On a recent visit to Gambia, Dee Bixley attended a two-day teaching training seminar organised by the Trust.
The Trust's two-day teacher training seminar in January was led by Kemo Bah, our Education Director and Gambian Management Team Director. An expert in nursery education, he thoroughly enjoys working with Kira and the Gambian/UK teams.
Among the seminar activities, the teachers were asked to take turns to sing with their ‘pupils’, as a way of livening up a possibly sedate lesson. They were almost dancing as they weaved around the desks!
The teachers also took turns at pretending to be disruptive children - practising some of their newly acquired skills in dealing with such classroom behaviour.
Mr Ousman Trawally, Head of ECD [Early Child Development] at SBEC International School, led the Saturday session. He travelled especially from Basse, on the south bank of the River Gambia. Engaging him was quite a coup as he’s well known in his field and much sought after.
His last words to the teachers were: “If you are a truly gifted teacher you can teach with no resources at all.”
A special addition to the seminar came when Kemo announced the African Oyster Trust’s first Teacher of the Year award. Kemo used the opportunity to inspire the other teachers to emulate the good work of Pa. Further, the importance of being good role models for young children, and passionate about their work.
This award scheme, devised by two UK Friends of the Trust, goes to Alhasan Jarju (widely known as ‘Pa’).
The beauty of the award, if it becomes an ongoing initiative, is that it would benefit Gambian nursery teachers and UK nursery teachers. Pa, for example, will enjoy the accolade of his award, together with a one-off financial recognition. In the UK, a teacher will receive a Certificate of Appreciation, in the words of a nursery pupil. And in that teacher’s name, a donation will be made to an inspirational teacher in Gambia.
Later, Pa said: “I was so very happy and surprised. My colleagues said I deserved it. Of course, I pointed out that being the 1st Teacher of the Year didn’t mean I was better than them. Just that I was better this year! I think it will make them strive to achieve this too.”
Finally, Kemo and the teachers sent their appreciation to all those who supported the funding for this training.
On her recent visit to Gambia, Dee Bixley interviewed nurse Dembo Njie’s about his journey to the Trust's Wellingara Clinic.
How did your nursing career begin?
I studied for three years at the School of Nursing, for my SRN [State Registered Nurse] and passed all examinations. Then I was employed by the Government at Basse Hospital, where I worked for seven years. For three of those years I was in the Pharmacy, dealing with outpatient emergencies, and gaining excellent pharmaceutical experience.
Then one day the Pharmacy Director told me he planned to open his own pharmacy and he’d like me to join him. It would mean that I’d have to quit working for the Government, but I thought “Wow: he must think well of me!” It was an interesting opportunity - so I agreed and left the Government.
It took us about three months to prepare and stock the pharmacy, in the Kombo area of Banjul. I became Senior Manager and worked there for ten years.
Do you remember when you first met Kira?
Oh yes! I met Kira when she came to the pharmacy to purchase wholesale medicines. My boss knew her well and told me afterwards that her husband had passed away. I was struck by the way she knew Gambians, the way she spoke about them, wanted to help them.
Over the years whenever she went to the UK she would leave cash with me. “This is for my people,” she’d say. It was Kira’s way of making sure that if her neighbours needed help, and couldn’t afford medication, there would be money here waiting. I told my brother: “This Kira - she is our sister! She is Gambian!”
I have heard it said that people love you. Why is that?
When it comes to health, I respond promptly and do my utmost, whatever the ailment is. If there’s a social problem - for example a wound - there are different sorts of wounds and some need daily attention. If they are infected, I act immediately and monitor them. When I see crazy wounds, I get crazy about curing them. I think that’s why people love me - “When Dembo touches us, we are well again!”
During the rainy season, malaria, pneumonia, gastro-enteritis and malnutrition are rampant and the Clinic is full. January, February and March are quieter months, but we always aim to meet our targets.
How did you react when Kira asked you to leave the pharmacy and run a Health Clinic for the Trust?
