PAGEANT - "Education is the future"
Pageant Gambia Trip November 2019 - Blog Posts
Once again a Pageant team is making the regular November visit to The Gambia. Regular readers of this blog will know that Internet access in The Gambia can be intermittent, so as before Pippa will be sending me (Dave the Webmaster) text and photos for me to post on the. My edits are shown in [square brackets] and, as usual, I will be collecting these posts on this page so you can see them all in one place.
12-13 November - Arrival & Some Lights
Andy and I arrived on Tuesday afternoon after a very good flight...we were actually an hour early at Banjul!
Yesterday...Thursday... We started making the lights. The hotel has kindly let us use a small room in which we can make them...and leave them and all the tools in overnight. The downside is that it does get pretty hot in there...not too surprising as the temperature is about 34C during the day here at the moment! The photos show the assembly team before the start and then at stages during the day.
We eventually packed up at around 6pm... 14 lights completed with a few more partly done...only another 86 to go!! However, the process is speeding up now and Andy estimates they will do around 30 today.
15-16 November - More Lights & Some Visits
Friday 15 November: Wandifa and I set off to Banjul to buy some ethical gifts and small wooden animals for our Pageant market stall...we were driven by Jereh, leaving Andy with Yankuba and Abdoulie, making more lights.
We bought a good array of items and then went on to deal with a 'problem' student regarding her attendance at skills school. To be fair, the mother is more of a problem than the girl herself! Having sorted that out we continued on our way back to the hotel via another couple of stops (more ethical gifts) and arrived back in time for Wandifa to join the other two Gambians for Friday prayers.
By the end of the day the number of completed lights had considerably increased...the photo shows them stacked up in the little hallway of Andy's room.
Saturday 16 November: Off to see Faks and the Power hut...the first time I had seen it. Very impressive and we were really pleased to find a load of batteries already being recharged and several children arriving with their lights to have theirs done during the day. The system seems to be working pretty well.
We went to visit the compound where a couple of light-owning students lived, to see how and where they used the lights. This was very helpful regarding how the new generation of self-contained lights could be sited when we go up country.
After leaving Faks we went on to discuss sponsorship of a recently bereaved student. He has an excellent Grade 12 certificate and has started to read economics at the university but has no funding since the death of his father a few months ago. He had managed to scrape enough together from the 'charity' at his father's funeral to pay for part of the first semester and we agreed to make sure he can complete his first year and will try to find him a sponsor for the remaining three years.
On to see the mechanic that Aboulie knows and trusts, to talk about engines of possible minivans...a very helpful guy who was happy to discuss things with Andy and had a few helpful pointers regarding available vehicles.
Next...a bicycle purchase... a gift from a sponsor to 'her' young lad who is doing very well in school.
A supermarket visit for water, washing powder and cake (Andy) and yoghurt (me)...then our final stop for the day was to get a load of exercise books bought as ethical gifts from a few donations.
Back to the hotel...said goodbye to the guys until 9am tomorrow... and then waited for a headmaster to arrive for a planned 4pm visit to discuss a library project. At 5.45pm I phoned to check that he was on his way, only to find that he thought the arrangement was for Sunday!
Ah well...good thing I'd checked!
Sunday 17 November - What an exciting day
We started off fairly quietly - Andy and our Gambian team were making some more lights and I was catching up with some admin. (Abdoulie was banished to the garden for the first hour as he was making 'too much of noise' banging in the pins for the first stage of the assembly process... see photo).
We had arranged to go to see yet another minibus at about midday, which we had seen yesterday not far from the hotel. We set off and parked a little way back to avoid the vendor seeing Andy and me and so putting the price up.
Abdoulie, Yankuba and Wandifa went off and had a good look at the vehicle, even taking it for a short drive. After quite a lot of discussion they waved for Andy to join them, whereupon he also had a good look over, under and inside the van.
Eventually they all returned to where I was still waiting for them....and they all thought that this could indeed be THE minibus for us. After lots of talking through the pros and cons it was decided that Abdoulie would get his trusty mechanic to give it the once-over.
Andy and I were waiting for the headmaster to come to discuss library plans so could not go with them...they left with enough cash in sterling to buy the vehicle should that be the final decision.
The library meeting went very well... Andy had sketched a plan of what we felt it should look like and the headmaster was delighted with it! He left us having promised to arrange a session for Andy to get together with the engineers to thrash out a final design... tomorrow if at all possible.
