By Kira Dalton
During Gill and Jonathan Evan's visit to the newly built Stepping Stones Nursery School
last March, we met with the Deputy Head of the adjoining large Kunkujang Keitayah Lower Basic School which gave us free land for building our nursery.
She expressed sincere gratitude to African Oyster Trust for the wonderful
gesture but, as usual, mentioned that they still had some further pressing needs - for a chicken! After much confusion, we realised that she meant a kitchen - having a suitable building is a prerequisite in order for the whole school to benefit from supplies of free rice from the World Feeding programme.
Before they left Gambia a few days later, Gill and Jonathan agreed to make a very generous donation to enable us to fulfill this dream.
The first requirement was for the school to have a good water supply, which took some time for them to organise. Another was to obtain a detailed plan to ensure that the building meets all of the WFP criteria, which took even longer!
Finally, with everything in place, we began building on the 1st of May and have every intention of having the work completed by mid June. That will allow time to get the cooking staff on board and rice supplies in place for September.
Gill and Jonathan's generosity will ensure that over 1,000 children are able to get a regular, nourishing cooked meal at lunchtime. And, as all of the WFP research shows, this will encourage parents to keep their children in school.
By Ali Calvert
This is a well overdue update on the Mariama Mae Pre-School; sorry it has taken so long. We have been busy building a secure perimeter wall and a strong metal entrance gate. Glad to say this is now complete and looking good. We hope in the future to be able to plant Bougainvillea, (a fast growing flowering climber) up the walls to provide a bright environment.
Because of this building work the school has gained extra playground space which Fatou Janneh, the head teacher, has been creatively filling, a children’s garden where they can learn to plant, grow and care for food crops; a fabulous area playground area with climbing bars, swings and balance beams; a wonderful sandpit, and Fatou’s latest addition is a water play trough. All of these have been colourfully painted and are in non-stop use. The children are delighted with these new activities and wanting to use them at every opportunity.
I spent a lovely half hour just watching the children on all this new equipment. I wish I could capture the joy that the children find in this simple play. The delight and the laughter they share as they experiment and get involved in these activities is beautiful; if you just sit and observe you see how much learning is taking place.
I cannot praise the staff enough for the continual commitment to their children and the school in general. Everyone is working hard, constantly improving themselves and the school through attending The Early Years Training Course at Gambia College. Fatou, who started in class 1, has just completed her three years training, is now working closely with her head teacher gaining experience to enable her to teach both classes 2 and 3, well done Fatou. We welcome Bintu, our new class 1 teacher, who I feel will bring a lot of vibrant positive energy both to her class and to the school. She has just begun her training. Tako our class 3 teacher has now settled very well into the school, she has a very calm approach and her children respond well to her as she prepares them to move to Lower Basic School. Tako is now in her second year at college and enjoying it very much.
In all the teachers you can see a keenness to learn and share new ideas that going to the college gives them. It is a pleasure to see these ideas being brought back into the classroom with enthusiasm to benefit the children.
All the staff are teaching a broad based comprehensive level of early years education. They understand the importance that the children are given the opportunity to learn through varied creative and physical activities. I am very proud of everyone involved who help to achieve this; that is not to say there aren’t the usual hiccups in maintaining a school in Africa.
At this point I like to think “if only people could see for themselves”: This has happened this year, two separate families have gone out for a visit to the school. It was a real positive for everyone, I ws delighted that people wanted to go, see for themselves, it also gives a boost to the staff that others are interested in their work.
I would like to thank everyone for their continued support in making Mariama Mae Pre-School what it is - a really lovely school. I would like to thank everyone involved in the curry evening, a fundraising event that took place at Roger and Honors. It was amazing, thank you for all your hard work, what a wonderful evening.
Our school is developing into a place where practical real learning can take place within firm foundations for the staff and children, growing and encouraging confidence and furthering education within their community.
Written by Jonathan Evans OBE
Seeing really is believing!
My wife has been Company Secretary of the AOT for a few years now, and I have always been inspired by the reports I have heard and read – at second hand of course - of the projects the Trust is involved with in The Gambia.
But it was not until Gill and I spent a week in The Gambia in February that I
fully understood just what amazing and transformational work the AOT does!
We fell in love immediately with The Gambia, a beautiful country with a majestic river, spectacular wildlife (we saw 125 species of bird in a week!), in the midst of which 1½ million people live their lives.
Most Gambians we met seemed happy: welcoming, smiling faces greeted us wherever we went, and even the tourist-harassing bumsters” plied their trade with a grin (most of the time). But apart from a small and growing middle class, most Gambians live in poverty – on one scale The Gambia is the 176th poorest nation on Earth. This is poverty in material terms: there is only a primitive basic infrastructure – water, sanitation, power, transport – and limited health and education provision, especially for small children.
