Just a quick update following our trip in March to The Gambia. Anne and I went initially for 14 days. We were accompanied for the first 7 days by Julie and John Steventon and for the second 7 days by John Dixon, David and Martin Tristram and Philip White.We are sure you all know that our trip was shortened to 10 days by our repatriation to the UK as a result of the Coronavirus. This was very unfortunate particularly for the second group as they really had only 2 full days in The Gambia. However, we managed to cover most of our business targets, so all was not lost.
Important Coronavirus Update:
During our time in The Gambia there was only one reported case of Covid-19. However, the schools were closed immediately. This was during our second week. We have thought long and hard about the current situation, and, as we know here the situation is changing daily. However, NTF has decided not to ask current child sponsors to renew their sponsorship for the time being. Normally we would be asking you to do this now. It is fortunate that we have time to see how things progress both here and in The Gambia. We would not like to put our sponsors in a difficult position as many will be compromised with financial issues due to lack of employment etc. When things improve, we will contact the sponsors. Currently the situation with the children and students attending school and Further Education Institutions in the Gambia remains unclear. NTF is in a reasonably strong financial position to be able to cover costs such as salaries and essential services in the School and Health Centre for the immediate future. We will update sponsors just as soon as we know more. If possible, we would ask all sponsors who pay by monthly direct debit to continue to do so.
We have had a difficult time with the NTF ambulance. It has been a constant drain on our finances. It is an older vehicle, but it is locally admired as being a ‘strong car’! A replacement engine was fitted about 3 years ago, but in the last 6 months is has regularly broken down. So, with the fantastic support and dedication of Dam Ahmadu Nyang our volunteer General Administrator, we have given it another go! Dam found what appears to be a very sound second- hand engine. Not an easy task in the Gambia. This has been fitted. The bodywork received some attention, and new signage was painted onto the car by the Penyem local artist. We have put into place a procedure for cross checking the maintenance and regular checks on the ambulance. Of course, this was expensive. We are very grateful to everyone as your contributions in all areas has left us a little in the ‘kitty’ to do this work. However, this alone would not have covered the costs and we are so grateful for the donations made by The Guilsborough School and Tricia Crighton.
The Geoff Herrington Foundation (GHF).
In January we were contacted by a member of GHF who invited us to apply for a grant. This all started after a casual conversation between this person and a student who visited the Gambia as a 6th form student at The Kingswood School in 2010 (she is now married with 3 children of her own)! The GHF foundation went to great lengths to support our application, ensuring that we had the best chance possible. This involved many conversations and submitting and resubmitting draft copies of the application. During our first few days in The Gambia in March, we received an email from GHF to confirm that the application had been successful! A few days later we received a donation of £4000. This is a huge lift to us in these difficult times. The grant must be used to support the education of the younger children of Penyem.
Malang Marena. We would like to commend our newest recruited volunteer, Malang Marena. We met Malang for the first time in April 2019. He is the older brother of one of our sponsored students Musa Marena. Malang was given the duties of Sponsorship Co-Ordinator. Over the last year he has done a brilliant job. He has kept track of things like thank you letters and reports from sponsored children, provided updated child information and photos when asked (usually within 24 hours – thanks to his NTF mobile phone)! In September 2019, he was given the opportunity to train as a teacher and now receives a modest monthly salary from NTF.
Sad news. During the past 12 months five of our child sponsors. Olive Robinson, Peter Butler, Milton Pratt, Joe Pyke and Peter Evans have all passed away. All of them have left family and friends with the comfort in knowing that a child in Penyem is getting the chance to a better life due to their support and kindness. We thank their families for continuing to support their child after their passing.
Rice delivery. We again were overwhelmed with the generosity of our sponsors in the provision of rice for their sponsored families and for poorer families, who are in particular need. We delivered 80 sacks of rice totalling 4 tonnes! One lasting memory was delivering a sack to a family group who had recently lost their father from diabetes. We have many letters of appreciation from villagers for their rice and correspondence for their sponsors. They are truly grateful for the kindness you have shown to them. We will send them out to you later in the year when hopefully things are more ‘normal’.
And finally! We are often asked the question about sustainability of what we do in Penyem. Interestingly, without any prompting, our co-workers there are also asking the same question. It might be because they see us finding it increasingly difficult getting on an off the Land Rover we use when we visit!! Seriously, it is at the forefront of our planning. If NTF left Penyem, of course they would struggle to sustain what we do now, but they do have strategies to maintain momentum. A good example of this is that the village was able to contribute 40% towards the repairs to the ambulance. They would have been unable to do this five years ago. So, although it is always ‘work in progress’ we are encouraged by their planning and forward thinking.
In relation to the increasing difficulty in our agility with the Land Rover and the effort to make our last 15 years of work sustainable we are seriously considering our future and the future of the Charity. We are actively seeking members and supporters to work with us more closely with the view of eventually taking over NTF. We would welcome anyone who is interested in this to get in touch so that we can discuss the way forward.