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.
African Oyster Trust director Dee Bixley shares some reflections on her recent visit to the African Oyster Trust projects. This is the first of four updates, the rest of which will follow over the coming days...
Kira, Kemo, Fanding and I head up country to the Jarra Region, where the Trust supports the Jappineh Health Centre, a psychiatric service, and a school.
The many boxes of medication with us must be kept cool, so we’re in a hire car with air-conditioned luxury.
Kira’s own car has no air-con. As she says, it’s reliable and very economical to run, so why change? And she is not impressed with charities who waste money on costly cars for their staff.
During a community meeting in the Centre’s grounds, Kira and the team report on a very busy 2018. The need for a further nurse is underlined, to help with the increasing flow of patients. This is being addressed by Officer in Charge, Ansu Manjang.
It’s a lively meeting with many points of view, proving the community’s passion for its clinic. The Bank Book is passed around, and there are updates on significant progress towards long-term sustainability.
Another development is that under the auspices of The Global Fund - an organisation designed to accelerate the end of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria - Gambia’s Ministry of Health & Social Welfare has built a brand-new laboratory alongside the Centre. Kira has since been advised by the Ministry that they will donate a fair few items for the lab.
The Trust continues to fundraise for more equipment, and to maintain supplies of all the consumable items needed to run a laboratory successfully.
There is 1 doctor for every 15,000 patients in Gambia. If that isn’t a statistic that underlines the importance of the Jappineh Health Centre, I don’t know what is. Our experienced nurses and technicians serve a catchment area of 30,000, with up to 1,000 patients a month.
During a visit to the Trust’s projects in January 2019, Dee Bixley grabbed the opportunity to ask Ansumana Manjang, Clinical Director, Gambian Management Team & Officer in Charge, Jappineh Health Centre, about his work.
"I became interested in nursing and healthcare during my school years, from Primary through to Senior Secondary School. It was largely because I was a very active junior volunteer for the Gambia Red Cross Society. Our motto was:
I promise to serve God, President, and my Country and join with others all over the world to help the sick and suffering.
I was always saying this in my mind, I am Ansumana Manjang and I promise to serve the sick and suffering … I thought about it, talked about it, and I still do! That is why I became a nurse.
Through my Red Cross volunteering I attended numerous incidents. If there was a road traffic accident I would rush to help, or if someone was sick near our compound. If they had diarrhoea, I quickly mixed a drink solution. Whatever it was, I gave primary care and when necessary referred to the nearest facility.
As soon as my academic career finished, and achieving very good grades, I wrote a formal application to the School of Nursing. I was interviewed, shortlisted, then admitted for a 3-year nursing education. I should add that midwives in other parts of the world are mostly female but in Gambia there are male midwives too.
Although I have worked in other areas, I think my decision to return to my village, where I was born and where my whole family and community lives, has made a big difference. Every day I see that people appreciate it. I even thought about going to work abroad - some of my friends have done this and I’ve seen photos of their houses and cars. But why would I do that? What could be better than helping my own people?
Working with the African Oyster Trust is interesting and important. It is helping rural Gambians by bringing more knowledge and medical equipment, which is so needed in our community. We still need the Trust’s financial support, but we are working very hard towards the time when we can sustain our projects completely.
I now have a motor-bike and this means that attending emergencies is much easier. For example, this morning 10 kilometres away a woman delivered a baby but no placenta. They called my cell phone, I put the equipment in my rucksack, climbed on the motorbike, and delivered the placenta. It was fantastic! I was so pleased because without the motorbike she would have bled to death.
I have very little recreational time, I’m constantly on call. I might read a novel, but I’ll also update myself on the latest medical information.
The best aspect of my work is that I enjoy it."
Dee adds: "During our conversation a young man joined us, quietly sitting beside Ansumana, taking it all in. “Is this your successor?” I asked. “We continuously think about that process,” was Ansu’s discreet reply. “And now I must go – a woman is waiting to deliver.”"
Everyone at the African Oyster Trust would like to thank all of those who have helped make the last couple of months so successful for fundraising.
Big Give Christmas Challenge
First of all, we achieved our target of £4k - and then some! In fact we raised an epic total of £4,540 through the Big Give (including Gift Aid).
The funds raised will allow us to purchase all the items on our Wish List, namely a portable ultrasound machine and an X-ray machine, plus we can start to equip the new laboratory and pay for staff training.
