‘Smiles on your faces!’ - February 2011.
I have just returned from a week to remember in The Gambia. I have had many fantastic days out in Penyem, but in this week the days seemed to come all once! Anne couldn’t go this time – see the footnote at the end of this and you will understand why!
From previous newsletters and blogs, you will know that this trip involved taking another group of sixth form students from The Kingswood School, Corby. These students were brilliant – I simply cannot say anymore! With us was, David Tristram, Headteacher of Kingswood and Mark Evans from Imerja, one of our key sponsors. Mark was accompanied by his wife Kareena and two young sons Josh and Toddy. We must not forget Sarah, Eve and Kev - our ‘social representatives’!
The main focus of the visit was to be part of the official opening of the two projects undertaken for the last year, Penyem Health Centre and the classrooms at Busura School. All of the students had been sponsoring a child for the last year, so they would meet the children and their families.
We visited Penyem on 3 days. As we sat in our Land Rovers on the way out to the village it occurred to me that in 2004/5 that Anne and I had sat alone in a taxi on our way to Penyem. Now we had a convoy of 5 vehicles!
The generosity of Thomas Cook Airlines allowed us all double baggage. This in itself created a problem. We had to hire extra vehicles to move all the donated medical equipment and school materials! It also became clear that storage was needed at the new Health Centre so we had to set about buying cupboards and shelves.
Our first day visit to Penyem involved the official welcome and tour of the village projects. It was then we saw the true value of the work that had gone on in the Health Centre. The building had been transformed from no more than a run down shack, to a proper Health facility. There was a ceiling throughout, tiled floor, electricity and water. To see this was a fulfilling experience.
The second day visit was a much busier day. We arrived ready for work. Our task was to help organise the Health Centre. So the cupboards were collected en route from a roadside carpenter and transported with us out to Penyem. It was only then did we realise how generous people had been in donating medical supplies. We laid everything out on tables.
Dr Musa Colley was delighted with the specialist items he had requested – examination table, digital thermometers, baby scales etc. The Health Centre has three rooms and a waiting area. One room is the consulting room, another room is Chief Kolley’s office. When we first visited the Health Centre a few years ago, the only medicines they had was a jar of paracetomol. The third room has now become a pharmacy!!!
The Health Centre was officially opened that Saturday afternoon by David Tristram and the students of Kingswood. This was after the students had spent time with their sponsored children. Following the opening we were part of the celebrations with drumming and dancing.
The day was completed with a football match – Kingswood Girls v. Penyem Girls. Girls playing football is another significant progression in the village. It was fun – even though we lost 3-2!
The third day visit took us to the next village of Busura. Last year we had seen that one of the main classroom blocks had lost it’s roof is storms in 2007. Since then it had stood derelict. Most of the children from Penyem attend Busura when the leave Penyem lower school.
With the problems with the accommodation at Busura this has meant that the Penyem children can only attend afternoon school. This had involved walking the 5 miles to Busura in the midday heat. Now that the buildings have been repaired they can go to school at the normal time. The money to pay for this work was raised by the parents, students and staff of Kingswood School with other significant contributions from Northamptonshire companies and organisations. The students took part in finishing off the work to the building by each of them painting the last part of the walls.
There is so much that I can add to this account. The visit to Banjul and Albert Market, the Crocodile Pool, the company of the students, the hospitality of the locals, both in the resort and in Penyem.
For me, what started in 2004 as a holiday, has now become a business trip – and a very rewarding one too! For you, our supporters and sponsors, Northampton Trustee Fund can only thank you again!
Footnote: Special thanks to Chief Kalilu Kolley, Penyem Village Development Committee, NTF Agent in The Gambia Dam Ahmadu Nyang (Dan Da Man) and Andrew Gomez. My Daughter, Laura and Carl for providing Anne and I with a perfect Grandson, Harry Andrew John. Born Saturday 19 February. I was sitting under a mango tree at the time in Penyem!