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Flight Raffle

The Gambia Experience have kindly donated 2 flights to The Gambia for 2022/2023 season. These are currently being raffled off at £10 per raffle ticket. We have 200 Raffle tickets and 2 x 1 return flight. Got to be in it to win it 🙂

The Draw will take place on Saturday 25th June at 6pm.

All funds raised is going towards a shipping container to The Gambia. we have been donated a massive amount of medical supplies by Mid Argyll Hospital and need to get them sent out. Thanks

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The Gambia flag

2020 Visit to The Gambia

Overview of my trip

I left the UK at the end of October with an agenda to complete, people to see, things to do. I travelled to Banjul and wasn’t impressed by Bussels Airport, no social distancing, everyone crushed to get on the plane, I arrived at Banjual again to the same fiasco, I was met by Momodou and the journey commenced. I was then taken to my accommodation, I was surprised that the cars don’t all have lights on them, there is no distance between the cars and the place looks run down but better than I had expected.

Traveling round the schools and seeing the difference we were making for the people by changing attitudes was amazing. People were telling me what used to happen in the villages, how they used to treat things, lack of hygiene, lack of knowledge and lack of equipment used to be major issues. People would get a small cut, they couldn’t keep it clean due to dirty water and the amount of dust, they didn’t have plasters, bandages, dressings or soap. They didn’t know how to take care of the wounds. There was no pain relief, no medication of any type that we take for granted in the UK. First Aid 4 Gambia has changed that, We  provide the Knowledge – basic emergency first aid, people are no longer putting raw egg and oil on burns, we give them burns dressings and gels, Burns are one of the most common injuries in The Gambia, Children are attached to their mothers while the mothers are cooking on charcoal, big pots of food and water for the compound, these are easily knocked over so children get burned regularly and have the scars to prove it. Cuts not cared for had infection set in, very easy to occur in The Gambia but thanks to the wipes, plasters, dressings and antibacterial solutions that we supply there is a reduction in the infections and loss of limbs. Such basic items we take for granted here is such a rarity there. Attitudes are now changing too. What we are teaching in the schools is now being talked about in the homes, the people are learning why not to do things. Its all fine and well saying don’t put hot dirty car oil on a burn but by explaining that the reason why they did this and why we don’t do this anymore they learn a lot.

The people have a heart for learning they just need people to teach them, We have increased our schools to 85 this year but there is so many on our waiting list, I could have run and filled courses every day with people wanting to learn that cant afford to pay but would love the knowledge. If I could, I would have stayed there changing the attitudes and minds of the people and shaping first aid for the future of the Gambia. This needs to start at the top. The Gambian government need to train their ambulances to start with, then their police. You see, if a crime is committed in The Gambia and say you were stabbed, before you get treatment you need to make a crime report, then a policeman will escort you to the hospital for some sort of treatment. If you turn up at the hospital first they will send you to the hospital to file a crime report then you have to go back for treatment. I wonder how many people have died due to this delay? It’s the same if you are hit by a car. Ambulances are few and far between and are staffed by untrained drivers, most don’t even have basic CPR skills. This is something that I want to change.

The streets are dusty, there is sand everywhere and I’m sure my feet were burned a few times just with the hot sand going into my sandals. The beaches are beautiful, the hotels look nice from the outside and people can go to The Gambia and see as little as they want. Local schools will put on a show for anyone if they think they can get a few pounds out of you towards their costs. The children will ask for minty – any type of sweet you have, some may ask for dalasi or anything else you are willing to give them. I make a point of not giving them anything if they ask, I will take some lollypops in my bag to the schools and I will leave them to be dished out when I leave, I don’t encourage them to beg and I will not throw anything out of a car for a child to pick up as some people do. I am no better than the Gambian People, I have been fortunate and had more opportunities in life but I am not any different from them, we both have the same structure and the same blood running through our veins.  I was fortunate that I had people to look after me there, I explained that I didn’t want the Tourist visit and that I wanted to experience life as it was there, I slept in different types of accommodation from the UK standardish to the houses with no power or running water. I showered with river water, running water and well water, I ate at a few restaurants but mostly I ate in the compounds and ate the same foods as the locals. I walked the streets, I drank Attya with strangers, I lived life to the full while I was there.

