Looking back on 2020: a year that we hope will never be repeated.
Following on from my newsletter in April 2020 regarding our hasty departure from The Gambia a month earlier, I now have obtained the various reports and photographs for the year to enable a fuller report for 2020.
At the late afternoon meeting prior to our departure with Alieu Jaiteh of Start Now and Mariama who is a teacher at GOVI School, Alieu again wished to thank all who had contributed to the generous purchase of Braille paper. Unfortunately The Friends are unable to assist with his wish for mini bus to enable the transport of visually impaired to the Start Now centre.
GOVI School is now well supported by Friends of The Gambian Association (FOTGA) who regularly supply rice for the children’s lunches and support the taxi fare for six pupils who are outside the school bus catchment area. The school is also assisted by donations from visitors to the school.
Lamin Saidy, our Gambian representative, is a very good friend and is in contact with us either by phone or email. Funds were left before our departure for the completion of the security fencing at the Yahaddy School, an unfortunate necessity.
Owing to our hasty departure no visit to the Yahaddy School was possible to see the completed awning to shade the children from the very hot sun or the beautifully painted roundabout. The school reopened in October. As of December 51 students were enrolled with three teachers. It is hoped the numbers will increase as life returns to normal. Right: pupils enjoying the swings paid for by the Friends.
When the travel restrictions are lifted, Joan and I hope to return, knowing that life for all in The Gambia has been very hard with hunger returning for many.
A big thank you to our remaining sponsors who have enabled us to assist with small projects when requested. We must not forget fellow trustee Pip Pointon for editing and continuing the posting of reports and photographs on our web site.
The sad loss of two of our founder trustees - Don Newbold CBE and David Pointon - led to us considering making 2019 our final year. But, after messages of support and donations, Joan and I decided that we would continue to assist with requests if funds and our health permitted.
This year we received an urgent request from Alieu Jaiteh of Start Now for Braille paper as that would greatly help with its continuing training programme (See separate report). We had also received a request during our visit in December from the Yahaddy Nursery School for a roundabout (left). This was left in the hands of Lamin Saidy, our Gambian representative who found that, after obtaining estimates, that there were sufficient funds.
Our visit in March this year started well and we were able to go ahead with various visits and meetings. But then the government announced that, as a person who had travelled from London via Morocco to the Gambia had been diagnosed with Covid-19, all schools would close within 24 hours. We soon received an email from Gambian Experience that we would be repatriated. As we were given such short notice we asked if we could leave on a later flight. The response was that if we did not take the offered flight we might have to wait until the end of June for another. We accepted the early flight and after a rather hectic and tiring two days we got home.
We hope we can return to the Gambia later this year and continue where we left off.
We do hope all our supporters and their families stay safe.Thank you
Donation of Packets of Braille Papers from Friends of Visually Impaired Children in the Gambia:
We continue to thank Friends of Visually Impaired Children in the Gambia for their continuous support to the vision and mission of Start Now. We are happy to informed you that since you built the new Start Now center in Brikama, we are free from the burden of rent and proudly continue to support many visually impaired young people and adults to learn skills to become self-confidence and independent.
Your recent donation of braille papers, has gone a long way to enable Start Now to provide braille training as well as extended support to visually impaired children and youth across the Gambia. Recently, Start Now is implementing a training program for visually impaired young people called Blind Mentors Gambia www.facebook.com/blindmentorsgambia. The program is aimed to empower and provide training opportunities for young visually impaired in rural Gambia on blind techniques skills so that they can become confident and independent.
When we visited The Gambia in December it was encouraging to hear that throughout the country there are now 300 visually impaired children receiving full time education.
This is because the IEP (Integrated Education Programme), run by the Gambian education department, continues with the expansion of training teachers who are able to assist visually impaired children across The Gambia with their education and the supply of necessary teaching aids.
This was one of the key aims of our founder member and trustee David Pointon. His death in May 2019 was a sad loss. Without him the Friends could not have achieved so much.
It is with great sadness that I announce the death on May 19 2019 of fellow founder and former trustee, David Pointon.
Thirty years ago David answered my appeal for assistance for the blind and visually impaired children of The Gambia. At that time David was head of what was then the Sensory Support Service of the Norfolk County Education Department.
Joining me in The Gambia David soon assessed the needs of the blind and visually impaired children there. His list was frighteningly long.
To mention a few: proper training for the few teachers who were working with the children; computers with special programmes to assist training; Braille machines and paper; tape recorders; and even a purpose-built school. At that time the few pupils attending a dedicated facility were housed in an annex to a mainstream school in Banjul.
David - with great enthusiasm - set to work with myself and my wife, Joan, to start meeting those needs. A charity was registered first as the Friends of GOVI (The Gambian Organisation for the Visually Impaired) and later as the Friends of Visually Impaired Children in the Gambia. Funds were successfully raised for building a special school for the children at Serrekunda.