This really will make a huge difference to the welfare of the local people in and around Jappineh.
Also last month, successful wine tasting tickled the taste buds and, with your donations, raised over £1,000.
Some fabulous wine descriptions, courtesy of our friend Matt from Majestic Wines who entertained guests: "To bring a pantomime theme to the proceedings, if Burgundy in France was Prince Charming, then Beaujolais would be seen as Widow Twanky."
Only one table managed a full-bodied SWEEP! But everyone had a good time as shown in the photos below.
Auction bids for extra colour and comedy!
The two signed prints by artist Perry Taylor together raised £106.50, while Christmas wreath sales added a further £75 and the meal voucher, kindly donated by The Falcon, Warmington, was sold for £50.
The last item, a book; 'Good Moaning France: Offcer Crabtree's Fronch Phrose Berk' went for £20.
The African Oyster Trust is once again taking part in the Big Give #ChristmasChallenge18. Our aim is to raise funds to equip a lab for Jappineh Village Health Centre which provides care for 30,000 people.
The Big Give, the UK’s biggest online match-funding campaign, starts at noon on 27th November until noon on 4th December. Any donations made during this period through www.theBigGive.org.uk will be DOUBLED. So a gift of £10 will become £20, or £50 will become £100, and so on.
The lab will help diagnose and treat malaria and other tropical illnesses, bringing relief to thousands. We are also looking to raise funds to buy a portable X-Ray machine and an Ultra Sound machine.
Why does the Gambia need our help?
Given the extreme poverty in The Gambia it is not uncommon for a small illness, even a splinter, to become infected and if not treated it can worsen and lead to an amputation. The situation with serious illnesses is much worse with patients facing long and expensive journeys to other towns for treatment.
Jappineh is in Jarra, Matsakonko region of Central Gambia. This is a heavily indebted, remote and poor area which relies mainly on subsistance farming. Gambia itself is an extremely poor country, rated 10th from the bottom in the human development index. Average incomes in this region are under £1 per day. Even the cost of travel to the nearest town's clinic is beyond the means of most of the local population.
The nearest large hospital from Jappineh was a good two hours away. The journey involved pot holed dirt tracks and a ferry crossing. There is only one major teaching hospital in the whole country which is approximately 5 hours away.
What impact is the charity having on health issues?
To address these needs the African Oyster Trust opened the Jappineh Health Centre, also known as the ‘Sir Howard Dalton Clinic’, in 2009. The medical centre is the only one serving a population of around 30,000 people from Jappineh and surrounding 20 smaller villages.
It now employs seven full-time members of medical staff, supported by the Trust, and treats about 700 patients every month. Having a health centre means ailments can be treated immediately, people do not need to decide between feeding their families or paying to travel to distant towns for healthcare.
Following the opening of the medical centre there has been a general improvement to Jappineh community health. There has been a measurable reduction in maternal and infant mortality, better survival and cure rates for malaria and other infectious tropical diseases, “the African Oyster Trust's work has transformed the welfare of people in the district and beyond,” says Chief Alhagie Dampha.
Having a well-stocked dispensary saves people buying costly drugs from a retail pharmacy.
It is often difficult securing skilled expertise to service the technical equipment and to find replacement parts for complex equipment such as centrifuge and solar fridge.
We routinely purchase lab equipment through the Department of State for Health Central Laboratory stores so that we can call upon their expertise and store of spare parts whenever required. We want to build on this healthcare success story.
Help us equip our new laboratory
One of the aims of this year’s Big Give campaign is to equip our newly built laboratory as well as providing ongoing consumables, parts and maintenance for equipment, and training for the lab staff. These facilities will ensure quick, cheap and accurate diagnosis - accessible to all the community.
By having a fully equipped laboratory on site, staffed by a trained lab technician, patients will no longer have to travel in order to have routine blood tests.
The onsite facilities will allow fast and accurate diagnosis of common tropical diseases leading to appropriate treatment and better survival rates.
Before, problems in childbirth often had fatal consequences, exacerbated by lengthy journeys in private vehicles or on donkey carts to get to the nearest medical help. We are delighted to report that the Jappineh Medical Centre is now delivering 20-30 babies every month, and as a result of the anti-natal care being offered, birth weights are above the Gambian average.