The Guilt

When I arrived, I was surrounded by kids, they rubbed me up and down, the hairs on my arms and sometimes my back. I felt uncomfortable, I thought they were after money or something it made me uneasy. When someone explained why they were doing it, the innocence, some have never seen hairs on people before, some have not seen a white person before, also when you are in their compound you are family to them. I was called Toubab when I arrived, I am now referred to as Uncle George or daddy depending on who you are speaking too. I have helped some who were sick, I have sat and cuddled them when they were ill and willed  them to get better, I have grown attached to these people, they have stolen a big part of my heart, my emotions, my mind and every day that I am not with them I will be thinking of them fondly and yearning to see them again. These kids that I thought wanted something from me just wanted for you to say hello, they soon got used to the hairs on my arm and realised the white wasn’t coming off. The parents would all speak to me, I was invited to eat with them, I was invited to join them in their evening game of draughts and I was invited to drink attya with them. The hospitality they showed is more than you would get in the UK.

I have left them behind, I am back in the UK, with the times we spent discussing politics, religion and football, the talking to each others family, the eating and drinking together, the bonds that will form they will never be broken, they will last a lifetime.  

Day 31

It is cold back in the UK, I have all of my luxuries, I have hot running water, I have an indoor toilet, I have an abundance of food and loo roll, I am surrounded by technology and toys, my boys are looking at their Christmas lists, they have more toys that they know what to do with, we have tons of extra items that sit and don’t get used, I look at how much of a materialistic society we live in.

Nema starts school today, how will she get on? I think she is amazing and I hope she gets on well, she will be terrified, excited and will have her ups and downs but the school is allowing her mum to go with her to help settle her in.

I received a call from Gambia, from my Gambian Family, they say its strange without me, I feel the same here. People don’t understand the bonds and relationships formed. People would have looked and saw a white man with these black people and thought I was taking advantage of them or that they were taking advantage of me but no one was taking advantage of anyone, I was welcomed in to an extended family, I was fed by them, I was humbled by their generoisity, their kindness and their love. I miss them.

Day 30

I am travelling most of today, First I will arrive in Brussels, spend a few hours in the airport, then over to Heathrow for an even longer wait before finally arriving in Glasgow. I am missing everyone, I am an emotional wreck, perhaps it’s because I am over tired, perhaps it is because I am not meant for the UK, I have been on holiday to many different countries but Gambia has attached to me more than could be imagined. I haven’t slept in 30 hours now, perhaps that is also taking its toll. Le me see how I feel tomorrow.  I am met at Glasgow by my wife and boys, the boys run through the airport screaming daddy and I get the most enormous hugs, my kids are my existence everyone who knows me knows that but I still feel like a massive chunk of me is missing.

Day 29

The day for me to leave has arrived, today is an emotional day, I don’t want to leave, the time has been to short. One of the objectives that I set myself when I came was to eat with my hand, most people here will hand you a spoon but I wanted to eat like a local, Momodou tried to show me at first but Maimuna took over, she had great delight in telling all her friends that I was trying to eat with my hand and demonstrating how I was doing it, clearly I was doing it wrong but she has agreed to teach me how to do it properly. I have made friendships that will last a lifetime, The kids are telling me not to go, they want me to stay, I know my 3 boys await me on my return but I could live here forever, I wonder if my wife and kids would move here? It has such basic primitive health care and the education system can be a hit or a miss but I love the people, the food, the culture, did I mention the people. Part of me will always remain here. I don’t think that after this visit I will ever be the same again, Saying goodbye had me tearing up, I yearn for where I have just come from.

Day 28

We do some training for the Save Lives Gambia campaign, they are so keen to learn and the day goes smoothly, We then go to collect mince beef as I am cooking for the compound tonight. Mince & Tatties with Carrots and Onions with a Gambian twist of Tapalapa. The kids help me prep the veg and then the ladys come to support, we are cooking it all on charcoal, the food turns out alright and is well received by everyone. Momodou went to get a goat, we will celebrate my leaving tomorrow.

Day 27

Today we went to Sandy Sanyans School to deliver training and a restock, the training went well and they all had a great attitude to learning, there was 2 people who didn’t understand much English so Momodou taught the course in Mandinka. Today I also experienced a proper Gambian toilet, it was a whole in the ground with no toilet paper either, I am adapting to the Gambian way of life quite nicely and I think Thomas my 6 year old would love it here. 

Day 26

We are taking Nema, an 11 year old girl who cant talk to the deaf school to see if she can learn to communicate, she is excited and terrified both at the same time. How would you feel if you were 11, cant communicate and had never been to school. St Johns Deaf school has decided that they cant help her but have referred her to Lucy’s Methodist School For The Disabled, Lucy put our minds at rest and we have enrolled her for the year. I am so happy that we can give this little girl a chance to life, she is so keen to learn. Last night she was trying to write letters and I was so proud of her. She will start school full time on Monday (Update we have had a generous donation to cover her school expenses next year too. You see schooling in The Gambia is free but materials, books, exams, lunches and uniforms are not.

