Please note that all of the trips that are made to the schools in the Gambia are paid for by the individuals. This includes flights/accommodation/carhire/food/insurance. Under no circumstances are the charity funds used to pay for the trips.

March 2016 Review Trip

Our Trustee, Alan Seager went to the school on Friday 18 March just before the children broke up for Easter. The teachers and children alike all seemed in very high spirits and were pleased to see Alan.

Alan carried out a thorough inspection of the school both inside and out which was in very good condition. The recent redecorations had been completed to a very good standard. The garden has come along well with planting that had taken place after the rainy season. In evidence were fully grown, lettuce, radish and sweetcorn. The banana plant was also flourishing.

Alan attended a meeting with Mrs Jallow to dicuss news from the school.

Marie Sambou was absent as she was at college for her Easter session of Year 2 ECD course. Kering has now completed his year 3 and is now fully qualified as an ECD teacher . He attended his graduation the following day, Sat 19th March. Philomen’s English language course progress continues and she is now achieving the appropriate standard.

Also on 18 March Alan visited the Abba Bi-Lingual Primary School to check on the progress of Fatou Darboe, a pupil from the Nursery school that had migrated there by virtue of the charity agreeing to fund her continued schooling through grade 1 – 6.

The Principle Mr Samuel Gomez was pleased to speak of her good progress.

The school is now in a position to possibly take 10 – 15 more pupils this coming September if BASIG are in a position to sponsor the pupils. This is now in discussion with the other BASIG Trustees. Mr Darboe also mentioned the possibility of BASIG helping to build another 6 classrooms on their impressively large site. We are now awaiting costs to put to the committee for discussion.

Alan also met Mr Drammeh from the SOS School during his trip. One of their discussion points was the SOS Building Re-furbishment. An inspection of the works took place due to the classrooms 8 and 9 being completely repaired and redecorated in Nov 2015 and classrooms 10 and 11 that were completed in February 2016. As usual the works had been carried out to a very high standard. We inspected classrooms 12 and 13 for possible future refurbishment. The SOS school are now preparing a quotation for the proposed work to put before the BASIG committee for approval.

Nov 2015 Review Trip

It’s that time of year again when the Trustees carried out a school visit for the annual maintenance inspection and yearly appraisals. It’s important for the charity to make sure that the school is running well and if there are any issues with the building the team put a plan into place to get problems sorted quickly. The teacher appraisals were carried out and as expected, everything was very positive and the school is running very well. Students are making great progress. The school is immaculate and cleaning is kept to a very high standard.

The Trustees were delighted to hand over donated football kits to the children. They were delighted and the team enjoyed watching an impromptu football match that was arranged in the village.

As you may be aware, Julie Seager, Founder & Trustee of the charity, sadly passed away in December 2013. A plaque was put up in her memory and gives thanks to her drive to raise the funds to get the school built and to become fully operational. The plaque has been placed above the door for everyone to see when they enter the building.

Meetings were also carried out with the local SOS Senior School. The schools have an excellent relationship and when possible the BASIG charity likes to help the SOS school. The Trustees organised for the walls and ceiling work to be re-painted in the staff, and arts and crafts room of the school. This has been much appreciated by Principal Drammeh.

All in all a very successful trip and the Trustees would like to offer their thanks to the staff at the school for maintaining such high standards. It is always a pleasure to see the children and to see how well they are getting on with their schooling.

November 2014 Review Trip

The trip started with an important stop at the Bank. The £4000 that we took over was changed (70 dalasi to the £) and then paid into the Nursery School’s bank account. We kept back some of the money changed to purchase 6 months worth of cleaning materials for the school .

It was great to see the work that had been completed at Mummy’s Day Care and also to see the new tables and chairs that had been donated by BASIG in action! A few maintenance jobs were on the list to complete whilst on this visit; one of the main jobs was to fix a badly leaking outside tap.

During this visit we had an important meeting about what to do if Ebola struck The Gambia. We put together a plan of action, with the main result being that if Ebola struck the area that we would have to shut down the schools until it was safe to re-open and we set about putting the correct protocol in place for the staff at the Nursery School to follow, should it happen. A worrying thought that we hope will never happen and our thoughts are with those who sadly have been affected by this terrible and fatal illness.

