18 November 2017


Blog update

I have just added some photos for days 8 -11


Day 11 Mostly at Yundum Barracks Schools

Yun Shin, Isaac and Tom, along with Yankuba, Abdoulie, Wandifa, Pippa and I drove to the Yundum Barracks Schools where the boys were going to spend the day helping and doing some sporting activities with the children there. They will also be going on the following Wednesday. 

When we arrived we had to report to the MPs there and I was told by the officer that I looked like Boris Johnson! Oh dear!
The boys were going to start with some drawing with the younger children and had brought materials with them. We left them there and had decided to go and buy some chairs which would be suitable for younger children at that school, to go with the tables we were having constructed, and had seen some outside a shop in Serrekunda a couple of days ago. On that day we had stopped and Yankuba and Abdoulie had talked to the owner and established they had about 100 and he would let us have them for GMD40 each. That is about £6.45 each

We had decided to buy them all and hoped we could get a bulk discount. When we got to the shop it was closed. We rang the number on the door and the owner said he normally does not on on Fridays but would open it especially for us and asked that we came back in about two hours. We went back to the hotel and picked up Carol and Regina, then back to the shop.

We were disappointed. The owner had upped the price to GMD50 per chair and would not budge so we walked away. Thinking caps were put on as we drove to the school and Pippa had the idea for getting a price from the carpenter who will be making the tables to also make some 2-seater benches for the children to sit on. That would enable us to still sit 10 children around each table. We will run this past the school.

When we got to the school a large number of children were on the school field playing rugby, a game which is almost completely unknown in The Gambia. They soon stopped as it was time for Friday prayers and the boys told us that many of the children had difficulty in the concept of passing the ball backwards whilst running forwards!


We left them to it and went to see Fansu who is liaising with the carpenter and explained our ideas to him and got a price for the tables and benches which we thought was satisfactory. Whilst we were there, the Deputy Head from Brikama Nema School came with his estimate for the tiling. It was not what we had asked for so he will redo.

Back to the school for final time where rugby was still in full flow. When the school bell rang for the close of the day the children slowly and reluctantly left the field. The boys said they had had a great and rewarding time and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They have agreed to write a short account of their time in Gambian schools and I will post it here.


Day 10 At the airport (and other things)

Pippa and I started the day by driving to Brikama. We went to Brikama UBS to see Mo Lamin, who is not a Pageant student but is sponsored by a pastor in the USA. He had been asked for a considerable amount of money for materials, books and extra tuition. We were able to get this information and leave him with a maths set and calculator.

To Gambia College to continue our arrangements for the science workshops in February. We left a number of microscopes that had come over on the container in storage there. Nakalang was unable to confirm that one of the days we wanted was available but is confident that it will be. We were also able to agree the price of the breakfast and lunch for the two workshop days with Madam Touray, so there will be no misunderstanding on the day.

We continued to Anne Marie Rivier BCS to see 4 children and give one of them a present from his sponsor. That school certainly seems to have very good facilities compared to others

Anne Marie Rivier Basic Cycle School

This was followed by our second visit to Brikama Nema School, which had been a recipient of a considerable amount of stuff from the container and we were pleased to see it already being put to good use. The schools had received football jerseys and shorts from Haslemere Prep School and we were treated to a display of children in the kit.

In sports gear at Brikama Nema

In a previous blog we wrote about the toilets that had been constructed there. Some were currently unused as they had not been tiled and the school did not have the money to do that so we asked them to provide us with two estimates for tiling the floors and one tile course around the wall. We asked for estimates for using broken tiles, which would produce a mosaic effect on the floor and for complete tiles.

The deputy head and Pippa trying out chairs from the container

Lunch was then provided which we were not expecting. We ate what the children had, which we think is called yankadamg. This is a dish that neither Pippa nor I had had before. It consists of steamed rice to which ground peanut flour is added along with small amounts of smoked dried fish and vegetables. It is quite a dry dish, but very tasty.