Day 25

Today we trained Twin Mango nursery, the training is well received and they have cancelled all of the children today so they can focus on training, I see the Gambian national anthem up on the wall.

For The Gambia our Homeland, We strive and work and pray,

That all may live in unity, Freedom and peace each day,

Let justice guide our actions, Towards the common good

And join the diverse peoples to prove man’s brotherhood.

We pledge our firm allegiance, our promise we renew

Keep us, great God of nations, to The Gambia ever true.

The first time I visited this nursery the kids sang to me and now I am letting the teachers know that next time I would prefer for them to sing this song that means so much to them.

In the evening I see the girl who cant talk, she shows me a school jotter and her pencil, she is trying to learn how to write, she is forming some letters and trying to say what they are. This girl wants to learn, she wants to communicate, and she is pushing to learn. I hope the school agrees to take her tomorrow, I will be going with her and her mum and Momodou to speak to the head. This could make a massive change in this girl’s life. Pray that they take her.

Day 24

Today we have an appointment with the specialist to see why an 11 year old cant talk, he wonders “is she just dumb?” The Gambia doesn’t have speech therapists, they don’t have any way for this 11 year old to communicate, we talk, im not finished trying to improve this childs life yet, she is very intellectual, she just needs some help. We decide to offer schooling if possible to her, the family agree and we contact St Johns school for the deaf. She isn’t deaf but they can certainly help with the communication issues. The horn on the car has packed in, we go get the horn fixed, no horn in The Gambia is like not having lights in the fog in the UK. Driving scares me here.

Day 23

Another day to take it easy, next week is busy. We have the raffle prizes to dish out. I also buy  extra food parcels, thre is 2 families who could use it that I know, while there, we hear of another death, cause High Blood, his widow is suffering from malaria, could high blood pressure be associated with Malaria? I review his widows medication and give her advice on pain relief, I know im not a doctor but I am the closest thing she has to one at the moment and she is suffering both physically and emotionally.

Day 22

Today we ae off to meet Charlie the crocodile at the pool, it is only me, Momodou, Rohey, Bachary (3) and Maimuna (5) we arrive at the pool to be surrounded by children begging, they are used to tourists and I leave Momodou to give them some lollypops, I take Maimuna and we go pay, first you are greeted by the staff then you proceed through the museums, it explains the cultures of the tribes, music, rituals and circumcision both male and female, FGM is still a big issue here, it is illegal but done secretly and not always taken by the mother, you see here the extended family is responsible for the child, if a child is sick it could be a 3rd cousin who takes the child for treatment. We then go to the tree that has a large indentation that you can stand in the middle of the tree. We then see and touch the crocodiles, Mimuna gets a necklace of a crocodile tooth, it is now her pride and joy. The visit is soon over, we sign the visitor book and leave a few hundred Dalasi to feed the crocodiles. You also write in the book how much you have given so they can keep track of it. We (I) then decide that it is time for going to the beach, we don’t have much time left together and I want to enjoy spending some time with the family. Momodou knows where to go, first we get through the beach security, then we get through the hotel security and then get sun loungers, we have some refreshments, play in the sea, have lunch, play in the sea, sun bathe, did I mention play in the sea and then its time for home, they drop me home, Maimuna doesn’t want to leave, she wants a sleep over but I have the plantation girls to meet for dinner, time for a quick shower. I lay down on the bed to dry off, it will only take 5 minutes, oops its 21:05, I have missed calls from the people I am meeting and Bill, guess I was exhausted. I struggle to sleep after my nap.

Day 21

After yesterday I have decided to let my body catch up with its self, a relaxing day is needed but we can still visit a school.

Day 20

Today I’m ill, I need to cancel on my dinner with Annemarie and Helen, sunstroke. I shouldn’t have walked from Fajara to Tallingding in the heat but it was just less than 10k. a day of bed rest for me, rehydration and a lot of concerned calls and texts. I’m ok, I know what it is and how to treat it. I will bounce back.

Day 19

Today is an restock/admin day, we need to get things organised and buy more stock, the Drez and ORS make a massive difference to the schools and areas we cover. We visit 3 schools to restock, 1 had been refused a restock previously for not complying with our terms and conditions, now they promise to follow them. All we ask is that they use an accident book to record injuries and treatment so we see where the supplies go. They are happy to be restocked as they had no first aid supplies. While we are there a child is injured, small graze but here if it isn’t cleaned and dressed it could cause the loss of the leg. We go to the St Johns School for the deaf, my old primary has been supporting this school. We used to give the school money for the poor kids in Africa but you never actually knew where it went. Today I see where some of it went, this has made my day.