So....tomorrow promises to be even more exciting...we could end up with a new minibus AND an agreed library plan.... fingers crossed
Monday 18 November - Minibus and library
Today started with the welcome news that the 'new' minibus had received the OK from Mbye, Abdoulie's mechanic... so the money has been paid to the vendor, the paperwork re new ownership is being sorted by the police and... it is ours!!!
Abdoulie is taking charge of it and it will be run solely as a private Pageant vehicle, NOT as a bush taxi. It will be used for Pageant member trips, workshop trips and any other Pageant-based journeys and we hope that visiting Pageant members will use it and make a contribution in lieu of taxi fare towards its upkeep. Exciting!!!!
Having dealt with all that, some more lights were completed and then we were off for our appointment with the Yundum Barracks engineers to draw up the final (?) plans for the school library there. 
We felt the meeting went well...the chief engineer liked Andy's sketched plan and a couple of the other engineers were tasked with putting it all into a more professional package. We are due to see the outcome on Friday... hopefully it will not have changed too much by then!
While at the school we also discussed the project for which the Worldclass money is to be used.  They have decided on starting a garden for the Lower Basic pupils, something that is very dear to the headmaster's heart. He produced an estimate for fencing the 50 meter square plot plus some tools with which to get work started... I contacted Jeannette Mars later that evening and she has approved the estimate. I will be giving the money to a very happy headmaster on Friday.
At the end of the day Abdoulie took our new minibus down to Mbye so that he can give it a full once over, oil change and service.. photos will follow soon.
All in all... a very good day.
Tuesday 19 November - a very early start
This was to be North Bank day.. so we left the hotel at 5.30am to catch the first ferry from Banjul to Barra. Unlike some previous occasions all went according to plan and we were safely on the ferry when it left at 6.30am. We had crossed as foot passengers and were met by our long-term North Bank driver at the Barra terminal.
Off down the normal roads (short tarmac, long bumpy red road) to, where we had a couple of things to do at the Lower Basic school.
The first and most pressing task was for Andy to try to assess whether or not the solar-powered system ( installed with World Bank money about eight years ago) could be made to work. This system and about 40 others like it had been intended to power computer suites in schools and reputedly none of the installations had ever worked properly!
Having surveyed the eight solar panels from ground. level, Andy and our Gambian team got to work on the electronics panels and batteries inside the proposed computer room...
Verdict: the batteries (probable cost around £1,000) are completely unusable; the solar panels themselves are still working; the inverter and other electronics look OK visually but cannot be tested without working batteries; the internal wiring of the room checks out OK as continuity goes; the computers ( good quality Dell) have never been used so stand a good chance of working.
So...what do we do? Considerable discussion and pricing of various things to be done on Wednesday....
While all this was going on I was inspecting our latest project at the school...female staff quarters. The building has been largely completed and the first room is occupied by a very happy teacher. However, there are no ceilings in the building so the rooms are hotter and more prone to visits from insects than they should be.
The local carpenter was summoned and provided an estimate for the work there and then...this was agreed and paid so the ceilings should be done very soon.
The (new) headmaster then had a couple of other project requests, for which I asked him to provide estimates in the normal manner.
A group of second and third year students sang us a very moving little song composed by a member of staff...and then we left to have a very late and well-earned breakfast in the local cafe...cheese omelettes and chips all round...yummy!!
After a flying visit to Wandifa's brothers were off back up the red road to Barra, where we delivered some very generous gifts to a sponsored boy and his family...among them a bicycle for the boy himself. The photo shows him reading a letter from his sponsor.
Back to the ferry port... amazingly a ferry was actually there loading up, so we felt very lucky. Even luckier... we saw several dolphins playing alongside the ferry as we travelled back to Banjul... a truly delightful end to a very full day.
Wednesday 20 November
final preparations for lights installation
We started our day with a bit of shopping and pricing of component parts of a possible 'fix' for the Albreda solar installation.
Our first port of call was Inco, the wonderful new tools shop we found last year. Andy bought a couple of hammers, plus nails, cable ties and screw-in hooks for our upcountry trip to install the first batch of individually solar powered lights in village homes.
Next to a shop that sells everything connected with solar power (sorry, no pun intended!). This had been Andy's favourite port of call during his previous visit and he had formed a very good relationship with the Indian owner. To summarise the rather lengthy discussion... the eight replacement batteries (good but not quite of the standard of the originals) would cost us £800 and the additional electronics needed to make it fail-safe another £300-400. The owner of the shop was willing to let us take two batteries to test the existing installation... and even to return our money should we find they were not needed.... very kind of him. We said we would think about it and come back if we decided to go ahead with the testing.
