PAGEANT - "Education is the future"
Pageant Gambia Trip February 2019 - Blog Posts
A Pageant team visited The Gambia in February 2019. Pippa, Kathy and Andrew were be joined by Bob Skipper for the regularat Gambia College. Microscopy and chemistry workshops ran simultaneously over two days, with each workshop taking a full day with up to 20 participants. The Microscopy Workshop started with familarisation with the microscopes, followed by using them for microscopy lessons. The Chemistry Workshop had two sessions with demonstrations, group practical activities and lesson preparation. All workshops finished with teaching demonstrations to groups of school children or other students. As well as the workshops there were visits to schools, children and village communities. Carole and Alan were there for this part of the visit.
On the third day of the visit, Pippa tripped over in the hotel at breakfast and fell very heavily. She was taken to hospital with a broken arm and kneecap. A week later she returned to the UK for treatment, and at the time of writing this is making a good recovery. Despite Pippa's absence, nearly all of the planned activities went ahead, with Yankuba, Wandifa, Abdoulie and Linda helping to run the workshops.
Andrew kept us up to date with regular posts on. These posts have all been copied into this summary page, with a minimal amount of editing.
Here we go again....
Time for our February trip - rather confusingly, it is starting in January this year!
Next Tuesday (29th January) Kathy, Andrew and I are due to start what has now become known as the 'workshop trip'. We will be doing a lot more in addition to the workshops, but it is these that account for the great majority of our luggage - and also planning time before our trip. Bob will be joining us for the workshop week itself and Carole and Alan will also be with us for part of our stay.
The photo shows 50 of the 110Kg amount of luggage that the three of us will be taking on Tuesday - the other 60Kg
will be in our three 'personal' cases!
Andrew will probably be taking over blog duties during our stay in The Gambia, but he and Kathy are away this weekend so I am starting off here.
Arrival and first full day (29/30 Jan)
With widespread snow forecast over much of the UK we were glad to depart Gatwick more or less on time. The northerly wind causing the cold snap blew us quickly south and we arrived in very good time in Banjul. As well as three really heavy suitcases containing our personal stuff and gifts, we had six large boxes of microscopes and science equipment for the two days of workshops. Luckily we had been provided with a letter for customs provided by the registrar of Gambia College and this smoothed our way through. We were met by our three Gambian friends and Pageant agents Wandifa, Abdoulie and Yankuba and were soon on our way to the hotel.
After a rest and unpacking we went to the refurbished Bantaba which has been transformed into an Italian restaurant complete with pizza ovens.
On Wednesday morning we left the hotel with the aim of visiting Gambia College, to finalise arrangements for the use of two laboratories and for the provision of breakfast and lunch for the student teachers during the two days.
Before we arrived there we went to the ABC Nursery, Lower Basic and Upper Basic schools to see and welcome a newly sponsored grade 7 girl. She was presented with her Pageant welcome pack of a pencil case containing rulers pencils etc for school. The ABC school looked very pleasant with plenty of shade. It is assisted by a Norwegian Foundation and has only recently started taking UB students. It is pleasantly small by Gambian standards having only 376 students, and an average class size of about 33.
[The Norwegian Foundation mentioned above is the. Their website is in Norwegian, but the photos are worth a look.]
On then, to Gambia College. Mr Ceesay, the Head of Science, whom we usually meet to arrange the workshops, unfortunately could not be there to meet us, but had arranged his deputy to be there and help. The main problem facing us was that the large tables in the Biology Lab, where we usually carry out the microscopy workshop, had been removed without authorisation and had been replaced with single chairs only. Useless for a practical workshop.
James, the head lab technician, arrived and had found some of the tables in another facility nearby. He and Pippa later tracked down most of them so we are hoping they will be in place for the workshop. We have a plan B to use another chemistry lab should this prove impossible!
Having finished at the college we went to Jambanjelly to meet some sponsored students and pay their sponsorship monies over.
We also needed to arrange the catering (breakfast and lunch for 50 each day) for the workshops. We have set the wheels in motion and are waiting for confirmation of cost and place, as the usual restaurant is being refurbished. We have been assured it will be completed for our dates in February. We will go back before these to check everything is OK.
A return to the hotel mid-afternoon meant we had time for a sit in the very welcome sunshine. Tonight we are meeting up with Linda and going to a local restaurant.
A bad accident
Thursday 31 January
The day started very badly. Pippa tripped over at breakfast and fell very heavily. She was taken by ambulance to AfriMed hospital (where Ian was), a very good hospital, where X-rays showed she had fractured her right kneecap and left humerus. She had also broken her nose. The hospital arranged for her to be seen by a very experienced orthopaedic surgeon on the next day.
