First AFG Gambia Study Tour gets underway

On Saturday 23 November our 5 AFG Gambia Ambassdors (Steven Leslie White, Christine Whittaker, Rebecca Winstanley, Mashuda Monnan and Andrew Gibbon) accompanied by Salifu, Director of Mobee Gambia, began their exciting 2 week study tour in the Gambia.

Our 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors with Janet and Caroline

Our 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors with Janet and Caroline

On arrival the group were met by Janet Stanton, Talent and Succession Planning Senior Manager and lead on the project and Caroline Ceesay, Independent Hospital Manager at Oak Lodge Independent Hospital and Project Support, who flew over on Wednesday 20 November to prepare for the imminent arrival of our Ambassadors.

Working in partnership with Mobee Gambia, a newly established mental health charity, the first AFG Gambia Study Tour aims to provide a first rate opportunity for both organisation to work together to raise awareness of mental health issues and help improve mental health services in The Gambia; through sharing best practice.

Throughout the next 2 weeks we’ll be sharing the unique learning experiences of our Project Team (Janet Stanton and Caroline Ceesay) and our 5 Gambia Ambassadors through their group blog, which will be published on the latest news page of our website. You can also follow the group’s life changing African adventures on our social media channels – Facebook (AFGSupport) and Twitter (@AFGSupport #AFGgoGambia).

Read more about the first few days of their life changing journey below:

The journey of the first AFG Study Tour

Early morning in Sekuta

Early morning in Sekuta

Thursday 21 November

The weather was pleasant but overcast with rain showers, not what we expected for today. Caroline and I spent the day in Sekuta picking up supplies for the arrival of our Ambassadors, getting familiar with the area, exchanging currency and soaking up the traditional Gambian life. I was surprised that alongside the cars, taxi’s, trucks and buses, the goats, donkey’s, cows and dogs all have access to the main Gambian highway. We had a lovely evening eating locally prepared food and getting to know the local residents in our compound.

Janet and Caroline

Friday 22 November

It’s overcast and raining heavy today in the Gambia. Caroline and I visited the office for Mobee Gambia, our charity partnership, at Brusubi and the Sanchaba Study Centre. This is where our Ambassadors will be staying when they arrive tomorrow.

We visited the Maleria Research Centre in the afternoon to meet the Mobee Gambia Charity Facilitator who has coordinated all the placements and visits for our 5 Gambia Ambassadors. We stopped for lunch in Bakow and met some lovely local people. All the roads were heavily congested and there was a police road block on the main road, luckily we didn’t need to show our licence or documents as the police were very helpful and courteous. We spent the evening enjoying the local cuisine and meeting more people.

Janet and Caroline

Saturday 23 November

Well its hello from the Gambia where we have wonderful sunshine today. Caroline and I are really excited as our 5 Gambia Ambassadors are arriving today. We’re off to the local market in a Gambian style taxi to pick up a few bits for our guests.

The market was very dusty, well in fact everywhere you go is dusty in the Gambia. The local people are really friendly and keep stopping you to talk, it’s really welcoming but time consuming when you just need to get things done. We finished the day off with a dip in the sea, chatting with locals on the beach and then back to the compound ready to welcome our AFG Ambassadors.

To celebrate the safe arrival of our Ambassadors we all had to sample the local nighlife, it is Saturday afterall.

Janet, Caroline and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors

Sunday 24 November

We had the pleasure of attending a local baby naming ceremony in the community today.

Monday 25 November

Our 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors enjoyed their first placements in the community today.

Our Ambassadors were placed in the following locations:

  • Janet and Mashuda visited the Sukuta Health Centre;
  • Caroline and Rebecca went to the Tanka Tanka Hospital;
  • Les’s visted the Poli Clinic in Bajul;
  • Andrew went to the Tosukuta Health Centre; and
  • Christine got the chance to network with local people when she was invited to attend a wedding ceremony.

Today our placements allowed us to experience the challenges the limited resources and lack of investment in Gambia healthcare presents. We can now all recognise and appreciate how fortunate we are to have such a great healthcare service in the UK, where our dignity and respect is embraced.

