Last month, Mel and Dee Bixley went to The Gambia and visited many of the African Oyster Trust's projects. The following blog post is the fourth and final part of a series of articles based on extracts from Dee's diary. You can read the background to their involvement with the Trust, plus the first, second and third extracts from the diaries.
Tuesday 11th February
So that we can see just how carefully the ambulance Mel 1 is looked after, Kira has arranged a visit to Riders for Health, the company which maintains all of Gambia’s health service vehicles, including 90 motorbikes, 36 ambulances and 27 off-road vehicles.
We meet Therese Drammeh, Country Director, a very influential woman whose innovations include the introduction of female mechanics in Gambia and even a female ambulance driver. We have a tour of the works too, meeting mechanics and reviewing their system for ordering the necessary parts in advance of servicing the individual vehicles.
A couple of thoughts
I was of course keen to learn about the Muslim custom of having more than one wife and I did pick up information here and there. But perhaps I should limit myself to quoting Mel when he took one of the chaps aside for a quiet word: “You men certainly know how to make your lives complicated, don’t you?!”
On a serious note, however, spending time with Kira, watching her in action day in day out, we begin to know the pearl at the centre of this oyster, this small charity with the big heart. We understand why, whenever we leave her compound, and all the way along the red sandy roads, we hear “Kira! Kira!” as we pass. Smiling, waving children, barefoot and covered in dust. They know, their parents, aunts, uncles and grannies know, that if they’re injured or sick, this lady will do all she can to help.
We have witnessed how, in the evenings chatting quietly in her garden, Kira’s watchman will suddenly be at her side, clasping the blue cards we now recognise as health charts. The patient will have been prescribed medication, they are not able to obtain or afford it, so they bring the problem to Kira.
Wherever our travels have taken us in the day, Kira stops off at a pharmacy on the way home to pick up her latest medication requests. One night, when all electricity has been turned off in the area, we watch from the car as she carries out her business by torchlight.
Therese Drammeh referred to her as the ‘ultimate philanthropist’ and I have seen her described somewhere as the Mother Theresa of Gambia. Yes and yes again. But when you include her background as a successful businesswoman, her prodigious knowledge of Gambia and how it works, her diplomatic skills and (when required) sheer cussed perseverance, you have a pearl indeed.
The News Diary is a regular account of all that is happening at The African Oyster Trust. Please pop back for regular updates, follow us on Twitter or sign up for our RSS feed to have the latest news sent straight to your computer!
The news diary is written by a number of people close to the work of the African Oyster Trust, including founder James Holden, his co-directors, trustees and volunteers.