Friday 1 February
The surgeon, who has over 30 years' experience in the UK saw Pippa in the late afternoon and confirmed the diagnosis. She will require operations, but he wanted further X-rays to assess the extent of the damage, these were being done that evening and then we will know what the options are. We will of course keep you posted here. Pippa is determined to carry on with our work and we will be doing as much as we can. She is in a lot of pain though and our thoughts are with her.
In accordance with her wishes, we carried on. In the morning we unpacked and checked the microscopes for the workshops. In the afternoon, while Kathy stayed with Pippa at the hospital, the rest of us went round and paid some sponsorship monies
Update on Pippa - Saturday 2 February
I am just writing a quick update on Pippa for you.
Pippa has now been seen by the very experienced orthopaedic surgeon and had further X-Rays. This has confirmed that she has a broken left humerus and a fractured right kneecap. These require operations to set them and these are planned to be done in one procedure on Saturday over here.
We have been doing carrying out some of Pageant's work in the meantime and I will give you a full update on that tomorrow.
Sponsoring & Microscopes - Sunday 3 February
[Andrew added photos in a, but I have inserted them in appropriate places in this section]
Pippa has decided, after talking with her family that she will return home as soon as possible. At the moment the insurance company are sorting out the details of her flight home.
She is obviously in some considerable pain but is continuing do as much Pageant work as she can from her hospital bed and in all the circumstances is remaining cheerful.
The rest of us are carrying on, as Pippa wants, with doing all we can, although Kathy is spending much of the day with Pippa in the hospital whilst Wandifa, Yankuba, Abdoulie and I are going out.
Saturday and Sunday are non-schools days so we spent much of the time visiting compounds and making sponsorship payments. We are always well received and have been given large amounts of freshly-picked fruit, including grapefruit, oranges and bananas. We have had two different types of grapefruit. Both were delicious and juicy. One tasted very similar to what we would get in the UK, but the other was more like an orange in size and as sweet as one. Quite different.
On Sunday the compounds included those of our friends and our sponsored and former-sponsored students. Yankuba is now married to Fatou, both former Pageant students and we went and chatted with them.
On then to Abdoulie's compound where we met his wife Aminata and three children, as well as many others from nearby. Abdoulie once again demonstrated his tree climbing skills to give us some delicious oranges from his tree. Our final compound visit of the day was to Wandifa's where his wife Mariama gave us a delicious lunch of fish benachin. All his extended family were there and we spent some time chatting with all of them. We also had a look at some of the workshop equipment that Wandifa had been storing for us. Unfortunately some of it had been attacked by termites and had to be thrown away, but most of it was fine.
We returned to the hotel via the hospital to call in on Pippa.
Books & Solar Power - Monday 4 February
[Andrew added photos in a, but I have inserted them in appropriate places in this section]
We started Monday by going to Timbooktoo, The Gambia's best bookshop, to buy amongst other things some school textbooks. Then a brief visit to a journalism college to look at details of a course one of the Pageant students would like to enrol in.
In April the solar powered hut project will be completed. We wanted to know which of the required items are available in The Gambia and which will need to be bought in the UK, so we visited two tool and electrical shops to investigate this.
We then dropped Kathy off at the hospital and the rest of us went out paying sponsorship. Back to the hospital for a meeting with Faks to discuss the solar project. Faks is the head of automotive engineering at GTTI. This was a lively discussion, especially as during it many people dropped in to visit Pippa. In fact many many people have been calling in to see Pippa during each day.
In the evening we met up with Linda for dinner.
Kings Kid & Yundum - Tuesday 5 February
[Once again, Andrew has added photos in aand I have inserted them in appropriate places in this section]
Alan was due to arrive in the afternoon... We started the day by dropping off Kathy at the hospital to stay with Pippa.
We only had a relatively short time as we were due at the airport at 2.30, so we decided to concentrate on making sponsorship payments as we can do quite a few in a relatively short time by concentrating on a particular area. We did so and then went toto check some details of a student on behalf of a potential sponsor. On the way there we met Bishop Dennis, the owner of the Academy. We told him about Pippa's accident and he was very upset and would go and visit her immediately, (which he did).
After checking the details we made a couple of payments at Yundum barracks and returned to the hospital to pick up Kathy. After a chat, off we went to the airport and successfully met Alan. For those acquainted with the airport, this is harder than usual as there are substantial renovation works there and only actual travellers are allowed into the terminal building, so we had to wait outside until Alan emerged.
