18 February 2020


Science workshops at Gambia College

An early breakfast saw a 7.30 start. Linda had already been picked up by Yankuba, Abdoulie and Wandifa. A good journey to Brikama gave us plenty of time to do final preparations for a 9.00am start. We were made aware yesterday of a misunderstanding. We wanted 40 students to attend the workshops. 20 to do the microscopy and 20 to do the physics on Saturday, then for them to swap over on Sunday and for each student to do the other workshop, However like last year this had been misunderstood by the college who arranged for the students who were to attend. They had just selected 20 students for Saturday and a different 20 for Sunday. The college organisers had been asked on Friday afternoon to phone round all the students that afternoon to tell them all to come for both days. We were not therefore sure just how many we were going to get.

As it was, we started with 25 students, but more arrived soon, and we did end up with almost a full house.

The timetable for each workshop follows a similar pattern. Introductions are followed by the students carrying out practical work in the two morning sessions. About 30 minutes or so before lunch, which is at 2pm they stop work and get into groups of 4 to prepare a lesson to deliver to small groups of students or children recruited from either the college or a nearby school. Lunch is provided by the college catering staff and again was excellent. Fish benachin on Saturday and chicken yassa on Sunday.

After lunch and prayers, the lessons were given to between 15 and 20 students in each lab, so the teachers taught groups of three and four.

The physics workshops were given by Joe, Yankuba, Abdoulie and me, with the microscopy by Pippa, Kathy, Wandifa and assisted by Linda. On the Sunday we were joined by Musa and by a BBC journalist whom Joe had met on the plane over and had expressed an interest.

I will give a brief outline of the physics and Kathy the microscopy.

In physics we needed little introductory time and went straight into the experiments. Joe would give a demonstration and the students would then carry this out in pairs. We manged to do lever law and moments so that the students could calculate the weight of an unknown object using a metre rule and pivot and a known weight. This was followed by demonstrating hydraulics using syringes of different sizes. A pendulum with a cord of 25 cm takes exactly 1 second to do a full swing, so using this principal we did some timing of students running for 20 metres outside. Reaction times were calculated by dropping a ruler and catching it between two fingers. From the distance dropped it is possible to calculate reaction times. Rocket balloons were prepared to demonstrate Newton’s laws of motion and by using springs joined together. Separately the students created a simple flute from a drinking straw. From these the students could see transference of energy by waves.

Joe demonstrating hydraulics using syringes

Using balloons as rockets

Using a pendulum as a timer for racing

In microscopy it is slightly different. The 20 students are arranged over 5 tables, 4 to each table. There were four simple compound microscopes and two larger compound microscopes on each table as well as four sample preparation kits that included simple hand lenses. We started with objectives for the day which mainly emphasised the need to become familiar with the microscopes and kit which we went through in detail. Simple hand lenses of different magnifying power were tried with everyone looking at their skin or some item of clothing or a watch just to see the difference in lens magnification. Then the microscopes were unpacked and each student was shown how to focus on printing in a handbook. This always generates interest as it might sound boring but when you look at black printing under the microscope you can see other colours present in the letters. This is a good example of how you can see things that are not visible by eye. The larger compound microscope had 3 different objective lenses and light that went through the sample as well as top lighting. This microscope allows for quite high magnification of cells and sometimes the cell nucleus is visible.
After breakfast of a baguette, containing fried egg and salad typically, the students looked at a range of samples we had gathered. These included fabrics, insects, plants and flowers, different foods (potato, onion, parsley, oranges etc) and water from a nearby puddle. This usually has small animals living in it. Seeing insects moving under the microscope was very popular. Using a microscope in teaching science should allow the teachers to demonstrate features in a wide range of different subjects including biology, home science and agriculture.

Unpacking the microscopes

Using microscopes to look at samples

Hard at work examining samples and recording their observations

For the teaching sessions each group of teachers showed one of the experiments to their group of students. It was impressed on them that the key to a successful practical lesson was for the students to do the practical work rather than just watching the teachers do it. We observed the lessons given. Some were much more successful in achieving this objective than others.

Following this the equipment was packed up and everyone gathered together for presentation of attendance certificates and some speeches. This year we also presented to the head of science at Gambia college, Nakulang Ceesay,  a certificate of appreciation and recognition and an inscribed pen and case for all his help in organising the science workshops. Nakulang is retiring from full time teaching later this year.

17 February 2020


Days 9 and 10. Thursday 13 and Friday 14 February

These two days were relatively quiet. We needed this after our long day upcountry.

PAGEANT has two sets of very accurate weighing scales and we wanted those for the forthcoming workshops. We knew they had been left in The Gambia after the last workshops but couldn’t find them anywhere. On Thursday Abdoulie remembered that he had taken a bag or box of stuff to Linda’s compound for storage and we wondered if they were there. No luck. Then to Wandifa’s as he some stuff in storage: again no luck. We couldn’t think where else to look.

We had contacted Musa Ceesay, a teacher we knew. Joe was arriving the following day and wanted to meet Musa and possibly arrange for Joe to do a short physics workshop at his school on the following Monday. Unfortunately, Musa’s school was on its half term break so that would not be on. We did however meet with Musa for a catch-up chat. He had been on a PAGEANT physics workshop 8 years ago, and whilst he was not available for the Saturday workshop, he would love to come on Sunday.
Joe arrived in the early hours of Friday morning. 

We had a late breakfast to enable him to get a bit of sleep. Like us he had had a good journey via Lisbon but was suffering from a stinking cold.

We spent the morning getting the kit for the workshops together and set off in the early afternoon for Gambia College in Brikama. On arrival we quickly unpacked. The labs were clean and tidy, and we soon completed sorting everything out so we could get going quickly in the morning. There was an added bonus. We had left the missing scales in the care of James, the lab technician and apart from one set needing new batteries they were in fine working order. Thank goodness for that.

All done, we returned to the hotel and after a short rest walked down the road for steak and chips at Sambas Kitchen. Joe described it as the best steak he had had in ages.

14 February 2020


Day 8 Wednesday 12 February - upcountry

An early start, and what’s more, a prompt start. We were off upcountry and had a 2½ to 3 hour drive to our destinations. We made very good progress to Brikama before turning inland from the coastal strip to drive up the long, but well maintained, South Bank Road. The Gambia is a poor country, but the upcountry villages are often very poor. Many of the villages have no electricity at all and no running water.