There is little, if any knowledge and understanding of mental health across the healthcare services in the Gambia. To be frank it is difficult for the professionals here to identify or give a diagnosis because of the amount of patients they see in one shift. The queues are long, continuous and the service operates 24/7 in the community.

The staff we have met across our placements today have been very accommodating, professional and welcoming. We recognise that there is a lot of work to do here to raise awareness and educate not only the professionals but families, local health networks and the police services.

Janet, Caroline and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors

Tuesday 26 November

AFG Ambassadors First Day Study Placement

AFG Ambassadors First Day Study Placement

Today our Ambassadors got to experience the true community spirit of the Gambia through supporting the development of a community vegetable patch at Tanka Tanka Hospital. The Ambassadors all got stuck in to erecting and building some fencing to stop the goats from escaping in partnership with the hospital staff.

The Ambassadors also joined forces with Mobee Gambia Facilitators to do some outreach work for those experiencing mental health related issues in Brikama, one of the largest cities in the Gambia.

They visited local people in their own homes and spoke to their family members, raising awareness of the support now available from our charity partners Mobee Gambia.

One of our key observations has been the dedication and commitment of the staff providing mental health services in the Gambia with limited resources and funding. Every patient brings more and more challenges including: lack of equipment, poor maintenance, sanitation, hygiene issues, long queues, waiting times, no privacy, dignity or respect combined with poor lighting and extreme heat. Everyone’s experiences combined are prompting more and more ideas about how we can support the development of health and wellbeing services in the Gambia.

We’re all signing off now to prepare for a day of community exploration and leisure tomorrow.

Janet, Caroline and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors

Wednesday 27 November

Our Ambassadors enjoy a well earned day off after 2 days of life transforming work in the Gambia with a day of community exploration and leisure.

Thursday 28 November

Our Ambassadors spent time at Tanka Tanka Hospital, Sukuta Health Centre and the Serekunda Clinic in the Gambia today. There was a big meningitis campaign taking plan to immunise children, so our Ambassadors were busy supporting and comforting children who were awaiting their dreaded vaccinations. Andy, one of our Ambassadors demonstrated a very good distraction tactic when he visited one of the local schools and shook hands with over 60 children.

The evening brought local people together in all their attire for green tea drinking, reggae music and dancing in the compounds.

Janet, Caroline and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors

Friday 29 November

Today has been a short, yet productive day for our Ambassadors. Today is prayer day so we were informed that work stops in the Gambia at 1.00pm so that people can perform their religious duties.

The meningitis programme continues in the local communities. Ambassadors visited the TB Clinic and were impressed with how the number of cases has reduced over the last few years, indicating that interventions are having a positive affect for people in the Gambia. We also visited Serekunda Health Centre and observed one to one consultations, babies being weighed to determine their malaria medication requirements and local people in their traditional dress getting ready for their afternoon prayers.

We joined forces with staff members and service users later this morning to positively contribute to a meeting about healthcare services. Here we experienced ball intervention which sets out the boundaries and ground rules for one voice, although we felt staff engagement and interaction was limited. We’ve also been busy meeting with other organisations, providing updates about our work programme and identifying potential partners for education and training opportunities.

All in all today has been a very productive morning.

Saturday 30 November and Sunday 1 December

Ambassadors sampled local attractions over the weekend including: trips to the crocodile park, local markets and tourist hot spots. Visiting families in compounds, singing nursery rhymes with children and sharing green tea are just some of the delights of local life in the Gambia.

Monday 2 December

It is extremely hot out here but we are all coping very well. We’ve spent the day visiting various mental health clinics in the Gambia as part of our placements. Ambassadors visited the Poly Clinic in Bajul to observe the day’s activities. The staff there were very friendly, positive and accommodating.

During our visit to Tanka Tanka Hospital Ambassadors took part in a number of therapy interventions, one which included providing manicures for patients experiencing mental health issues.