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
February 2018 saw Joan Feller back in The Gambia with a list of things to do.
She had taken with her a sound system which had been donated to Start Now and was able to present it during her visit. It was much appreciated.
She was delighted to see that Start Now was going from strength to strength. During that visit there was a demonstration on how to use a white cane as well as the presentation of one to a young man who had successfully completed his training.
It is with great sadness to announce that one of our charity’s founder members and trustee, Donald Victor Newbold CBE has passed away after a short illness.
Don, as he was known to many, had retired as chairman of Foster Wheeler Inc when this charity was founded in 1998. He was honoured as a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1986 for his services to export.
He soon became one of the trustees of this charity and travelled to The Gambia many times as he had a vision to build a school for visually impaired children in that country. He had pledged that he would attend the opening of the school in 2002 whatever his commitments - and he was true to his word.
On one occasion, after the school and dining hall had been built, he learnt that there wasn’t a kitchen. As one of his main priorities was the welfare of the children he immediately donated funds so that a kitchen could be built.
In the last few years he was unable to fly to The Gambia but continued to give considerable support for all our projects. He looked forward to my visiting him at his home after our trips to The Gambia. He enjoyed looking at the photographs of the school and reading my reports and, when he wanted further details, was quick to ask questions.
Don will be sadly missed by many here in the UK and in The Gambia.
The Friends of Visually Impaired Children in The Gambia 2017 report concerning the Start Now project, Haddy's nursery school ( Yahaddy Nursery School ), the situation with GOVI, and other encouraging news.
It was so encouraging during 2017 to see the Start Now Project going from strength to strength with the guidance of Alieu Jaiteh, its Director and Founder, and Charles Gomez, the chairman. The Friends have funded the construction of the building as Start Now aims to assist the visually impaired in their further education.
This includes training in daily skills such as the use of white canes which enables them to walk around with greater safety and confidence. There are also computer lessons which will help them to find employment. The six visually impaired students studying at the College of Further Education at Brikama often pop in for assistance or extra lessons as the Start Now building is nearby.
Congratulations to all at Start Now for their hard work and dedication. The objective of Start Now is to empower blind and visually impaired people. Its website is: www.startnowgambia.org.
After almost 20 years the Friends of Visually Impaired Children in The Gambia is about to complete its final project.
The trustees particularly wanted to say 'thank you' to Lamin Saidy for all his hard work and patience and the way he has supported The Friends over the years. So it was agreed to sponsor the dream of his wife Haddy to set up her own nursery school which will include some children with special needs. Right: some of the first pupils at Haddy's nursery school.
Haddy is about to retire as the head of a large upper basic school at Sukuta and so has extensive experience in education. Her nursery school has been built on land owned by Lamin in Brufut. She will allocate one of the classrooms as a day care centre.
Although this is the charity's final project Joan and Phil will continue to travel to The Gambia to give, when possible, support to the Start Now Centre in Brikama. This is going from strength to strength but still requires assistance as will Haddy's nursery school.
We feel it is wonderful that, after so many years, the Director of GOVI has said that its school is able to run without the support of The Friends. Thanks to the Gambian Education Department over 200 visually impaired children have been integrated into main-stream schooling.
January 26, 2016
Congratulations to Muhammed Krubally for becoming the first visually impaired person in the history of The Gambia to be a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of that country.
He wrote: "I acknowledge the true friends like Joan and Phil and my sponsors without whom attaining this important position might be impossible or delayed. I thank God a lot.
Phil and Joan Feller were sad that neither of them were able to attend the graduation ceremony. They would also have liked to have seen M Krubally's new daughter, born on January 6.
Phillip Feller commented: "This is an amazing story". It is a truly inspiring story not just for visually impaired children in The Gambia but anywhere in the world.
Phillip and Joan Feller, representing the Friends of Visually Impaired Children in the Gambia, attended the inauguration of the Start Now project at Brikama in the Gambia on May 28, 2016.
The objectives of Start Now are to provide further education and training for the visually impaired and blind young people who have completed their schooling.
With the charity now winding down a quieter year was expected but then Lamin Saidy, our Gambian member and representative, introduced us to the Start Now team (above).
This centre of Technology for Visually Impaired people, based at Brikama, was the dream of founder members Alieu Jaiteh and Charles Gomez. When we met them in November 2014 we were so impressed by their in enthusiasm and commitment to the education of visually impaired young people after main-stream schooling.
The Friends agreed to support the Start Now project and left funds for the building work to commence. The speed of progress was such that in February Joan Feller travelled to The Gambia with funding so that the work could continue. Lamin Saidy forwarded progress reports and photographs to us.
Phil and Joan Feller visited the Gambia in May and reported:
Once again Start Now has done a cracking good job on the construction of a wall to provide more security for the building, and added protection for the staff and students. The murals were painted by Ebrima Saho.