It was time then to go to the airport to meet Tom, Isaac and Yun Shin from Christ’s Hospital School. We arrived a few minutes before the plane was due and soon discovered it was expected to be two hours late.😓 Normally we would have checked this at the hotel in the morning, but a lack of internet prevented us from doing that. We used the time to go to Yundum Barracks Schools (where Tom, Isaac and Yun Shin will be going tomorrow) to discuss our plans for providing them with some furniture for some of their lower basic classes. We left them with our ideas and returned to the airport to successfully pick them up.😃 Once again Thomas Cook had to divert to the Canaries to refuel

Back to the hotel. The boys were very hungry as they had not had a proper meal for many hours. An extended power cut at the hotel meant that we decided to walk into go to Luigi’s where the boys enjoyed a large pizza.

16 November 2017


Day 9: Mostly visiting schools

David and Carol were feeling a little delicate this morning after a disturbed night, and they decided to stay at the hotel, so Pippa Regina and I set off with Abdoulie, Wandifa and Yankuba.
Our first port of call was to see Buba, a taxi driver at a nearby hotel. The reports for all his children were outstanding. He explained that all of his children had now left school.

On then to Kotukala LBS and Nursery to see Ebrima Cham who is the school’s administrator. We have carried out projects there over the last year or two having been introduced to them by Gambian Education Trust (GET) a UK charity that worked closely with that school and closed down in 2015 leaving its surplus funds to Pageant. Just before leaving the UK, Pippa had received an email from Ebrima stating that some people at the schoolhad become ill and the school had been told that it was probably because the school’s toilets were too close to the well and waste from the toilets was contaminating the well’s water. The school is connected to mains water which is used for drinking, but that supply is currently erratic (possibly due to the frequent power cuts affecting the pumping station)

It has been recommended that the school sinks a new borehole and with the aid of a pump connected to mains electricity, water can go to the school’s large storage tank which currently stores the well’s water. This water would be used for all purposes other than drinking. Ebrima has already obtained a rough estimate of the cost and we asked him to supply us with a detailed one.

On then to Javouhey Nursery School which is on the site of St Therese’s LBS. We talked to the Principal there and gave a newly sponsored child her Pageant Welcome pencil case.
Nest door then to St Therese’s UBS to see two of our sponsored children. There are over 2,400 children at that school spread over grades 7, 8 and 9. Grade 9 and half of grade 8 attend in the morning and the other half of Grade 8 and Grade 7 attend in the afternoon. We talked for some time to the Principal who said that this school was one of the top three schools in The Gambia for results. Ancha (see yesterday’s blog), our prize winner and top-performing student in the Grade 9 exams had attended there until moving on this year to Nusrat SSS. We will return there later in our visit in the afternoon to see a student in Grade 7.

Next on the agenda was a bit of shopping. Pageant runs an ethical gifts programme and we had some money for this to spend on garden tools. Yankuba and Abdoulie went into the shop to negotiate and buy (they would get a better price) and returned with three spades and four cutlasses (we would probably call them machetes). They are fine sturdy tools which will be put to good use.

Our final call of the day was to a mission in Wallingara. We were trying to find a young man whom we had lost track of. The mission’s leader said that the young man had left school, packed up his belongings and left without a forwarding address. We don’t think there is much else we can do here.
Back to the hotel and tomorrow we will pay our second visit to Gambia College and take some microscopes for storage there. We will visit a few school and on the way back call in at the airport to collect the Christ’s Hospital students who will be arriving.


Day 8: Mo’s last day

As it was Mo’s last day we made separate morning and afternoon trips from the hotel.
In the morning we went to Nusrat SSS where we have a number of sponsored children. We spoke at some length with the principal who seems very able and has a very dry witty sense of humour. We met with all our students who were there that day, but we were especially pleased to meet Ancha who achieved the best possible results in her Grade 9 tests. An “Excellent” in all subjects and we have heard that she got the best results of anyone in The Gambia. Congratulations indeed to her and Pippa presented her with a prize in recognition of her success.

