Blog

19th October 2016


Brigid and I went to an assembly at St Teresa's School, Wokingham where our eldest daughter is Head teacher. She set the pupils on to a task to provide stationery for the Primary and junior School in Kunkujang. In 10 days they collected a magnificent 64.3kg of equipment including footballs - well done to all. 

St Teresa's school collection

22nd October 2016

Have just spoken to Thomas Cook Airlines and, now, for a modest fee, Brigid and I have 45kg each on the outbound flight to accommodate the stationery so that's that problem solved. We will return with just two bags of our own luggage

27th October 2016

With the current severe fluctuations in currency rates the price has gone up to almost 21k sterling, hurry up and settle down you money markets!!!

day

4th November

imageWell almost ready to go off to airport with 65kgs of goodies for the convent and the school in Kunkujang. Oh yes and we have 18kgs of our own luggage. We will go to the convent Monday morning and see the orphans there and then visit the school and village on Tuesday - the rest of the week we will make appointments as required and hopefully find some time to relax as well. 99 degrees out there at the moment so large sun hats have been packed for both of us.

Latest updates from here:

Saturday 5th November - our son David completed a 24 hour sponsored marathon flight around the world the wrong way on his Flight Simulator - he raised a magnificent 215 for the project from this effort

Sunday 6th November - arrived safely and were met by our local contact - Kebba Cham - together with his colleague Omar Jammeh and Kebba's driver. The pick up came in very handy to transport all the bags from the airport to the Hotel. We unpacked and settled in for the rest of the day

Monday 7th November - in the morning Kebba came to the hotel and we planned the itinerary for the week so that he could set up the relevant meetings. In the afternoon, we visited the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity to deliver DVDs we had brought over for the 30 or so children they look after when they have been abandoned by the parents. Apparently we had been asked also for a CD player for the children to use but which we had missed the request - however such is the power of the internet when it is working that overnight I received a "go out and buy" email from Stoke on Trent Lions Club as they were happy to purchase this. Thank you fellow Lions

Tuesday 8th November - was the most intense day. The villagers of Gunjar Kunkujang had been given a day off from harvesting and were out in force to greet us at the entrance to the village as we arrived with all the stationery items for the school. We were asked to alight from the truck and walk with the villagers and the sisters from the Missionaries of Charity who had also accompanied us. The arrival and the rest of the proceedings were filmed for Gambian TV and I was also interviewed. There followed about 2 hours of singing, dancing (not us) and many speeches from various dignitaries from the village, government and education bodies at the end of which Brigid and I were made honorary citizens and I was given the chance to respond and thank them for their welcome and hospitality. We then brought all the items from the truck and they were laid out on the tables for all to see. The Head Teacher received them on behalf of the school and asked us in his speech to pass on the schools heartfelt thanks to St Teresa's School in Wokingham for providing all this equipment. There followed a play organised and written by the children and also a welcome speech from the Head Girl. Unfortunately unlike some of the other verbal interventions this was in the local language and we were unable to understand.

Following this we toured the school buildings with the Head, and saw the nursery class where there are no desks/chairs and the kids sit on a hard floor all day - equipment was negligible and we vowed to see what we could do to provide laptops for each class (once we had put some power into the school and some desks for the nursery class

By the end of the visit, the Sister Superior from Missionaries of Charity was able to announce that they had agreed to provide a mobile medical clinic once a month for the villagers which would be held in another village just 2km away (that distance is nothing for the villagers) so two villages could be served rather than just one. Mission 1 accomplished!!!

Wednesday 9th November - In the morning we met the new contractor to discuss and agree Project stages and the new proposed design. This new design will retain the existing tower as a back up and will be complementary to the new tower and tank which will provide  in the future 120000 litres a day instead of the current 5000 litres a day. The pumps and the solar panels are currently in stock and it was agreed that once we reach the first target of 5000 (we currently have 2500 in the account) work will start in erecting the tower, the tank and the solar panels so that the villagers can physically see something is happening.

