Having just left Gambia, as the rainy season and Ramadan are fast approaching, I thought it would be a good time to briefly reflect on major events and progress made during the past 8 months.
Firstly, the nursery schools all continue to prosper and are all fully enrolled with 30 children per class. It is very rewarding to see the AOT making a major contribution to educating 360 children!
Stepping Stones children are enjoying their new football goal post/climbing frames funded by a generous donation from Rob Bagnall raised by completing the Great North Run. Grade 3 teacher Pa is about to finish his studies at Brikama College funded by AOT. I am delighted to report that he has been top of the class throoughout his full 3 year Early Childhood Development Course.
I was very honoured to attend the graduation ceremoney at Independence Square in Banjul with the three teachers who competed their ECD studies last year. Taku and Bintu from Mariama Mae and Fatou Sonko from Jappineh all looked splendid in their gowns and mortar boards. (see photo)
Mariama Mae students have enjoyed free school lunches these past few months funded by a generous vistor and from September onwards, will benefit from a regular porridge breakfast – thanks to donations raised by Ali Calvert and friends. Their playground is looking very nice with some stunning new murals painted on the outside walls by recent visitors from Gunjur Project.
A group of children from HENS (Hilary Emery Nursery School) took part in the national marching day at Indepedence Stadium. It was clear from the songs they sang that they take great pride in their school. Janko and Natoma have nearly completed their ECD training course. Bintu made a tiny uniform for her young daughter (photo) who has “attended” school from a very young age.
Jappineh Nursery has a new the school library which was largely funded by the Jappineh Doll Studio and supplied with numerous books by AOT and a generous donation from Cheryl Lowman.
All the Lower Basic Head Teachers all report that “our” children have a BIG head start in life.
Jappineh Health Centre continues to make excellent progress. There are now two SRNs, one of whom is also a qualified midwife, and the number of patients continues to rise steadily. In an area which is so far from any other medical facility, being able to provide skilled care, constant supply of good quality essential drugs, and laboratory and ambulance services undoubtedly saves many lives.
The community are very grateful for the ongoing financial support from KASTIA foundation.
Following a visit by Mel and Dee Bixley (who donated the funds for the ambulance) we have been able to make a major stride in improving mental health facilities in the provinces. Dee Bixley spent much of her career working at The Priory and after her visit to the Traditional Healing Facillity in Jappineh, she wanted to improve the plight of the many menatally ill patients housed there. The Bixley's generosity has enabled us to fund a training course in psychiatric nursing, facilitate regular monthly visits from the national outreach team from Banjul and to supply many essential drugs.
We continue to donate medical supplies to the Gregs Clinic at Gunjur School where Mr Saine and his Red Cross Volunteers provide treatment for emergencies and minor illness for 1,900 students.
Recently, we have partnered with the Kartong Bird Observatory and Gunjur Project to fund a new Health Centre in Kajabang. This exciting new project links our assistance to health care of their community to an on going commitment to protect the environment at the Bolong Fenyo Reserve.
In line with our stated objectives, we are making quite an impact in both health and education!
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 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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
We are delighted to report that the nursery school in Talinding opened on time in September, and is already proving a huge hit with children and teachers alike.
Under its new name of the Hilary Emery Nursery School, all three classrooms are open, albeit with more equipment and furniture to follow. The playground outside is an absolutely massive improvement on what was available to the children before, giving them somewhere safe to play and condusive to learn.
A huge thanks to everyone who helped with work on this project - more details on the supporters and the background of this project can he found on the main HENS page here.
Pictured is of course our own Kira Dalton with some of the children as the new school opened.
There's been plenty of progress to report over the last month on our newest project at Talinding.
The roof is already nearly done, the doors and windows are in, toilets are built and all of the classrooms have been plastered.
To find out why this project is so important to the children of Talingding, click here.
To make a donation and support this work, click here.
By Kira Dalton
On arrival at Jappineh Clinic last Friday, a young woman had just been admitted who had been gored by a bull and brought in by donkey cart (this was certainly not a minor wound - it had entered her left buttock, perforated her intestine and come out the front).
The three trainee Dutch doctors who were fortunately visiting with me immediately set to helping Anmsumana putting her on a drip and pumping her full of antibiotics and fluids as she was losing a lot of blood. As she clearly would need surgery, we then commandeered a rental car and driver and sent her, her newborn baby and mother - acccompanied by two of the doctors, to Soma. They were met by an ambulance which transferred her to Farafenni hospital. The Dutch doctor's did not rate her chances as very good.
We later learned she had been transferred to Banjul for surgery since Farafeni could not cope and had no blood supplies.
Today the Dutch doctor's report that she is recovering well at RVTH. If ever there were a case of extremely good luck this must be it. Also, it justifies exactly why we need an ambulance. Had we not all been there, she would never have made it by donkey cart!
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.