Penyem Food Aid Programme – Coronavirus Update

As the situation with Coronavirus has progressed the Penyem villagers have been trying to observe the terms of lockdown. These are very similar to those in UK and other parts of the world. The schools are closed, as are the Mosques. People are asked to remain in their own compounds. Most difficult is no hand shaking!

The Gambian economy is very fragile. People are lucky to have a job. Many of the jobs revolve around the tourist industry – and of course there are no tourists. The majority of the Penyem villagers are farmers. There crops are varied but ground nuts, peanuts, and mango are widely grown. Any surplus produce is then taken to market, usually in Brikama and sold. The income from the sales allows the people to buy food that they cannot grow in large enough quantities. The main item they have to buy is rice. This is expensive with a 50KG sack costing 1250 GMD – about £25. A sack will feed an average family for 4-6 weeks.

It has soon become apparent that they needed urgent assistance with purchasing rice. NTF has stepped in to help. We were spurred on by Hilda! She is the 95 year old mother of our long time sponsors Jill and Bryan Allbut. Hilda took on a sponsored walk project and the proceeds were shared between her local church and NTF. We have received a magnificent donation of £650 from Hilda.

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This has been put together with other donations from our every loyal supporters to create a £1500 Penyem Food Aid Programme. This went hand in hand with another project fronted by the village Red Cross Volunteer Group. They have been working on a whole village sanitization programme, educating the villagers in Covid 19 prevention, including washing buckets, disinfectant and soap at the entrance of every compound.

During the weekend of 9 May our team of co-workers and volunteers mobilised into a structured and co-ordinated operation of rice distribution in Penyem. Rice was allocated according to numbers in each compound, need and so on. At the same time more work was done to increase the basic hygiene around the compounds with the Red Cross Group.

On Thursday 14 May, Alkolo Kalilu Kolley sent this message:

I am thànking NTF for providing funds to buy rice for the people of Penyem village. Special thanks to Malang Marena and Jerreh Kolley for going round the village to count the number of peopĺe in each compound. This was the information we use to distribute the rice fairly I thank you very much for the great work the made the distribution very easy for us I also have to thank the Village Red Cross society the for actively participating in the sensitization and distributions exercise. Thanks to the VDC for the participation in strategic planning and distribution. Thanks the point News paper and Radio Gambia for reporting the occasion. Last but not the least I thank all the volunteers for participating fully in the exercise. I thank Ten very much despite his poor health condition he was there to advice and monitor the exercise. I thank you all.

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March 2020 Update.

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.

NTF Ambulance.

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.

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2020-21 Classroom Sponsorship

We are delighted to announce that sponsorship of the classrooms at Penyem Day Care and Nursery School has been completed. Briefly we asked for sponsors in 2017 for the school. A number of sponsors came forward, which basically meant the school could remain open. The sponsors were asked to commit to 3 years sponsorship. This commitment terminated in March 2020. However, the sponsors have made a further commitment for initially another year until March 2021. We are so grateful to the sponsors. They will contribute over 60% of the running costs of the school.

Unfortunately, we have lost 2 sponsors. This opens up the opportunity for new sponsors to get involved. The ‘cost’ of a classroom is £500 per year. This can be done as a whole or shared between a syndicate of sponsors. Please get in touch if you can help! The sponsored classrooms are:

The Georgie Clarke Classroom (Jill and Bryan Allbut)

The Macfarlane Family Classroom

The Tricia Crighton Classroom

The Pyke Family Classroom

The Law Family Classroom

The Holt/Clasby/Swift Classroom

The Moulton Primary School Classroom

The Corby Phoenix Rotary Club Classroom

The Millway Primary School Classroom (from October 2020)

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Health Centre News.

Over the years NTF has gradually improved the village Health Centre. This has included tiling the floor, a new roof etc. However, it was never a dedicated building to be used for medical purposes as it was essentially part of the Nursery School complex. This is not ideal – if a recovering patient has to put up with 200 screaming children at playtime on the other side of the wall! So during 2019, an unused building nearby was renovated and has since been opened as the new Penyem Health Centre. It is a fantastic facility. This has demonstrated that for a few hundred pounds of donated money by our supporters can make such a difference and why, all donations, large and small, are so important! Have a look at these photos! WOW!

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Malang Marena.