Back to the hotel, where Andy, Wandifa, Yankuba and I spent the rest of the day making the 'solar leads' for the lights. We had decided that a 4 metre length of cable would be enough for each light to be positioned in a suitable 'homework area's within a student's house... so more than 60 lengths of lightweight twin cable were measured, cut, soldered onto the small solar panels and then wound back onto the now empty cable drums for transporting the following day.
In the meantime Abdoulie had gone down to see Mbye to help with the strip-down and inspection of the engine of the newly acquired minibus... he is taking his new responsibilities very seriously. He and Mbye are delighted with the condition of the engine, so it seems that the purchase may have been a really good one...my fingers are still crossed!! A welder man will have to be visited to make a roof rack and we may see if we can find a couple of removable seats to fit sideways in the large space behind the present back row... the minibus currently seats nine so it might be handy to have the capability of carrying a couple more passengers from time to time.
An early supper and bedtime...we start at 6.30am tomorrow and we have to load the van first...
Thursday 21 November - upcountry lights installation day
Another early start.. we aimed for 6.30am but eventually set off at 6.45am as the early breakfast we had ordered did not materialise as early as we hoped. This meant that the traffic on the road down to Brikama had started to build up, probably adding about a quarter of an hour to our journey time.
After we had turned east along the main South Bank highway we lost the traffic and bowled along merrily... such a lovely part of the day and the countryside is beautifully green at this time of year.
We arrived at our destination village, turning east off the road just short of Soma, at about 9.15am and were greeted by the headmaster, deputy, chairman of the school management committee and all the pupils of the Lower Basic school that has only recently been started there. They all sang us a song of welcome, introduced themselves and then it was down to business.
The committee had selected about thirty children, in whose homes the lights were to be fitted. They were called out of class and everyone discussed the order in which the lights would be fitted... who lived near who, were there children who lived in different houses in the same compound, which was the best way for the car to go... and so on.
In a surprisingly short time we were all at the first house and it was only now that the actual installation process could be worked out. This first one took some time as we tried different methods of supporting the little solar panels, getting the leads through from outside to inside and positioning the light in the best place for homework.
Having tried out a few different methods we settled on what was pretty close to the final way in which all the lights were fixed. Variations in roof height, direction of slope, homework position could all be accomodated in this method and the installation team gradually worked their way around the village.
Our Pageant team was soon joined by: the chairman, who was thrilled to be able to carry the large reel of strong galvanised wire over his head and shoulder from house to house and eventually graduated to cutting it to length; and the deputy who was put in charge of the multimeter used to check each installation. They very happily answered to 'Wireman!' and 'Meterman!' respectively and appeared with alacrity whenever summoned.
I had left them all to it after the fifth house and had gone back to the school with the headmaster to discuss the ongoing requests (football kit and a ball or two featured heavily here) and to give out some items to those children whose houses had NOT been selected for lighting. I was very keen to ensure they did not feel left out, so I had taken a very large collection of new girls' pants and boys' boxer shorts of various sizes to give out. (These had been bought by a very kind Pageant member who was distressed at the thought that the poorer Gambian children just do not have any underwear.)
Underwear may seem an unexciting gift to us, but these children were thrilled... and a lot of very animated chat went on - in English - as to which pair would fit which child! In the end I gave out around 70 pairs and every child ended up with either a light or some underwear. I wasn't sure which they were more excited about!! I didn't feel it was really appropriate to publish the 'underwear' photos here.. but I have taken some to give privately to the kind donor.
We left the village at about 4.30pm (after the roof rack had been loaded up with eight large sacks of local charcoal, bought by our Gambian guys as it is so much cheaper than where they live) and arrived back at around 8pm... much slower than the way out due to heavy traffic build-up on the roads from Brikama onwards.
Andy and I got the lads to drop us off at Luigi's for a quick omelette and chips before going back to the hotel... we sat in a dark corner so no-one could see how disgustingly dirty we were!
Back to the hotel... shower... and bed!!!
Friday 22 November - library plans and bees
We started off a little later than usual.. because we were all pretty tired after the previous day.
Even so, we were at Yundum Barracks just after 10.30am, where we dropped Andy and Yankuba off at the engineers' offices so that library plan discussions could start as soon as possible. 
