A family visit to Gambia March 2015
As we have said before returning to the Gambia never loses its excitement, but this time was special, our Daughter Megan and boyfriend Chris had decided to come along and see for themselves just what kept attracting us back to the Gambia and why we do what we do volunteering as Committee Members for the charity, we were only there for a week this time but would not have missed it for the world.
Sandy didn’t waste any time putting us to work the day after we landed we had a beach day for the children from Ebo town , the day had been sponsored by one of our friends Joanne Boyer.
We had specifically asked Sandy to arrange a day for the children from Ebo town as we felt that they deserved a break and something to look forward to , they had had a tough time of late with many deaths in the compounds leaving some of the children without their mothers , it was a day that the kids could be kids and forget the recent sadness. We also invited some of the children from Tanji who we have always taken to the beach from the very first time we visited the Gambia , it wouldn’t have seemed right for them to miss out on a day they always remember and talk about , even through the rainy season they are constantly asking “Cath , Mick , Sanyang Beach’’
We arrived earlier than the children , set out all the buckets , spades, footballs and beach toys ready for their arrival , it wasn’t long until we heard the taxis and the bush taxi arrive.The children and a few adults came towards us and every one of them shook our hands and said “hello’’.It didn’t take long before all of us were involved in making sandcastles , enticing the children and adults into the sea , the noise is a sound we all will never forget as the children shrieked with laughter and chattered and shouted in excitement, the next few hours these children would forget their grief and the reward for us in that alone is priceless .
As the children were of mixed ages it was not only a day for the children it was a day that we also relaxed had fun and made friends, breakfast of chicken salad and bread were provided and cooked on the beach for everyone by Jankos family, a fantastic breakfast that set us up for the day. As we sat around and chatted, made sandcastles a group of the children came running over, asking us to look! Wow we were amazed at the creativity of the children they had made a compound from the sand, a field where they had seaweed as trees where they would farm, and even a typical Gambian well.
The Goal for Gambia Team,Fansu,Janko and Yaya really did us proud once again as we watched them organise the children and explain the games we were about to play. The usual games of Mr wolf ( I always have to be Mr Wolf) tug of war , jumping the rope and then a game that no one had ever heard of pass the parcel ! we did an adults one just to show the children how it was done , Yaya did fantastic at overseeing and ensuring personally that only one layer of paper was taken off at a time .we had all worked up an appetite and was served our second meal of the day ! my favourite chicken yassa .As we watched the Goal for Gambia boys at work sorting out the children , ensuring they had washed their hands and arranging them around their communal bowls ensuring that each bowl had the right mix of children around so that everyone’s tummy would be full .I was proud of the team and how they worked to ensure that the day went well for us and the children .
A group of the children had gathered around a boy who after closer inspection we saw that he was making necklaces for everyone, the shells were rubbed against a stone to make a perfect hole to thread the string, amazing how resourceful and creative the children from Ebo town were, they even spent time drawing huge pictures and maps of the Gambia in the sand.
The day ended with party bags, one for every child and each and every one of them was received with a huge smile and appreciation, sadly the day had come to an end as the children waved bye bye and boarded the bush taxis.
Reflecting back on the day I was so proud of not only the charity but of both Megan and Chris who from the off got involved with everything, I knew that that red dust was working its way under the skin!
Our next trip out with the charity was again to Somita to visit the Bantangba Nursery , we were greeted by the ladies from the village who were all stood around the huge tree and seating area singing , clapping and welcoming us all. We were taken to the head masters office , I was surprised and somewhat taken back that the photos from the beach day we had sponsored in December were proudly being displayed on the wall and that Balla (the head teacher) told us that the teachers and children still talked about that day and that they would love to do it again someday . In the classrooms the children proudly and loudly sang songs for us in English , they stood up at the black board pointing and naming fruits , objects and parts of the body , the children were progressing fast and all eager to learn. One of the best memories of the class room was seeing Ansumana sat at a desk in a wheelchair being involved and smiling! , he had come a long way from being secluded in his buggy at the back of the class. A ramp was being built out side up the veranda for easier access to the class room for Ansu and the railings on the wall had started to be erected, the school had come a long way from that piece of land 18 months ago ,we were also shown where the next classroom block will be built , a much needed classroom block so that we don’t have to turn away the children that want to attend our wonderful school. The time at the nursery ended with thanks and lots of dancing and gave me chance to show off my jungle shimmy to the ladies, who shrieked with laughter at the sight!