Our first port of call was at Mayork to the Lower Basic School there. In the autumn last year, we had arranged for beehives to be installed there and training given on how to maintain these and look after the bees. The funding for this came from a UK charity called BEECause.  Their mission is the promotion of beekeeping as a way of improving livelihoods, particularly of the rural poor and, of course, encouraging initiatives to increase the bee population, as this is crucial to pollination and hence to mankind. The hives there are doing well, and they have harvested honey sold to the families of the children there and the proceeds reinvested in the school. They said that they would like a swarm collecting box to hang in the trees and collect new swarms. There are also plans afoot to set up an apiary in the nearby Upper Basic School.

                                                  Inspecting the hives at Mayork LBS

We also had a look round the school garden which is fine fettle. All the usual vegetables seen in Gambian school gardens were there and indeed more advanced than some. So, here is Gardener’s Question Time. What is the vegetable growing shown in the picture below? A clue: it is a type of vegetable commonly eaten in the UK, but the variety we eat is usually a different colour.

The answer will appear in a few days’ time

On then to a school that neither Pippa, Kathy nor I had visited before, Kolior LBS. Kolior is a small village just off the main South Bank Road. It is very poor. There is no mains electricity to any part of the village including the school. Yankuba, Abdoulie and Wandifa went there last autumn to fit some solar lights there as part of our solar lighting project. These are different from the first ones fitted as they don’t require a building to house the charging equipment. A small (about 5cm x 5cm) solar panel is connected by wire to a rechargeable battery charger inside the house which houses up to 4 rechargeable AA batteries. These are used to power the LED bulbs: Very simple, yet very effective.

The school site also had a very dilapidated building which clearly was severely damaged, it had no roof. From the painted signs in the past it had once been used as a library, among other things. The principal explained that a storm had blown the roof off in June 2015 and they had been trying to get funding from a variety of sources but to no avail. We said PAGEANT might be able to help to enable them to get the building restored to working use. The principal was invited to give us a detailed estimate of the cost of doing this and we will consider this.

                                                         The ruined classroom at Kolior

The school seemed well run, despite the difficulties it had, and we thought this would be a good school to get the exercise books bought the previous day as an ethical gift and were distributed to the children

On then through the town of Soma to Misera BCS, where we met the principal Mr Cesay whom we had met many times before. PAGEANT is funding the building of three new toilet blocks there. The construction is well underway. One for the nursery children next to the nursery classrooms (the main toilet blocks are a good distance away – too far for little children to get to before there is an “accident” The other two (one boys, one girls) are next to the existing toilet blocks. We gave Mr Cesay a further stage payment before our discussion turned to a legacy issue. We had funded construction of a new block for woodwork, metalwork and home science some years ago. We still had some funds to pay for some tools and equipment for it. The school had given us a simple list of items, but they were uncosted and not prioritised as we had asked them to do. We stressed that we did not have money to pay for all so they must come up with a proper costed prioritised list.

The soakaway for the nursery classes being dug

                                                   Constructing a new toilet block

We then toured round the school grounds to see the construction work and see their admirable garden before departing for our last school visit, Pakalinding  UBS. That school had given us an estimate at the end of last year for some work it would like PAGEANT to fund. We had found it confusing as there was clearly more than one project involved and it was difficult to see what they wanted to do and how much each aspect would cost.

There were in fact four separate projects the school had in mind. New school gates. Solid sturdy metal gates of the type usually seen at Gambian schools. They only had relatively flimsy insecure grid type gates. They would like some work done on the principal’s and admin offices (the roof leaks when it rains). The library needed a thorough refurbishment, in particular a new roof, new windows and possibly getting the floor properly tiled. We were however pleased to see that they had good sturdy metal bookshelves and plenty of books, but some of those are probably not very appropriate for an upper basic school.

Some of the classroom blocks needed new windows and finally they would like to do some work on the vice principals office. That office is quite small and sandwiched between two classrooms. They would like it redecorated and retiled. We think it is probably more useful to put in a proper ceiling in the room. At the moment there is nothing between the floor and the corrugated iron roof. A proper ceiling will give some heat insulation.

That was us done for the day. We made a quick stop in Soma to get some cold drinks and then headed back to the hotel. It had been a pleasantly cool drive up in the early morning. It was a long 2¾ hour drive back through scorching heat.

12 February 2020


Days 6 and 7, Monday 10 and Tuesday 11 February


Quite a short day today, but quite a lot of driving.

We set off to go to Yundum Barracks Schools first thing. We needed to give them the next stage payment to construct the library. They were rapidly running out of money from the first payment and needed more to but more materials. We are anxious to keep the momentum going.

This took a little longer than usual as one of the army’s generals was visiting the barracks and when we arrived the guard of honour and musicians were assembling. Pippa, Yankuba and Wandifa went inside with the army personnel who counted out the money (this takes a long time as the largest Gambian banknote is 200 dalasi (about £3) and it is customary to count all the money). PAGEANT is providing the funding for materials and the army engineers are constructing it without further charge. Whilst that was happening Abdoulie and I remained in the car and I taught him how to play Sudoku. Abdoulie is good at logic puzzles and he grasped the rudiments very quickly.

Back in the car, where we retraced our drive to the hotel, but then went further on to Banjul, picking up Linda en route. Banjul is the capital city and it is not an understatement to say that it is not an attractive city. It is notorious for extremely bad roads, but finally it seems the City Council is doing something about that. We had gone to Banjul to go to the bank again. Everything takes a long time in Gambian banks, but today we finished our business so hopefully won’t have to go there again this visit.

Following that we returned to the hotel.


Hopefully today was to be our last day of relatively routine and admin jobs.

We set off to Sukuta.  We had a few more sponsorship letters to deliver and now we only have a handful left. We were also giving out some ethical gifts of sacks of rice from money given for that purpose. We left one with a family in Sukuta and then carried on to Gambia College in Brikama to give them the money to buy food for breakfast and lunch at the workshops. On then, through Brikama, Abuko and Wellingara. Two more sacks of rice were delivered to families.