In the afternoon we met the Country Director of Child Fund International who our local man - Kebba Cham - works for. To our delight, he has agreed on behalf of Child Fund that the NGO will manage all the funds once they are sent into the country and ensure that the money is spent as intended and will provide regular feedbacks to us whilst we are back in the UK. A very satisfactory day!!

Thursday 10th November - met up with Sister Shalom from the Missionaries of Charity (Brigid's sister) to agree the functionality and service of the local mobile medical clinic which had been agreed on Tuesday. It also meant that I could indulge myself in my favourite snack in the beach side restaurant of 2 French Eggy Bread sandwiches filled with chocolate spread and bananas and washed down with a glass (or two) of cold beer

Friday 11th November - half the day working and half sightseeing. Both brigid and I wanted to see how a local hospital worked so we toured the local major hospital with Kebba who seemed to know everyone there. Some areas were high spec, others a bit grimmer compared to many premises in the UK - what was clear was that modern equipment and supplies were in short supply. One doctor refused to believe that in the UK now we used digital blood pressure machines instead of the old oscillotometer and stethoscope. On then to a village market where we were trying to purchase some CDs to use with the CD player that Stoke on Trent Lions Club had sponsored. In this we were unsuccessful but did manage to arrange to take possession of a copy of the film prepared for us by Gambian TV. This will be streamed on this website once it has been abridged. On then to see a crocodile pool - we saw the pool but not the crocs who were sleeping - and then to the border crossing with Senegal to see the one man operated row boat ferry plying its trade ferrying goods and people between the two countries. Security was extremely heavy in this area with many checkpoints but fortunately our driver was able to explain to their satisfaction who we were and what we were doing. And then it was back to the hotel via Gunjar Kungkujang. The reason for this diversion was that we had asked Kebba how much to give the driver for all his help this week. Kebba suggested a large bag of rice (25kg) which costs just short of 1000 Delasi (around 20). His monthly wage was only 1400 Delasi (about 28) so this rice would ensure that he and his family would be fed for the next month and he could perhaps use his wages to provide a few extras for his family.

Saturday 12th November - by this time we were both absolutely exhausted and decided to take the morning off by the pool and a bit of rest and relaxation. Whereas when we went in January the temperature was a comfortable 82/85 degrees, this time it was between 96/100 every day and it was taking its toll. In the afternoon, we went to say goodbye to her sister and the other nuns using the only available taxi at the hotel which happened to be an open topped jeep - I was bounced around like a sack of potatoes much to Brigid's amusement and my head kept making contact with the roll bars!! Back to the hotel then for packing and attendance at the local BBQ and African cultural evening in the hotel

Sunday 13th November - off to the airport by shuttle bus at midday for the journey home. Flight arrived back in Gatwick about 22.30 and as usual not enough Immigration Officers on duty and not all the biometric machines working - still were back home just after midnight and then it was straight to bed as we were both at work Monday morning.

It was interesting to note that whilst we were there that there were two Health Visitors from Manchester in full uniform who were setting up a medical centre in a nearby town. We also met a couple from Christchurch, members of the NHS Fellowship, who were also doing good work locally. Wouldn't it be great if all this work could be co-ordinated instead of being fragmented - this was in addition to another Lions Club from Yorkshire who were busy unloading a container in the docks and distributing the contents throughout the country.