That blew me apart. The thought of leaving the Banjul people was very difficult, and they didn’t want me to go. They couldn’t understand why I was even thinking about it. But finally, I realised: this is about me! I am a nurse! I wanted a nurse’s challenges again; to use my knowledge and make a difference.
When I came here to Wellingara Clinic things changed - let’s just leave it at that! We took over from another charity and the place was sinking. But in our first month the patient numbers increased hugely and that continues. People have confidence in us. I always say to the team: “Let us do good for the patients and they will always come back to us.”
A few people complained that the medication cost too much - but they became well! So now they say, “It might be expensive but it’s very good!” It has been a remarkable turnaround and the patient numbers are still going up and people are confident.
What would you most like to see achieved for the health of Gambians?
My wish is for Gambians to realise the importance of sensitization. Getting regular health check-ups at your nearest health centre or clinic – this is crucial. And not to be scared, because if there is something that needs attention, it is best to catch it early. I cannot stress this enough.
Is it helpful to have a healthy sense of humour in Gambia?
Definitely! Humour is essential in The Gambia! Thank you, Dee! Continue your efforts!
The African Oyster Trust is delighted to be taking part once again in the Big Give #ChristmasChallenge19. Our aim is to raise enough money to provide a school-day breakfast for every child in one of our nursery schools for an entire year.
The Big Give, the UK’s biggest online match-funding campaign, starts at 12pm (midday) Tuesday 3rd December and runs until 12pm Tuesday 10th December.
Any donations made to the Trust during this period through www.theBigGive.org.uk will be matched by supporters including the Friends of The Reed Foundation; meaning that every pound you donate will be DOUBLED! So a gift of £10 will become £20, £50 will become £100, and so on for donations up to our campaign target of £2,000.
Average income in The Gambia is less than £1 a day, and the cost of rice, bread and other essentials have all sky-rocketed in recent times. As a result, many children are arriving at our schools hungry and malnourished. A simple porridge breakfast every school morning will mean that the children can start their day with a full stomach and ready to learn.
Breaking the cycle of poverty
The African Oyster Trust was founded to support education and health projects not funded by the government. We believe that education is one of the most powerful and long-lasting ways of breaking the cycle of poverty.
Unfortunately, when children arrive at school without having had anything to eat, it badly affects their levels of attention and ability to learn. We want to ensure the children can concentrate properly and benefit fully from the educational experience by providing a simple breakfast at the start of every school day.
‘Turning porridge to knowledge’
The funds from the Big Give Christmas Campaign will allow us to set up a kitchen at the nursery so that every morning when they arrive the children are given porridge. The cooks prepare it runny enough to be served in plastic cups. This simple breakfast, combined with our nursery education, really will give these children a better start in life.
It is a simple yet effective way to make a real difference in The Gambia.
Initially we intend to pilot this initiative in one school in order to measure success. The first target is therefore to raise enough for the first year of the project - £1,600 to pay for a year’s ingredients, firewood and wages for a cook, plus the initial cost of pots, pans and utensils.
But of course we want to exceed that target if we can! First, it is vital to ensure we can sustain the project beyond the first year, and second we want to be able to roll it out, if successful, to other African Oyster Trust nursery schools.
Making a Difference
No one can explain how big a difference your support makes better than the people who are most closely involved with our work.
"The African Oyster Trust's work has transformed the welfare of people in the district and beyond."
- Chief Alhagie Dampha
"In the 15 years that AOT has been running it has helped hundreds of children get a good start. There are now 18 year old young men and women, who learned at the nurseries, leaving school and college. They are literate and getting jobs, so breaking the cycle of poverty"
- Lady Kira Dalton - Trustee
"The African Oyster Trust is a remarkable charity. All its work is funded by voluntary contributions. It has zero overheads. ALL the donations go to support the people and projects that need it most. You can be sure that every penny you donate will be put to good use."
Jackie Keyser, donor
Please support The African Oyster Trust Big Give Christmas Challenge if you can, by donating via the Big Give website between 12pm (midday) Tuesday 3rd December and 12pm Tuesday 10th December. Remember, by taking part in the Big Give Christmas Challenge your donation will be match funded and doubled, giving it twice the impact!!