One thing that always disturbs me is the relative cost of rice. We buy 50Kg sacks of rice and they cost about £18 each. That’s 36p per kilo. When I got back to the hotel, I checked the price of standard long-grain rice in Tesco’s. There you can buy it for as little as 45p per kilo (and that’s for a small bag). So, rice in The Gambia is only 9 pence per kilo less. It is their staple food and it is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Enough ranting from me. We also had some ethical gift money to buy some exercise books, so we visited a stationer to buy these. We shall distribute these to a school upcountry when we go there, as these schools seem to not be resourced as well as schools around the coastal strips.

Tomorrow we will have an early start for an all day visit upcountry. We will be seeing beehives, a "2nd generation power hut and  a couple of schools.

Finally, here's a photo taken on Sunday of Fatou, Yankuba and their son, Muhammed.

11 February 2020


Days 5 and 6 Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th

Days 4 & 5


This morning we continued distributing the letter forms. As it was Saturday the schools were closed so we were visiting compounds only. We wound our way and finally came to Fak’s compound. Faks was at his school (Humanity Nursery). We had, as ever with Faks, a good chat and then to our surprise we were invited to stay for lunch. His wife had prepared a delicious beef domada. Tender pieces of beef in a slightly spicy peanut sauce served with delightfully fluffy rice.

The first power hut that PAGEANT built is on Fak’s compound. Kathy and I were able see if for the first time and Faks explained the workings of it.

We then briefly called in at the Njie compound to see if they could give us a grapefruit for the microscopy workshop. They happily obliged. We wanted a grapefruit, because last year we had noticed some blemishes on its skin. Kathy had though they were just something like rust spots, but when she looked more closely down a microscope she discovered, to her surprise that they were caused by tiny burrowing insects. Perfect for the students to look at.

The blemishes on the skin contain burrowing insects or mites that can only be seen properly under a microscope

After that we returned to the hotel for a quiet evening.


During our visits we always try to put a day aside to visit our friends and this year was no exception. We started our day at Langtombong’s compound He is one of Kathy’s and my sponsored students. He is now in Grade 11, so next year will be his last year at school, so inevitably the discussion turned to what he would like to do after that. He said he is good with his hands and would like to do an engineering course.

On then to Wandifa’s compound. As usual a large number of children materialised and we had splendid discussions with them and of course with his lovely wife, Mariama. There are many sponsored children there including Mo Lamin and Ebrima, two of Wandifa’s children and also Ousman, Wandifa’s nephew and one of Kathy and my sponsees. Ousman has finished his secondary schooling and is now in his second year of a course in journalism. He and I had a very spirited philosophical discussion about freedom of the press!
After that to Abdoulie’s compound where again we met his charming wife Aminata, and his children. We have sponsored Abdoulie’s eldest son, Mustafa who has grown so much in the last year. We were provided with delicious oranges freshly picked from his tree, so much more flavour than British supermarket oranges (although a lot more pips). One of the things that often surprises people in The Gambia is that the skin of ripe oranges there is often green. As they are quite small, they are often confused with limes. One taste dispels that.

Then to Yankuba’s residence. Yankuba married Fatou in 2018. Fatou was our first sponsored student and indeed one of the first ever PAGEANT students. Last year they had their first child, Muhammed who is now 11 months old and on the cusp of walking: truly delightful. Once again we were lucky to enough be offered lunch. This was a fish benachin. Rice and vegetable with red snapper fish. After that I sampled some of Fatou’s homemade ebbe. Ebbe is a one of the foods children at school eat for lunch You will often see street vendors sitting at schools selling ebbe. They can buy a small bag of ebbe ladled from a tureen for as little as 5 dalasi (about 8p). Ebbe is a stew spicy stem made from cassava and smoked fish. It is served with hot chilli sauce and tamarind. I enjoyed this.

Our final visit was to Ebrima’s new residence. Again, Ebrima was one of the first PAGEANT students. Initially he was sponsored by my father, but when he died, my sister and I took over the sponsorship. Ebrima is now a delightful enterprising man. He works as an electrician and also runs a barber’s shop. Along with this he is a keen gardener and artist. Last November he got married and we were able to meet his wife for the first time.

Back then to the hotel. Linda joined us for pizza and pasta at Luigi’s.

08 February 2020


Thursday 6, Friday 7 February

Two similar days of activities. Lots of smaller tasks, but all important.

On Thursday morning we set off to go to Brikama. Our objectives were to go to Gambia College to do some preparation work for the science workshops in the following week. In addition, there are many sponsored students living and schooling in Brikama and neighbouring villages, so we could visit them either in their schools or at their compounds. Those visits were to give out the sponsorship letter forms so that sponsored students can write a letter to their sponsors giving their news. We will collect the completed letters over the coming weeks.

Our objectives at the college were met although it took two visits. We wanted to see Mr Nakalung Ceesay who is head of science at the college and organises the workshops. In an early morning phone call he had told us he was free until 10.30 and then had to deliver lectures so we went there first. Unfortunately, he had to deputise for an absent colleague so had already started lecturing when we arrived. We were able to see James the laboratories technician who is invaluable to us in getting the labs ready. He also kindly stores equipment of ours left over from previous workshops and we picked these up for checking. We also saw the catering manager to arrange breakfast and lunch for the workshop participants and to agree a price.

After that we visited some schools and compounds to give out letter forms.
At about 1.30 we were able to contact Nakalung by phone. He was now free until 2.30 so we headed back hastily to the college where we met with him and sorted out the details.

Back on the road again to deliver more forms in the area. Unfortunately, all this meant we had to drive three times through the tortuous traffic jam that seems to be always present at Brikama Market. They are having problems with the drains there, so it was particularly malodourous.

Our final visit of the day was to the compound where Lamin lives. Lamin was a sponsored student of Kathy and me through his school years. He is now 25 and working as a software designer. It was good to catch up with him and we are pleased he is doing well

On Friday morning Kathy was feeling a little under the weather so decided to stay at the hotel. Pippa and I had some business at the bank, so we went to Banjul. Whilst we were there, Wandifa, Abdoulie and Yankuba set off to deliver the forms to our Banjul students. When we had finished at the bank they picked us up and we delivered some more forms in the Kanifing and Bakau areas before returning to the hotel at 2pm to allow Wandifa, Abdoulie and Yankuba to go to Friday prayers.

