Reporting back from a recent visit

I have just returned from a month in the Gambia (Sandra stayed at home with our new puppy)and can report on very considerable progress at both schools, which I will post details of over coming months.

 The headlines are:
  • After concerns about the political stability and personal safety in The Gambia following the disputed presidential election results of last December, all is calm in the country, as it looks forward to a new era;
Anti - Jammeh graffiti, widespread
 in The Gambia - making local feelings
 clear about the former president and tyrant
  • As promised in our newsletter of last October, we were able to officially open the new "Simon Danczuk Toilet Block", which gained press coverage in the UK. We will deal, in detail with this in our next newsletter;
  • Last year we funded the complete reconstruction of the Lower Basic school's First Aid room.  It now looks spectacular!  We will be posting details of this, and exciting forward plans for it, in a forthcoming newsletter;
Tee-shirt democracy - much in evidence
  • It is a similar good news story with the library that we were able to fund the restoration of in the Lower Basic school, again with exciting forward plans. We'll have photos and news of this in a future newsletter;
  • Our funded "Additional Classes" scheme in the senior school had a slightly disrupted start, because of the change of head at the school and the political instability in the country from November - February (see below). Those problems now seem to be ironed out and the scheme is back and successfully running on a firmer footing;
  • Our funding of equipment in specific curriculum areas in the senior school continues this year.  The school had a couple of spectacular successes over the last year, resulting from our previous equipment interventions - again, we'll provide fuller details in a forthcoming newsletter;
Local feelings made clear
  • We are continuing to sponsor a number of students in the village's senior school; some with excellent future prospects.  We are not, however, extending the scheme, as education is now free for all school students in the country.  We will be devoting our activities to whole school subject sponsorship initiatives in future - additional classes in the senior school and a trial homework club in the Lower Basic school. Once more - full details will be given in a later post;
  • For the future, we will be looking to restore the boys', girls' and staff toilets in the Lower Basic school.  We will provide details of the need and progress in addressing it, later in the year;
  • As a result of our ICT interventions in both schools, and because of better telecoms in the country, we will be sponsoring the installation of Wi-Fi hubs in both schools - so there will be good internet access for the first time. Again, we hope to report on progress, later in the year.
The medium is the message - Gambia style

Political climate and background

So much for the headlines. The more detailed aspect of this newsletter concerns the political climate in the country. Although this is, of course, completely outside of the control of this charity, it impacts directly on all those we hope to assist.

The Gambia is tiny (less than 2 million people) and is rarely news in the rest of West Africa, never mind in the West. What is reported in the UK is often garbled and incomplete, so we will attempt a brief, but fuller picture here.

The President of the Gambia for the last 22 years has been a corrupt, civil rights-abusing, brutal dictator, Yahya Jammeh. He lost the presidential election to an almost (even in The Gambia) unknown, Adama Barrow, in December last year.

Preparing for Barrow's inauguration,
which co-incided with Independence Day
Jammeh refused to accept the result. The surrounding West African states (known as Ecowas) played a key role in "persuading" him to go - including by amassing an armed force to ensure the election result was adhered to.

There was almost 3 months of instability (December - February), during which time Jammeh plundered the state's coffers and negotiated himself an exit (to Equatorial Guinea). He eventually left on 22 February, without a shot being fired in anger.

Hash tags abound - showing
 importance of social media in
 in the new Gambia
Adama Barrow was inaugurated as the new president on 18 March, amid much jubilation. Barrow is best, if at all, known in the UK as having worked as a security guard for Argos in Islington. Correct - but he was doing so when a student in the UK, as a means of paying his way through college.

He heads a coalition administration, with a very difficult job. The state coffers have been depleted and there are few people in positions of power in civic society, or the military who are not in some way tainted by their association with his predecessor.

Half the country have known nothing
 but Jammeh misrule - and
 are keen for change
So, the task ahead is a difficult one and it is far too early to indicate whether the new regime will be up for it.  But, the early signs are good.
  • The Gambian people are delighted with the change, as a few of these randomly photographed revellers indicate;
  • The Ecowas states are providing material assistance in helping the country's reconstruction;
  • The Gambia will be rejoining the Commonwealth, three years after Jammeh stormed out - and Boris Johnson flew to the country to discuss the process (see photo of him, at a beach bar we like to frequent);
Boris Johnson with Gambians at
the Calypso Bar, Cape Point, the day
 before the presidential inauguration
  • The country will be rejoining the International Criminal Court, after Jammeh flounced out, following criticism of his regime;
  • There is a fund of international goodwill for the new Gambia; and the EU has offered to restore Grant Aid to the country, for very specific and agreed projects, two years after having stopped aiding the country because of Jammeh's behaviour;
  • Barrow has said that he wants The Gambia to become a beacon of human rights in Africa, after the oppression of Jammeh.  Easy words, perhaps, but the gay-friendly article in the newspaper clipping below is a very bold step in that direction in a region of the world usually hostile to gay rights.
Western educated Barrow showing
 liberal attitude to gay rights -
uncommon in the region

As we say, these are early days, but we hope they will provide a peaceful and more prosperous political background for the people of the country, and in particular for those in the village of Sohm and their students.

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