We also met with Muhammed who is an amputee. Muhammed is not a Pageant sponsored student; he is sponsored by another UK charity called Legs4Africa who are helping him with his education. They wanted to have details of the fees, if any and other costs as they have little experience of The Gambian education system. We were able to get the information they need from him and the principal.

We then returned to the hotel to say our farewells to Mo. She has been great over here and we will miss her. Pippa also took this opportunity to speak to Jerreh whom we will need as a second cab driver for a few days. When the students from Christ’s Hospital are over they will be doing different things from us and we are also planning to go upcountry to Misera BCS with them. We will leave them there overnight with Abdoulie and possible Yankuba so they can have two full days there. The rest of us will return on the same day with Jerreh.

Out again for the afternoon. We started at the Gambian Technical Training Institute (GTTI) to see Faks. Faks is a very able entrepreneur. As well as his daytime role as Head of Automotive Engineering at GTTI, he is also the proprietor of Humanity Nursery and has over 800 egg-laying hens. He is also raising some turkeys, presumably for Christmas. He ploughs the profits from the egg-laying back into the nursery school.

Faks and Pippa sorting out college fees

We were there for a couple of things. Pageant has a number of sponsored students at GTTI. There were some fees to sort out which we duly did. We have also agreed to fund a project at Humanity Nursery. Faks wants to build a multi-purpose hall there. As the name suggested it will be used for a variety of purposes, but principally Faks wants a secure area where the food for the children’s midday meal can be prepared and eaten.  We arranged with him to go and see him at the nursery next week when we can give him the first instalment of the money.

We finished our day at the SOS Lower Basic School which is situated in the Hermann Gmeiner children’s village, which is an Austrian charitable foundation with children’s villages worldwide. It used to run the schools there but has withdrawn from that aspect. We were there to see briefly Amie who is David and Regina’s sponsored child and some other Pageant sponsored children there.

Photos to follow


Day 7: The north bank

An early start had us in the van at 5.15 for our day on the north bank. The hotel had kindly provided us with a packed breakfast and we headed to Banjul Port. The north bank is very different from the south bank; it is much less developed and considerably poorer. The only practical way to get to the north bank is by ferry and in the past that has been slow, infrequent and unreliable. Things have changed for the better here, though. There is a brand new ferry that is considerably bigger, faster and quieter that the old ones.

We arrived in good time and were on the ferry just after 6.20. It was uncrowded and the sun had yet to rise. A sea mist hovered above the river. With barely an engine murmur the ferry departed and 25 minutes later was berthed at Barra, the north bank’s port. Our taxi for the day was waiting for us and again we had something of a surprise. It seemed to be a decent car. The ones we have had in recent visits have been old, noisy and somewhat unreliable. All six of us and the driver fitted quite snugly into the car and off we set.

Our first call was to be at Albreda LBS. To get there the car drove along tarmacked roads for about 5 miles, then turned right onto the North Bank Road which is made of ridged compacted sand in which there are countless potholes. The drive to Albreda takes about an hour on that road and we had a driver who went too fast for such a bumpy road. The sounds of parts of the underside of the car hitting the road surface were all too common for my liking.

Nevertheless we reached Albreda safely and met the Headteacher Fafa Jobe. We know Fafa well and have carried a number of successful projects there. He had some ideas for projects. The school has water, but it stops at a tap just inside the school gage. He would like to extend the water by running a pipe to the school kitchen which had been built a few years ago. This would involve running a pipe behind a classroom block, and entering the kitchen at the rear. He would also like a sink and some shelves/units adjacent to this. He would also like to do something with the old school kitchen which is now derelict and wants to convert this building into staff quarters for the female staff. Albreda is so remote that it is difficult to recruit staff who can live within reasonable travelling distance, so Pageant in the past has already paid for the conversion of one building into staff quarters

Fafa will provide us with estimates for the work he would like doing. He then told us he was retiring from the post of Headteacher on 31 December having reached the state retirement age. To ensure the smooth running of the work, the school’s long standing deputy head will manage the project. We have known him too for some time. He was one of the first students to go on one of Pageant’s microscopy workshops a number of years ago. We will miss Fafa.