Yesterday Linda Pippa Kathy and I went to Luigis, one of our regular restaurant haunts and tonight we are going to Mama’s for their excellent seafood buffet.

Tomorrow I hope to be able to take some interesting photos to publish.

07 February 2020


Photos from Day 2

Work in progress on the Yundum Barracks Schools' Library

The new garden at Yundum Barracks Schools' Library
Onions, cabbages, tomatoes and corn amongst those growing

06 February 2020


February 2020. Days 1 & 2

Days 1-2 Tuesday 4 Feb- wed 5 Feb
In the past we had always travelled to the Gambia with Thomas Cook Airlines but after their collapse we had to find an alternative airline. Whilst there is another airline that flies direct to the Gambia from the UK it is considerably more expensive and is restrictive on the amount of baggage you can take. After research we decided to travel with TAP Portugal which flew London to Lisbon and then a connecting flight to Banjul.

This was considerably cheaper than flying direct and had the advantage of allowing us to take a large amount of baggage, so armed with three very large suitcases crammed to capacity and three large carefully packaged boxes containing 30 microscopes and kit for the physics workshops we headed for the airport.

We dropped the bags off on Tuesday morning even though our flight was later in the afternoon. We had a very good flight which landed on time in Lisbon giving us plenty of time to catch the connecting flight. The planes had plenty of legroom and were comfortable. Everything went very smoothly and whilst other airlines are available, I would be quite happy to recommend this airline and route. We landed on time at 01.10 Wed morning and amazingly our luggage was first off the plane so we were able to get away quickly!

At the moment the terminal building at Banjul airport is chaotic due to the construction work there and people meeting travellers are not allowed inside the building. However, Wandifa, Abdoulie and Yankuba were waiting for us outside and transported us to the hotel in the recently acquired PAGEANT mpv. We arrived at the hotel just before 02.30 and staggered off to bed.
After a late breakfast we had a leisurely morning. Linda came over to the hotel and we caught up with her before heading off to Yundum barracks LBS and UBS schools.

Pageant is facilitating the building of a school library from scratch at the school. This is being funded by a legacy given to Pageant. Architects plans have been drawn up and agreed, and construction work has commenced. We are fortunate that the labour to build the library has been provided by army engineers so reducing the costs. The foundations have been laid and work on the walls has started. Everyone, staff at the school, the army personnel and we at Pageant are very excited about it.

The schools have also started a vegetable garden. They have produced amazing results in less than three months.

We were wilting in the heat of a very hot day so after leaving went to a supermarket to get essential
supplies then back to the hotel for a rest, dinner and an early night.

Upload speeds are very slow at the moments, so I shall post some photos of the work-in-progress at the school and the garden later

02 February 2020


Pageant team in The Gambia

A Pageant team will soon be in The Gambia. They will be running physics and microscopy workshops at Gambia College as well as visiting students and schools in many parts of the country.

Andrew will be making regular posts on this blog, so please keep checking for the latest news.

We will also be copying these posts onto our website summary page.

03 December 2019


Monday...a day of waiting...

A day of tying up some loose ends, which unfortunately meant going back to Brikama to chase up a student whose report looked dodgy and to get some reports from the School of Public Health for three of our senior students.

So... we waited in the headteacher's office while they found the correct results for the suspect student.  We were right to be suspicious... instead of the perfect score she had given herself she had actually failed everything except religious knowledge!

On going back to see the parents they expressed amazement at this...and maybe they really did not know what she had been doing. If she put as much energy into her schoolwork as she has into her report falsification she might do a lot better!

On to the School of Public Health, where we waited for over an hour to get three reports printed off. To say I was frustrated is a gross understatement... I think Wandifa was worried I was going to explode with rage!!

For some reason that is beyond me, this college does not let the students have their results as they progress... so one of them, who is not doing very well, was completely surprised and shocked when he saw his marks. We were only allowed to have them as I had explained there would be no further sponsorship payment without them.

We dropped into Yundum Barracks to see the engineers and to discuss how payment will be made, should the final go-ahead be given to the library project. A mere fifteen minutes wait there... not bad as we were completely unexpected.

Back to the hotel... I collected all the financial stuff to take to Linda's for a final end of visit tally and the guys went off to chase the paperwork for the new minibus.  Success all round... the numbers added up and the paperwork has finally arrived... quite a good day in the end...

[Well that is probably the final post for this visit from Pippa in The Gambia, as she will be flying home tomorrow. I am slowly copying all these posts into a summary webpage, so they are all in one place as a record of Pippa and Andy's visit.]

01 December 2019


Sunday...even more students

We started out a little later than usual... 10am... to allow for Sunday morning lie-ins (or should it be lies-in?!)

Our first visit was to see a student studying accountancy...she is just completing her second year and needed the money to pay her exam fees.

Next, one of our favourites... the Manneh compound. Such a lovely family, it is always a delight to visit them. We saw four sponsored students there....

.....  and then went on to another very special compound where the Touray family lives. We saw six sponsored children there, gathered in from the neighbourhood to see us, plus another who was just returning from the market as we were leaving. We know many of these children very well indeed, several of them from babyhood, and it is so heart-warming to sit with them and hear all their news of family and school.

On to a family where the sponsor is currently unwell and unable to sponsor the child this year. We have said we will support her for the current year and hope he will be well enough to pick up the sponsorship next year, as he is very fond of this child and has helped her for several years. If he cannot do so we will do our best to find her another sponsor.

Our last call was to deliver an early Christmas card and gift to a delighted girl... a lovely surprise for her, the more so as it was completely unexpected.

Back to the hotel... quite early again... but not quite finished for the day as one of our long-term but more erratic parents, threatened with no funds unless he complied with our rules, came to deliver the school reports for his two children. I read him the riot act about bringing them on-time next year.... and he mumbled and went away. We'll see if he remembers!


Saturday...a lot more students

The visit to Wandifa's compound was a great success... in all I saw 14 sponsored students there... some coming for their pencil cases, some for fees, some just to have their photos taken.  Lovely to see so many and to be able to chat to each one in turn about what is next on their horizons. A bit of a cheat really, as it meant I was not seeing them at their own homes or schools, but at this stage of a visit it was a very good idea.

