Kid Academy, Lamin Touba Nursery
Prize-giving Day!! Today we visited(in the company of Holly, Gemma and Sara, fellow guests at the hotel) with three things to do: First, to give out the prizes for the Art and English work we started with Tina in April... Tina, Frances and I had selected three winners from each of the two classes who had submitted the work and it was my pleasant task to present the prizes. Some of the children were absent, but the donation of some large class packs of coloured pencils as well as the individual prizes (dictionaries plus either geometry sets or calculators) went down well with all those who were present. I have no photos of the prizewinners yet, but hope to get one from Gemma later. We felt that Mr Michael also deserved a prize, so we gave him a very smart academic year diary/planner.
Then, more bookshelves - the assembly team went into action while Pippa went with Pastor Dennis to discuss projects (do you see a pattern emerging here!!??) and the donation of additional funds that had been made by supporters of the school. The Pastor was really thrilled with this support - he says that the day that we first visited his school was the luckiest day of his life!
After paying some more sponsorship to the families associated with King's Kid we went off with Mbemba to visit a nearby nursery school that has been started with his help by a couple of Pageant members, called the Lamin Touba Nursery. The children had left for the day and the place was deserted when we arrived, but we looked through the windows to see the furniture that we had sent on the container.
When we turned to go, word had obviously got round that the 'toubabs' had arrived and Gemma and Sara were soon surrounded by eager children. (I don't know where Holly was when I took this photo - probably completely buried in children!)
We thought our guests had probably had enough by now, so we finished off our trip with a visit to Lamin Lodge and a very welcome drink before returning to the hotel.
Saturday 17 October - Serrekunda and Abuko
Saturday 17 October was a day devoted to lots of family visiting in the Serrekunda and Abuko areas to pay sponsorship and to discuss future courses with several of the FE students. It is always a real pleasure to go to visit these families and young people who have now become such good friends and we thank them all for their hospitality.
Sunday 18 October - Gunjur
We collected Linda and the Darboe twins en route and were in Gunjur by 11.00am. We parked the minibus in the twins' family compound as has now become our custom and walked along the lane to the Sheik Hatab Memorial Nursery School. As on other days, we had three things to do...
Ian and his assembly team set to work on the nursery school bookshelves (the team was getting really expert by now) and I went to start a PAGEANT Loan scheme with the ladies of the Mothers' Club associated with the nursery school.
The details of the Gunjur Loan Scheme are reported more fully on our. This photo shows the 'start-up' group of ladies. The lady on the extreme right Binta Jammeh, who teaches Home Science at the Gunjur Upper Basic School, and has agreed to act as Pageant's go-between for the group. As well as this, she has decided to lead from the front and take one of the first 'start-up' loans herself.
Once the bookshelves were assembled and the loans arranged it was time to discuss projects with Ahmed Manjang, the founder of the school and his committee. We have agreed to fund improvements to the school, with Wandifa checking at each stage that work is progressing properly. The first thing to be addressed is the perimeter wall (or fence, as the Gambians call it) - the kitchen will follow if the first project is completed satisfactorily.
Having completed our work at the school we returned to the Darboe compound, where we had a warm welcome from Kaddy, the twins' Mum and a delicious meal cooked by Musa. Nfansu, the twins' father, returned from his farm shortly before we left, so we did not have as much time to talk with him as we would have liked.... next time, maybe.
We returned to the hotel, dropping off Linda on the way, and just had time to change before a couple of our FE students came to see us for a drink and a discussion about their respective courses. One of them, Lamin, is doing a Community Nursing course in an up-country hospital. He had asked us to bring him a blood pressure measuring machine (a sphygmomanometer, as he had correctly called it) for his course and we were able to give him one for babies as well as the normal adult-sized version - he was delighted as he said that the clinic did not have such a thing at all. The other, Momodou, is our first PAGEANT University student. He is now in his third year at the University of The Gambia and is doing very well - his is a real triumph for sponsorship as he would not have been able to even progress through Secondary School without the help of his sponsor and his undoubted talent would have been wasted.
Monday 19 October - Brikama
Today we set off early for a trip to Brikama via New Yundum (where we stopped off to pay some sponsorship to a couple of families). Our main destination was, where we were to assemble yet more bookshelving in their little store-room and to give out a considerable amount of school uniform donated by Southwater County Junior School.
It is always a pleasure to visit this little school and today was no exception - and the children were thrilled with the uniform. Particularly popular were the white polo shirts that carry the Southwater crest in red on the front - these were given to the elder children who take some responsibility in the classroom.
While the shelving was being assembled (no Yankuba today as he was in college) the teachers and I discussed what additional materials they would like: a First Aid box and contents were top of the list followed by a handbell to ring for the end of lessons, a seesaw for the playground, a mattress on which tiny children could have a nap, some posters (simple numbers, shapes and colours) and a bucket and drinking cup for the second classroom. We will see what we can do....