NTF welcomes a new volunteer to our team in Penyem, The Gambia. We have appointed Malang Marena as Sponsor Relations Officer (SRO). This is a very important appointment. With our ever growing number of projects and commitments we have asked Malang to oversee our Child Sponsorship programme.

His main task is to keep us updated on the progress of sponsored students, particularly regarding their education. He will regularly provide us with photos, letter and school reports for us to pass onto our group of sponsors. Malang has been provided with a mobile phone and ‘Company Bicycle’!

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Guilsborough School

Students and staff from Guilsborough School in Northamptonshire were due to visit Penyem in February 2020. However, there plans were affected by the problems with Thomas Cook Travel. Unfortunately, they had to cancel. They still managed to make a fantastic fundraising donation of £1106.52. Thank you!

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Woodland View Primary School – Penyem Day.

Carrying pretend water!

Andy and Anne visited Woodland View Primary School in late October to work with Year 5 and Year 1 classes. It was a brilliant day! The children took part in workshops with drumming and dancing as well as learning about life in Penyem. They also raised a fantastic £373.30 for the charity!

Year 5 Gambia work.
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Classroom sponsorship.

We owe a huge debt to our classroom sponsors. Without their support the Penyem Daycare and Nursery School would now be closed. Furthermore, the extra things like the wall art – so important for the children’s learning could not be possible.

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Penyem Upper Basic School Home Economics Room opens!

In December 2018 Corby Phoenix Rotarians David Tristram and John Dixon visited Penyem to discuss a long standing project at Penyem Upper Basic School.

For 2 years we had been discussing with Mr Gibba Bah the refurbishment and equipping of the Home Economics room in the school.

A few years previously Corby Phoenix had funded the reroofing of the building that house the HE room. So in December 2018, a deal was struck between the school and Phoenix to complete the room. Half of the £5000 funding would come from the local Corby Rotary Chub. This was matched by the International Rotary Organisation.

The room needed sewing machines, cookers, gas bottles, pots and pans and 100 tables to allow for examinations… fact…..everything! In April 2019, NTF was present at the official opening of the room. This is a fantastic facility…..which has received the highest commendation from the Gambia Government Education Office.

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The new Bantabar

NTF are delighted to announce the completion of a structure in the Nursery School yard locally known as a Bantaba. In January 2018 old friends, Tracey and Harvey visited Penyem.

They were over whelmed by the success of our work in the village. Tracey and Harvey run Northamptonshire Trampoline and Gymnastics Academy (NTGA) in Northampton. They asked if their organisation could help with a project.

In  a previous item on this website you will have read about ‘The Greatest Show’. This was the fundraiser that their team organised to raise funds. In December 2018, the Bantaba construction project was confirmed. Work started in January 2019. In April 2019, Andy and Anne were able to visit the village to officially open the building.

Below is a letter received from Dawda Bojang. The letter explains it all!……

Dear NTGA,
On behalf of the above caption subject , the children , staff , parent management committee, and on my own behalf , I write this thank you letter , to thank the Butler Family, NTGA being the mother agency and sponsoring the BANTABA project in Penyem community Nursery / Day care center . This project was initiated as far back some six years ago by the staff in consultations with the school parent management committee. The project could not be accomplish, due to financial constraints beyon the limit . We venture into a fund raising aim at using the proceeds to complete works at the BANTABA , this could not be attained .The NTGA sponsorship to complete the BANTABA project was indeed well appreciated and cherished .This good will humanitarian gesture shall remain to linger in our hearts for an indefinite long period .The NTGA agency / donor is transforming the life of vulnerable and poor needy families in Penyem village . Changing childhood and livelihood of the people , means Changing the entire world .

WHAT IS BANTABA = Bantaba is a place were people gather to discuss issues .

– The Bantaba project will be use as a staff meeting cent re

– The Bantaba will be used to enhance Child stimulation

– The Bantaba will be used for relaxation , study and research Center .

– The Bantaba will be used for Sponsored students letter writing Center .

– The Bantaba will be useful to hold staff and sports committee meeting ground .

Once again i thank the NTGA for sponsoring the BANTABA project , long live NTGA , long live NTF , and long live Butler family.

Yours Sincerely,

Dawda Bojang

Community Development Practitioner

Social Worker , Foot Ball Referee

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