Our next stop was the clinic ,again we had again appealed to friends and family for support of paracetamol and other basic meds , we took around 9000 tablets and around 50 bottles of the much sought after children’s calpol and ibruprofen along with reading glasses , sanitary towels , plasters , bandages and other basic medical supplies , again these were handed over to the nurses in front of witnesses and displayed for photographs ( For back in the UK ) It had been mother and baby clinic day and the clinic was busy and it reminded us just how important these medicines and supplies where to the clinic with so many people now using it . Again reflecting I thought back to the days when we first started to work with the clinic , it had been shut , no nurses , midwives , medicines or beds with mattresses and to now beds with mattresses , a store cupboard that had meds and a supply of walking sticks and crutches , how far this clinic has come since Goal For Gambia had offered to help out .
Our next stop was to the family who our family sponsor, a family 12 months ago that were malnourished and living in what could only be described as a cattle shed. We had visited them in December in their new house, but this time was special Megan and Chris sponsor the twin boys Sanna and Senneh and were about to meet them for the first time. Watching Megan and Chris with the boys made us burst with pride as they handed over the gifts they had brought them and interacted with them, who needs to speak the same language!! The boys beamed as they were given their footballs and their Man City kits who Chris supports . We gave other gifts to the rest of the family from my Mum,Caths Mum, my Aunty Margy and our friend Wendy who sponsors Awa, the mother, who was wearing her dress that we had bought the material for and had given the money for the tailor tomake it back in December . We gave the family the best gift that you can give a Gambian family, a 50kg sack of rice that will feed the family for at least a month. We all came away happy seeing the difference in this family from that day in March 2014.
Next stop Ansumana’s home , for anyone not aware Ansu attends the Bantangba nursery, we were saddened on our last visit to see him sat at the back of the class secluded from the other children in a buggy , this wouldn’t fit under the desk or in a comfortable position for him to work , Cath did an appeal and managed to get the wheelchair we had seen him in earlier along with a few more , but best of all Wheelchair fund in Wigan had donated an electric chair and Elite wheelchairs donated time and parts and labour to get the perfect fit and chair for Ansu , this was due to be shipped the day we arrived home. Meeting Ansu at home he had been put back into his buggy to take a nap , this nap didn’t happen as Ansu was given gifts from his sponsor Kathryn , he blew bubbles , looked at the picture cards and looked happy. We were invited into Ansu’s home to see the difference this chair will make, he will be able to be a child, be independent, and not have to rely on being pushed. We were greeted at the compound by Ansu’s family, his brothers and sisters, an old lady probably the oldest lady I have ever seen came from the field walking with the aid of a huge stick, this was Ansu’s grandmother, she invited us into the house, she prayed for us, thanking us for what we had done for Ansu , she said they had nothing to repay us with but her prayers and words, she cried as she prayed , and we explained that we are just the facilitators of another charities generosity. Grandmother slept with Ansu on a thin worn mattress and was his carer during the night, if he needed the toilet it was this old lady that would get up and see to him, the love between them was apparent and I must say it brought a tear to a few eyes. We know now that one simple act of humanity from Goal for Gambia’s supporters will change this family and Ansu’s life dramatically, we left the family knowing that it was a job well done, and we cannot wait to see Ansu in his new electric chair when it arrives at the end of April beginning of May.
You may be wondering if our daughter Megan and boyfriend Chris will ever return to Gambia, all I will say is that the red dust has certainly got under their skin and they will almost definitely be returning in the next open season. They both came away realising why we do what we do and have even assisted in a little fundraiser by selling badges at a local carboot raising money towards the prescription meds the charity buys for the clinic, and helping us box up donations ready for shipment. Already Cath and I are looking forward to our next trip in December and seeing the difference that the charity and its supporters make .