This year we left London Gatwick with a very busy schedule planned, excited to meet our shipment that had arrived at the port in Banjul a few weeks previously.
Everything seemed to fall into place - all 15 of our cases and crates were waiting for us upon arrival and the sun was shining. The perfect start!
Our priority for this trip was to return to the village of Jabanjelly and offer much needed help to their medical facility, and we were touched to be met and warmly welcomed by the Village Development Committee and Head Nurse, Deinani. We explained that with kind support from our friends in UK we were there to work with them and help make improvements, asking them what they really needed to make a difference.
Their biggest concern was the lack of toilet facilities. There were three toilets in the main building which were totally unusable. The soak way around the back had collapsed and the toilets were blocked and dysfunctional. We met with the local builder and after negotiations, were able to provide funds for a total rebuild and re-plumb, and work commenced immediately; by the time we left that afternoon, the first delivery of sand had arrived.
Together with the staff and committee, over the next 10 days, we carried out a deep clean of the three medical blocks, whilst the ladies of the village cleared the vast outside grounds of rubbish and waste.
With raised funds from St Katharine's Primary School, we paid for a large, lockable metal storage cupboard to be made, in which the medicines/dressings and other medical resources we had taken, could be stored. A real highlight was arriving back there for the second visit and seeing a young boy, gently leading a donkey and cart into the grounds, carrying the enormous, shiny new metal cabinet made by the local welder.
We were then able to fund the repairs and restoration of the large hospital gates, replace the rotting wooden door to the immunisation building with a new metal one, and with a kind private donation, purchase a new fridge in which medicines could be safely stored. I cannot express just how touched we were by the attitude of the Jabanjelly community: they were so happy for our help and were inspired to work with us to improve their hospital. Finally, we were able to leave the Village Development Committee with a small amount of funds to ensure a cleaner could be paid over the next year, to keep the buildings clean. Our agreement is, if upon our return we find things have kept moving in the right direction, we will be happy to continue working there with them in the future. There is still much to be done.
Of course, Friendly Smiles like to share out what we have with as many people as possible, and in-between working in Jabanjelly, we visited: our friends at CoGS Nursery School in Jabang and funded their annual school trip; Lamin Toube Nursery School and donated resources, reading books and funds for their first ever school trip (they are very excited!); and also visited The Smiling Child of Gambia School, donating a quantity of paper and reading books. A visit was also made to the college campus in Brikama with headmaster Balanding Manka, to see how our four teachers from Lamin Toube Nursery School are progressing through their first year of training. It was humbling to see how much they are embracing their studies and also touching to see the gratitude they have for their kind sponsors who are funding their studies. It costs just £100 per year to train and their courses are three years. If anyone would like to help sponsor a teacher, please let me know.
We also called-in to see our dear friends at Hart House School in Sinchu (for children with learning difficulties) and donated a sack of rice for their feeding programme. Also we managed a trip to visit the 'Sisters of Mercy' convent where we donated a sack of rice and a large quantity of clothes, shoes, spectacles, knitted blankets, medicines and soap.
Sukuta medical centre is always on our list and we were able to donate a quantity of dressings, medicines, knitted blankets and lots of crutches and walking sticks with which they were thrilled.
The sewing machines kindly donated were distributed to people in Jabang, Lamin Touba and Daislamin - these will make such a difference to the communities - thank you.
Finally, Friendly Smiles always like a party! Every year we find a way to celebrate with our Gambian friends and chip-in to fund some food and drink. This year, Headmaster Balanding and his wife Binta hosted the most wonderful party in their compound. Thank you so much to Anna Porter for packs of balloons and money for bottles of pop. We invited the staff from our sponsor schools and danced and sang until the early hours; there really is no party quite like a Gambian party - with everyone singing, dancing, smiling and laughing together: one big family.
On behalf of Friendly Smiles and all our many, many friends in The Gambia, thank you to every single person who has donated/knitted/supported in some way. Without you, none of this would be possible.
Now time to start planning for our trip next year...