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.
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."
By Alan Dick, Trust Director - see previous posts for first two extracts.
Monday 13th December
Our last project visit is Gunjur. The last time I was here, the school was just a shell, quite literally. But what a transformation! The 3 classrooms were a joy to behold and every bit of praise should go to Ali and Kira for all their efforts.
We also visited the small onsite clinic, which we created in the grounds of the lower basic school. This facility means so much to me, as it was only possible because of the generosity of my former employees at Greggs in the midlands.
It was their kindness on the occasion of my retirement that funded this project. Again we have managed to create a small, yet hugely important resource which is appreciated by all the staff and pupils.
Tuesday 14th December
Time to say a few fond farewells and reflect on a week which again seems to have flown by. We board the plane and arrive back late at night to be greeted by miserable Birmingham weather (rain and + 2 degrees), but at least it wasn’t snowing!
Reflections? Humbling, always. Uplifting, absolutely. Rewarding, definitely.
I return, completely reassured, that what we (the African Oyster Trust) are doing, is making a tangible, substantial and positive difference to the lives of many people in the Gambia.
Alan J. Dick
By Alan Dick, Trust Director - see previous post for first extracts
Thursday 9th December
Off to Jappineh (central Gambia) for my first visit to see the nursery school and clinic. Kira did warn us about the condition of the road – half the distance was tarmac, but the remainder was Africa in the raw viz. dirt tracks with many potholes and diversions! I had the ‘luxury’ of sitting in the front whilst Kira did her impersonation of rallying at its best! We stayed in the Moses hostel, Soma, which just happened to be hosting the Gambian equivalent of a rock festival that evening – an interesting experience, but not much sleep.
Friday 10th December
What another delight and what a welcome at the Jappineh nursery school!
Their appreciation of what we have done and indeed their effection was so apparent, and so very humbling. However, we badly need a 3rd. classroom – Kira has plans (as always!) and this could be our next project.
In the afternoon, we visited the clinic. Although I’ve seen many pictures of this facility, I had to experience it to believe it – I was blown away.
In the middle of nowhere, here we have an operation, which quite simply cares for people and saves lives, where nothing existed before. Ansoumana, the doctor, is a revelation, working 24/7, 365 days a year looking after the people of his village and surrouding ones as well (boy does he deserve a break!) The day culminated in a meeting with all the village elders, chiefs and the like (there must have been circa 150 people in attendance). Speechifying was the order of the day and fortunately Ansoumana was on hand to translate the Mandinka language for us. What came out above all else was their very genuine gratitude and overriding desire to work together to ensure the longevity of this project. However, the ‘piece de resistance’ was at the end when Steve and I were made honorary citizens of the village of Jappineh! They have very little, yet had made the effort to wrap and present Gambian shirts to both Steve and myself to mark the occasion – that moment will last a lifetime!
And finally…….to conclude the day, a special display of Gambian dancing from the ladies of Jappineh village – truly amazing!
Trust director Alan Dick has just returned from a visit to our various projects, and kept a comprehensive diary of his trip. Over the Christmas period we will be publishing a few extracts, which will hopefully help give you one man's perspective on the work the Trust is doing in The Gambia. We'll also try to gather and publish some of Alan's photos in the New Year.
Merry Christmas, with a special and huge 'thank you' to all of our supporters for everything you have been able to do in 2010.
Weds 8th December
Straight into our hectic schedule with a visit to Kunta Kinteh nursery school. Although it has now been opened for 4 years, it still looks in pristine condition and thus bears great testimony to Fanding and Kira.
Onwards to our newest project, the Hilary Emery Nursery School, which started in September of this year, and indeed was the raison d’etre for Steve visiting the Gambia i.e. to formally open the school. (His wife tragically died in December 2009 and it was her wish and indeed that of Steve, his family and friends,that any money raised in her memory, should go to the African Oyster Trust.)
The school looked superb – right from the colourful name on the perimeter compound wall, to the wonderfully decorated classrooms and the Hilary Emery t-shirts, adorned by all the children. It was quite an emotional occasion (a real ‘quivering lip’ job!), but Steve was brilliant, said a few words at the opening ceremony and then proceeded, with gusto, to impress everybody with his version of African dancing!
Most importantly, everybody we spoke to was so grateful to Kira, Steve, and the AOT for transforming their facilities and their lives!
(More diary updates from Alan to follow after Christmas...)
By Alan Dick
Just in time for Christmas, a consignment of boxes arrved in the Gambia marked for the attention of Kira Dalton. They contained a whole load of 'goodies' which were the result of generous donations of clothes, books and so on from various people and organisations.
Birmingham City Football Club kindly donated football strips, tracksuits and training gear.
Expect a Banjul branch of the Birmingham City Supporters Club to open soon!
Photos Two and Three (right and below): Children of Bothwell Primary School near Glasgow, and Berkswell Primary School near Coventry rallied round last year to support young Gambian children less fortunate than themselves, by donating t-shirts and football strips.
All were greatly appreciated as you can see right and below.
Photo Four (below): Last year, Eleanor Elcock, a student from Lichfield and former part-time worker at Woolworths, managed to persuade her local store, prior to its final closure, to donate childrens clothes and gym shoes to the African Oyster Trust.
The photo shows just some of the many happy recipients.
By Kira Dalton
A brief update following a very productive three days up in Jappineh.
Firstly, the clinic building and environment looks terrific. All the painting is done. The Cuban doctor's house is now fully refurbished (where Ansumana and his family are living) as are the other staff quarters. There is even working running water in all three buildings and solar light! The compound is clean and they have planted cassava, bananas, eggplants, peppers etc. Fanding now plans to add flower beds near the main entrance.
Inside, every bed was occupied. Three cases of complicated malaria admitted on drips, one woman with pneumonia, a young boy admitted with convulsions and a dog bite victim. Ansumana has, so far, delivered around 20 babies there and been complimented on the high birth weights which reflect well on the good ante natal care he is giving.
Second morning we visited the newly completed two rooms at nursery - which look great. We presented posters for the walls to them and Lower Basic School and then gave out presents to each of the 75 nursery kids. Mostly the shoes and t shirts which came in the last Goodies for Gambia consignment.
Afternoon, we held a village meeting (attended by over 100 including Alkalos and Elders, talking about the need for them to help with funding next year. I have suggested that if they collect 5 dalasis each (around 10p) from every one
of the 20,000 local population, that will help tremendously with costs. Most agreed!
Other projects doing very well. Yesterday took Fatou from Jappineh, Abdulie and Fatou from Kunta Kinteh and Natoma from Talinding to visit Gunjur nursery. A sort of mini teachers conference. Went down very well so will arrange for
other teachers to visit each other in the New Year when school resumes after Brikama.
Kira Dalton recently had the honour and privelege of being invited to an audience with President Jammeh during his 'Meet the People Tour of the Nation'.
This was in no doubt due to the excellent effort that Kira has provided in relation to the opening of the Jappineh Clinic.
Kira took the opportunity to explain to his Excellency all the features of the clinic, but also stressed that we still badly needed the help of an additional midwife, as well as the government's support in the anti-malaria campaign.
His Excellency took Kira's counsel on board and within a matter of a few days the additional resources duly arrived - well done Kira, and of course His Excellency.
By James Holden, African Oyster Trust Founder
By James Holden, African Oyster Trust Founder
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.