On a lighter note we went on to discuss  having a football kit/PE Kit for the children to use. The staff are going to work out some costings so that the school could supply the kit for the school children to use. We also hope that the children could partake in an African Dress Day. Not all the children will have such access to traditional dress but we thought that the children could wear their ‘best’ clothes and still be very much part of the day and the celebrations.

Mrs Jallow is keen for the children to be able to go out on some school field trips to enhance their education. Again costings are being looked into and we can then put a plan in place. In regards to the local SOS School; classrooms 5 and 6, the carpentry work has been completed but the rooms are still to be painted.

It was a very pleasing trip and it is wonderful to report how the Martin Englefield Nursery School is kept in such great condition and loved by the staff and the children. On our next trip in the Spring we will make sure that the school is registered as a Gambia Charity, because of the political situation in the Gambia this is something that we need to make sure is completed as soon as we can.

December 2013 Review Trip

Martin Englefield visited Gambia and the school in early December to review the educational processes and ensure that some of the more formal areas around the school’s accounting, tax and labour were being properly managed.

As an initial summary prior to reporting on those actions achieved by Martin, it is worth reporting that the political situation in Gambia continues to deteriorate. The country has experienced trade problems with the European Union and has now removed itself from the Commonwealth. There are also rumours of the nationalisation of foreign owned assets and land.

The key actions completed by Martin during this latest trip are as follows:

1. All invoicing will be captured within a monthly accounts sheet covering invoices, receipts, payroll, GRE and Social Security which will ensure a more organised process of reviewing the financial position of the school and save considerable time on all future visits.

2. Visited Mrs Jallows Nursery School to review the work recently undertaken.

3. Discussed the initial details of a field trip for the children and Mrs Jallow will follow up with detailed costs for this.

4. Authorised the school repainting work covering the perimeter walls, the red oil paint borders and the fascia. The total cost of materials and labour was 21,500 dalasi. In addition, an outside tap for drinking needed to be re-tiled and the total cost of materials and labour was 1,800 delasi.

5. Checked that the school registration is all proper and correct with the Gambian Education Authority.

6. Purchased a refurbished Canon photocopier at a cost of 11,000 delasi, saving 32,000 delasi. A new filing cabinet and paper cost 5,500 delasi.

7. More uniforms are required and Mrs Jallow has been authorised to visit Banjul to order these following a review of the tailoring costs.

8. Obtained missing wage records for September and October so that all records are now up to date.

9. Put in place an arrangement with the local bank to reduce foreign exchange costs when transferring funds from the UK.

10. Engage with legal advisors and the local GRE tax Office to sort out a GRE Tax issue which was successfully achieved following a significant number of meetings and careful negotiation.

11. Align social security and GRE Tax payments following engagement with the Department of Social Security who were threatening to levy fines. Once the objective of the charity was understood by the government staff, they were incredibly supportive in structuring all payments to minimise the ongoing costs.

12. Chaired a team meeting with all staff to discuss staff training, staff uniforms, the field trip and salaries. Living costs have increased by 30% over the last year but it was agreed that no salary increases can be made at this time.

13. Ensured that all staff have agreed to their employment contracts before these are submitted to the Labour Office for final approval (Gambian Labour Law can overrule any employment contract).

14.  Organised for all staff to be paid their monthly salary on 28th of each month by direct bank transfer rather than cheque which had caused issues on occasion.

15. Discussed the requirements for repainting five classrooms at the nearby SOS School at a cost of 8,900 delasi (£143.55) which is not only a hugely worthwhile cause, but also a nice gesture to recognise the amount of support that Mr Drummah from the SOS School has provided to BASIG, both during this trip and on an ongoing basis.

16. Registered the school as a Gambian charity to ensure that any of the political issues will not impact the school.

In final summary, this was a challenging trip but one that was completely necessary. Martin achieved an incredible amount, although most of it more administrative than previous trips. The school faces challenges that will need to be regularly monitored, but such trips ensure that the fundraising efforts of BASIG are well worth it, as the school moves forward from its own beginning towards a stable and successful future, and impacting the lives of hundreds of children.