Wandifa, Abdoulie and I continued to the school, where we met the four children who have been newly sponsored by Jeannette Mars and her Wordclass students.  We gave pencil cases to the children and the first sponsorship payments to their families. Balla, the headmaster, explained to the families that this money was for education purposes and he had a few specific items that he wanted them to buy... school badges and a PE t-shirt plus the four text books for the core subjects so that the children could have them at home for studying. Wandifa then added his bit about providing reports on time and gave them his phone number so that they could contact him if necessary.
After that, one of the mothers stood up and gave us a heartfelt speech of thanks on behalf of all the families... very nice to hear, and also, incidentally, in very good English.
We then gave Balla the good news that his garden project estimate had been accepted by Jeannette Mars. He was, of course, delighted.... even more so when I gave him the money, which was counted by both Wandifa and himself and then signed for.
Having accomplished all the school business for the day we rushed back to see how the library plans were progressing... Balla was very keen to be there as quickly as possible!
We found Andy deep in discussion with the chief engineer and three of his designers. All the plans were laid out on the table, as well as the very detailed estimates for each stage of the project.
The building looks really excellent... Andy's design has been faithfully followed and we now have something with which I feel the donor would have been very pleased.
The total cost figure was, however, too high! We continued our discussion and eventually managed to get it down to a figure we can cope with.... without compromising the integrity or capacity of the building itself.
I am really looking forward to showing these plans to the executors of the donor's estate, as I am sure it will be exactly the sort of thing they had in mind to carry out her wishes.
We were also delighted to find that the engineers were excited about the library project themselves and were determined to follow it through the building stages to make sure it was all carried out to a really high standard.
I must take this opportunity to thank Andy for all the work he put into his design... without this and his original sketch we would never have progressed so far.
Having completed our session at Yundum Barracks, we set off to Lamin to visit the bee compound there. I wanted to check on how last year's project had gone at Mayork Upper Basic school with a view to doing a follow up if things had gone well.
As luck would have it, Peter, the chairman of the UK charity Beecause that funds the work done there, was actually sitting, talking to Gibbeh, the head of Gambian operations when we arrived. We had spoken over the phone earlier in the year and it was really good to meet him. He took Andy on a tour of the set-up there while I talked to Gibbeh about the project. 
She was very pleased with how it had all gone and was planning to send her training team to the school for their final field support session in a couple of weeks' time. On hearing that we were planning to visit the school ourselves next week she decided to bring that training session forward so that we could meet both trainers and school trainees at the same time.
I told her that if we were happy with what had been done at the school we would give her another batch of funding. This would be to get the school apiary up to a viable size and to increase the number of bee-suits so that more students could be involved. It would also cover a couple more field training sessions.
Both Gibbeh and Peter were delighted that we are funding a school based apiary... they would like to hold it up as a model to encourage more schools to participate.
As we were in Lamin it seemed only sensible to take Andy to visit Lamin Lodge... such a delightful place for lunch and a drink. We enjoyed some chicken yassa and chips there before heading back to the hotel for an earlier than usual end to our day.
So early that we had time to phone Linda and arrange to meet her for supper at Luigi's... where, I am pleased to say, we looked far more presentable than on the previous evening.
Saturday 23 November - a little shopping and a few more lights
When the team arrived we went through the village lights installation process to decide what we needed in the way of more tools and/or materials for smoothing the way in further installations. Abdoulie, Yankuba and Wandifa are now confident that they can complete both making the lights for which we have brought components and carrying out two or more installation sessions at other villages.
Having made our shopping list I set off with the Gambians, leaving Andy behind in the hotel...he said he wanted to think about yet another idea he had for a variation on the lights!
We duly returned... Andy told our guys the rough outline of his new idea and challenged them to each come up with their own suggestion as to how it should be assembled. After a somewhat stunned silence they got to work... I can't tell you exactly how things progressed as I went away to try to catch up with all the blog posts... but when I returned they had indeed each come up with an idea and were busily wiring them up. All credit to Andy for making them think for themselves... they have really learnt a lot and gained considerably in confidence during his stay here.
They left at about 4pm... Abdoulie was keen to collect our new minibus from the mechanic and to check out a couple of things for himself.
Supper at Samba's Kitchen completed a rather more leasurely day than usual... very nice it was too.
Sunday 24 November - family visiting
I had suggested to Andy that he might like to see the houses and meet the families of our Gambian team, so he had asked them if this would be OK. Of course they were delighted... so they all arrived this morning ready to take us to do some home visits.