Friends and supporters of The African Oyster Trust are warmly invited to join us at the 2019 Annual General Meeting on Sunday 29 September at 3pm.
This year the AGM will be hosted by Trustee and fundraising guru Shirley Cherry, at Orchard House, Back Lane, Middle Tysoe, Warwickshire CV35 OSJ (there is parking on Main Street).
As ever, the focal point of the meeting will be Lady Kira Dalton’s dispatches from Gambia, including the latest news on all of our projects.
To help us with arrangements, please let us know by 15 September if you can join us - email Dee at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07800 893237.
We look forward to welcoming you.
Join us for a taste of The Gambia at St Mary’s Church, Tysoe on Friday 7th June 7-9pm.
Enjoy Gambian inspired ‘paella’ fish supper + ‘Drums Aloud', a talented group of musicians will be performing West African drumming (djembe, dundun & balafon).
Come and try drumming!
Tickets: £10 each includes fish supper, glass of wine or soft drink. Children £2.50 each.
To book call: 01295 680793 or email email@example.com.
Raising funds for the African Oyster Trust, providing healthcare and preschool education in The Gambia, West Africa.
A highlight of our first trip to the Trust’s projects in February 2014 was visiting the Jappineh Health Centre and meeting the delightful staff. Nearby, there is a health facility of a different kind and Kira, aware of my interest in mental health, has arranged a visit there too. It is owned by the Njie family.
The Njie brothers, Karamo and Mdemba, are marabouts - also known as ‘traditional’ doctors. Njie men have treated mentally-ill patients for 350 years. Their healing powers are inherited, and herbs grown on their extensive land are used as remedies for patients. When these are ineffective, the brothers resort to a rigorous, physical approach.
Alhaji Karamo, the most renowned brother, greets us enthusiastically. Tall and flamboyant, he sweeps ahead to show us around. Alas, we are permitted to see few patients. Rumours about Njie patients being shackled and whipped are uppermost in my mind and, I’m sure, in Kira’s too.
We are then ushered into Karamo’s office. Through the interpreter we brought with us, Kira stresses the efficiency of Western medicine for psychiatric disorders. She has addressed this matter with the brothers many times. Amazingly, Karamo is now accepting that his herbs can’t cure every condition. He is asking for help. As we walk back to the Health Centre, we marvel at this breakthrough.
A few days later we visit the only psychiatric hospital in Gambia. Opened in 2009, Tanka Tanka is named after the Dutch Foundation that largely funded it. Anna Bouman, Founder & Vice President, is a friend of Kira’s.
There are no psychiatrists in Gambia, but the secondment of a Cuban psychiatrist has been a bonus for Tanka, albeit brief. The buildings encircle a large outside area, where patients are mingling with others or sitting quietly alone. As we amble across to the male wards, a girl slips in beside me and links her fingers through mine. We continue this way until she loses interest and veers off elsewhere. Another patient howls her misery, eventually collapsing into the arms of a kitchen lady.
Back in England, we soon receive Kira’s ‘Preliminary Ideas’ document for the Trust’s psychiatric programme and we pore over it avidly. It is a thesis! Every possible factor has been thought through. For example, a Jappineh Health Centre nurse will be trained by the Tanka Community Mental Health Team; that team will also visit the Njie facility on a monthly basis, and their transport costs and other allowances will be covered. Kira senses that the Tanka team will relish the opportunity to make an impact at the Njie establishment.
We are very happy to fund the beginnings of this pioneering initiative for Gambia’s mental health, including the cost of psychiatric medicine.
A month later we hear that Karamo Njie is in prison, having allegedly murdered a patient by caning him to death. If ever there is a time to redress the treatment of mental illness in Gambia, this is it.
Kira succeeds in securing the counsel and ongoing guidance of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Their Country Facilitator for the Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Programme (mhLAP), Dawda Samba, is a huge asset. We are sent the 1st issue of Dawda’s newsletter Drop the Chain and Cane. The title alone is spine-tingling in its intent.
