Looking back over our two visits to the Gambia in 2013 - ten days in May and three weeks in November and December - the year was a mixture of satisfaction and disappointment. (AboveL Lamin Saidy (left), with his son Modou, and Phil and Joan Feller. For an update about Modou see end of this report.)
There was satisfaction because the school was still progressing with the numbers of pupils and trainee teachers increasing, but unfortunately the focus of the school was drifting. Ali Sallah, the head teacher, was often away ill and the many tests to try and find the cause had been inconclusive. I can only wish that he soon recovers from whatever ails him.
The school garden from 2012 to 2013 had been a great success providing a large variety of crops. These augmented the children’s meals as well as some being sold for cash. The money for the seeds was provided by Seeds for Africa.
News from the only school for blind and visually impaired children in the Gambia:
At long last the children at the school have somewhere to eat their food other than in the classrooms or squatting on the floor of the verandah. This charity has paid for a Bantaba to be built beside the school with tiled surfaces which are easy to clean. The children are already using it although it will not be opened officially until Phil and Joan Feller visit in November. The charity has also paid for the repainting of the kitchen, the toilets and the front of the school. Phil commented: “Once again Lamin Saidy has come up trumps and worked very hard.”
Lamin Saidy reported that his son Modou is doing well after his heart surgery and can attend school again.
Ernie Fitt was one of those who supported the Friends virtually from the beginning of the setting up of this Charity.
Ernie was a man of modest means but a heart of gold who contacted me after a hearing me chat on Radio Norfolk about the Gambia and its only school for the blind and visually impaired. He had a fantastic recollection of people and remembered me from 20 years before when we first met. I unfortunately did not remember him.
He wished to make a small donation which he did again and again whenever he had a little to spare or a small win on this and that. Joan and I visited him when we could at his home in Yaxham, Nofolk and chatted to him many times on the telephone. As he did not have a computer he relied on the Eastern Daily press for news about the school - and then he required a full update. For the last few years he suffered from ill health and with his usual wry sense of humour informed me that he was now getting a disability pension. “A bit daft giving me more money when I can’t get out to spend it,” he commented.
Just recently Ernie’s nephew informed me that he had passed away, aged 86, and that I was to say a few words at his funeral. Ernie did not forget those school children in the Gambia for he has asked that the collection as his funeral should be shared between two charities - one of which being The Friends of Visually Impaired Children in The Gambia.
Goodbye Ernie and thank you to a good friend of the Visually Impaired Children in The Gambia.
Ps - Do remember that if you book your holiday in the Gambia by clicking on The Gambia Experience at the bottom of this page five per cent of the total price you pay will be donated by that company to this charity.
Phil and Joan Feller visited the school at the end of April and were pleased to see how good the students looked in their new uniforms. These are paid for by this charity.
They found that the World Food Programme was now providing porridge for the children's breakfast. So this charity doesn't need to support that part of the feeding programme at this time. It is continuing to support the lunch time meals to make sure they are nutritious and sufficient. The Fellers also used charity funds for the firewood that the cook uses for all the school meals, and for the sugar to sweeten the porridge. The garden project is going well and there was a good crop of onions recently.
For Phil the highlight of the visit was taking Modou and his father, Lamin Saidy, on a fishing trip. Modou was very active and healthy after recuperating from his operation - and was delighted to catch a nice Ladyfish which he cooked himself for the family's meal that evening. Below: Phil and Modou with the Ladyfish.
A big thankyou to the congregation of Christ Church at Hackenthorpe, Sheffield, which raised £137.56 at its Lent collection. This will help support the feeding programme at the school for the blind and visually impaired in the Gambia.
Lamin Saidy’s son, Modou, travelled to Aswan in Egypt with his mother on Tuesday, March 26, for his heart operation which will be carried out by Prof Magdi Yacoub at the Aswan Heart Centre in Upper Egypt.
The Chain of Hope charity is sponsoring all the medical and living costs. Modou and his mother, Mariama Sowe Saidy, will stay in accommodation at the hospital.
Phil and Joan Feller have worked hard to bring this about and have raised additional funds to help the family in its preparations for Modou’s operation. These funds have covered the cost of attending clinics and the medicines required to help Modou be as fit as possible for the operation, as well as paying for the return air fares to Aswan.
The Fellers are now raising funds to help towards the cost of the after-care that Modou will need when he and his mother return to the Gambia in about a month’s time. Phil and Joan plan to visit the Gambia after they have returned.
