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.