First we had to go to Marouns, a local supermarket, as Andy wanted to take some small gifts for the wives and children.
The first thing we saw was the new minibus...my first chance to see it up close. It looks very nice, I have to say... Abdoulie is so thrilled with it and has bought it a new steering wheel cover to celebrate! I have done my best with the photos....
Next to meet the family..so lovely to see them all and my, how the children have all grown! I sat and talked to the children, taking photos of all the sponsored ones as well as a couple requesting sponsorship. Meanwhile Abdoulie was asking Andy's advice regarding a new house he wants to build in the compound for him and his family...not only is his current one too small now, but a large hole appeared in its back wall during the rainy season.
I read Three Billygoats Gruff to the children while Andy and Abdoulie paced out possible room shapes and sizes. My great regret is that the favoured site for the house means that the wonderful orange tree will have to go.
More lovely family greetings...and many students to greet, photograph, and hear what they are doing. Wandifa has given space in his home to so many of our senior students, so that they can be nearer to their places of education, that his house is overflowing. He has had the brilliant idea of using some of the pallets that we sent out on the last container as bedbases on his veranda, so several students sleep out there.
His and Mariama's garden is doing very well...and the orange tree planted in Ian's memory has both grown hugely and turned out to be a lemon tree! Very fitting, as Ian always preferred lemons to oranges at half time...
Here, of course, the star attraction was Karamo, the delightful baby boy born to Fatou and Yankuba nine months ago. He is amazingly active, bouncing up and down in the grasp of whoever is holding him and looking as though he will be walking at any moment. I should think he is quite a handful to look after... I asked Fatou if she is enjoying being a mum and she said 'Sometimes'!! Both she and Yankuba are looking very well... and at least Karamo is a good sleeper at night!
Andy was shown round the house and congratulated Wandifa on it.. a very good visit.
We met Abubacarr, a newly sponsored student, who achieved the perfect score of 6 in his Grade 9 exams and has now been able to go to Nusrat to study commerce because of his sponsorship from our Emergency fund. A very nice young man, who was delighted to receive a filled pencil case, geometry set and solar powered scientific calculator as his 'Welcome to Pageant' gift in addition to the first sponsorship payment.
Andy was shown round the compound and Yankuba made us a very welcome cup of coffee before we left to return to the hotel.
Three very different houses... I think Andy really enjoyed this opportunity to see something of Gambian home life and our guys were so happy to be able to show him some hospitality.
We returned to the hotel at about 2pm...the team had an appointment with the policeman who has been sorting out the paperwork for the minibus so we let them get on with that on their own...no need to muddy the waters with our presence.
I'm not sure what Andy did during the afternoon but I spent the time catching up on all the blog postings...and, hurray, I am now up to date!
Monday 25 November - clearing up and a little more shopping
Today started with a very poorly timed power cut... I was in the shower having just started to wash my hair... head covered in foaming shampoo... and whoops, no light! The generator took long enough to kick in for me to complete both hair wash and shower in the pitch dark... very disorientating!
Mercifully the power was back on in time for breakfast...
The team arrived at 9.30am as arranged and did a good job of clearing up the little room in the hotel that we had been using for making the lights. They made an inventory of everything we have in stock... completed lights, partially made lights, plain wooden bases, electronic components and tools.
Our original plastic box was no longer large enough to hold the tools we have amassed, so we felt a final trip for Andy to Inco to buy a proper toolbox was a must. We also wanted to check out the availability and price of rechargeable AA batteries... so far they have all been bought in UK, but can we get them locally?
I had phoned the regional director of education for Region 3, which covers Albreda, to let him know of our conclusions regarding the solar and computer installation there. He was very interested and suggested that we should contact Lamin, a senior guy in the department of science and technology, to discuss the matter further.
We set off on our shopping trip, calling in to a few places that we felt were likely to have the batteries we wanted. Either no luck at all or very expensive - D400-500 for a pack of two, which works out at between £3.10 and £3.84 each... far too much.
While doing this we managed to contact Lamin... happily he was just finishing a meeting quite near to where we were, so we arranged to meet him at Inco... much better than travelling to his office in Banjul.
We bought a very splendid orange toolbox in Inco and Andy bought a set of spanners as a gift for Abdoulie to keep in the new minivan. We met up with Lamin as arranged and went to a local cafe for our discussion.
