It was June 2017 when Tor Peebles contacted the African Oyster Trust with a proposal.
He and a couple of chums - Phil Caswell and Ben Dufley - were preparing to take part in a Trans-Saharan race from Europe to West Africa; an off-road endurance and navigational rally.
Searching online, they had singled out the African Oyster Trust to donate their K Reg Land Rover Discovery 1 (aka the Gentleman’s Express) at the end of the rally.
It all sounded a splendid idea. But when Kira realised that it wouldn’t be a left-hand drive vehicle (Gambia doesn’t permit the importing of right-hand drive cars) we thought: that’s that.
However, Tor, Phil and Ben made sure that the Trust would benefit anyway, with help from the donations of their friends and admirers, via Just Giving. Here are excerpts from the last days of their rally log.
27th January 2018
A short 300ish Km day but with a whole plethora of activities to complete. After staying north of the Gambia River overnight we first had to cross south. With the overnight stop so close to the ferry we were in no real rush to head off.
However, when we arrived at the small port we found a queue of about 15 vehicles. The ferry only takes four cars and with the queue consisting of vans and a couple of mid-size buses, we knew we’d be there for a while.
Local children were pestering us to buy them footballs and give them money and this soon started to wear thin. The problem, we deduced, is that the children do the begging and teenagers then take anything you give or buy them and sell it - keeping the profits for themselves.
This, we figured, has become very lucrative for the teens: professional begging! Since we arrived in Africa it has been a topic of debate in the car and what could be done locally to stop it, yet still allow a charitable vibe to persist. These children obviously aren’t starving and appear quite healthy. The mid-eighties fly-ridden pot-bellied version of Africa is no longer extant and as such the countries we passed through are thriving, in their own way but still thriving.
Mobile phones are a huge part of daily life, as without the landline infrastructure they jumped from no telephone to mobile phones. Coupled with the low-tech approach to life, solar panels are not uncommon even in the smaller villages and settlements we passed through. So, as we sat in the queue for the ferry we decided to try and effect change, nothing too huge but something easily sustainable.
Rather than just blindly give these little beggars what they wanted we would offer them a way of earning some money. As we had finished with the sandy and dusty areas, the car needed washing and a price was agreed of 200 Dalasis, the equivalent of around 4 Euros. To start them off I bought them a sponge and they set to work.
After a quick lesson the car was wet, and the boys asked us to buy some Omo, local detergent powder. I said if they wanted some they could get an advance payment to allow them to buy their own. Soon the car was covered in bubbles and being meticulously rinsed. A good standard was achieved and, happy with the job, I handed over the remaining 100 Dalasis, making a total profit to split between them of 190. A fair profit for half an hour’s work.
Our friends in car 60 also had theirs washed, allowing our budding monopoly holders to purchase their football and learn that this way they gained a lot more than simply begging. As we boarded the ferry the view behind us was of soap suds and smiles – already a good day by any measure.
We soon arrived at Jappineh, the location of a small medical facility supported by our charity, the African Oyster Trust. Once inside the walled compound we were given a guided tour, starting with the outpatients’ area, a small room with a single bed for the consultation of patients. Then into the (thankfully empty) inpatients ward, suitable for 8 patients at any one time.
Next, we visited the lab where samples could be checked against malaria and other ailments. A small stand-alone building has recently been erected as an isolation ward for sufferers of TB and a larger covered area with space to seat around 100 people and used for collective awareness classes.
During our visit, Tor was midway through a 3-hour nose bleed and whilst not life threatening, the male nurse offered to help, eventually stemming the flow.
Later in the day we headed for our overnight stop at Tendaba, another campsite with limited facilities but (increasingly important) a bar!
The view stretched along a freshwater beach with breath taking views along the tidal Gambia River. At low tide the mangrove bushes with their roots exposed looked like a scene from an Attenborough documentary.
Our penultimate day ends with everything we expected from this trip – wild African views, good friends, a campfire, and a few cheeky beers.
28th January 2018
Today we had a few hours tarmac drive to Banjul and the finish line. Excitement was high as we converged on Banjul, but first we needed lunch!
We met Kira Dalton of the African Oyster Trust for a fantastic carvery lunch at a local restaurant, Samba’s Kitchen. It was wonderful to meet her and hear in a bit more detail how the Trust is helping in Gambia. We learned that the money raised through Just Giving will make a real difference and could for example cover the salary of a teacher for a year.
The finish line was chaos and we crossed it with mixed feelings including relief, sadness, excitement… a hectic few hours followed congratulating our other rallyists. The awards ceremony was cracking and team 17, our British friends in the racing category, won a prize for the most sociable team of the rally. After this we retired to the bar to discuss the next trip.
We are hugely grateful for the support from all in helping to raise money for the African Oyster Trust, such a valuable and worthy cause. Our friends and family also deserve massive thanks – supporting, encouraging and tolerating what must have seemed like a lunatic obsession that has dragged on forever!
It has been an incredible journey – awe-inspiring and humbling. We have forged some great friendships and seen some unforgettable sights.
Lastly, I hope that perhaps we have demonstrated that if we can do it, so can anyone! And it’s Madness Not To! The next rally is in 2020…
A few more words about the African Oyster Trust from Tor Peebles:
“To reach The Gambia after thousands of kilometres driving across Africa evoked some good feelings. However, for us what really brought it all into context and made the experience unforgettable was the opportunity to meet some of the African Oyster Trust beneficiaries and understand a little about how the Trust operates, and the good work it does.
"We were delighted to be offered the opportunity to stop in at the Health Centre in Jappineh and meet the staff – a place full of promise; providing much needed basic healthcare, and with aspirations to expand the maternity ward and improve facilities further. Of course, this clinic is just one of the many places that receives support from the Trust.
"Meeting Kira the next day, we were heartened to hear how the Trust supports local projects and services that have a sustainable, long-term approach – ensuring any equipment / infrastructure / medicines etc. will be managed and looked after.
"Rarely do you get to see first hand the effects of such charitable causes, and it was a hugely positive experience. For us I think it reaffirmed the value of the great work that the African Oyster Trust is doing, and it was certainly humbling to see."
A huge thank you to Tor, Phil and Ben for their generous hearts and minds, and to all their supporters and fans who donated to the African Oyster Trust. We have received a very handsome cheque for £1,000.
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.