Lamin Saidy is the Friend's representative in the Gambia.
UPDATE 2/4/2013: We have been informed that Modou's operation has gone well today. He and his mother are receiving a lot of support from Lisa Yacoub, UK Programme Director of Chain of Hope.
UPDATE 8/4/2013 : Phil reported, after a telephone conversation with Modou, the latter is cheerful and recovering well.
UPDATE 15/4/2013: Modou is back home in the Gambia after a long journey on Saturday. His brothers and sisters were delighted to see him!
Below: Modou with Lisa Yacoub before the operation.
Before they left the Gambia after their latest visit Phil and Joan Feller not only took the opportunity to thank all the staff, including the trainee teachers, for their efforts at the school, but also left £100 for a Christmas party. This was because there had been none of the usual celebrations on Disability Day this year in the Gambia.
The head teacher, Ali Sallah, sent these photos of the children during that party. Above: The children receiving their goody bags. And below - not giving into temptation and opening those bags before the photos were taken!
Phil and Joan Feller found there was plenty to do when they visited the school in November. When they arrived the weather was hotter than usual but there was a lengthy shopping list from the school and its garden. These were provided by the head teacher, Ali Sallah.
Left: Students at the school learning to plant out seedlings.
The garden had benefitted greatly from the donation from Seeds for Africa and a large selection had already been purchased in the UK.
It was already looking very productive with peppers, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, lettuce and cassava.
The banana plantation had benefitted from the wetter than usual summer and there was an abundance of fruit. The surplus of fruit and vegetables is providing much needed cash for the school.
We are very grateful to Christ Church, Hackenthorpe, Sheffield for a gift of £250 towards the feeding programme at the school. This was the proceeds of the church’s harvest supper and free will donations from church members.
This has come at a time when the World Food Aid assistance to the school has been stopped as that funding has been diverted to assist those affected by the severe floods in Eastern Gambia. Crops have been damaged and some people have been killed, mainly around Bassa we understand.
It is also expected that food prices will rise by a further 15 per cent next year - so donations to the feeding programme at the school are essential if we are going to ensure that the children receive a nutritious breakfast and lunch each day.
We have received a grant of £200 from Seeds of Africa for the school’s garden.
Lamin Saidy has been informed that his son, Modou, has been put on the operation list at Aswan, Egypt, for March next year - but the date and location of that could still be changed.
Report from Phil Feller:
Modou Lamin Saidy: The Chain of Hope committee has now met and after studying all the medical reports agreed to accept Modou and placed him third on their list of children requiring surgery. This should mean that the operation will take place at the beginning of 2013. As he is so young it was decided it would be wiser to repair the heart valve rather than replace it. The professor who the committee believes is one of the most experienced in this field is currently working at the Aswan Heart Centre, Egypt, which was opened in 2009. This will double the cost of air fares but thanks to the generosity of Eastern Daily Press readers and other donors this has already been covered. There will be post operative costs to be funded but this bridge will be crossed when I have more details.
Mohamed Kora: Our condolences to GOVI on the loss of their chairperson, Mohamed Kora, who worked tirelessly for so many years on behalf of the blind and visually impaired in the Gambia.
Lamin Saidy’s son, Modou has now returned from Dakar in Senegal where he had a full medical and new scans to show the function of his heart. These were sent to the charity, Chain of Hope, which requested them. The charity is pleased with them but because of the Olympics its committee did not have a meeting in July. We are very hopeful that when it does meet this month Modou will be selected to come to England for surgery. Phillip and Joan Feller are raising funds to cover the cost of airfares etc and have created a separate FGVI account for that. That fund will be used to cover the cost of Modou having an operation in Dakar if he is not accepted by Chain of Hope.
Donations can be made via Charity Giving by going to the How You can Help page and clicking on the revolving card. Do then inform Phillip Feller whether that donation is to help Modou or is towards the support we give to the school for the blind in the Gambia. (See link on Contact page)
Pauline Zarzoso, Akele of the 1st Caister-on-Sea Cubs (our local village) decided to support The Friends of Visually Impaired Children in the Gambia. And so, whilst at the annual county cub camp at the Norfolk Showground on May 6, they had the idea of a sponsored mini marathon. Instead of running 26 miles, nine of them ran together with their leaders for 26 minutes. I attended their weekly meeting recently at the Scout Hall at St George’s Playing Field in Caister-on-Sea where I was presented by the Akele with the grand sum of £120. Our many thanks to the cubs for helping the blind children at the school in the Gambia in this way.