We then returned to the hotel
Upcountry to Misera - Wednesday 6 February
[Once again, Andrew has added photos in aand I have inserted them in appropriate places in this section]
We had arranged for Kathy to be picked up by our taxi driver friend Jerreh after breakfast, but for the rest of us it was a 6.00am start for the drive to upcountry school.
We made very good time. It was dark when we started and we could see the sun rise over the mangrove swamps as we drove up. We got to Soma, the main town in the area located on the Trans Gambia Highway that links the two parts of Senegal. A stop there for breakfast, a delicious freshly cooked cheese and onion omelette in a baguette.
On then to, where we met Mr Badjie the principal. The Technical building was completed and some tools for woodwork, metalwork and home science had been provided by a generous donation from . We were there to see if there were any further essential tools they needed. They will put together a list, but said the most pressing need was for some sturdy metal benches to secure tools and work on. They will provide an estimate for this and also for supplying electricity to the building. They would also like to construct more student toilets and a staff room and will provide estimates for these. We then had a look at the school garden which is the best school garden I have seen in the Gambia. It is now securely fenced off which was paid for by an NGO. That agency has said it will sink a borehole in the garden and provide taps so watering will be much easier than last year!
Following that we went to Wontu's compound. Wontu is Wandifas's sister. We made a few sponsorship payments and chatted while Wandifa ate some porridge! A short visit to Mariama's (Wandifa's wife) home compound to make a sponsorship payment and then to Pakalinding school.
We looked at the wheelchair access walkway constructed with Pageant funds. It looked very well made and just needed some ramps at the ends to join to the classroom verandas. We agreed to fund this. The school would like to extend the access way to the further ends of the classrooms and we discussed options.
We had a short detour to look at the new Senegambia Bridge crossing the river. This is now open to cars who get to it via some sharp turns in the ferry terminal. The necessary access route for trucks has yet to be finished as can be seen in the photo. This bridge will transform the area as currently trucks and cars have to use a ferry which only takes two or three lorries at a time, meaning some trucks have to wait two days to cross.
We visited the maternity ward at Soma hospital to give out some knitted baby clothes made by Pageant members. The hospital is always very grateful to receive these.
We returned via the hospital to see Pippa and pick up Kathy. Pippa is slightly more mobile now, especially in her knee but is still in pain. She is looking forward to returning to the UK for treatment.
Pippa Flies Home - Thursday 7 February
Pippa is now back in the UK. Her son Gavin flew over from London and we met him at the airport and drove him to the hospital where he spent a few hours with Pippa before flying back. She is now back in the UK and in hospital where she has been assessed.
In the morning Kathy stayed at the hotel to pack Pippa's belongings, some to go home and some to stay with Linda, and to settle with the hotel. Meanwhile the team, Alan and I went and paid a student's college fees and visited a few compounds to pay sponsorship there. We returned to the hotel to pick up Kathy and suitcases and went on to the hospital, dropped off cases and Kathy, and went to the airport to meet Gavin and also pick up Carole who had come out on the same flight. Carole and Alan said "Hi" to Pippa and then went back to the hotel while we stayed on for a little while before saying sad farewells. It was good to see Pippa go back with Gavin to get fixed but at the same time sad that she had to leave.
Workshop Preparations - Friday 8 February
The chemistry and microscopy workshops are still going ahead, so today, Friday; we went out to buy some of the items we need for those workshops. We visited the well-known store of Abolly to buy some chemicals and then to a supermarket to buy stationery. We just have one or two more things to buy which we hope will not be too difficult to find.
As it was Friday we returned to the hotel early so that Wandifa, Abdoulie and Yankuba could go to the Mosque. We spent the afternoon by the pool and this evening we are going to Mama's restaurant for their excellent fish buffet. The weather today is hot and cloudy and it is forecast to get hotter over the weekend. The pool is very refreshing and we are glad not to be in the rainy UK.
Finally for today
Gardeners' Question Time
Part of this is commonly eaten in the UK. What is it?
Family Visits - Saturday 9 February
We were a bit disappointed that the fish buffet at Mama's had been cancelled because of a late delivery of the fish. We are assured that it will be back next Friday, but will phone to check first. Nevertheless we had a very good meal there. On Saturday morning we visited the Manneh compound. Alan and his wife sponsor two students there. The family moved into the house only 2 days earlier having spent 5 years building it. We spent a good time chatting with Ramatoulie and her siblings. Ramatoulie is a former Pageant student who is now doing very well in the hotel business. She is now a deputy manager in the Atlantic Hotel in Banjul.
On then to see and chat with Jarra who is Carole's sponsored student.
After that we went to Lamin Lodge for a light lunch. Lamin Lodge is a former slave trading post set in the mangrove swamps. Whilst eating we were kept entertained by a very friendly monkey.