Day 18

Today we are back at Sunrise, another lot of pupils and the questions keep coming, if only people in the UK were this keen to learn, we hear of the injuries and accidents they have seen and what treatments were used, we discuss the correct treatments and why. We here that a 10 year old behind Momodous compound has died this morning, his grandfather had just passed a few days before in Germany from an unrelated condition. My hear is breaking for the parents, he was buried that morning. I have children close to that age range, another life taken to soon. I wish I could do more here, why are all of these deaths occurring and how many are curable? Clinics and hospitals can be a hit or a miss here. I call home, I tell my wife that I don’t care how much the kids are driving her crazy today, she must give them each a massive hug. This is how I cope with my bad days at work, the day when you lose a child or a baby, the days you take a sick child in to hospital, I come home and hug my child. I thank The Lord that they are safe and well. Today Maimuna is here with me and the boys are thousands of miles away, she can have her cuddles and theirs, she is happy to have them.

Day 17

Today we have the Sunrise pupils to train, these are young adults who are going in to hospitality or tailoring and the skills benefit them greatly, they are all willing to listen and get pictures taken with flat Stanly, I have dinner at Ngala Lodge, very fancy and great company, we put the worlds to right and have a nice meal. The views were also beautiful.

Day 15 & Day 16,

I have 10 Scouts and a physio awaiting my training, I wonder how I am going to do this as when I teach in the UK we have everything at our fingertips, here we have issues with supplies, witch doctors, superstitions, lack of knowledge and resources but a massive heart to learn. We start by using discussions so I can see their issues and I tailor the training round what they need. I adapt the program to the learners abilities and I see them flourish and develop, I only have a limited time with them but I am making a difference The rules and regulations of the UK are gone out of the window as they don’t exist here. What hospital? What ambulance? You have been stabbed in the street and the hospital wont see you until a police report is filled and you are then accompanied by the police to the hospital for treatment. I need to see the Health Minister, I need to try to help these people more. I know that our priority here is Schools but the health of the local people and equipped ambulances will also benefit the schools, can we help them change their policies for the better? Could we save some lives? Lets see what we can do. The physio we had on the course has contacted me, he has a friend who works alongside the health minister who may be able to help us with introductions. That  is a task for tomorrow.

Day 14, Friday 13/11/2020

We pack up for home, the hospitality on the boat has been amazing but I am looking forward to getting back to the compound and seeing the families. Rohey has lunch ready for us, the food is amazing as always. We relax with the kids running around and drink our usual Attaya, I need to learn how to brew this. We get organised and ready for the Scout Response Course.

Day 13, Thursday 12/11/2020 Its all go, the boat is fuelled up, food is being prepared, the captain has arrived and we are getting all set for our trip. We are taken down the river and our guide points out different landmarks, Yusupha makes this boat trip special, you tell him what you want and when and he has it ready, we take pictures on the camera (to be uploaded at a separate time) I get to fill the water tank, I want to do these tasks, I am reassured that there is staff that will do this and I know there is but it is the novelty of doing it that I enjoy. Its not something that I get to do every day. The staff will llet you do as much or as little as you like. I must say I am very impressed. I sleep every night in a mosquito net on the boat set for me before I want to go to bed and taken down for me each morning. I have a shower on board and a flushing toilet, there is even toilet rolls. Such luxury. I can charge my phone or ipod, but there is no wifi. This is a great thing as It would spoil the beauty and wonder if you were on your devices all the time. Give this place a visit it is well worth it.

Day 12 Wednesday 11/11/2020

We are up early and have some breakfast, the food is good and sets us up for todays training. We are training the Fair Play Gambia staff and some spots they have filled with locals to help them, again there isn’t much medical care here. The training is received well and lots of questions are asked. The local children are swimming in the river and some are fishing on the pier. We finish the training and relax, tomorrow we are going on a boat trip ?

Day 11 Tuesday 10/11/2020

We head to Japineh, we are welcomed and expected, this is where Momodou and Rohey are originally from, Momodou meets his aunt in the playground, he is related to half the class. We get a visit from the regional co-ordinator of the Gambia Red Cross, he tries to correct our training on some subjects but he just hasn’t understood what we were doing. Seems a nice young boy, needs some extra training though. The school receive the training well and also put some of their older students on the course. They get their picture taken with Flat Stanly and I leave them with a lolly for every pupil and some pencils, we go see the local hospital and I donate my spare stethoscope to the local midwife/nurse/caretaker/lab tech. there is not just one roll here, they do it all. He is very grateful. I knew there was a reason for me packing 2. I have also decided that this clinic could benefit from a defib, I spoke to the manager and it is agreed to donate the Zoll I brought to one of their other clinics who could use it and they would transfer their AED to Japineh. The clinic here needs a new ambulance but they are on it. Maybe next visit we can train the ambulance crew too.