With the additional funds raised through the Big Give we plan to add a portable X-Ray machine and an Ultra Sound machine to the equipment already in the Health Centre so we can improve our medical care even further.
Please help us achieve our fundraising targets!
Make one donation with TWICE the impact!
Simply log on to the BIG GIVE website www.theBigGive.org.uk (or click the button below) between noon on 27th November and noon on 4th December. and look up the African Oyster Trust – Project ‘Equip a lab.’
You can raise funds for the African Oyster Trust at a fun evening of wine tasting with genuine and dubious wine connoisseurship!
Whose Wine Is It Anyway? takes place in Oxhill, Warwickshire on Friday 30th November 2018
Each table will present a wine by sharing prepared scripts with the whole room - one true and 2 false. Everyone votes to decide the most convincing description. Adjudicated by an expert from Majestic Wines.
The evening offers:
Plus other special lots to bid for – details to follow.
Tickets for the event are £15 each, or you can buy a table for 8 guests and bring your friends. Starting at 19:15 for 19:30 and running through to approx. 21:30, this special event will raise funds for the African Oyster Trust to equip a lab for Jappineh Village Health Centre in The Gambia
To book, contact Shirley Cherry on 01295 680793 or email@example.com
A message arrived via the African Oyster Trust website: “Hi, we are holding a Fun Day to support the African Oyster Trust at Barn Owl Day Nursery … how would you like to receive the proceeds?”
We quickly contacted the nursery; how had this happened? The manager said, “We have two enthusiastic staff members who wanted to do something for a charity and they liked your website.” Wow! They had trawled the net for suitable charities and ours came out tops!
Attending the event, we witnessed how much thought, planning and organisation had gone into the enterprise, with all sorts of activities for little ones, including hook a duck, tombola, hip-hop dancing, lots of scrummy things to eat and drink, and even exotic henna tattoos.
So, we say “Bravo and a Big Thank You!” to all at the Barn Owl Day Nursery, especially Sophie and Mercedes. We will ensure that the £313.77 you raised will be spent on the sort of thing girls and boys need and enjoy most.
There was much hooting, trilling and tweeting on Friday 3rd August at St. Mary’s Church, Tysoe, for the performance of ‘Musa and the Incredibirds Talent Show’.
An audience of more than 80 people were enchanted by the antics of a ballet dancing Flamingo, corps de ballet Stilts, tumbling Hooded Vultures, a magician Umbrella Bird, Performing Parakeets, Glossy Starling singers, and a Rapping Raven!
For the 28 young performers between the ages of 4 ½ and 11, and some older siblings and adults, this was the finale to a week-long workshop to bring the book ‘Musa and the Incredibirds Talent Show’ to life.
The book, written and illustrated by Shirley Cherry from Tysoe, is set in The Gambia and the workshop activities included mask making, learning about African birds, African stories, music and dance.
Earlier in the week there was a visit from Fir Tree Falconry which gave the children the chance to get up close and personal with a Harris Hawk, a Kestrel and two owls.
The children who participated had great fun. Joel Smith, aged 9, said “he liked the costumes and the falconry”, Eliza Gray, aged 8, “really liked the drama and the arts and crafts,” while Monty Atkinson, aged 4, enjoyed “making the masks and looking at the birds.”
The show finished with a dramatic twist in its tail feather. If you want to find out what happened, you will need to buy a copy of the book! You can email your order to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Rev’d George Heighton said: “It was a terrific initiative and I’m delighted that the church was able to sponsor a workshop that enabled local children to have a creative start to their summer, and all for a good cause.”
The final performance raised more than £850 for the African Oyster Trust. Thank you, Incredibirds!
Friends and supporters of the The African Oyster Trust are warmly invited to join us at the 2018 Annual General Meeting on Sunday 2nd September at 3pm.
This year the AGM will be hosted by Liz and David Bailey, at Groves Mill, Shakers Lane, Long Itchington, Southam, Warwickshire CV47 9QB
As well as the main business of the meeting - including the presentation of accounts for year-ending 31st December 2017 - there will be plenty of time to catch up on news, and for Lady Kira Dalton to captivate us with the charms and challenges of The Gambia.
To help us with catering and arrangements, please do let us know in advance by either post or email by Monday 20th August if you are planning to attend: email@example.com or Old Fox Cottage, Heath End Road, Great Kingshill, Bucks HP15 6HS.
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.