IT is a new dawn for the Gambia and the signs, so far, are good. The new President, Adama Barrow, is a devout Muslim, but one of his first acts was to change the name of the country from The Islamic Republic of the Gambia to The Republic of the Gambia in an indication that he intends to govern for all in a very mixed country.
As his mother and his father were of the two different tribes which dominate this tiny African country, he has ruled out tribalism in his administration as well.
The progressive direction Barrow has taken has come as a huge relief to Bill Nelson, a SNP member who runs small charity First Aid 4 Gambia from his home in Inveraray, Argyll.
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However, Nelson has a problem. He has been gifted a large amount of medical supplies but needs to raise about £2500 to transport them to Africa, and is hoping National readers can help.
Under Barrow’s predecessor Yahya Jammeh, who seized power in a bloodless military coup 23 years ago, Nelson found First Aid 4 Gambia had to operate more and more under the radar as the country lurched increasingly into despotism and corruption.
Things things have eased now and the international community is looking kindly towards this little nation again.
The Gambia – virtually a strip of land on either side of the river Gambia – featured in the acclaimed TV series Roots. With a population of fewer than two million people, it is a tiny former British colony surrounded by Senegal which was first devised as a conduit for transporting slaves out of West Africa.
Its capital city Banjul (previously Bathurst) sits at the mouth of the river as it spills out into the Atlantic. Its major industry, unsurprisingly in a very pleasant coastal location, is tourism.
The Gambia’s size is what drew Nelson, a first aid trainer who was born and brought up in West Africa.
His initial impulse was to do something in the huge country of Nigeria, where he was born, but the ability to have a significant impact on a very small country and perhaps set up a model which could become national was very attractive. As a result, First Aid 4 Gambia was set up in 2009.
A major strength of First Aid 4 Gambia is that no money goes to highly-paid executives and huge administration costs. With one paid organiser in the Gambia and lots of unpaid voluntary effort, all the money it raises goes into the good work. Nelson’s funding of little more than £10,000 per year, provides first aid equipment and training to 72 nursery and primary schools, establishing contact with around 20,000 children. This has proven hugely effective in a country where a scratch or a graze can turn septic in a couple of hours and very often lead to serious danger.
But that is not all. In the Gambia, a child is not named until it has surely survived. This is a response to a huge level of infant mortality, much of it occurring immediately post-birth.
First Aid 4 Gambia has now introduced a training programme for young mothers – with immediate results. But all this comes at a cost, and a cost that is escalating due to Brexit and the fall in the value of sterling, with Nelson’s pounds now buying less equipment and fewer materials.
Just to maintain his programmes he needs to raise more money.
However, Nelson received good news recently. Reliance Medical, a UK company which has been very good to First Aid 4 Gambia and provided Nelson’s team with medical supplies at very good prices for years, was clearing out some warehouse space.
It contacted First Aid 4 Gambia. Did it want three pallets of an assortment of medical supplies – for carriage cost? Of course, it did. It wouldn’t all be first aid equipment but it all would be very useful indeed in the Gambia’s ill-equipped hospitals.
It would take a couple of hundred pounds to get it to the Gambia but the budget could stretch to that.
Then it became six pallets.
Then seven. And it is now 14 pallets awaiting collection for dispatch to West Africa, but it is going nowhere until First Aid 4 Gambia raises the £2500 needed for transport.
Anyone will to help can donate at https://mydonate.bt.com/events/gambiaappeal.