Day 3

Samba picked me up and again it was a sweltering hot day. We went and changed some money as I’d received a quote from the headteacher for a swing, slide and some benches for the outside of the school, so the kids had somewhere to sit. We had to wait around for over an hour for the swing and slide to be finished. I wandered around the fire station while I waited, just like old times at home on my own fire station. Once they had been completed, we went to pick them up. The slides cost around £150, which is a reasonable price for the craftsmanship and materials they used.

The slides were assembled five minutes from the school in a little shop down a narrow alleyway. With the supplier being so close to the school it means that not only is a local tradesman benefitting, but he is not far away should any repairs be required. This is mutually beneficial for the nursery school & the tradesman. This could help to provide sustainability at work and education at the same time. We installed the slides in a temporary position, and the kids swarmed all over them, “this will bring them to school more often” said Abdul the headteacher. We waited for the carpenter to arrive to get a quote for ten long benches. These will be hand made by a local tradesman using local materials. The total cost for the benches, in sterling, is approx £90 and they will be finished by Thursday evening. I hope there is as much excitement about these as the playthings…but I doubt it!

Day 2

Samba’s driver picks me up from the hotel, it’s sweltering at 08:45 when we leave to meet him. Samba’s main job for the day was to conduct an inspection at an oil refinery in Mandinaring. The refinery is small and isn’t up to British standards. It was hard for me to refrain from comparing our standards to those in The Gambia. There are only extinguishers to protect the work that is going on. There are no fire-hydrants & no alarms, I could go on, but I’m not here for that and Samba is professional and knows what they need. Samba will write a report and insist on these things being put in place before they can fully operate. However, things happen slowly here, and money talks. We meet with Fatima, a self-employed consultant from America with African roots, we chat about many things en-route as it’s a 45-minute drive. She has given me her details so that I can tell her our story and our mission to help the school. She hopes to help using her contacts. Some people’s generosity is overwhelming at times.

We went to the JOFI school for advice about raising funds to help with our project in The Gambia. The JOFI school http://www.jofischoolgambia.com was started by Fiona and Josef in 2009 in a mud hut with nine students. Initially, legal issues drove them out; these were centred around the landlady and high rental fees. After a lot of hard work, they ended up with a school for 185 children. This school is a clean, professional and well looked after establishment for the children. Teachers live on the grounds and sometimes have had to work for nothing. They try to teach the kids correctly, not just the academic theory but play & discipline and this is something they transfer to the parents by fining them for late pickups. They advise me on the pitfalls and positives of trying to help in The Gambia and pass on more links to people who will be able to assist us in our quest. After a long, exciting and fruitful day it is now time for a beer!

Day 1

As professional as ever, Samba arrives to pick me up from the hotel on time. He takes me to the Serrekunda fire station to have his car washed and pick up his driver; he is an assistant chief now after all. We bump along the dusty back streets, after navigating the dangerous main roads. Driving along these streets shows both ends of the poverty spectrum; metal huts to concrete buildings. It’s just like any street in the world at this time; kids are going to school and adults on their way to work.

We arrive at the school to singing and laughing kids behind a well-secured set of gates. There’s nothing shy about the kids when I walk in; big smiles, waving and singing my name and it’s very humbling. The school has developed well, as they have also been getting help from another group of people. It makes me happy that other people share our mindset and are actively doing things to help. I speak to Abdul the headteacher, I ask what is urgently required, he is worried that landlord has only given them a 10-year lease and that they’ll be kicked off the land so that the landlord can use it. We discuss many options including finding a new site in ten years, buying this school & the land it is on and things the school needs now. This has given us another dilemma of what to do, I’ve contacted the other people who are helping, and we hope to arrive at a solution between us. Initially, I’ve asked Abdul to get some quotes for outside benches and to repair the swings, small things to make the kids happier.

We move on to Bakau fire station as the crews have a breathing apparatus training session and Samba is required to be there. On arrival, I see it’s a bigger deal than I thought, there are TV cameras, the chief fire officer and lots of other dignitaries present. The UK link to The Gambian fire service, GAFSIP: http://gafsip.org have brought the updated b.a sets and began training officers so they can cascade the training to their crews and this was pass-out day at the end of their course. There’s speeches, interviews, presentations of the new equipment and finally a training scenario. The event was filmed, and there it was apparent that this was an essential day due to the show of nerves amongst those involved. I spoke to the new chief, other high ranking officers, and the guys from GAFSIP who are doing a fantastic job. Without GAFSIP, there would be very little or no fire service in the country.

Preparations

Today, Paul is flying back to The Gambia; unfortunately, I have too much work in the UK to join him this time, but I will be holding the fort at DAEPAM HQ by updating the blog each evening on his behalf.

Paul has worked hard to raise money for our education project, and we have exceeded our original target. I have gained a place in the Prudential Ride London 100 bike event. A few ballot free places were allocated to Surrey Fire & Rescue Service on behalf of a popular colleague, Matt Sulivan, who sadly passed away last year. Matt was an operational fire commander and worked in emergency planning including a project for the 2012 London Olympics. In 2016 Matt graduated from Coventry University with an MSc Emergency Planning & Management. I hope to use my place to raise some money for our project, but this will depend on any other plans Matt’s family and other colleagues may have. Matt was passionate about emergency planning and education.

We will be increasing our target to make the school more sustainable. We are looking into ideas such as solar panels, these would not only provide electricity for the school but would also, partly, reduce the risk of fire. Fire and Flooding are the two main types of incidents that The Gambia suffer regularly.

Pauls visit is primarily to gather more data and to provide some of the items that they require for the school with some of the money that we have already raised. I am interested in finding out The Gambia’s drowning figures. I am currently working on a project with Surrey Fire & Rescue Service which is to form partnerships to support the UK Drowning Prevention Strategy 2016 – 2026. During my research for this project, I was astounded to learn that 372,000 people lose their lives in water every year worldwide. Paul & I are both very fond of The Gambia and its communities, we have made some good friends in the Fire Service & The National Disaster Management agency who work tirelessly to prevent disaster and support those involved in such events. To learn the data on The Gambia’s drowning statistics, if they are available, may support the requirement for water safety education.

Paul is flying out this morning, and I hope to receive some photo’s and his first journal entry this evening. I look forward to following his progress and am sad that I can’t be there to catch up with old friends and see the children we are trying to support. Below you can watch a video about our fundraising efforts. Paul has been working hard towards achieving and now exceeding our initial target. Good luck Paul!