This excerpt shows Dawda’s 4 phases.
Minutes of the Gambian Management Team meetings include updates on the psychiatric programme and for the most part they convey steady progress. The Tanka Tanka outreach team run ongoing and successful joint training sessions with Health Centre staff and the Njie family. A sticking point, however, is the family’s reluctance to contribute towards the purchase of psychiatric drugs, and to contribute towards the services offered to them by Modou Jobe, the nurse assigned to administer the injections. These entirely reasonable expectations are at last (albeit reluctantly) accepted. The Njie family has seen the effectiveness of the drugs on their patients and has at last consented to contributing their quota, thus securing sustainability.
Shortly before my visit to the projects in January this year, Dawda Samba went to the Njie hospital to ascertain the prevailing situation. His report ends: “Patients are no longer put in chains, caned, or locked in. Their rooms look reasonably neat and clean. There was evidence that a closer collaboration between the HC and the marabouts is being fostered, based on mutual understanding.”
African Oyster Trust’s work for the treatment of mental illness in Gambia remains the only collaboration between Western nursing and medicine, and the traditional methods of marabouts. Medical history is being made by a small charity that dares to innovate.
African Oyster Trust director Lady Kira Dalton reports on the latest eye Jappineh Eye Clinic, which helped more than 90 patients in a single day at a cost of £2.50 per eye-test.
On Saturday 16th March the African Oyster Trust (AOT) helped to organise the Jappineh Eye Clinic which 91 patients attended.
It took place at the Jappineh Health Centre, run by the Trust. We provide all the medicines for the clinic and pay a small allowance to the local sight team from Soma Hospital, comprising an Optometrist, Surgeon and two students, for working at the weekend.
We test using an ‘illiterate eye chart’ (they have to say which way the legs are pointing on the letter E). Anyone who cannot see the middle line is referred to the sight team, who then check for refractions and issue them with trial frames. They choose the nearest available from a large collection of donated second-hand spectacles. Some also get reading glasses, as the chance of finding bifocals to suit is very unlikely.
Others are referred to the eye surgeon at Soma, about half an hour away. There they diagnose more serious problems and prescribe medicines for glaucoma, and schedule cataract or other surgery. The Soma Hospital team are happy to work with the Trust as we were able to donate a slit lamp and other equipment to their unit a few years ago.
Usually, we have a small budget to fund a few operations for those who can’t afford to travel to Soma. This includes the elderly, as this is a country where no pensions are paid.
Of the patients who attended this year, 5 needed cataract surgery, and 3 have dates arranged. 25 will need future surgery for cataracts and 22 others for pterygiums. Both these conditions are related to lots of sun exposure, which is why we give our staff sunglasses. 9 patients received glasses, including 2 children, and many were given eye drops.
The total cost of this the Jappineh Eye Clinic was 15,000 dalasis, which is about £230 - roughly £2.50 per patient - which I’m sure you will agree is money well spent. And there are enough eye drops and spectacles left to last the whole year. This means that Jappineh Health Centre can now organise days like this maybe twice a year for a few pounds (to pay for transportation costs and providing lunch and rewarding the Soma people for working over the weekend).
A visit to the optician is something we take for granted in the UK and the rest of the developed world, but in The Gambia it simply doesn’t happen. The impact of this one day will have lasting benefits for the people who attended and help them to see a brighter, more in-focus future.
This is the final of four articles from Trust director Dee Bixley, reflecting on her recent visit to our projects in The Gambia.
Pursuing a longstanding land dispute case on behalf of donors to the Trust, Kira has received notification to attend court at 10am on Wednesday. I must attend too, she says, because it will be an excellent addition to my ‘Gambia Experience’.
General Manager Fanding has driven us here and he will help with translation. We arrive spot on time.
Naively, I’d assumed there would be some sort of Court building but as we walk into the Chief’s compound, I see rows of plastic chairs under the mango trees and realise this is Court. The chairs are empty and yet their presence does suggest that something will happen, sometime.
