This is sadly the final chapter of the Friends of the Visually Impaired Children in The Gambia charity as we plan to de-register with the Charity Commissioners in 2019.
Joan and I left The Gambia after our visit in November 2018 happy in the knowledge that the GOVI Board (Gambian Organisation for the Visually Impaired) which oversees the school now has a new director and deputy director. They are younger and forward thinking not only for themselves but for the children in the school.
Their chairperson, Ndey Yassin Secker, who is visually impaired, is now an elected member of the Gambian House of Representatives (Parliament).
The new board is now working together with Start Now Technical Centre at Brikama. The Friends funded the construction of the Start Now building. One of the founders of Start Now, Alieu Jaiteh, was on 5 December 2018 awarded a certificate of honour by the UN for his voluntary work. For more information about Start Now see www.startnow-gambia.org
Above: Using an electronic magnifier at the Start Now centre. The magnifiers were taken to The Gambia by Jim and Violet Phillips of FOTGA. At the GOVI school they were told these were not suitable for the children. So Phil and Joan introduced them to Start Now. Alieu Jaiteh thanked the Phillips and stated: "The magnifiers will help our low vision beneficiaries to be able to read and view objects". He thanked Phil and Joan for their great support.
When we first visited The Gambia 29 years ago we found that those who were born blind faced a life of being beggars on the streets with no education and little hope for the future. Now, thanks to our Trustees, our many supporters, individual contributors and the wonderful work of The Gambian Integration Education Programme (IEP) this has changed considerably.
The IEP not only continues with the education of those who have left the GOVI School, but also now has 30 trained teachers for visually impaired students across the country. The latter supervise nearly 300 pupils all of whom are equipped by the IEP with Braille machines, Braille text books, tape machines and supplies of Braille paper.
One former pupil of the GOVI School, Muhammed Krubally, obtained his LLB at the Gambian University. The Friends sponsored him in his further studies providing a lap top and a fantastic computer programme for the visually impaired purchased from Dolphin Software at a greatly reduced price. Due to his hard work he passed his bar exams, became a Barrister and now sits at the Brikama Youth Court as a Senior Magistrate. By his example several visually impaired students are seeking to emulate him and are attending various courses at Brikama College.
Other charities and individuals have now come on board to assist the GOVI School including the Dutch Foundation which sponsored the building of two new nursery classes; Friends of the Gambia Association (FOTGA); a Gambian based UK charity which has restarted the banana project with a new irrigation system and has also paid for the repair of the school wall; and a Belgian lady who brought many Braille machines. Various individuals have also visited the school and delivered food and school stationery as requested. All this support for the school is welcome.
A big thank you to Lamin Saidy, our Gambian member and representative, with whose help the seemingly insurmountable problems have been solved.
Lamin Saidy’s wife, Haddy, will retire soon as the head teacher of a large school. Her dream has been to have her own nursery school which would be open to some children with special needs. This dream has now been realised with a three-classroom nursery school thanks to contributions from The Friends and with a major contribution from a Dutch friend, Rianne.
Haddy pops in to supervise the nursery and will, after she retires, give all her time to that school. It has been open less than two years and is gaining a reputation for providing its students with an excellent education. Two classes are full and the third will open soon.
When we visited in December we found lots of happy children who enjoyed my reading of Old McDonald had a Farm, and they joined in with the various animal sounds and chorus.
Once again I cannot thank everyone enough for all their support and their contributions. Several have supported The Friends for many years.
Although the charity will be de-registered in 2019 Joan and myself will, as long as possible, return to our second home, visiting the many projects and people. We pledge that any of the funds coming our way will be spent on where we find the need or there is a request. Details will continue to be posted on this website.
Any person visiting The Gambia is very welcome to visit any of these projects. For help or assistance contact Lamin Saidy on +220 991 7030.