In Lamin village we met with Mohammed, a scout whom Pippa and Carole had met at the Remembrance Day service at the Fajara war cemetery in November. Mohammed had said then of the difficulty in getting scout badges, so Carole had collected an assortment of these from scout troops local to her and she presented these to him.
Whilst we were at Lamin Lodge a local musician was playing. Abdoulie joined in and showed us all that he has a wonderful singing voice. Here's a photo taken by Carole showing him enjoying himself.
We then returned to the hotel for a relatively early finish. Tomorrow we are having a rest day. Linda is coming over to the hotel with the children from her house for some fun and games in the pool (the children, that is). On Monday we are going to the North Bank which means a 5.30 start so we can catch the first ferry.
To the North Bank - Monday 11 February
Having spent a rest day on Sunday by the pool we were ready for an early start on Monday to catch the first ferry at 6.30 for the North Bank. Unfortunately the team was a little late so it was a rush to catch it - previous experience has shown us that the ferries don't keep to a strict timetable and can leave early. We arrived at the ferry terminal at 6.15 and could see that the ferry was loaded and ready to depart. We moved as quickly as we oldsters can and scrambled aboard. Abdoulie, who had been parking the van had to run. He jumped aboard, the ramp was raised and we were off.
We berthed at 7.00 and our taxi was waiting. After a brief stop to buy 3 x 50Kg sacks of rice to give as ethical gifts from Pageant members we headed toto inspect progress on the female staff quarters being built with Pageant funds. Because Albreda and the North Bank are quite remote it is difficult to attract teachers unless accommodation can be supplied.
The journey there took about an hour over very bumpy, rutted unmade roads: a real bone rattler. We were met by Mr Jawara the head teacher who showed us the part-completed building. We were all very impressed with the workmanship to date. Mr Jawara confirmed that he needed the rest of the funding allocated to complete the building and we were pleased to give it to him. The school needs more staff accommodation still and on satisfactory completion of this we will consider further funding.
The early start meant that we missed breakfast at the hotel, so with rumbling tummies we headed to a nearby bar/restaurant for a coffee and a bite to eat.
Feeling more human we headed to Bacchary's compound. Bacchary is Wandifa's elder brother and the compound is very poor. We were very pleased to give the sacks of rice to three of the families there who were in much need of it. Whilst there we also paid two sponsorship monies.
We returned to the ferry stopping off to pay some more sponsorship in Barra. As we arrived a ferry had just arrived so we were able to get on it.
On the crossing back we could see the mobile power station which is moored in the harbour. The Gambia has suffered from a chronic power shortage for many years. Those who have been there will know of the frequent and often long-lasting power cuts. There have been far fewer this year and The Gambia is currently building more power stations. Whilst these are being built, to address the shortage the Power ship Karadeniz has been leased for two years. It is connected to the national grid, and for the techies amongst us, it is generating 36 Megawatts of power.
As we were back quite early, we were able to make a few sponsorship payments and met up briefly with Dr Modou Jeng, now qualified and working as a doctor. He had formally graduated at a big ceremony a week ago. He was on duty, but came out to see us.
Feeling very hot and dusty from all the sand on the north bank we returned to the hotel for a welcome shower.
Bob Arrives - Tuesday 12 February
Bob was due to arrive today. We learnt at breakfast that his flight time had been changed, as have all Thomas Cook flights from London. Instead of leaving at 8.20 it was now 11.10 meaning a Gambia arrival of 5.30.
We had already planned our day so now had some extra time.
We set off to Brikama area to make as many payments as we could. We succeeded in making more than 20 payments before dropping in at Gambia College to check on arrangements for the workshops: all seems to be to be going fine.
We then called in at Yundum Barracks School to discuss the library project. They had already produced a proposal, but it was too large and too expensive and they had been asked to scale it down. The head teacher was not in school but on hearing we were there swiftly arrived. They had scale plans for the revised version, but the costings were not yet complete. He said they would be ready by Thursday. War would also like to speak to the librarian who will also be available then so we will return on Thursday.
We had a couple of hours to spare before Bob's plane arrived and it was not worth returning to the hotel, so we retired to a nearby hotel bar for some drinks. Whilst there we took the opportunity of bringing the paperwork up to date before going to the airport and picking up Bob.
Today was the hottest so far. Bob was told by the aircraft captain that the outside temperature at the airport was 39C (102F).
Bee Cause - Wednesday 13 February
On Wednesday, we had planned a quick trip out to the Bee Farm at Lamin and then to return to the hotel to sort out all the kit for the two workshops.