He proved to be very knowledgeable about all the school solar installations and we had a very useful hour or so, with him telling us a lot of the history of the project. The decision as to whether or not Pageant will fund any remedial work on the solar athas yet to be made, but at least we know a lot more about the situation now.
Back to the hotel... time for me to write this blog entry and maybe even sit by the pool for half an hour.
It will be Andy's last evening so we are going out to what should be a very nice dinner with Linda and Susan from the hotel... one of the latter's very few evenings off in the year! Let's hope the hotel is still standing when we get back!!!!
We did have a most enjoyable meal and the hotel appeared to be unscathed when we returned... so Susan was able to go straight to bed. Lovely last evening of Andy's stay here... I'll miss him during the next week. Thanks, Andy, for all the laughs, hard work and all round good time... not forgetting the biscuits!!
Tuesday 26 November - Goodbye to Andy
A leisurely breakfast as the team was not scheduled to arrive until 11.30am to take Andy to the airport. (It didn't take him long to pack as most of his incoming luggage was electronics for the lights... all remaining in The Gambia, of course!)
We duly set off for the airport, calling in at Yundum Barracks on the way to collect the revised estimate for the library.
We had hoped to be able to have a drink with Andy in the upstairs restaurant after he had checked in... but no, that no longer exists, due to the renovation work on the airport terminal building.
So he gave his final team talk to our Gambian guys in the nearest bit of shade we could find, I took a last team photo... and he disappeared into the chaos of the terminal.
We did see the incoming flight arriving as we were driving around a little later in the afternoon... so at least there was a plane for him to go home in!
We then started to try to catch up with all the other things I have on my list for this visit...
We managed to tick several things off the list: chased up a FE student and discussed her rather unrealistic suggestions as to which course she might do; found a couple of Grade 9 girls who have been given some unexpected assistance; photographed several students along the way; managed to track down an erstwhile workshop trainee teacher and, in so doing, confirmed that Nakulang is still at Gambia College. This is really good news... I have been trying to phone him at intervals during the past two weeks and he has never answered, so I was starting to think he must have gone into retirement. I now have reasonable confidence that we will be able to find him when we go to Brikama on Thursday.
Back to the hotel fairly early... we have another upcountry trip scheduled for tomorrow, so it should be a 6.30am start. I have threatened the kitchen staff with awful consequences if the breakfast is not in reception at the requested time!
Wednesday 27 November - another upcountry trip
An early start... and the packed breakfast was in reception before 6.30am, so my threats obviously worked!
Our first stop was at Mayork, on our normal route and just a short distance before Kalagie. We were calling in to see the bee installation at Mayork Upper Basic school... at least, we thought we were, but on arrival we found it was at the Lower Basic school! The guys of the field training team from Beecause were there when we arrived just after 8am... they had been at the school the previous day and had spent the night there in order to meet us and show us round.
There were two groups of hives set in glades road in the forest - a delightful setting and looking ideal for the bees, with water quite close by as well. The school now has ten hives in all... six of them were occupied, with a lot of bees buzzing around them. Kebba, our guide, explained that the bees had been somewhat disturbed by the activity yesterday, particularly as some of the hives had been raised higher off the ground to protect them from termites. He suggested that we should keep well away from them... a very good idea, I thought!
The remaining four hives have been brought back into the main school compound for maintenance... termite damage has to be repaired and then the hives can be repositioned in the forest glades.
The school is delighted with the training they have received, plus the increased number of both hives and bee-suits, as a result of our donation. We agreed that a number of smaller bee-suits should be made in order for some Grade 5 and 6 children to take a fuller part in the activity... and maybe the project can be extended to include the Upper Basic school, which is on the opposite side of the road. The headmaster there is very keen on the idea....
We said goodbye and continued along the road, through Soma, to Misera Basic Cycle school [link], at which we have done a number of projects in recent years
We checked out the large new metalwork and woodwork benches and the tiling in the Home Science room... the latter is just about to be inspected by the Education Department to make sure it is suitable for exam purposes, so we hope all goes well.
The next thing on their agenda is toilets... we had agreed an estimate for two blocks of four, one block for girls, the other for boys. However, they would now like to change this to two blocks of three PLUS a small block of two for the ECD children. They feel the latter is necessary as these small children find it difficult to get all the way across the school compound to the main toilet blocks without having an 'accident'... so a small toilet block near their classrooms seems a sensible suggestion.
They need to provide us with a new estimate, but I left them with enough money to start work, as the project has been agreed in principle.