Back to the hotel via a couple more families - another busy day....
Tuesday 20 October - the South
Ian was not feeling too good today so he stayed in the hotel while Wandifa, Abdoulie and I did a grand tour of the south of The Gambia - my goodness, it was a long day.
We visited Tanji (family visiting), Banyaka (school and sponsored children's families), along the road (see the photo!) to Jambanjelly (where we gave a pencil-case to a newly sponsored child and saw little Modou Lamin Jammeh getting around really well on his new crutches), Siffoe (family visiting plus checking on the considerable amount of shelving to be assembled at Siffoe SSS), Brikama (to see a family me missed yesterday) and finally to Farato (to take photos of some children in need of sponsorship) before returning to the hotel! When I got back Ian looked and felt a lot better - and he had a Julbrew ready!!
Wednesday 21 October - North Bank
North Bank day, so we decided to give Abdoulie a rest, catch the ferry as foot passengers and get a Barra taxi for our journey around the places we needed to visit. Ian was feeling a lot better by now, so he, Wandifa and I caught the second ferry of the day as planned - goodness, could this really be happening? A North bank trip going to plan - unheard of! We found a really excellent Barra taxi driver (must remember his phone number for our next trip!) and set off - Essau UBS first stop. Here we had the very pleasant task of telling the headmaster about the wonderful sponsorship raised for his school by the efforts of Sarah Hayes (). To say he was delighted would be an understatement... we took some photos of the areas (bookstore and the staffroom) that are to be renovated first - again, Wandifa will check progress and release more funding as the stages of the work are completed.
Then to- just a quick visit today as our time was so limited, but I am delighted to say that we were able to partake of our favourite Gambian meal - a Bakalarr breakfast! All our friends at the school were well and the Grade 9 results had been pretty good (with the exception of English - what has happened there, I wonder?). We discussed a couple of possible projects and will see what funding becomes available later in the year. We were able to give out more sponsorship to families in the Bakalarr area and then set off for Albreda, where we visited Wandifa's brother's family and the little cafe by the jetty. Our friend Abdou at the cafe was sad to find we were not staying the night at the rest camp this time - next year, we said....
After some cool drinks (heaven!) back in the taxi for the very hot ride back to Barra for the ferry ride home. We arrived at Barra and - good heavens, a ferry was waiting... could this continuing good fortune be possible?
And then.... the ferry took one hour forty two mintes to make the crossing!! (For the uninitiated it usually takes 40 minutes - an hour on a bad day). It was 40 degrees Centigrade, no shade on the ferry, no breeze and the ferry was barely winning against the tide... my word, it was hot! We eventually got back to the hotel - too late for Happy Hour - and flopped into chairs by the pool bar, where Julbrews and cold Sprites appeared as if by magic. Thank you, lovely Atlantic staff...
Thursday 22 October - Wellingara LBS & KMJ Nursery School
After yesterday we decided to have a slightly less taxing day - we went to Wellingara LBS, where a lot of the school furniture from the last container had been sent, as well as - you've guessed it - more bookshelving!
This was the last of the shelving to be assembled and by this time the team (complete with Yankuba again now) was really slick. In no time the room that was to be the library was cleared, swept, the component parts of the shelves were brought in (many on the heads of the pupils) and the shelving assembled. The headteacher could not believe it had happened so quickly - he was truly amazed!
He showed us the difference made by the classroom furniture we had sent - it had enabled him to double his intake for the year and had meant that his school could be used for some of the area examinations that are carried out at the start of each year.
We had sent nine bays of shelving to Wellingara as we did not know how much space they had, but they only had room for seven. So, as we had been introduced to Wellingara by Ansumana of KMJ Nursery, AND he had come today to help with the shelving, we decided to take the surplus two bays to KMJ - Ansumana was delighted! We loaded all the bits onto the roofrack of the minibus and took them directly to the school, where they were instantly assembled.
While we were there we were introduced to the new members of staff (some of last year's teachers have now gone to college) and two little girls showed us how they are using the green uniform skirts we sent out on the container. Another school it is always a pleasure to visit!
Friday 23 October - Bakoteh, Kotu, Kololi and Bakau
Friday, so we just went out in the morning and were back in time for afternoon prayers at 2.00pm.
We took three microscopes and some revision workbooks for Maths and Science to SOS SSS in Bakoteh - the headteacher was delighted.
We then visited a number of families in the Kotu - Kololi - Bakau areas, after which we returned to the hotel.
After prayers Yankuba and Wandifa rejoined us at the hotel and we showed Yankuba a small printer we had brought with us for him to try out, with the idea of him being able to take and print both ordinary prints and passport-type photos - many Gambians are constantly in need of the latter for ID cards, student registration cards and so on. He and Wandifa were very enthusiastic about the printer and found it very user-friendly, so we will see if it is a success.
