In 2011, Mel Bixley's extraordinarily generous donation made possible the acquisition of an ambulance for the Sir Howard Dalton Clinic in Jappineh. You can read the full story here, and see reports throughout the news diary of the lives being saved every day as a result.
Last month, Mel and his wife Dee went to The Gambia and visited many of the African Oyster Trust's projects - including, of course the Sir Howard Dalton Clinic.
These blog posts over the next few days are based on extracts of Dee's diary. You can read part II here.
4th February 2014
Three years ago my husband Mel funded an ambulance for the African Oyster Trust’s health centre in Jappineh. Even Gambia’s President Jammeh became involved in the quest for an ambulance and it has been heart warming to read about how it is saving lives. Now we have come to Gambia to see it for ourselves.
During our time here, Kira Dalton is going to show us some of the charity’s many projects, and today she and Fanding (her second in command) are taking us to see a nursery and adjoining school in Serrekunda, near Banjul.
The Stepping Stones Nursery, formally opened in March 2013, has three classrooms and was built on land donated by Kunkujang Keitayah Lower Basic School, next door.
We meet many enthusiastic teachers and children, and witness the Jolly Phonics teaching method in action. The secret of its success seems to lie in the fun of it, the way it captures the imagination of young minds.
But fun or not, one thing is already abundantly clear: Gambian children want to learn.
At Kunkujang Keitayah, we meet the Headmaster, Edrissa Bojang. He is a very impressive man, Kira tells us later, whose roles include Chairmanship of the Gambia Teachers Union Cooperative Credit Union (GTUCCU).
In his office, I spot a photo of he and his wife and remark upon how pretty she is. He pretends to be annoyed, “What about me? Am I not handsome?!”
A chart on his wall shows that the school has almost 2,000 pupils.
By Kira Dalton
It is good to be back in Gambia although the weather is still unusually hot and sticky after a later than normal rainy season.
This has meant, however, that the incidence of malaria is at an all time high.
To make matters worse, there is a shortage of malaria drugs everywhere -
except, I'm pleased to say, at Jappineh Health Centre.
Last month they treated an astonishing 896 patients. Nearly double the usual number. Because of drug shortages elsewhere, patients are coming from far and wide seeking treatment and it is VERY rewarding to be able to meet their needs.
Within minutes of arriving in Jappineh on Monday, a woman came in by donkey cart and was delivered of a bouncing healthy baby girl a few minutes later. Ansumana then rushed back to out patients where two young children had been brought in.
One was nearly comatose and the other was having seizures - both because of very high fever caused by malaria. No sooner had the young patients been sponged down, put on drips and stabilised when the next batch of patients arrived. All this in addition to the usual queue of chronic illness, minor injuries etc.
All the staff at Jappineh Health Centre do an amazing job. Adama and Wandifa seem to be on call day and night - constantly needed on the ward and in the lab.
Our newly recruited second nurse, Alhajie, has been thrown in at the deep end and very quickly proved himself as part of a great team. Even the orderlies and cleaners are having a much busier time than usual and are still managing to keep the place spotless. Their efforts have been made much easier due to our newly tiled floors for which we thank Drs. Isa and Isabella from Holland. Soon we will be using some surplus funds from their very successful Facebook Campaign (Bella Africa) to begin replacing the old, cracked and totally unsuitable double glazed windows with much more appropriate shutters and mosquito netting.
Chalo, the ambulance driver, has been rushed off his feet. He had already made two runs to Soma on Monday morning with emergency referrals but was still on standby well into the evening in case he was needed again. Fortunately, both of the young children stabilised and one was even able to go home the next day as was the proud new mum and her baby.
Our nursery schools on the coast are all looking good after their rainy season
maintenance. All are fully enrolled with the maximum 30 children per class. That in itself is quite an improvement. I recently saw 2 grade 1 classes where there are over 90 children! Their teachers face an impossible task, especially as they are not fortunate enough to have access to the facilities and equipment which our donors have made possible at HENS, Mariama Mae and Stepping Stones. Next we want to upgrade the playground facilities at Jappineh Nursery School so they too can enjoy swings, slides and other playground equipment.
To all our wonderful supporters, please do keep those donations coming. There will always be more to do here ......
By Rob Bagnall
When I was considering what I wanted to pursue after I left university, I felt that a career in economic development would be one of the most exciting and rewarding areas of work I could be in. However, I didn't really know an awful lot about the sector, and because of this I wanted to visit a developing country and witness the current conditions individuals are facing, and during December of 2011, the African Oyster Trust provided me with an exciting opportunity to find out about the work they do in the Gambia.
During my stay, Kira showed me the amazing facilities the charity had set up and were running, including all the nursery schools, the Greggs clinic in Gunjur and the Medical facility in Jappineh. My stay in the country significantly changed my view of thinking the bigger a charity is the better, as I was amazed by how much a small charity can significantly impact the lives of so many people. The amount I learned whilst staying with Kira in that short space of time was a lot more than how much I would learn during a whole year of studying, and my time with the charity has made me want to pursue this career even more!
Given the amazing experience I had in the Gambia, I was passionate about raising money to contribute to the great projects the African Oyster Trust are running, and running the Bath Half Marathon was a great opportunity to do so. Raising the money was relatively easy given that the African Oyster Trust is listed on the Charity Choice directory, meaning that I could create my own web page to keep track of how much money I had raised and who had sponsored me.
Although training for the race was pretty difficult, given the bitter winter we just experienced, raising money for the African Oyster provided me with the motivation to put in the extra sessions in the run up to the race. On the day itself, Bath was packed with spectators cheering us on and thousands of people were participating in the race itself, I had never seen Bath so busy! Given this massive turn-out, I was so pleased I was participating in the event and was very happy with my finishing time of 1 hour and 40 minutes!
More importantly though, the race was a great opportunity to raise money for this amazing charity, and I would like to day thank you to all those who supported me and contributed to the £606 I raised as a result of this race.
It is more than likely that I will be taking part in the Bath Half Marathon in the future, and according to him my Dad will be joining me (I’ll believe it when I see it!). If this is the case, I hope I can raise even more money for the great work that the African Oyster Trust is part of in the Gambia.
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.
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.
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 page.
Or to add your own support to our work at HENS and other schools like it, please visit our support and donations page.
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.
On Sunday 5th September, a Greggs team comprising 11 cyclists and 4 runners took part in the Wolverhampton half marathon to raise funds for the Hilary Emery nursery school in Talinding.
The team managed to raise £3,200 (including gift aid) which was a fantastic achievement.
AoT directors James and Alan were later invited to the Greggs bakery to receive the cheque from Antonia Ermoyenous, Ian Bagnall and Steve Emery on behalf of all the Greggs participants and sponsors.
Alan & James receive the cheque from Antonia and Steve.
Helpers make up the Greggs 'goodie bags' for all the half marathon participants.
Steve helps to issue the bags.
Some of the Greggs team get ready for the off!
Ian Bagnall, Jane Salacinski and Steve take a well-earned break after their efforts!
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.