Then on to find out what has happened regarding a sponsored student who has completed Grade 9 but not told us where he will be going to Senior Secondary school. He has been living with his grandmother for the past seven years.... but now, she told us, he has been taken back to live with his father in Brikama. As it happens, we will be going there tomorrow, but I do wish some of these families would let us know where their children are!!
Having accomplished everything we set out to do, we hit the road for home... very thankfully as the upcountry temperature was around 43C today!
We called in at Gambia College and managed to arrange to meet Nakulang, head of science, tomorrow morning... hurray! I really do need to speak to him about workshops for next February.
A long Brikama day ahead tomorrow - we plan to leave here at 8.30am..
Thursday 28 November - Brikama day
We left the hotel at 8.30am as planned... the traffic was not too bad to start with and I thought we might be at Gambia College earlier than planned. However, it all snarled up midway along the road from the turntable to the airport junction, so in the end we arrived at just after 9.20am.
No sign of Nakulang.. after a search Yankuba found that he was taking a special once-a-month class and would be available just after 11am... would we ever actually get to talk to him, I wondered?
Off on a few family visits:
A bag of rice and a letter for a senior student and his family.
More rice and a personal gift for an Upper Basic student and her family, plus a visit to her school for a photo.
A visit to a family with a newly sponsored child to give him his 'welcome to Pageant' pencil case... and here we hit a snag. This child is a younger sibling of some already-sponsored children. The father had contacted the sponsor directly to ask for his assistance with this younger boy, as he had just started at nursery school... and the sponsor had agreed to help. Wandifa phoned the father to say we were on our way to visit the boy in school... and was told he was at home because he was sick. When we arrived at the house... no sign of this sick boy! He eventually arrived, full of beans, with a group of friends... when asked why he had not gone to school he replied that there was no school on Wednesday or Thursday! It transpired that he was not attending nursery school at all... only the local Arabic 'school' that runs on three mornings a week. As the father well knows, this does not qualify him for sponsorship... a real case of trying to obtain money by false pretences. I don't know how the sponsor will react... but we did not give the boy a pencil case.
Back to Gambia College... and at last we managed to have our long-awaited discussion with Nakulang about the Practical Science workshops for 2020. He was delighted to hear that we will be able to include physics this year as Joe Brock will be coming out with us after an absence of several years.
We fixed the date, subject to checking with the overall College timetable, discussed the provision of breakfast and lunch during the workshops and went to see James (the excellent science technician) about the rooms and facilities. We are going to have to track down some tables as we did last year, as they have been spirited away again, but hopefully all will work out OK.
We checked our stock of books and found that we have 34 physics books there, so will not need to have too many more printed.
It was a relief to have all that sorted out... so off we went on some more visits:
An OND engineering student to check on what was happening regarding last year's results... answer, not a lot as GTTI had not yet given them to the students. The second year's course is now not due to start until January... not very satisfactory. He was very pleased to receive a letter from his sponsor... another photo.
Another bag of rice for the family of some sponsored students and more photos.
And then visits to three compounds in Jambanjelly to both take some photos of the sponsored students and to give a selection of ethical and other donated gifts to the families and their neighbours. (Uploading the photos of the gift sessions will have to wait until I get back to UK as they were all taken on a camera that cannot be accessed by the tablet on which I am writing these blog entries.)
We drove up the splendid new road from Jambanjelly to the turntable, where we had agreed to meet a Grade 11 student who has moved home. We agreed with her as to how and when her remaining sponsorship payment would be paid and gave her a little travel money to tide her over in the meantime.
A quick supermarket visit, where, among other things, we bought a pack of biscuits to remind us of Andy (!) and then back to the hotel.
Quite a full day... what will tomorrow bring?
Friday 29 November - catching up with a lot of senior students
A really busy day, starting off in Bakau and then doing a round trip to Westfield, down the exceptionally busy road through Serekunda, past the airport and into Yundum Barracks, back along the road to the turntable and ending up full circle at the hotel.
We visited the compounds of twelve students in Further Education of various kinds... and also saw round the very splendid kitchens of the Hotel School, where one of our young men is training to be a chef. He is really enjoying his course and I am not surprised... anyone would love to cook in a kitchen like that. He and his supervisor suggested we should book in for lunch one day, so I will certainly try to do that in February.