After a short stop for refreshments we went to Baccary Saidykhan’s compound in Juffurah, a short drive from Albreda. Bakary is Wandifa’s eldest brother and we have visited there many times. His children have at some time all been Pageant sponsored students.

We then set of for the return drive to Barra, taking a diversion on route to go to Bakalarr. This involves a drive along an even bumpier sandy track with even more bumps and scrapes on the bottom of the car. Bakalarr School was the first school Pippa and Ian visited when they started coming to The Gambia. It was also the first school helped by Pageant all those years ago. The site now houses both a LBS and a UBS. The person who was head of the school at that time has moved on and we had hoped to meet the new principal, but unfortunately she was out of the school that day. Nevertheless we met the vice principal and some of the senior staff, one of whom had been there when Pageant first went there.

We then started our drive back to Barra. The consequences of all the bumps then materialised. The car’s engine overheated. We stopped at a village tap and the driver discovered the radiator had been damaged and was leaking. With the assistance of Yankuba, Abdoulie and Wandifa the engine was cooled by using copious amounts of water and refilling the radiator. This got us back to Barra which included a short diversion to the Amazing Grace Nursery school where we have a sponsored child. At Barra we were lucky and just managed to just catch a ferry back to Banjul. When we got there, unfortunately our car had a punctured tyre and there was a delay whilst the wheel was changed.

It was Mo’s last evening as she was returning to the UK the following day, so we all went to a local middle-eastern restaurant for an excellent Meze for dinner.

Photos to follow soon

13 November 2017


Blog update

I have now been able to add some photos for the the first few days. Watch this space for the blog of our trip to the north bank


12 November 2017


Days 5 and 6 - The first weekend

Days 5 and 6:    The first weekend

Most schools are closed at the weekend so we decided to spend our time visiting compounds and families and have a bit of rest and relaxation.

A late start after the exertions of Friday saw us heading to the Medical Research Council’s main site in The Gambia. The MRC is a UK agency that carries out and funds medical research. It has a unit in The Gambia.  That unit carries out research and also has a clinical unit where local people can come if unwell. We had brought over some items, mainly clothing for the baby unit in the unit’s hospital and we delivered those. We visited a couple of compounds to see sponsored students and visited The Gambia’s best bookshop to buy some school books that some students had requested. The bookshop is punningly named “Timbookto” and would put many a UK high street bookshop to shame. We had to make a lightning return to the MRC to pick up something left behind and then finished our day out at the Calypso Bar at Cape Point, where the Gambia river meets the Atlantic Ocean. The bar there overlooks a small lagoon. On the far bank of it a group of crocodiles live. Smart readers can tell me what the collective noun for crocodiles is! We all photographed the crocodiles lying on the bank and dipping in to cool down and feed.

In the evening Linda joined us and we went to a delightful sea-food restaurant a couple of miles away for our dinner.

On Sunday morning we started our day at Langtombong’s compound. He is one of Kathy’s and my sponsored students. After chatting with him and his family for a while we drove to Abdoulie’s compound.

Abdoulie and his wife Aminata have a new baby, Isatou, who is just two weeks old and absolutely delightful. Abdoulie’s other children soon arrived followed by an impressively large number of other children. We played maths games with some of them and Mo led a singsong with a group of the younger (and not so younger children). We had a delightful time and then moved on to Wandifa’s compound.

Welcome Isatou and congratulations to Aminata and Abdoulie

We were met by Wandifa’s charming wife, Mariama and his three children along with his extended family. Pippa met a local tradesman there to discuss having some furniture hand-made for Yundum barracks schools who are desperately short of furniture. We now have some idea of what he can make and how much it will cost. We will now have to discuss this with the schools to see of it meets their needs.