We have lunch at Momodous families house then head off to meet Maimuna’s Granny, she is a wonderful lady, she gives me some ground nuts for Maimuna, it’s a pitty tme is so short on our visit here. We see some other family members then head to Georgetown. Fair Play Gambia, here we come.

We arrive and are greeted by Yusupha, he gets us some cold soft drinks, he is our guide, host and chef. He shows us round and makes us some food. We are well looked after. Our bed this evening and the following 2 evenings will be a boat the Fula Princess. We relax and recuperate ready for the training the next day.  

Day 10 Monday 09/11/20
Today all I can say is WOW, we started by setting off early to travel in county, we arrive to some confusion about when we should be there but it is soon sorted out. In the mean time I visit the classrooms of the children and give them all a pencil and a lollipop with the assistance of one of the head teachers from another school. The children in each class sing a song to thank me for them, they appreciate what I small token I have given them. We are training teachers from 3 schools and we also restock the first aid supplies. One of the schools had been using the first aid box for storage and had decanted the supplies to a small box without a lid. They were warned if we come back and the supplies are not looked after we will pull our equipment and training from the school. The message is understood and the say it won’t happen again. We adhere to the same strict guidelines as the UK. All items must be sealed, clean and in date. With the dust here we need to keep it all in totes, hard plastic boxes with lids, if you have any spare let us know!
We are staying in the village chief’s house. We head back there after the course for some food followed by attaya (green tea). The same head teacher meets us there to socialise, he invites us to walk to his farm. We walk the short distance to the peanut farm, he shows us round and then roasts some peanuts for us, fresh roasted peanuts that were just harvested. We sit and eat until we can eat no more. I wanted a shot of the farming tools the children were using to farm the peanuts and get a lesson from them, they then come and join us at the roasting area. One of the children goes and gets me a bit of sugar cane. I need to take some of this back for Maimuna, it’s the only thing she has ever asked me for and only after I asked her what she wanted from up-river. The house we are staying in is beautiful, it has no electricity, air conditioning or windows but it has cold running water, the people are all friendly but the early start has taken its toll, I go to bed early, I awaken at 2ish, the animals are lively and a bird flies in to my room, it flaps about then departs. Better get some more sleep as we are heading further inland to deliver more training to schools, I will also meet Rohey’s Mum and Momodou’s step dads.

Day 8 Saturday 07/11/2020

Today I went for a walk to the British embassy and passed the French embassy, there was a soldier came out from a house to see why I was taking pictures in the area, I explained who Flat Stanly was and asked him if he would like his picture taken with him. He would but first he needed to put on his jacket and polish his boots, I had caught him unprepared. He is guarding the ex-presidents house, he was very helpful and willing. This place is known as the smiling coast and now I know why. I head to a print shop and get some paperwork printed, then I get collected by Momodou and the family. We go to the beach, Me Momodou & Rohey with 10 children, they are all family. Today these kids are having a treat. For most of the kids they have never been to the beach before, Maimona is starting to feel better even if she is a little scared of the horse. The kids all enjoy a shot on it. We play in the sea, I kick water over them, the ones that are apprehensive about the waves grab on to my shorts, I had to tell them to hold my hand or else I’m going to lose my shorts then everyone will be in for a shock, we have lunch on the beach with some Soda’s the kids play football in the sand, we all have a relaxing day, the kids get a cake from the lady who is selling them they play some more and now it’s time to head home, I’m frazzled with the sun but today was amazing.

British Embassy

Day 7 Friday 06/11/2020

Today we go to Momodou’s Niece’s naming ceremony. It is a relaxing affair, we have food, drink, music and dancing all without any alcohol. A goat is bought by the family and slaughtered. It is a pleasure to be here and a special experience. They welcomed me in to their family. I held the baby, the kids played and danced, it was magical.

 They don’t name babies here in the first 7 days in case they die, less attachment. Baby and child deaths are common in The Gambia. Maimona is still sick, I’m worried, we go to the pharmacy and get a different antimalarial, lets pray this one works. I contact my friends and family in the UK and ask them to pray for her. After the naming ceremony we head back o see how she is doing, we start her on the new meds, fingers crossed.