July 2013 Review Trip

The team left Gatwick for The Gambia at 09.30 Tuesday 23 July, members of the group included Trustee’s Julie, Helen, her Mum Dianna also Billy who helped with the original build, his partner Christa and myself. More than our usual quota of baggage saw us fully loaded with school and admin equip along with many donated items such as children’s underwear and socks etc.

Uneventful flight saw the team arrive at Gambia 15.00 local time straight into the throng of native porters it being off season far too many for a small amount of passengers. First small hiccup I was stopped and questioned for several minutes about the hanging files and folders one of my bags was fully laden with. Gambian customs were wanting to charge import duty on donated equip for which there was no real value attached, after a meeting with the man in charge they eventually agreed I was not about to start a stationary business and let me continue.

We were greeted by our usual driver Jordan with a second vehicle required due to the additional team members and luggage, after a short trip with one stop for money exchange, we arrived at hotel for 17.00. We had a quick meeting to discuss our itinerary for the following day then it was dinner and off to bed.

Day 1 Wed July 24th

The heat was stifling and although 30 degrees and similar to the temp we left in the UK, humidity was almost unbearable. We eventually got to the school at Sukuta around midday for discussions with head teacher Mrs Jallow. These lasted for over two hours and many things were spoken about including, child and teacher performance, new Year objectives, equipment requirement and teacher/employee appraisals. A wish list of equipment was drawn up and Alan asked Mrs Jallow to obtain local costs for the same after which he would consider signing off and authorising the purchase.  Final preparation was made for the end of term party planned for the following day and appraisals which were to be held on Friday. The team then departed for a meeting with Ossainou Drammeh Principle at the SOS School’s project in Bakoteh. He has helped the team since day one with the project guiding us through school registration, teacher training, employee COS etc, he is also our local agent and cheque book holder. At 18.30 the team returned to hotel for de-brief dinner and bed, a very successful day.

Day 2 Thurs July 25th

Following a relatively leisurely morning except for a bit of report writing the team set off for the school end of term party arriving at about 13.00 to find preparations were in full flow. Not being an official school day the children having finished term the day before, Mrs Jallow and her teachers were still awaiting arrival of the last of the children. Proceedings started around 14.00 with a series of short plays cleverly designed for the children to enjoy and at the same time demonstrate what they had learned during the school year.

Everyone involved enjoyed a special day culminating with buffet lunch then finally the team handing out individual reports and gifts of donated clothing to each child.

Day 3 Friday July 26th

Today was teacher appraisal day and the team wondered what might come out of individual one to one sessions given it was the end of the first full year for both employer and employee at the new school. Given none of the persons involved had a proper job some 12 months earlier the team were intrigued at the slight change in attitude from prospective employee to semi experienced, the demands they now felt could be made to an organisation raising funds in another country were quite amazing, how quickly perceptions can change! The team quickly laid that one to rest with, its tough to raise funds, we need to consider wages first, the children etc etc. Generally though it was felt the one on ones were a good way to get feedback and the team came away comfortable with the fact that things were going much better than expected. It was clearly evident everyone was working as part of a team, even Philimen the cleaner had been doubling up as teaching assistant to Miss Sambou at the same time keeping children and the school immaculately clean. Following appraisals more discussions were held regarding the additional equipment requests which it was agreed would be firmed up on Mon 29 before the team departed for UK.

Day 4 Saturday July 27th

Today was a day for looking at other possible future projects as well as visiting an old friend at his family compound. The team left soon after breakfast to visit the Compound of Miss Jallow our head teacher. Some time before she started work with BASIG she had run a modest nursery for children near her home but just over a year ago it had been closed down following an inspection from the education department. She was advised various improvements would have to be made before she could be allowed to continue operating the nursery fully, although they had allowed restricted use pending improvements. It was during a visit last year when Alan and Martin were made aware of Mrs Jallows plight they agreed, subject to funds being available that they may be able to help. The purpose of the visit today was to establish what exactly was required and to obtain prices for the work, in attendance was Baboucarr the painter and his colleague Ousman the tiler and plasterer. The work required was to tile the floor throughout including some balconies and part of the yard and also replace three ceilings, then a complete redecoration inside and out. Once complete Mrs Jallow intended to take evening lessons there whilst continuing to headmistress at our school in Sukuta, her relations would teach during the day. Our charity objective to educate as many children as possible continues!