We all thoroughly enjoyed lunch which Mariama had cooked for us. It was chicken domoda which is chicken I a spicy pureed peanut sauce served with vegetables and rice.

Back to the hotel then. David and Regina had been out for the day with one of their sponsored children and her mother. They had all come back to the hotel for a swim and we were joined by Linda and her “family”.

Tomorrow we are going to the North Bank. This requires a 5.15 start to catch the first ferry

11 November 2017


Day 4 Container contents clears customs

The headline above is a very short description of a very full day.

We headed off to Banjul at a reasonable time not knowing at what time, if at all the container would get out of the port to go to St Augustine’s SSS to be unloaded. While we were waiting for news we went to Wesley LBS in Banjul. The Headteacher there was quite impressive The school was currently undertaking some renovation and restoration work on some classroom furniture involving repairing where possible and applying fresh varnish. We saw the possibility of a project there. The school would like some new hard-standing between two classroom blocks to provide a dining area. Metal-legged table would be embedded in the concrete. We would like to consider funding this and asked for a detailed estimate.

On then for a very brief visit to the delightful Unity Nursery School (see Unity Nursery page), where, as ever we were entertained by the children singing.

It was approaching noon, and we hoped the container was nearly ready to be dispatched. We went for refreshments at Timeless (formerly Billy’s), whilst Abdoulie and Yankuba went to the port to drop off Wandifa. After a while, Wandifa told us that the container was on a truck and second in the queue to be checked by customs after which it could go. We thought that would take about an hour so ordered lunch. Within 10 minutes of ordering we had a call to say it had cleared and was on its way. We quickly changed our order from eat-in to takeaway and went off to the school.

Unpacking had already started and everyone worked extremely hard. Yankuba especially worked his socks of working inside the container getting the equipment to the loading point where is was handed to others to sort. Every item was labelled with its destination and very soon a number of discrete piles of furniture and packages were formed – one for each school. The whole unloading operation took one and a half hours (compared with 3.5 hours to load it).

Whilst and after the unloading was taking place schools started to arrive with a variety of means of transport: trailer, truck, taxi and private car. In most cases these were crammed to the gills before leaving. Items for remote upcountry areas were being stored at the school and there was one school, which despite having been given plenty of notice had been unable to organise transport. We therefore had to reluctantly tell that school that we would have to give those items to another school. We telephoned the Yundum Barracks schools who were delighted to accept these and said they would immediately send an army truck.

We then loaded the Pageant van with items for distribution later and headed back to the hotel. Tired, but satisfied with a job well done.

Here are a few photos of the day. We will compile a fuller report with some more pictures when we get back to the UK.

Unloading the very heavy shelving frame from Leatherhead going to St Augustine's

Yankuba (in van) and Abdoulie unloading - almost there!

Trailer neatly packed for Humanity Nursery and other nearby schools

The Pageant van/minibus fully loaded. Abdoulie on top |of things (as ever!)


Day 3 - Schools and college

Carol had arrived from the UK late the night before and we were all pleased to see her.
Pippa, Carol, Mo, Regina and I along with Abdoulie Yankuba and Wandifa set off to Brikama today which is about 30 minutes drive away.

We stopped first at a compound to collect a missing report and pay some fees to a sponsored student. The report should have been delivered at the end of the summer term and we wanted to stress the importance of delivering the report on time so that Wandifa Abdoulie and Yankuba do not have to waste their valuable time chasing these up
On then to Gambia College to see Nakalang Ceesay who is head of science. In February 2018 we will be holding the usual workshops for trainee teachers and may also do other science subjects depending on who comes over. We were there to discuss the days for those workshops and also to discuss the catering arrangements with Madame Touray. At the workshops we give all those attending breakfast and a hot cooked lunch. We wanted to avoid the problems we had in February this year over the pricing. We had thought the price quoted was for the whole two days the workshops run, whereas in fact the price we had been quoted was per day.