We have had to change the banking arrangements for The Friends as the Halifax bank has closed all its treasurers accounts which were used by charities and clubs. We have opened a new account with the HSBC Bank plc at 21 Hall Quay, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, NR30 1HH. We apologise for the inconvenience this will cause but we would be grateful if those of you who have any standing orders to make payments to The Friends could change the details as follows: bank – HSBC; sort code – 40-22-22; and account number – 61598678.
I would like to thank you all for being members and sponsors over the years. Without your kind donations the GOVI Resource School for Visually Impaired Children would not have been built and maintained, nor the children fed or been provided with uniforms, shoes, sportswear and other items. I hope you will be willing to continue your support to us during the times of global hardship. I thank you again for all that has been achieved over the years – do remember to keep looking at the web site for updated news.
We are still trying to find grants to enable Lamin Saidy’s son, Modou, to have the operation he requires to repair or replace a faulty heart valve.
Phil Feller, Chairman
April 2012 - Report by Phil Feller, chairman of the Friends, following his visit, with his wife and fellow trustee, to the school for the blind at the GOVI ( Gambian Organisation of the Visually Impaired) compound near Banjul, in the Gambia. As the local partner of Children in Crossfire the GOVI Board is now based in the new national resource centre beside the school.
When Joan and I visited the school in April we were sad to find that not only was the cupboard bare but there was no electricity. There was just a small bag of beans in the food store because the rice and other items promised by World Food Aid had not yet arrived. Thankfully those were delivered before we returned home.
We have left sufficient funds with Ali Sallah, the head teacher, to continue the now expensive but vital breakfast programme, as well as money for fish as that is not included in the World Food Aid lunch items. He used the funds we left late last year to replace the TV which the partially sighted children need for Opti Mouse.
The trustees of the Friends were so saddened to hear that the eldest son of Lamin Saidy, the charity's representative in the Gambia, passed away on Tuesday, February 21. Ebrima, who was 18-years-old, had been ill for some time and Lamin was about to take him to a hospital in Dakar, Senegal, for treatment. The funeral was at 11am on Wednesday, February 22. The trustees stated: "We offer our sincerest and heartfelt condolences to Lamin, his wife Haddy, and their five other children. We will be thinking and praying for them during this time of such great loss." Their 11-year-old son Modo has been at the hospital in Dakar with his aunt due to a heart problem.
When we arrived in The Gambia on November 18 we were so looking forward at last to viewing the completed goalball court. It was virtually two years to the day that we had received an invitation from Tony Wright, then the MP for Great Yarmouth, to attend a reception hosted by the UK Parliamentary Football Club at Portcullis House in London. At that reception we received on behalf of what was then the Friends of GOVI (now the Friends of Visually Impaired Children in the Gambia) a cheque to help develop sports facilities for disabled children in Africa.
April found Phil and Joan back in The Gambia, the main reason being to see the progress of the construction of the goalball court. But they also saw how the pupils were learning to care for the new vegetable garden at the school. Phil reported:
The goalball court was originally entirely funded by the UK Parliamentary Football Team but unfortunately two years passed before the GOVI Board agreed to its construction and where it would be sited. In that time the cost has rocketed and it will require additional funds from the Friends. Lamin Saidy has worked very hard in arranging and organising its construction. (Left: Phil and Lamin checking on the progress of the goal ball court.)
When we inspected the site with him we found that an impressive area had been cleared and the foundations had been completed ready for the installation of reinforced steel and the final covering of concrete. The interior netting and exterior fencing will then be erected. It looked as if the court will be built to Para-Olympics standards.
Another year gone and the work has continued. I must say thank you to several people: Lamin Saidy who, as ever, has given his time and effort unstintingly and unselfishly to keep the Gambian side operating smoothly and monitoring our interests extremely well; Phil and Joan Feller for their tireless efforts in all the charity’s activities; Frank Whitfield for keeping our bank balance healthy and sorting out the money; Carol Haynes for providing us with and maintaining our superb website; and last but not least Pip Land for her help and support.
All those involved with the charity make it effective in fulfilling our aims and objectives which are primarily supporting the blind children and young people in the Gambia. So on their behalf I add my thanks to you all.