We had hoped to be able to return in Feb/March 2017 but that now looks unlikely, however as we now have two local contacts and the confidence that the money will be spent as intended through close monitoring, it may not be necessary - we can still get work started without being on site physically. We may make a quick trip in May/June and then another week in October 2017


22nd May 2017 - St Theresa's Catholic Academy in Wokingham agreed to take on a challenge to raise 500 to enable 10 sets of desks and benches to be manufactured locally and provided for the children in the infant classes to sit at rather than sit on the floor. These benches were handed over by Lion Kebba Cham to Mr Sulayman Saar (Headteacher) on this day - a magnificent effort in a short time and with the money reinvested locally as well. Well done St Theresa's


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July 2017 - total funds available reach 7200 so we took a revised Project Plan to the Trustees and the club for approval to get the infrastructure build started before the rainy season really kicked in. The building of this infrastructure will immediately to increase the capacity of clean water from the current 5000 litres a day to 120,000 litres a day by augmenting the existing supply and then we will extend the pipes and taps etc as more money flows in to account. Delighted to say that the Trustees and Bracknell Lions Club approved this proposal and will release 6500 immediately to allow the work to start. Our thanks to Lion Kebba Cham (our man on the ground) and Ebrima Dibba (contractor) for enabling this revised Project Plan to evolve


October 2017

Thanks to the continued generosity of Coningsby and Tattershall Lions Club the school was able to purchase a printer for the school with spare cartridges. This was not an additional printer, this was the only printer which was badly needed. Together with the two reconditioned laptops (thanks David Hendy) which we will take out with us on 6th Nov these items will greatly enhance the capabilities of the school


25th October 2017

The news we had been waiting for. Lions Clubs International Foundation have awarded us an International Assistance Grant to the value of $9500 to enable us to complete the project. The matching sum from the UK has already been forwarded to Gambia and deposited in a secure bank account; the grant will come through whilst we are in Gambia and will be sent to the appeal account in Bracknell Forest Lions account so we will have to transfer that when we get back. I can forsee plenty of planning meetings whilst we are away and will try to keep you all up to date with our activities. We are also meeting members of Banjul Kairo Lions Club to plan a grand 'opening' to take place in February 2018


Monday 6th November 2017

left Gatwick at zero degrees and arrived in Banjul at 34 degrees!!! Straight to the hotel to unwind


Tuesday 7th November 2017

Met with Kebba Cham to arrange programme for the week. In afternoon went to convent to deliver gifts to the Sisters from us and the family in Ireland


Wednesday 8th November 2017

The big day arrives. Bumpy drive to Kunkujang but a low key visit this time. Met with village elders and Heads of both nursery school and primary school and toured schools and village. This time no ceremonials which gave us the opportunity to sit with the children in the classes. Presented the laptops which were gratefully received and paired up with the printer supplied to the school. Apologies in advance for lack of photos but cannot get them across from phone to iPad as files too big but we did break the ground for the start of the trenches required to distribute the new water supply

Thursday 8th November 2018

Touch down in Gambia again with daughter Nikki, her husband Russ and my wife Brigid. Met at airport as usual and taken to hotel. The following day was chilling day before the main opening ceremony on Saturday

10th February 2018

Off to the village where the villagers and children had assembled in their hundreds soon to be joined by TV crew, journalists and various dignitaries from the regional and National Government including the elected leader of the Gambian National Assembly and the Gambian Director of Water Resources who both praised Lions highly for the work we had accomplished so far and encouraged us to do more. The ribbon was cut and the villagers celebrations started. We left as we were emotionally drained and we were keen to get back into 'civilisation' before it got dark

Rest day on the 11th February and then off to Kunkujang School on

Monday 12th 2018

A great experience for daughter Nikki and husband Russ whilst they handed over gifts from St Teresa's Academy in Wokingham to the school including a projector, a digital camera and some First Aid materials- daughter Nikki even had a block of the new school named after her. We stayed talking to the Village Development committee and the school Head and agreed that the next project will be solar powered electricity for the nursery and the establishment of an IT suite in the Lower Basic School using discarded laptops from the UK, reconfigured and loaded with the latest software, and some dormitory furnishings - beds!!! - for the staff who stay at the school the whole week as they live too far away to commute and sleep on hard floors in little 'cells' as they cannot afford mattresses.

Tuesday 13th February 2018

Returned home to plan the next stages of the ongoing project but that's a story for another time