There were also two students there who were requesting sponsorship.. reports were produced and photographed as were the children themselves.

Our last task there was to give out several very nice school bags to UNsponsored children... these were part of a very generous donation by the Welcome Club of Southwater, to whom I had recently given a talk.

bags for unsponsored children

We then went to visit a few compounds in the area just south of the airport and caught up with several more students.

Then back to the hotel at the amazingly early time of 2pm... I actually managed a swim (my first of this visit - and my first since my accident in January) and a couple of hours by the pool.

A very welcome hairwash followed by dinner at Luigi's with Linda completed a most productive and enjoyable day.

30 November 2019


Friday... catching up with a lot of senior students

A really busy day, starting off in Bakau and then doing a round trip to Westfield, down the exceptionally busy road through Serekunda, past the airport and into Yundum Barracks, back along the road to the turntable and ending up full circle at the hotel.

We visited the compounds of twelve students in Further Education of various kinds... and also saw round the very splendid kitchens of the Hotel School, where one of our young men is training to be a chef. He is really enjoying his course and I am not surprised... anyone would love to cook in a kitchen like that. He and his supervisor suggested we should book in for lunch one day, so I will certainly try to do that in February.

I called in at Africmed, the hospital in which I spent a week last February, partly to show them that I am now fit and well and also to give them the legbrace and sling that I used during my recovery. The NHS in UK would not reuse such items but they will be very much appreciated here. I was very touched to find how many of the staff came to greet me... the ability of the Gambians to remember people who they have met only briefly never ceases to amaze me.

Our guys dropped me back to the hotel... then it was a fairly quick change and off to Linda's for a birthday party! 

Mariama, the little daughter of the Gambian family that lives with Linda, was nine today and had asked if I could go to her party... I was very honoured to do so and we had an extremely yummy chicken yassa followed by a vast quantity of cake!

A full day, to say the least.....

28 November 2019


Thursday... Brikama day

We left the hotel at 8.30am as planned...the traffic was not too bad to start with and I thought we might be at Gambia College earlier than planned. However, it all snarled up midway along the road from the turntable to the airport junction, so in the end we arrived at just after 9.20am.

No sign of Nakulang.. after a search Yankuba found that he was taking a special once-a-month class and would be available just after 11am... would we ever actually get to talk to him, I wondered?

Off on a few family visits:

A bag of rice and a letter for a senior student and his family.

More rice and a personal gift for an Upper Basic student and her family, plus a visit to her school for a photo.

A visit to a family with a newly sponsored child to give him his 'welcome to Pageant' pencil case... and here we hit a snag. This child is a younger sibling of some already-sponsored children. The father had contacted the sponsor directly to ask for his assistance with this younger boy, as he had just started at nursery school... and the sponsor had agreed to help. Wandifa phoned the father to say we were on our way to visit the boy in school... and was told he was at home because he was sick. When we arrived at the house... no sign of this sick boy! He eventually arrived, full of beans, with a group of friends... when asked why he had not gone to school he replied that there was no school on Wednesday or Thursday! It transpired that he was not attending nursery school at all...only the local Arabic 'school' that runs on three mornings a week. As the father well knows, this does not qualify him for sponsorship...a real case of trying to obtain money by false pretences. I don't know how the sponsor will react...but we did not give the boy a pencil case.

Back to Gambia College...and at last we managed to have our long-awaited discussion with Nakulang about the Practical Science workshops for 2020. He was delighted to hear that we will be able to include physics this year as Joe Brock will be coming out with us after an absence of several years.

[More about Pageant's science and other workshops]

We fixed the date, subject to checking with the overall College timetable, discussed the provision of breakfast and lunch during the workshops and went to see James (the excellent science technician) about the rooms and facilities. We are going to have to track down some tables as we did last year, as they have been spirited away again, but hopefully all will work out OK.

We checked our stock of books and found that we have 34 physics books there, so will not need to have too many more printed.

It was a relief to have all that sorted out...so off we went on some more visits:

An OND engineering student to check on what was happening regarding last year's results...answer, not a lot as GTTI had not yet given them to the students. The second year's course is now not due to start until January...not very satisfactory. He was very pleased to receive a letter from his sponsor... another photo.

Another bag of rice for the family of some sponsored students and more photos.

And then visits to three compounds in Jambanjelly to both take some photos of the sponsored students and to give a selection of ethical and other donated gifts to the families and their neighbours. (Uploading the photos of the gift sessions will have to wait until I get back to UK as they were all taken on a camera that cannot be accessed by the tablet on which I am writing these blog entries.)

We drove up the splendid new road from Jambanjelly to the turntable, where we had agreed to meet a Grade 11 student who has moved home. We agreed with her as to how and when her remaining sponsorship payment would be paid and gave her a little travel money to tide her over in the meantime.

A quick supermarket visit, where, among other things, we bought a pack of biscuits to remind us of Andy (!) and then back to the hotel.

Quite a full day...what will tomorrow bring?

27 November 2019


Wednesday... another upcountry trip

An early start... and the packed breakfast was in reception before 6.30am, so my threats obviously worked!

Our first stop was at Mayork, on our normal route and just a short distance before Kalagie. We were calling in to see the bee installation at Mayork Upper Basic school... at least, we thought we were, but on arrival we found it was at the Lower Basic school! The guys of the field training team from Beecause were there when we arrived just after 8am... they had been at the school the previous day and had spent the night there in order to meet us and show us round.

There were two groups of hives set in glades road in the forest - a delightful setting and looking ideal for the bees, with water quite close by as well. The school now has ten hives in all... six of them were occupied, with a lot of bees buzzing around them. Kebba, our guide, explained that the bees had been somewhat disturbed by the activity yesterday, particularly as some of the hives had been raised higher off the ground to protect them from termites. He suggested that we should keep well away from them... a very good idea, I thought!

 Hives in forest glade

The remaining four hives have been brought back into the main school compound for maintenance... termite damage has to be repaired and then the hives can be repositioned in the forest glades.