Moving on we continued to a friends compound in Lamin, a small village on the outskirts of Serrakunda. We originally met Ebrima at the airport a couple of years ago, a very friendly chap who had obviously been afflicted by Polio at some stage having lost use of both legs and being wheelchair bound but always smiling. His accommodation is very basic and it was during a visit last year that I agreed to help Ebrima fund a replacement roof on his family home, todays visit was to measure up and obtain costs from Eric Whitehead our original school builder. We had taken with us many groceries and provisions so Ebrima and his family were very pleased to see us and were as hospitable as ever, it is a very humbling experience to be invited and one I would advise every on to go through at least once. It makes one wonder why we ever worry about no hot water, no heating, no TV etc etc etc.

We stayed with Ebrima for an hour or so then had to move to our next port of call the Caledonian Nursery School at Brufut, this as with Mrs Jallows nursery could be another future project for BASIG if and when funds ever permit. I was asked to visit here by a lady called Sue Ingram who lives in the UK and had visited Brufut herself during a stay at the Sheraton Hotel just 5 mins away. She had said she wanted to help but was unsure of their situation ie, was it bonafide, was it being correctly run etc. On arrival I was met by Lamin Jatta head teacher, he explained although they had 4 classrooms, 150 nursery age children and owned the property they were struggling with overheads and administration and in desperate need of help. Following a short tour some photographs and a question and answer session I said I would report back to Sue in the UK then let him know whether assistance might be available. Although not mentioning to Lamin at the time I thought about the possibilities of BASIG becoming involved with the project, no huge start up costs as there are classrooms already in place and land purchased, no huge salary aspirations for 4 teachers as they are currently on very low wages and instant impact improving education for 150 children. For definite an agenda item for next months AGM. We said our goodbye’s to Lamin and headed back to base at Fajara with much to debate.

Day 5 Sunday July 28th

Day 5 and being Sunday was to be day of rest, however Eric Whitehead having got wind of our intentions to maybe become involved in another project thought we might be interested to purchase a cheap plot of land near Brikama. Rest of the team decided to stay at base, quite wise as it turned out as Erics short trip turned out to be an hour each way, quite interesting albeit tiring in the sweltering heat. The plot of land, although huge in size some 100m x 100m, would have fitted a multi classroom school big enough for some 600 children but was just in the wrong place. Not a huge catchment in terms of available children and difficult logistically for the BASIG team to manage, a non-starter really. Pleasant thank you to Eric then back to base to write up revised employee COS and review appraisals – 8.00 then ready for dinner and bed ……… Some day of rest!

Day 6 Monday July 29th

While the team went to visit Jordan our drivers compound and that of our other local team member Baboucarr (painter) I stayed back to complete teacher COS and update the website. This being our last full day we had to pay a final visit to Mrs Jallow to obtain signatures and hand out employee appraisals, she then passed me quotations for those requested items on her wish list. Some were agreed there and then but other more expensive items would be subject of review and approval at the UK AGM in two weeks. A few more photographs some sad goodbyes and it was off to see Mr Drammeh for the last time. Mr Drammeh had covered a lot of ground during our visit this time having helped with a banking matter, guidance on teacher appraisals and assistance with the COS all in all an invaluable local agent, without his help the project would never have got off the ground. Final discussions were held in respect of equipment and uniforms that needed to be purchased and again after sad goodbye’s we departed back to base.

Day 7 Tuesday July 30th

Final visits to the compound of Jordan and his family then sad good byes to him and Baboucarr before departing to the airport and the flight home. All in all a very successful trip with almost all objectives met and much to report back when we have our AGM in two weeks time.