Saturday 24 October - Party for Grade 12 students at Linda's
We spent the morning at the hotel by the pool! Wow, so this is what a holiday is like..... However, by the time Abdoulie arrived to collect us at 2.00pm we were getting a bit bored, so we were ready and eager to go again - particularly as this was the day of the party at Linda's for last year's Grade 12 students. Now we would find out who had won the promised netbook for the best Grade 12 results...
We had decided to add to the party atmosphere by celebrating the 18th birthday of two of our PAGEANT students, Fatou and Amie - the hotel chef had made us a lovely cake (WITH candles) so we collected that from the hotel kitchen and set off for the party.
When we arrived we found that two of Linda's colleagues from the Peace Corps had decided to join us, as they were keen to meet some of our older students and to see PAGEANT in action.
So first - the Grade 12 results: each student came in turn to sit with me, to go through their results and to enter them into my chart. There are three streams for Grade 12 - Arts, Commerce and Science - and some students had taken eight subjects, while others had taken nine. The fairest method seemed to be to total the points for each student and then divide by the number of subjects taken.
After working out the numbers Modou Jeng (St Augustine SSS) was the winner by a small margin from Sainey Darboe (Nusrat). Modou was delighted - he wants to go on to study Medicine at University and is currently doing an Access course in preparation. He is a thoroughly nice, as well as intelligent, young man - we wish him well for his future and will help his sponsor to fund his studies.
All this excitement had made everyone hungry, which was just as well as Tida, Linda's maid, had made a wonderful meal of chicken yassa and rice - really yummy!
The birthday part of the celebration then took over, with the cake making a perfect dessert... Fatou and Amie blew out all the candles and cut the cake in the approved manner, everyone sang 'Happy Birthday' and the cake was polished off pretty quickly by the assembled company.
It was a really good afternoon - great to catch up with nearly all of our Grade 12 students, all of whom we have got to know well over the past few years, and Amie and Fatou felt that their birthdays had been celebrated in style. Abdoulie took most of them home and we gave bus fare to those travelling in the opposite direction.
We stayed on and worked out outstanding finance and sponsorship with Linda, as we would be leaving money with her to bank, to enable Wandifa to deal with the few items we had not managed to complete during our stay.
Sunday 25 October - Sponsored children
The morning saw us in the hotel once more, but this time we were busy taking photos and details of several children that had been recommended for sponsorship, who would now go onto our waiting list.
We also saw some children who had recently been sponsored and who had come to meet us to receive their 'welcome to PAGEANT' pencil-cases.
In the afternoon we went down to Wandifa's compound where more families and children either received their sponsorship payments or were entered onto the waiting list. We took some PAGEANT members with us who had arrived at the hotel - we were as surprised to see them as they were to see us - and we all enjoyed a great afternoon of games, dancing and chatting - thank you, Wandifa, for making us all so welcome.
Monday 26 October - Microscopes and football kit
One of the most important things left to do was to go to visit some Upper Basic Schools with a view to seeing which would be willing and able to host some Practical Microscopy Workshops for Science teachers in February 2010. We had recently been awarded funding for the Workshops by the Royal Microscopical Society (RMS) - I had been notified of our success in winning one of the Vice President's Awards for 2009 while we were in The Gambia - so we were eager to start the ball rolling. We visited several schools and decided on three from the South Bank and one from the (less populated) North Bank. All the headteachers we approached were very keen on the idea (and it is the organisation of these Workshops that has been keeping me so busy since our return!).
At one of the schools we presented some football kit that had been donated to us - several children appeared as if by magic to model the kit for us, including a couple of PAGEANT sponsored girls. They told me that the kit should definitely be for the girls as they had won all their matches whereas the boys had lost several!!
As well as visiting these schools we went to the Hotel School to check on the admission of one of our students, visited a few last families and children in school - then back to the hotel in time for our last Happy Hour drink, supper... and packing.
Tuesday 27 October - Last morning
Our last morning.. could two weeks really have gone by so quickly? Lots of goodbyes to our good friends, the staff at the Atlantic (don't go, the plane is not flying today, stay with us, you are Gambians now...) and a few more last minute visitors - Ousman arrived from the North Bank with some new pictures, others arrived with small gifts for sponsors and friends in UK. At last it was time to go - we left the hotel with Wandifa and Abdoulie (Yankuba was again at college) and then stopped at Billy's for a last lunch and drink before our final drive (via Linda's again, to drop off a few things) to the airport. We just beat the tour bus again, checked in, had a farewell drink in the Airport Lounge with Wandifa and Abdoulie.... and then flew home.
A pretty good trip, all in all.... and we look forward to February 2010. See you then, everyone - get the rooms ready and the Julbrew on the table, Atlantic - we'll be raring to go again.