 Hives to be repaired

The school is delighted with the training they have received, plus the increased number of both hives and bee-suits, as a result of our donation. We agreed that a number of smaller bee-suits should be made in order for some Grade 5 and 6 children to take a fuller part in the activity... and maybe the project can be extended to include the Upper Basic school, which is on the opposite side of the road. The headmaster there is very keen on the idea....

We said goodbye and continued along the road, through Soma, to Misera Basic Cycle school, at which we have done a number of projects in recent years.

We checked out the large new metalwork and woodwork benches and the tiling in the Home Science room...the latter is just about to be inspected by the Education Department to make sure it is suitable for exam purposes, so we hope all goes well.

 New metalwork bench
 New woodwork bench
 Tiled floor in Home Science room
 Tiled worktop and sinks in Home Science
(blue protective plastic still on!)

The next thing on their agenda is toilets... we had agreed an estimate for two blocks of four, one block for girls, the other for boys. However, they would now like to change this to two blocks of three PLUS a small block of two for the ECD children. They feel the latter is necessary as these small children find it difficult to get all the way across the school compound to the main toilet blocks without having an 'accident'... so a small toilet block near their classrooms seems a sensible suggestion.

Proposed site for ECD toilets

They need to provide us with a new estimate, but I left them with enough money to start work, as the project has been agreed in principle.

Then on to find out what has happened regarding a sponsored student who has completed Grade 9 but not told us where he will be going to Senior Secondary school. He has been living with his grandmother for the past seven years.... but now, she told us, he has been taken back to live with his father in Brikama. As it happens, we will be going there tomorrow, but I do wish some of these families would let us know where their children are!!

Having accomplished everything we set out to do, we hit the road for home... very thankfully as the upcountry temperature was around 43C today!

We called in at Gambia College and managed to arrange to meet Nakulang, head of science, tomorrow morning... hurray! I really do need to speak to him about workshops for next February.

A long Brikama day ahead tomorrow - we plan to leave here at 8.30am.

26 November 2019


Tuesday: Goodbye to Andy

A leisurely breakfast as the team was not scheduled to arrive until 11.30am to take Andy to the airport. (It didn't take him long to pack as most of his incoming luggage was electronics for the lights... all remaining in The Gambia, of course!)

We duly set off for the airport, calling in at Yundum Barracks on the way to collect the revised estimate for the library.

We had hoped to be able to have a drink with Andy in the upstairs restaurant after he had checked in... but no, that no longer exists, due to the renovation work on the airport terminal building.

So he gave his final team talk to our Gambian guys in the nearest bit of shade we could find, I took a last team photo...and he disappeared into the chaos of the terminal.

Andy and the Gambian team

We did see the incoming flight arriving as we were driving around a little later in the afternoon... so at least there was a plane for him to go home in!

We then started to try to catch up with all the other things I have on my list for this visit...

We managed to tick several things off the list: chased up a FE student and discussed her rather unrealistic suggestions as to which course she might do; found a couple of Grade 9 girls who have been given some unexpected assistance; photographed several students along the way; managed to track down an erstwhile workshop trainee teacher and, in so doing, confirmed that Nakulang is still at Gambia College. This is really good news... I have been trying to phone him at intervals during the past two weeks and he has never answered, so I was starting to think he must have gone into retirement. I now have reasonable confidence that we will be able to find him when we go to Brikama on Thursday.

Back to the hotel fairly early... we have another upcountry trip scheduled for tomorrow, so it should be a 6.30am start. I have threatened the kitchen staff with awful consequences if the breakfast is not in reception at the requested time!

25 November 2019


Monday... clearing up and a little more shopping

Today started with a very poorly timed power cut... I was in the shower having just started to wash my hair... head covered in foaming shampoo... and whoops, no light! The generator took long enough to kick in for me to complete both hair wash and shower in the pitch dark... very disorientating!

Mercifully the power was back on in time for breakfast...

The team arrived at 9.30am as arranged and did a good job of clearing up the little room in the hotel that we had been using for making the lights. They made an inventory of everything we have in stock... completed lights, partially made lights, plain wooden bases, electronic components and tools.

Our original plastic box was no longer large enough to hold the tools we have amassed, so we felt a final trip for Andy to Inco to buy a proper toolbox was a must. We also wanted to check out the availability and price of rechargeable AA batteries...so far they have all been bought in UK, but can we get them locally?

I had phoned the regional director of education for Region 3, which covers Albreda, to let him know of our conclusions regarding the solar and computer installation there. He was very interested and suggested that we should contact Lamin, a senior guy in the department of science and technology, to discuss the matter further.

We set off on our shopping trip, calling in to a few places that we felt were likely to have the batteries we wanted. Either no luck at all or very expensive - D400-500 for a pack of two, which works out at between £3.10 and £3.84 each... far too much.

While doing this we managed to contact Lamin... happily he was just finishing a meeting quite near to where we were, so we arranged to meet him at Inco... much better than travelling to his office in Banjul.

We bought a very splendid orange toolbox in Inco and Andy bought a set of spanners as a gift for Abdoulie to keep in the new minivan. We met up with Lamin as arranged and went to a local cafe for our discussion.

He proved to be very knowledgeable about all the school solar installations and we had a very useful hour or so, with him telling us a lot of the history of the project. The decision as to whether or not Pageant will fund any remedial work on the solar at Albreda has yet to be made, but at least we know a lot more about the situation now.

Back to the hotel... time for me to write this blog entry and maybe even sit by the pool for half an hour.

It will be Andy's last evening so we are going out to what should be a very nice dinner with Linda and Susan from the hotel... one of the latter's very few evenings off in the year! Let's hope the hotel is still standing when we get back!!!!

We did have a most enjoyable meal and the hotel appeared to be unscathed when we returned... so Susan was able to go straight to bed. Lovely last evening of Andy's stay here... I'll miss him during the next week. Thanks, Andy, for all the laughs, hard work and all round good time... not forgetting the biscuits!!


Sunday...family visiting

I had suggested to Andy that he might like to see the houses and meet the families of our Gambian team, so he had asked them if this would be OK. Of course they were delighted... so they all arrived this morning ready to take us to do some home visits.

First we had to go to Marouns, a local supermarket, as Andy wanted to take some small gifts for the wives and children.