Day 6 Thursday 07/11/2020

Today is stock check day, we get some supplies from Banjul Pharmacy Wholesale but we need to wait on the rest arriving in a shipment at the end of the month. I find a staples here, we stock up on certificate paper and accident report books. The staff look after us well. We go to the compound but there is a power cut, Momodou goes to a funeral of one of his neighbours while I raid the store. We organise who the medical supplies are for. Rohey goes to the market, she gets another chicken and the kids prepare it, they make me chicken and chips, they spend hours getting it ready by mixing herbs and spices, coating the chicken and cooking it all. I am apprehensive seeing them using knifes but the handle them well and this is their culture. It is a privilege to experience.

Day 5 Wednesday 06/11/2020

An early morning at Hart House, Geoff and his team are an inspiration. They are not so much a school as a home for disabled children and children with learning difficulties, these children are the outcasts of society. Some people in this country believe that the children are witches or filled with evil, such a sad thing. Geoff hasn’t been allowed to open since the Covid lockdown, these kids need Hart House, I hope they can get opened soon. Geoff has had pneumonia for 3 months and had numerous Covid tests to confirm it wasn’t that. I give him an examination, I recommend a better antibiotic and steroids for him and write him a brief report for the pharmacy. Hopefully  he can get them here. All the staff pass their training and do some extra training on epilepsy. Geoff and his wife have hearts of gold. They could really be doing with some single mattress covers and some fresh pillows for the children if anyone can help out.  We head back to the compound for our dinner and Rohey tells us that the chicken had an egg in it, the food is great. Better than a restraint but also I feel really at home here.

Day 4 Tuesday 04/11/2020

This morning I miss my children, the cuddles, the smiles, the smell. I’m sitting here in the quiet awaiting Momodou and thinking of my family. Here family is so important, they do the best to look out for each other, in lots of areas in the UK if not the majority of it we lack that same family connection. Their family links is how they survive here. In the UK its sibling rivalry. Don’t get me wrong I have seen kids scrapping and people having a heated debate but as a whole things here are better morality wise in the compounds. We visit 3 schools for restocks and take and find one has been replaced by a new provider. These schools are n need and although the budget is tight at the moment, we can’t just abandon it. I’m going to need to do more fundraising when I am back, there is so many needy schools here. A pencil and a notebook make’s you rich in some of these schools. We then visit the school that has moved, they now have a permanent place to be based. They are making great progress and are thankful for all the help we give them. We go back to Momodou’s compound and again I am well looked after and treated like family. There is a teenage girl who can’t speak, I’m wondering if she has a bad tongue tie, if it is then we can get it sorted while I’m here. It will probably be a private clinic but a small amount of money could cure this girls problem, she will have a long road to be able to talk but she is very intellectual and it will have a massive impact on her life. The kids in the compound all wonder in and out, Maimona is ill, think she may be coming down with malaria too. We get a live chicken for tomorrows tea.  

Day 3 Monday 02/11/2020

Today Momodou picked me up early and we went to Sohm Lower School, they have over 550 children. They are such a friendly bunch. John form Sohm School Support had asked us to deliver the training and we promised we would do them first as a trial course with the new covid 19 guidelines. The delegates were all teachers and participated well. There was one teacher who had a baby with her, still working at the school with the baby on her back. When the baby needed fed she was breast fed. No one batted an eyelid. The way it should be. There was also no attempt to cover up, no shame in the feeding of a baby, no stigma or judgement and to both the men and women on the course it was natural. Why is this such a big deal? Well mums in the UK are still being asked to cover up, feed the child in the toilet, do that in your own homes, its not right. Nudity here is normal. I have seen women walking around topless amongst their families, I have seen kids running around compounds naked, it is just normal everyday life here and not sexualised. Sohm School also feeds the children at school through a sponsored program, for a lot of these children it will be the only meal of the day. I have yet to see an obese child here. The kids at Sohm School ae used to seeing Toubabs (white People) and it wasn’t to much of a disruption for me to be there. At break time some of the kids came in to the hall out of the sun and slid on the floors just like kids in the UK do in halls given the chance, for a few of the kids, I was a novelty and they would look and stare and then giggle when I spotted them so I just made some faces at them. We restocked the school first aid supplies and replaced the items that were damaged when the last storm blew off the tin roof. John from Sohm School Support has told me they are holding off on fixing it as the whole block needs a refurbishment and there is no point fixing that section only to tear it back off for a refurb. I wish John well in his fundraising for this. John also purchased 20 face visors fo the staff to wear at the school so we delivered them at the same time. Their doing a fantastic job for such a needy cause.