And this is where charities like the African Oyster Trust make such a difference. We visited three of the Trust’s nursery school projects, and indeed saw the new Stepping Stones nursery being built.
The overwhelming view we were left with is how well the Trust is being run on the ground, with every £ donated in the UK being put to maximum value in The Gambia.
Thanks to Kira Dalton’s amazing energy and Fanding’s careful oversight of the projects, the cost of providing and maintaining a nursery school is remarkably low. Measured in terms of the benefit brought to
children’s education, the payback for every £ is astonishing!
To visit one of the Trust’s nursery schools, to see and hear how the children are enjoying being taught to read and write and sing, to talk to their committed teachers, is the best form of persuasion that here is a very worthy cause.
This letter from supporter Yvonne Butcher explains what got her and her friend Cheryl involved in fundraising for the African Oyster Trust, and why they continue to support our work:
"Cheryl and I have been friends for a very long time and have a tendency to like the same things so; our visit to the Gambia was no exception. We both fell in love with the country and the people from our very first trip.
"Like everyone else, we watched the TV coverage of the poverty in Africa and the suffering experienced by malaria with often fatal consequences. None of this prepares you for the reality of the situation when you see it for yourself.
"After our first trip to The Gambia, we deciwe wanted to do as much as we could to help. So, on returning to the UK, we got together with some fundraising ideas and have, to date, raised £800 through quiz nights, boot sales and discos. Our fundraising continues in earnest during 2012 and the foreseeable future.
"We feel that personally giving the money directly to Kira Dalton and the African Oyster Trust, we can be assured that it is distributed where it is needed the most. We wish Kira and the hardworking team our good wishes and long may they continue the great work they do."
More fundraising news from Sarah Johnson and her fantastic employers, optical lens manufacturer Essilor
(See Eyecare breakthrough in Jappineh
Sarah has organised a charity quiz night and raffle on Sunday 20th November at her local (just Google The Wheatsheaf, Thornbury to find it on their events page), for which a lot of local businesses have donated prizes for the raffle such as meals at local restaurants, bottles of wine and so on - including the landlord of the pub who has donated 4 bottles of champagne for the winning team!
And as you might imagine, Sarah has been heavily involved in a charity day in Essilor, which will be raising money for the AoT and children in need. Essilor has bought 5 tickets for the FA Cup 2nd semi final and there will be a raffle for those. Staff are also wearing something spotty to work and paying a pound towards the two charities.
And all of this on top of the fantastic SEVEN boxes of children's frames which are on their way to The Gambia as we speak, making another invaluable contribution towards the growing eyecare programme the Trust is supporting in Jappineh and elsewhere.
Thank you again to Sarah and everyone at Essilor for so much superb support.
The latest update we have received from Kira in the Gambia follows a familiar pattern - another day, another life saved, and a salutary reminder why healthcare sits alongside education as a priority for the African Oyster Trust.
"On the evening I arrived back in The Gambia, I dropped off my bags and was
heading out for a quick supper before a much needed early night.
"As I drove across the little dirt track towards the Courtyard Cafe, I saw a big group of people in front of me. In their midst was a young man of maybe 20 struggling to carry a young teenage boy of perhaps 12 or 13 piggy back style. Perhaps he has hurt his foot, I thought.
"When I reached them it was obvious that the teenager was very ill indeed. He was deathly pale and almost unconscious. Malaria, they said. We are trying to take him to the clinic. Just then he vomitted all over the man carrying him.
"Since the nearest clinics are around 5 miles away, I offered them a lift. While they found a plastic bag to serve as a sick bowl, I telephoned Auntie Sally, the very capable head nurse at Sukuta Clinic, to tell her I was bringing an emergency case.
"Travelling by car meant we got there in under 10 minutes. Who knows how long it would have taken them to walk!
"I pulled in in front of their ambulance, which already looked full of patients
and ready to leave, despite remonstrations from the driver. Fortunately, Auntie Sally was there to meet us. She took one look, gave the boy an injection and put him on a drip and then loaded him into the ambulance to be transferred to RVTH in Banjul. I was so relieved that I'd blocked them from leaving earlier.
"While his brother filled in paperwork, the boy briefly opened his eyes and held onto my hand, obviously very scared. I wished them luck and asked the brother to let me know how they got on in Banjul.
"Cerebral malaria can kill within 8 hours so I fervently hoped that they'd got
him onto treatment in time.
"Three days later, I was delighted when the same boy walked in to my compound. He'd been in hospital all that time and had just been released but wanted to come immediately to thank me before going home. A very humbling experience.
"In the meantime, talking to Ansumana at our own Jappineh Health Centre, I learn that it has been a very bad season for malaria. Perhaps because of the late and heavy rainy season. Last month they treated over 400 patients there. By far the biggest number ever. At times they were two or even three to a bed.