We then went to Longman Memorial Methodist School to look for a particular student we thought was there (she was) and then on to Brikama Nema LBS and EDC school.
We had sponsored and paid for the provision of new toilets for the children there. We were disappointed that the work had not been completed as the boys’ toilets had not been tiled and some of the money we had paid for the provision of children’s toilets had been spent on providing new toilets and a shower for the staff. The school said that those had been in the estimate supplied to us but were unable to find the documentation then. We had not brought the paperwork over from the UK, so will need to resolve this when we get home. We had hoped to fund new projects at that school, but these will have to be reconsidered in light of this.

We then went on to Yundum army barracks which is near the airport. In the barracks there is a nursery school, a Lower Basic and an Upper Basic. Until last year we had not even known there was a school on that site. It caters for both children of army personnel and from the local community.

Our primary reason for going there was to see if they could accommodate the three students coming over from Christ’s Hospital School for a couple of days doing a variety of activities with the children. They will be delighted to do so. We were also treated to an extended tour of the school. From what we saw the school seems to have an excellent ethos and is getting very good results. The teachers are very inspiring and the children seem to learn well. However they are desperately short of equipment etc. and we have earmarked this school as one we may well wish to help in the future

Back then to the hotel. Here is a picture of Mo in playful mode, with Carol in the background.
Tomorrow we hope the container will get out of the port and that we will have the fun of unloading and distributing its contents.

Mo in playful mode. Carol i  the background

08 November 2017


Day 2 An admin day

We started the day by sorting through reports for the sponsored children, and identifying those for whom we had not yet received reports.
That took most of the morning. Pippa and I along with Yankuba, Wandifa and Abdoulie then went to Banjul. There were one or two bits and pieces with the paperwork necessary for customs clearance for the container that needed sorting out, and we decided that the speediest way of dealing with this would be to visit the Ministry of Education who are responsible for giving clearance from import duty for educational equipment. 

The bits and pieces were resolved speedily and we had the necessary signed and stamped paperwork, which we took to Banjul Port, gave it to the shipping agent and put in hand the arrangements needed to move the container to St Augustine’s Senior Secondary School, where on Friday, hopefully it will be unloaded ready for the schools who are receiving items from it to collect them.

Tomorrow we will be going to Brikama to visit some schools, some students and to Gambia College to start making arrangements for next February’s microscopy workshops.

I hope that I will be able to take some photos to post on this blog tomorrow!


Day 1 Travel to The Gambia

Pippa, Mo and I had an early start at Gatwick for our flight to Banjul. We were through security fairly quickly and met David and Regina for breakfast. The flight was about thirty minutes late leaving –something to do with the luggage being unbalanced. Anyway the flight was uneventful. Thankfully the flight wasn’t diverted to some exotic airport to refuel so arrived in Banjul more or less at our expected time.

We were met by Abdoulie and Yankuba with their huge smiles. Wandifa was not there. He was at Banjul port sorting out the paperwork for the container which we packed in September (it seems ages ago) but only arrived in Banjul on 4 November.

After a very good dinner at the hotel cooked by the new chef, Jacques, from Senegal we all retired early.

01 November 2017


November visit to The Gambia

It's that time of year again when the rainy season in The Gambia has ended and Thomas Cook start flying again. Pippa and I will be in The Gambia from 7th to 27th November. Initially we will be accompanied by David, Regina and Mo. We will also be joined by Carol, Ann and Brian, and three students from Christ's Hospital School.

We will be visiting schools, looking for new projects and checking up on existing projects together with visiting many children sponsored by Pageant members and lots of other things too!

We are looking forward to seeing Linda, Wandifa, Yankuba, Abdoulie and all our other Gambian friends.

I hope to blog on a daily basis, but as ever this will be subject to a decent internet connection, so look out for my first post in about a week's time.

Until then