Gradually people do arrive, greet friends, sit down, have a chat or a nap. There’s an overwhelming air of resignation.
Meanwhile, all around and seemingly oblivious of our presence, the women of the compound go about their unceasing work, collecting water, pounding grain, hanging out washing - whilst tiny tots play in the sand, and goats, hens and chicks weave in and out of the chairs.
I find myself thinking about an old Fry’s chocolate advertisement for Five Boys: “Desperation. Pacification. Expectation. Acclamation. Realisation. It’s Fry’s”.
Three hours later, when the Court Clerk arrives, I have my Fry’s moment, entering what I can only describe as a state of ecstasy. OK it isn’t the Chief himself, but something is happening! I watch as the Clerk carefully dusts the table and then - is it him or the Court Usher - who wheels in the special Chief’s chair? And where did the Call to Prayer fit in? When you’re ecstatic you tend to lose track of the order of things. Meanwhile, Kira continues with her crosswords.
Fifteen minutes later the Chief himself arrives and tackles the first case of the day; witnesses bob up and down stating their evidence, and documents are scrutinised. Then, four hours and twenty minutes after we arrived, the morning session is over. Amazingly, Kira is beckoned forward and given a future date for her diary. She seems quite pleased. This Gambia Experience, it’s exhausting!
This is the third of four articles by Trust director Dee Bixley, reflecting on her recent visit to our projects in The Gambia.
One of the heart-warming aspects of Kira’s largesse is that everyone in her neighbourhood know that she’s there when they need help. If a family can’t afford to pay for a prescription or they can’t get to a medical centre, Kira or her watchmen - all experienced first aiders - step in. They have dealt skilfully with all manner of emergencies over the years.
I was there when the little girls, pictured here, came to support their friend, while her wound is checked, and bandage replaced. A minor matter, perhaps, but their big smiles tell the story.
Urgent knocking at the gate can occur at any time of day or night. Late one afternoon, I happen to be nearest the gate - what calamity will I face?
Three attractive young girls stand before me, looking robustly healthy to my untrained eye. They seem disappointed at the sight of me but then Celberr appears and it’s fascinating to watch the fluttering of their extension eyelashes. One girl makes a show of putting a hand protectively over her arm, but we hear later that there was nothing to be seen on her arm.
My theory is that they came to admire Celberr and, well, who can blame them?!
This is the second of four articles, as Trust director Dee Bixley reflects on her recent visit to our projects.
We have booked a two-night stay at a modest guest house in Soma near Jappineh. On arrival, we find the staff dazzled by the upcoming opening of the nearby Senegambia Bridge. A momentous achievement, it promises to end centuries of trade chaos, and has taken 7 years to build. Not surprisingly, journalists and photographers have been jostling for rooms, which is why (we discover later) our rooms for tomorrow have been double-booked.
Meanwhile, we surrender to our parts in a situation comedy. My role has three room changes because the keys don’t fit or don’t lock or there’s no lighting. So, I flit about unpacking, packing, unpacking and although it’s a non-speaking part I do indulge in some fruity ad-libs.
Kemo’s role is that of a gentleman, which requires no acting skill because he’s like that anyway. As for Kira, she merely gives one of her famous shrugs and remains sanguine throughout.
Strangely, my third room is behind fretwork bars, with a door that also has keys. Kemo wants to make quite sure that my door key will work this time, so I proudly demonstrate my ability to double-lock. We both jump in horror when the door swings open anyway! Still, I’ll be safely behind bars.
As we eat our evening meal, huddled on a tiny balcony, we receive light entertainment from the electricians alongside.
“Did you know that roosters can crow all night?” is our question to each other over breakfast. And who would want a second night being kept awake by them? We’ll squeeze in more meetings today and drive back to Kombo later.
As we get ready to depart, it is Kira’s turn to lose track of keys: her car keys. Without them we are stuck! Happily, she finds them in her handbag, and we drive away from the place. Kemo shakes his head in bewilderment. “Did that madness really happen?” he asks, as he forages for his phone - whoops! He’s left it in his room.
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.