"I am SO happy that Jappineh Health Centre is there to treat all those people. My experience with the young boy reminded me that before the clinic was opened, the people of Jappineh area had to travel for at least 20 kilometres to get to medical help. Many of them, I am sure, did not make it.
"Now, thanks to the many generous donations, they have health care on their doorstep and am ambulance too which can whisk them off to Soma in minutes."
A chance encounter in The Gambia has led to yet another exciting development at Jappineh - eye care clinics, the first of which saw 172 people checked in just five hours!
Sarah Johnson, an employee of major optical lens manufacturer Essilor UK, was on holiday in The Gambia when she overheard a bar-room conversation between our own Kira Dalton and a friend. Kira was explaining that she had received a donation of a box of spectacle frames but had no lenses for them. Sarah explained who she worked for and returned to the UK determined to help...
After a number of meetings with colleagues at Essilor, it was agreed that Sarah could collect unwanted single vision lenses from the business. In all she was able to gather together about 600 lenses to take back to The Gambia in May.
Kira then arranged for Sarah to deliver them in person, meeting with staff at The Sheikh Zayed Eye Care Clinic in Kannifing and then travelling with a group of 8 opticians and optical nurses to Jappineh.
The team then ran a full days clinic, seeing 172 patients in all, many of whom were able to receive glasses or even referrals for essential cataract surgery. With Jappineh being a 5 hour drive from the nearest optician, these were all people who would receive no eye care at all if it were not for this kind of clinic. In those circumstances failing eyesight can simply mean the loss of livelihood and potentially the loss of the only income for an extended family of a dozen or more.
Since Sarah returned from The Gambia she has received donations of over 500 frames, and is continuing to collect frames and lenses. Essilor have also arranged to run a charity auction next year with the aim of raising enough money to build an optical clinic in Jappineh, a wonderful prospect.
Our huge thanks go to to Sarah, to Essilor and to everyone who has supported their efforts on this wonderful project.
To help give an insight into the impact that the Jappineh Hospital and new ambulance
are having on every day life in rural Gambia, this account of just one day has come in from Kira Dalton:"Last week brought the busiest, and most rewarding day ever for our team.
"In the middle of the usual queue of daily patients, word came that a bush taxi (shared public transport) carrying 22 people had overturned on the main road nearby.
"The ambulance immediately transported Ansumana and his team there. On assessment there were 12 casualties who required urgent transport to larger hospitals.
"The 4 most seriously injured passengers were immediately taken to Soma where they were then stabilised and referred onwards to Banjul RVTH.
"The ambulance immediately returned for two more trips with 4 patients each who were taken to Faraffeni APRC Hospital and Soma Major Health Centre respectively. Meanwhile, the walking wounded were treated on site and then transported in various other vehicles, including donkey cart, to Jappineh Health Centre for observation by the remaining staff there. Most were later released.
"If our team and the ambulance had not been nearby - it doesn't bear thinking what would have happened to all of these seriously injured people."
Well done to Laura Evans, who recently completed the Edinburgh marathon and, in doing so, raised a magnificant £1,500 for the Hilary Emery Nursery School (HENS) - the school named in memory of Laura's late mother.
As always with the AOT, all of the money raised by Laura's amazing effort will go directly to our work on the ground, supporting the education and welfare of the 105 young children at HENS.
To find out more about the school and the work that Laura and others like her are supporting, visit our Hilary Emery Nursery School
Or to add your own support to our work at HENS and other schools like it, please visit our support and donations
What a celebration!
Not only Jappineh people, but most of the surrounding villages were all standing at the main roadside to greet us as we arrived. They then sang, drummed, danced (of course I joined in) all the way to health centre.
When we arrived there, many more people were waiting under the canopy for us. After the usual slight delay for prayers, lunch, waiting for the elders and the governor's representative to arrive, the speeches started off around 3 pm. Interspersed with more entertainment, they went on until well after 6 pm.
From what I could understand (and some were translated fully for me) everybody is just so, so, very grateful that they finally have an ambulance at Jappineh. It was great to hear, even if the amount of praise was reaching embarassing proportions!
As everyone was dispersing and going to look at the ambulance, a donkey cart pulled in. On it was a disabled woman, her wheelchair and 3 relatives. They had come around 5 km from a nearby village. Ansu immediately diagnosed severe anemia, possibly with heart failure and told her family she needed an immediate blood transfusion and to be on oxygen (which we can't do at Jappineh).
Imagine the relief of everybody concerned when we told them we could whisk them all off to Soma Hospital by an ambulance which had only just arrived. And when When we phoned the next morning, she was doing fine.
So, within a couple of hours of its arrival at Jappineh, the Mel 1 ambulance has already saved a life! To see the full story behind Mel 1, click here