The reason first aid is such a big need out here is the school provides the only help these people have within a 1 hour travel area. They have some basic over the counter medications and some sterilising solutions provided by First Aid 4 Gambia. The nearest Doctor is over 1 hour away by donkey, there is no Cars in this village. I new First Aid 4 Gambia was a great charity because it put first aid training and supplies in schools but now I see just how much of a difference we can make over here. Cleaning a cut is the difference between having a losing the leg or having the leg. Cuts cause people to lose limbs here as infection sets in and they cant afford medicine to treat the infections. There is still myths around that engine oil is a way to treat burns, smother it in hot engine oil, put hot sand on strains and sprains and now we have burns through that. Educating them is the best we can do.

We went back to Momodou’s compound where I had lunch of benbenachin which was rice, potato and fish. Rohey had been on cooking duty for the compound and had prepared this for us. The food was spectacular, full of flavour and very filling. I have been welcomed into the compound like part of the family.  Today I had the privilege of meeting the newest member of the family who was a baby girl of 3 days old, some of the children had brought her to me to see how I would react, I held her in my arms just like I have done with my own , the big eyes, she was beautiful. We left Momodou’s compound and had a tyre replaced on the vehicle, we know the vehicle will need a new engine at some point too, the body is structurally sound. Guess we need to start fundraising. We will need about ÂŁ1500 to cover the cost but the vehicle should be good for about 5 more years after that.

If you feel able to help with this please donate to First Aid 4 Gambia Virgin Money. It helps us reach schools like Sohm and further up country.

Day 1

Momodou and Flat Stanly

Today I awoke early and went for a walk, I met a chap called Omar who offered to take me to see the oldest lady in The Gambia, I had previously been warned about these people – Thanks Annemarie, I politely declined and explained I had a friend taking me to collect some money as I had only arrived and hadn’t made it to the exchange yet. He said he is there every morning and he will take me. It is lucky to see her for a cost of some rice.

I found a small shop and bought some fruit juice and asked if there was any coffee places about. She said next door. I asked if they were open as it had no one around and she assured me I would be looked after. I had a coffee and for breakfast some pizza. Not much on the menu except pizza as they were more a butcher shop at that time in the morning. Ok pizza it is. Momodou arrived and had coffee as we planned our day, he said his son was at the hospital as he was sick with a fever. I said we can cancel and he could be with his family but he wanted to keep going and said his wife would update him. For him and for me both of us dads and when our child is sick we still feel helpless. We go change money and barter so I can buy some footballs for the families I support in the compounds. I meet the families and they try their best to speak to me in English, the poverty is quite clear. 1 bed and 1 sitting room is their home, cooking and toilet is outside. The kids can run freely the areas are classed as safe, cars drive about, cooking pots are outside on fires so easily for children to be hurt. 

We went to see a family supported by staff at Yorker Community Campus and I examine the mother who has been having breathing issues, inhaling to much smoke with fire lighting. The people are so friendly. In the compounds the children call toubab – white person the kids rub my arms, I couldn’t understand it and it felt a little strange, I wondered if they were looking for money. (Silly me, On speaking to a friend he explained it’s because I have hairs on my arms, Gambians don’t have body hair and to some of these children, they haven’t seem a white person before).

We go to Kadi Kadi for some Gambian cuisine. I have Domada which was lovely, I try the meat but not sure what it is and I can see the veins. I’m happy to eat the rice and sauce but even then the plate is too big for me. The heat is shrinking my appetite.

We visit Momodou’s compound, his son is back from the hospital and was prescribed vitamins, the hospital said he is fine, we get some cola into him to rehydrate him. He has a temp of 39.1, stomach pains, headache, lethargic all the classic malaria signs. We give him some paracetamol for his temp and we take him to Biljo Clinic private hospital. The doctor diagnoses malaria and gives us some medication. Good treatment by a good Dr at a private clinic and the bill is £10. That is 3 days wages for a builder here, locals struggle to afford that here.

I get dropped off by Momodou on their way home with an invite to Monday Lunch.

Day 2

As I walk back to Alaeldin coffee house for a Lebanese coffee. Another local walks alongside me, he tells me he isn’t looking for anything just being friendly, then he says his wife had a baby yesterday, then tells me I need to buy him a tin of milk powder as a wedding present. I tell him no, I don’t know him and I’m buying him nothing. I know of people who would benefit from it more. He leaves unhappy but wishes me a good day. I have my coffee, ask what is on the menu, could they make me some food. Pizza is on the menu. Ok pizza again, strange breakfast.

Momodou picks me up and takes me to a meeting with Mr Badgie the Gambian Chairman of FA4G, the meeting is at his office at the Gambian Football Federation, on approach I see they have an ambulance parked on the ground. Being curios I go and look at it to find out that it’s a store room. What a waste of an ambulance.