I called in at Africmed, the hospital in which I spent a week last February, partly to show them that I am now fit and well and also to give them the legbrace and sling that I used during my recovery. The NHS in UK would not reuse such items but they will be very much appreciated here. I was very touched to find how many of the staff came to greet me... the ability of the Gambians to remember people who they have met only briefly never ceases to amaze me.
Our guys dropped me back to the hotel... then it was a fairly quick change and off to Linda's for a birthday party!
Mariama, the little daughter of the Gambian family that lives with Linda, was nine today and had asked if I could go to her party... I was very honoured to do so and we had an extremely yummy chicken yassa followed by a vast quantity of cake!
A full day, to say the least.....
Saturday 30 November - a lot more students
The visit to Wandifa's compound was a great success... in all I saw 14 sponsored students there... some coming for their pencil cases, some for fees, some just to have their photos taken. Lovely to see so many and to be able to chat to each one in turn about what is next on their horizons. A bit of a cheat really, as it meant I was not seeing them at their own homes or schools, but at this stage of a visit it was a very good idea.
There were also two students there who were requesting sponsorship.. reports were produced and photographed as were the children themselves.
Our last task there was to give out several very nice school bags to UNsponsored children... these were part of a very generous donation by the Welcome Club of Southwater, to whom I had recently given a talk.
We then went to visit a few compounds in the area just south of the airport and caught up with several more students.
Then back to the hotel at the amazingly early time of 2pm... I actually managed a swim (my first of this visit - and my first since my accident in January) and a couple of hours by the pool.
A very welcome hairwash followed by dinner at Luigi's with Linda completed a most productive and enjoyable day.
Sunday 1 December - even more students
We started out a little later than usual... 10am... to allow for Sunday morning lie-ins (or should it be lies-in?!)
Our first visit was to see a student studying accountancy... she is just completing her second year and needed the money to pay her exam fees.
Next, one of our favourites... the Manneh compound. Such a lovely family, it is always a delight to visit them. We saw four sponsored students there....
..... and then went on to another very special compound where the Touray family lives. We saw six sponsored children there, gathered in from the neighbourhood to see us, plus another who was just returning from the market as we were leaving. We know many of these children very well indeed, several of them from babyhood, and it is so heart-warming to sit with them and hear all their news of family and school.
On to a family where the sponsor is currently unwell and unable to sponsor the child this year. We have said we will support her for the current year and hope he will be well enough to pick up the sponsorship next year, as he is very fond of this child and has helped her for several years. If he cannot do so we will do our best to find her another sponsor.
Our last call was to deliver an early Christmas card and gift to a delighted girl... a lovely surprise for her, the more so as it was completely unexpected.
Back to the hotel... quite early again... but not quite finished for the day as one of our long-term but more erratic parents, threatened with no funds unless he complied with our rules, came to deliver the school reports for his two children. I read him the riot act about bringing them on-time next year.... and he mumbled and went away. We'll see if he remembers!
Monday 2 December - a day of waiting
A day of tying up some loose ends, which unfortunately meant going back to Brikama to chase up a student whose report looked dodgy and to get some reports from the School of Public Health for three of our senior students.
So... we waited in the headteacher's office while they found the correct results for the suspect student. We were right to be suspicious... instead of the perfect score she had given herself she had actually failed everything except religious knowledge!
On going back to see the parents they expressed amazement at this... and maybe they really did not know what she had been doing. If she put as much energy into her schoolwork as she has into her report falsification she might do a lot better!
On to the School of Public Health, where we waited for over an hour to get three reports printed off. To say I was frustrated is a gross understatement... I think Wandifa was worried I was going to explode with rage!!
For some reason that is beyond me, this college does not let the students have their results as they progress... so one of them, who is not doing very well, was completely surprised and shocked when he saw his marks. We were only allowed to have them as I had explained there would be no further sponsorship payment without them.
We dropped into Yundum Barracks to see the engineers and to discuss how payment will be made, should the final go-ahead be given to the library project. A mere fifteen minutes wait there... not bad as we were completely unexpected.
Back to the hotel... I collected all the financial stuff to take to Linda's for a final end of visit tally and the guys went off to chase the paperwork for the new minibus. Success all round... the numbers added up and the paperwork has finally arrived... quite a good day in the end...
Dave writes [Many thanks to Andy for providing a large number of Gambian children with solar powered "homework lights". Thanks also to Pippa for her battles with the internet in The Gambia - most of which she won! The original posts will always be available as long as Blogger keeps going, and can be accessed through the link which follows each title.]