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 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.
Constructing a new toilet block
The soakaway for the nursery classes being dug
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.