We left in good time, but Yankuba heard that the farm manager whom we wanted to see was not going to be there for another hour or so. We therefore made a couple of sponsorship payments in the very wild, poor area behind the airport.
We then went to the bee farm This is run by a charity called Bee Cause and whilst it does produce honey and other bee products, its main aim is to promote bee keeping as an aid to pollination.
Pippa and others had visited the farm in November and asked them to come up with a project as a Pageant member had offered some money to promote beekeeping. Mrs Bah, the manager had visited an upcountry school to talk about a project, but unfortunately had lost everything. She will redo the proposals and email them to me.
Along with keeping bees the farm encourages beekeeping by offering courses. Participants are shown how to make and maintain hives and bee swarm boxes which are put in trees to capture any swarms of bees. The bees kept are African bees which are notoriously more aggressive than European bees. The farm counters this by doing their actual work with bees around dusk when they are less active.
We bought some honey, soap and body cream and got in the van ... which had broken down with gearbox problems. We were given a lift to the village and then took a taxi back to the hotel.
Gardeners' Question Time
What is this? It can be found in UK shops
After a short break we put together the kit which needed taking to the workshop and did a practice run of one of the chemistry experiments.
In the evening we met up with Linda and all went to "Sea Shells" restaurant which specialises in fish.
Preparing for the workshops - Thursday 14 February
The van had been fixed and was now working properly so we loaded the van with boxes of microscopes and crates of other equipment for the workshops in Gambia College.
En route we stopped at Yundum Barracks School where the head teacher was expecting us. He gave us the costings for the new library and we took them away and will consider them when we get home.
We also spoke with one of the teachers who has been trained as a librarian to get his views as to how it will be organised. While we were there we went into a nursery class and saw the teaching aids we had sent over last year in use. We saw phonic friezes, dino dominoes, and various shapes and number blocks being put to use.
After leaving there we went to the college to drop off the boxes of equipment. We were too early to get into the labs, so we made a few payments of sponsorship in the surrounding area and bought some fruit and veg for use as samples in both workshops.
Back then to the college to unpack and arrange all the kit for tomorrow which took a couple of hours, but it is time well spent.
Tomorrow and Saturday are all day workshops so my next blog will cover both of these.
Science Workshops - Friday 15 and Saturday 16 February
We had warned the breakfast team at the hotel that we would be over for breakfast at 7.00 and they were ready for us. The team arrived at 7.30 having already picked up Linda and at 7.45 we set off for Gambia College arriving at 8.15 giving us plenty of time for our final preparations for the workshops.
Our first snag - due to a misunderstanding only 20 trainee teachers had been recruited. However Mr Colley, the lecturer said he would have no problem in finding another 20 and we were able to start at 9.30.
Yankuba Wandifa, Linda and Kathy ran the microscopy workshops. Pippa was sorely missed but Yankuba did a superb job. Meanwhile in the lab next door, Abdoulie, Carole, Andrew and Bob ran the chemistry workshops. Abdoulie was brilliant and you could see from the huge grin on his face that he was enjoying himself immensely
The only other hiccup in the day's proceedings was that lunch was not ready for us at the time we had asked for. We think this may have just been a misunderstanding.
We finished the day pleased with the day's work and very tired.
The second day went more smoothly and there were no snags.
The student teachers learned how to use and care for a basic microscope and by the end were happy that they could see thing clearly that they could not see with their eyes only. In chemistry the students learned that they could undertake some practical chemistry experiments without all the equipment that you might find in a modern laboratory.
In the afternoons the student demonstrated what they had learned by giving a lesson to some students from nearby local schools.
All in all we think that the workshops were a great success. Below is a selection of photos taken
Last Days - Sunday 17 & Monday 18 February
Sunday was a rest day. We stayed at the hotel during the day, but went out to Luigi's restaurant in the evening. We had invited Yankuba, Wandifa and Abdoulie along. Linda came too and brought with her Famara and Hassan who both stay at her house. We had a good sized party and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Monday was Independence Day, which is a bank holiday. We went out in the morning with the team to make a few more sponsorship payments. We have now collected the letters and paid sponsorship to almost all the students at school, although there are still a few further education students to pay.
We were back in the hotel quite early and brought our records up to date. Carole left to go home in the late afternoon, leaving Alan, Bob, Kathy and me.
We are returning tomorrow. We have some final admin stuff to do with Linda, followed by packing then off to the airport. On the way there we will be stopping at Yundum Barracks School to pick up letters for the children at Bishops Waltham School. We have been assured they will be ready.
This will therefore be my last blog of the trip. It started very badly with Pippa's terrible accident, but we have still managed to achieve most of what we set out to do.
All the best to you all - Andrew