An update from Lady Kira Dalton:
I was very fortunate to be able to bring my flight forward and return to Gambia at the end of October just before the 2nd UK lockdown.
Just as I arrived, the schools re-opened - having been closed since last March. All were provided with hand washing stations (buckets with a tap at the bottom) by the Ministry of Education as none have what we would consider to be washrooms. Even the very large, 1,600 + student Lower Basic Schools (in the Grounds of which we have our nursery schools at Kunkujang Keitayah and Gunjur) only have a couple of standpipes in the middle of the compound to provide all their water. And recently, due to increased demand, those are only working during limited hours of the day. So one of the first jobs of our school cleaners is to fill up many buckets for washing hands and drinking and toilet flushing and to carry them to where they are needed. Quite a task in hot weather to provide enough water for over 100 kids.
The children quickly adapted to the more frequent hand washing routine - on arrival, after playtime, before snacks etc. supervised by their class teachers. And some of them even remember to bring their masks and wear them at school. Gambia TV keeps showing some really catchy musical public service ads reminding people to wash their hands. You can see an example at the end of the brief video produced for our recent AGM. They are certainly much more fun than those I have seen on British or American TV!
As usual, during one of my first visits to each school, I was able to drop off their first aid supplies. Plasters, disinfectant, gloves, etc. All of the schools are looking very smart after their post rain painting - ably organised by Fanding. It was a pleasure for me to see the kids tucking in to their morning porridge on arriving at school. This has made a huge difference to their punctuality and attention span!
Fortunately, thus far, Covid case levels have remained very low in single figures up until very recently and schools are still open.
Officially all of Africa is now experiencing a second wave and the numbers in neighboring Senegal are quite alarming, especially in view of the very long and porous border. There are many villages which actually straddle the border so it is nearly impossible to prevent people crossing without any testing or tracing. Unfortunately the few direct flights which arrived here over the Christmas period, mainly with returning Gambians from various European countries and a very few long term tourists, have brought with them numerous Covid cases including several of the more contagious UK variant.
As a result, during last week our number of active cases rose from 5 to 81. Not good in a country with barely enough medical facilities to cope with normal scenarios. I do fear for the population over the coming weeks.
In the communities of Jappineh and Wellingara our Health Centers continue to do an excellent job treating the many other diseases and injuries which still require attention despite all the attention being paid to Covid. There will still be far more deaths due to malaria in Africa.
A very big event was the arrival of the new ambulance at Wellingara Health Center - appropriately named Dee 1 in honor of our recently retired Chair Dee Bixley who was with me when we spotted the then run down vehicle in a garage last year . Now we will be able to resume delivering babies knowing that should an emergency arise, we can safely transfer to Fajikunda or Banjul for caesarian.
But probably the biggest problem caused by the pandemic has been the effect on the economy due to the scarcity of tourists. Normally tourism accounts for around 25% of GDP directly plus all the indirect revenue stemming from sales of fruit, veg and fish to hotels and restaurants, taxi drivers, laundry businesses etc.
This is especially tragic in a country with no social welfare as such. There have been a few distributions of bags of rice, cooking oil and sugar to needy households but not nearly enough to address the problem. Many families have been plunged back into abject poverty when the one bread winner has lost his job as a waiter, tour guide, hotel cleaner.
I would like to finish by saying yet another big thank you to all of our regular donors, and particularly to the many new donors who contributed to our Big Give Christmas appeal. Thanks to your generosity we managed to exceed our target, thus ensuring that the porridge programs will continue and the kids will be sure of getting at least one filling meal a day. We know that things are tough everywhere at the moment, but please do continue to spare a thought, and a few quid if you possibly can, so that we can continue our work in The Gambia.
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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.