Abdoulie's compound:

The first thing we saw was the new minibus...my first chance to see it up close. It looks very nice, I have to say... Abdoulie is so thrilled with it and has bought it a new steering wheel cover to celebrate! I have done my best with the photos...

 Pageant's new minibus
 a closer view
plenty of room in the back

Next to meet the family..so lovely to see them all and my, how the children have all grown! I sat and talked to the children, taking photos of all the sponsored ones as well as a couple requesting sponsorship. Meanwhile Abdoulie was asking Andy's advice regarding a new house he wants to build in the compound for him and his family...not only is his current one too small now, but a large hole appeared in its back wall during the rainy season.

I read Three Billygoats Gruff to the children while Andy and Abdoulie paced out possible room shapes and sizes. My great regret is that the favoured site for the house means that the wonderful orange tree will have to go.

Wandifa's compound:

More lovely family greetings...and many students to greet, photograph, and hear what they are doing. Wandifa has given space in his home to so many of our senior students, so that they can be nearer to their places of education, that his house is overflowing. He has had the brilliant idea of using some of the pallets that we sent out on the last container as bedbases on his veranda, so several students sleep out there.

His and Mariama's garden is doing very well...and the orange tree planted in Ian's memory has both grown hugely and turned out to be a lemon tree! Very fitting, as Ian always preferred lemons to oranges at half time...

Andy was shown round the house and congratulated Wandifa on it..a very good visit.

Yankuba's compound:

Here, of course, the star attraction was Karamo, the delightful baby boy born to Fatou and Yankuba nine months ago. He is amazingly active, bouncing up and down in the grasp of whoever is holding him and looking as though he will be walking at any moment. I should think he is quite a handful to look after... I asked Fatou if she is enjoying being a mum and she said 'Sometimes'!! Both she and Yankuba are looking very well...and at least Karamo is a good sleeper at night!

We met Abubacarr, a newly sponsored student, who achieved the perfect score of 6 in his Grade 9 exams and has now been able to go to Nusrat to study commerce because of his sponsorship from our Emergency fund. A very nice young man, who was delighted to receive a filled pencil case, geometry set and solar powered scientific calculator as his 'Welcome to Pageant' gift in addition to the first sponsorship payment.

Andy was shown round the compound and Yankuba made us a very welcome cup of coffee before we left to return to the hotel.

Three very different houses... I think Andy really enjoyed this opportunity to see something of Gambian home life and our guys were so happy to be able to show him some hospitality.

We returned to the hotel at about 2pm...the team had an appointment with the policeman who has been sorting out the paperwork for the minibus so we let them get on with that on their own...no need to muddy the waters with our presence.

I'm not sure what Andy did during the afternoon but I spent the time catching up on all the blog postings...and, hurray, I am now up to date!

24 November 2019


Saturday...a little shopping and a few more lights

When the team arrived we went through the village lights installation process to decide what we needed in the way of more tools and/or materials for smoothing the way in further installations. Abdoulie, Yankuba and Wandifa are now confident that they can complete both making the lights for which we have brought components and carrying out two or more installation sessions at other villages.

Having made our shopping list I set off with the Gambians, leaving Andy behind in the hotel...he said he wanted to think about yet another idea he had for a variation on the lights!

We duly returned... Andy told our guys the rough outline of his new idea and challenged them to each come up with their own suggestion as to how it should be assembled. After a somewhat stunned silence they got to work... I can't tell you exactly how things progressed as I went away to try to catch up with all the blog posts... but when I returned they had indeed each come up with an idea and were busily wiring them up. All credit to Andy for making them think for themselves...they have really learnt a lot and gained considerably in confidence during his stay here.

They left at about 4pm... Abdoulie was keen to collect our new minibus from the mechanic and to check out a couple of things for himself.

Supper at Samba's Kitchen completed a rather more leasurely day than usual... very nice it was too.


Friday...library plans and bees

We started off a little later than usual.. because we were all pretty tired after the previous day.

Even so, we were at Yundum Barracks just after 10.30am, where we dropped Andy and Yankuba off at the engineers' offices so that library plan discussions could start as soon as possible. [More about Yundum Barracks Schools]

Wandifa, Abdoulie and I continued to the school, where we met the four children who have been newly sponsored by Jeannette Mars and her Wordclass students. [More about Worldclass at Bishop's Waltham School] We gave pencil cases to the children and the first sponsorship payments to their families. Balla, the headmaster, explained to the families that this money was for education purposes and he had a few specific items that he wanted them to buy...school badges and a PE t-shirt plus the four text books for the core subjects so that the children could have them at home for studying. Wandifa then added his bit about providing reports on time and gave them his phone number so that they could contact him if necessary.

After that, one of the mothers stood up and gave us a heartfelt speech of thanks on behalf of all the families...very nice to hear, and also, incidentally, in very good English.

We then gave Balla the good news that his garden project estimate had been accepted by Jeannette Mars. He was, of course, delighted.... even more so when I gave him the money, which was counted by both Wandifa and himself and then signed for.

Having accomplished all the school business for the day we rushed back to see how the library plans were progressing... Balla was very keen to be there as quickly as possible!

We found Andy deep in discussion with the chief engineer and three of his designers. All the plans were laid out on the table, as well as the very detailed estimates for each stage of the project.

plans for the new library at Yundum

The building looks really excellent... Andy's design has been faithfully followed and we now have something with which I feel the donor would have been very pleased.

The total cost figure was, however, too high! We continued our discussion and eventually managed to get it down to a figure we can cope with....without compromising the integrity or capacity of the building itself.

I am really looking forward to showing these plans to the executors of the donor's estate, as I am sure it will be exactly the sort of thing they had in mind to carry out her wishes.

We were also delighted to find that the engineers were excited about the library project themselves and were determined to follow it through the building stages to make sure it was all carried out to a really high standard.

I must take this opportunity to thank Andy for all the work he put into his design... without this and his original sketch we would never have progressed so far.

Having completed our session at Yundum Barracks, we set off to Lamin to visit the bee compound there. I wanted to check on how last year's project had gone at Mayork Upper Basic school with a view to doing a follow up if things had gone well. 