We have a chat discuss plans for moving forward and the differences in UK to Gambia during Covid 19. Momodou then takes me to Annemarie’s,

Annemarie is a valued trustee in The Gambia and had invited me for lunch. We start chatting and realise she taught one of my good friends back in the UK many years ago, my friend Big Anne remembers her well. I meet Cosy another friend of bills who stopped for a minute and I met Helen from Fair Play Gambia, who Annemarie had invited to lunch as well as Annemarie’s lodger Jill. Annemarie made a wonderful curry and me and Helen discussed some training in Georgetown for Fair Play Gambia which is a social enterprise. She explains about their fight for survival and how much of a benefit our training will be for their staff and the local community so far in-country. Another productive day in The Gambia, plans are made, dates are set. I also had the pleasure to meet a lady from the Gambian Women’s Initiative that helps women get their independence and changes the risks of Sexual Violence. 

Now it’s time to go home and sleep before we go to Sohm Schools tomorrow, look out for updates from Flat Stanly 🙂

Get up to go to the loo and a pizza Ed runs along the wall towards you jumps on the unit and hides somewhere. I don’t know who got a bigger fright, me or him? Can I get back to sleep with my heart pounding? Will the lizard sneak it to my room while I sleep? Await to find out zzz

I depart Glasgow and all is well I arrive in Heathrow, it’s like a ghost town. Jump in a taxi to The Thistle Hotel Terminal 5, receptionist isn’t very helpful and just couldn’t be bothered. I go to my room which is basic but fine. Up early after 5 hours sleep. I’m excited but nervous at the same time. I check in my hand luggage and bag not a problem then get to security. My lithium cell batteries for the defib shows up on the scanner and looks like blocks of explosives. Causes a bit of excitement and additional resources are summoned. I explain that it is batteries, take them out and they are tested and swabbed. I explains I have permission from the airline and they stand the other people down and tell them all is good. I sit on the plane and speak to the lady beside me, when I say I’m going to do training she asks where is Bill, turns out this lovely lady it’s a friend of a friend. Her name is Janet and she made my flight go so quickly. We arrive at Brussels and all is well, we walk together to the next gate which is about 10 minutes away. There is no organisation and it is a free for all to get boarding. We stay together until the next plane where we are sitting in different area’s I help a Gambian lady find her seat. She doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Gambian but she knows I’m a friend and will help. There is a passenger missing so the flight is delayed 90 minutes until they find and remove the luggage and we are cleared for takeoff. The plane is mobbed. About an hour before we land we are handed immigration cards. The same lady I helped find her seat hands me hers with her passport and ID card, she can’t read or write so I fill in her card for her. I leave the questions I don’t know blank and the people in the airport can complete.

So I arrived with Flat Stan at Banjul Airport, we have our temperature checked and fine to enter. social distancing doesn’t exist here with the authorities pushing you forward but the queue isn’t moving.  This first queue is entry tax of 1000D approximately ÂŁ18.

Next it’s the baggage queue.  As I am waiting for my luggage one of the local tourist assisters asks what my bags are like and awaits their arrival to save me getting crushed in the pandemonium. Some foreign diplomats are trying to get their luggage too but luggage is slow and then the belt comes off the conveyer. Lots of work and about 30 minutes later they get it back on and luggage starts to come out. My bag with the defib is spotted and collected, 20 minutes later my other bag comes through and I am able to proceed to customs. My bag goes through a scanner and causes them concern. What am I trying to bring in to the country. I am sent to a special desk for it to be examined. Someone recognised the charity logo. Asked what I had, explained it was just formalities and nothing to worry about and I was waved through. Who thought that this defibrillator would cause so much havoc. I meet Momodou he is so cheerful and friendly. He takes me to my lodgings and helps me get organised, it’s hot here. I am finally here. I struggle to sleep with excitement about what I will see.

Our trustee George will be visiting The Gambia next week and will spend a month implementing UK Standards in training during Covid times. George will work alongside Momodou and do some Internal Quality Assurance to make sure all current standards are being taught. lookout for regular updates as he shares his trip.

With Christmas Fast approaching have you thought about not sending a Christmas Card and instead Sponsoring a School? We have requests on a regular basis as our budget is committed to managing the Schools we have. For ÂŁ150 you can sponsor a school and provide the School with all of its First Aid Training and First Aid Kit. If this sponsorship is done during November when George is in The Gambia he will personally go and visit the School and start the process. You will receive a Picture of the School, a picture of the Training and also a personal thank you letter from the school. You can club together with your friends on Virgin Media Fundraiser if you want to do it as a group.

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