As luck would have it, Peter, the chairman of the UK charity Beecause that funds the work done there, was actually sitting, talking to Gibbeh, the head of Gambian operations when we arrived. We had spoken over the phone earlier in the year and it was really good to meet him. He took Andy on a tour of the set-up there while I talked to Gibbeh about the project.

She was very pleased with how it had all gone and was planning to send her training team to the school for their final field support session in a couple of weeks' time. On hearing that we were planning to visit the school ourselves next week she decided to bring that training session forward so that we could meet both trainers and school trainees at the same time.

I told her that if we were happy with what had been done at the school we would give her another batch of funding. This would be to get the school apiary up to a viable size and to increase the number of bee-suits so that more students could be involved. It would also cover a couple more field training sessions.

Both Gibbeh and Peter were delighted that we are funding a school based apiary... they would like to hold it up as a model to encourage more schools to participate.

As we were in Lamin it seemed only sensible to take Andy to visit Lamin Lodge... such a delightful place for lunch and a drink. We enjoyed some chicken yassa and chips there before heading back to the hotel for an earlier than usual end to our day.

So early that we had time to phone Linda and arrange to meet her for supper at Luigi's... where, I am pleased to say, we looked far more presentable than on the previous evening.


Thursday...upcountry lights installation day.

Another early start.. we aimed for 6.30am but eventually set off at 6.45am as the early breakfast we had ordered did not materialise as early as we hoped. This meant that the traffic on the road down to Brikama had started to build up, probably adding about a quarter of an hour to our journey time.

After we had turned east along the main South Bank highway we lost the traffic and bowled along merrily... such a lovely part of the day and the countryside is beautifully green at this time of year.

We arrived at our destination village, turning east off the road just short of Soma, at about 9.15am and were greeted by the headmaster, deputy, chairman of the school management committee and all the pupils of the Lower Basic school that has only recently been started there. They all sang us a song of welcome, introduced themselves and then it was down to business.

The committee had selected about thirty children, in whose homes the lights were to be fitted. They were called out of class and everyone discussed the order in which the lights would be fitted... who lived near who, were there children who lived in different houses in the same compound, which was the best way for the car to go... and so on. 

children selected to get lights

In a surprisingly short time we were all at the first house and it was only now that the actual installation process could be worked out. This first one took some time as we tried different methods of supporting the little solar panels, getting the leads through from outside to inside and positioning the light in the best place for homework.

 installing a solar cell (1)
  installing a solar cell (2)
  installing a solar cell (3)
 completing an installation
 connecting up inside
 inside one of the homes
 some interested onlookers

Having tried out a few different methods we settled on what was pretty close to the final way in which all the lights were fixed. Variations in roof height, direction of slope, homework position could all be accomodated in this method and the installation team gradually worked their way around the village. Our Pageant team was soon joined by: the chairman, who was thrilled to be able to carry the large reel of strong galvanised wire over his head and shoulder from house to house and eventually graduated to cutting it to length; and the deputy who was put in charge of the multimeter used to check each installation. They very happily answered to 'Wireman!' and 'Meterman!' respectively and appeared with alacrity whenever summoned.

The team eventually completed all the designated houses (28 in all at the final tally) at just after 4pm... a long, hot process.

I had left them all to it after the fifth house and had gone back to the school with the headmaster to discuss the ongoing requests (football kit and a ball or two featured heavily here) and to give out some items to those children whose houses had NOT been selected for lighting. I was very keen to ensure they did not feel left out, so I had taken a very large collection of new girls' pants and boys' boxer shorts of various sizes to give out. (These had been bought by a very kind Pageant member who was distressed at the thought that the poorer Gambian children just do not have any underwear.)
Underwear may seem an unexciting gift to us, but these children were thrilled... and a lot of very animated chat went on -  in English - as to which pair would fit which child! In the end I gave out around 70 pairs and every child ended up with either a light or some underwear. I wasn't sure which they were more excited about!! I didn't feel it was really appropriate to publish the 'underwear' photos here.. but I have taken some to give privately to the kind donor.

We left the village at about 4.30pm (after the roof rack had been loaded up with eight large sacks of local charcoal, bought by our Gambian guys as it is so much cheaper than where they live) and arrived back at around 8pm... much slower than the way out due to heavy traffic build-up on the roads from Brikama onwards.

Andy and I got the lads to drop us off at Luigi's for a quick omelette and chips before going back to the hotel... we sat in a dark corner so no-one could see how disgustingly dirty we were!

Back to the hotel... shower... and bed!!!

23 November 2019


Wednesday...prices and final preparations for lights installation

We started our day with a bit of shopping and pricing of component parts of a possible 'fix' for the Albreda solar installation.

Our first port of call was Inco, the wonderful new tools shop we found last year. Andy bought a couple of hammers, plus nails, cable ties and screw-in hooks for our upcountry trip to install the first batch of individually solar powered lights in village homes.

Next to a shop that sells everything connected with solar power (sorry, no pun intended!). This had been Andy's favourite port of call during his previous visit and he had formed a very good relationship with the Indian owner. To summarise the rather lengthy discussion...the eight replacement batteries ( good but not quite of the standard of the originals) would cost us £800 and the additional electronics needed to make it fail-safe another £300-400. The owner of the shop was willing to let us take two batteries to test the existing installation...and even to return our money should we find they were not needed....very kind of him. We said we would think about it and come back if we decided to go ahead with the testing.

Back to the hotel, where Andy, Wandifa, Yankuba and I spent the rest of the day making the 'solar leads' for the lights. We had decided that a 4 metre length of cable would be enough for each light to be positioned in a suitable 'homework area's within a student's house...so more than 60 lengths of lightweight twin cable were measured, cut, soldered onto the small solar panels and then wound back onto the now empty cable drums for transporting the following day.

In the meantime Abdoulie had gone down to see Mbye to help with the strip-down and inspection of the engine of the newly acquired minibus...he is taking his new responsibilities very seriously. He and Mbye are delighted with the condition of the engine, so it seems that the purchase may have been a really good one...my fingers are still crossed!! A welder man will have to be visited to make a roof rack and we may see if we can find a couple of removable seats to fit sideways in the large space behind the present back row...the minibus currently seats nine so it might be handy to have the capability of carrying a couple more passengers from time to time.

An early supper and bedtime...we start at 6.30am tomorrow and we have to load the van first...