At Brikama Medical Centre Ambassadors got the chance to visit all areas of the clinic and engage in some outreach community activities, which involved observing the THRIVE Facilitators working with two individuals in their family compounds. We also got the chance to support 2 new Mobee Gambia staff members who started their induction programme today. We’re signing off now as we’re just about to go out for dinner. Best wishes from the Gambia.

Janet, Caroline and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors

Tuesday 3 December

Ambassadors visiting Tanka Tanka Hospital today took part in their first team meeting. Ambassadors were both surprised and disappointed to witness a meeting which was heavily focused on the general day to day management of operations and risk, with little if any time allocated to consider the views, input or quality of service for its patients. Our Ambassadors identified that training was needed in positive and productive meetings, staff engagement, team development and person centred practice. They believe this could help support improvements for both staff members and patients at the hospital.

At Serekunda Hospital Ambassadors took part in a consultation with a patient who had been diagnosed with a mental health related illness. They heard how the patient had been teaching children to speak English in the local community, in order to earn the money to pay for his medication.

As an incentive to encourage the individual to continue working to earn money for his medication needs, the Ambassadors agreed to cover 50% of the medication costs for the next 2 months, which meant the patient only had to work another 2 months to cover the outstanding costs; a win – win solution.

Ambassadors at the Poly Clinic got the chance to gain a better understanding of the discharge arrangements and agreed to adopt the same approach we use at AFG, in order to improve their processes.

Janet and Salifu, Director of Mobee Gambia have been invited to take part in a live radio broadcast on a local Gambian radio station tomorrow morning. This will be a fantastic opportunity for us to promote our partnership with Mobee Gambia and the work we are doing to help improve mental health services in the community.

Rebecca enjoying the perfect Gambian cuppa, Attaya

Rebecca enjoying the perfect Gambian cuppa, Attaya

Rebecca (pictured), one of our Ambassadors enjoying the national drink of the Gambia – Attaya, a sweet green tea made from Chinese Gunpowder leaves, sugar, mint and lots of water. Attaya is more than just a drink; it’s a way of Gambian life. It’s is a tradition where friends and family come together to brew, socialise and have discussions and debates about local issues important to them.

Janet, Caroline and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors

Wednesday 4 December

We’re all enjoying a well-earned rest day today, so we thought we would share some insights into how we are adjusting to local life here in the Gambia.

We’ve experienced power cuts lasting from as little as 5 minutes to up to 6 hours by sitting outside enjoying the darkness, lit by the crisp clear stars. With hot water supplies going on and off we’ve had to wash the dishes with cold water and shower using cold buckets of water, which isn’t as bad as it sounds in this heat.

Enjoying the outdoors also sees us having to battle with the red dust and flies, but we wouldn’t have it any other way because it’s all part of the Gambia Experience.

Janet, Caroline and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors

Thursday 5 December

AFG Ambassadors were thrilled to present Everton Football kits to pupils at ST. John Vianney Basic Cycle School in Gambia. The football kits were kindly donated by Everton in the Community and greatly received by pupils at the school.

Friday 6 December – our last day

Ambassadors arrived at Tanka Tanka Psychiatric Hospital to meet the family members of patients receiving treatment here. They mixed with patients in and around the courtyard, learning more about one another.

We all took part in a group therapy session today, which helps encourage patients to engage in conversation, share their news and how they’re feeling. This technique can also help to develop boundaries and encourage open communication across the patient group. The session was quite emotional, especially for our Ambassadors who have worked very closely with the patients during the last two weeks of the study tour.

As well as all this we got the chance to attend a family briefing, which tend to take place at Tanka Tanka Hospital on the first Friday of each month. The meeting brings together family members, social workers, members of the Gambian police, partners from the Poly Clinic and the mental health lead from the World Health Organisation (WHO.

Andy made his final visit to Sukuta Health Centre today, to give thanks to Samba, one of the local workers, for his tremendous support during his two week placement.

This evening brings a celebratory meal for all our Ambassadors, partners and community members who have made us feel so welcome over the last two weeks in the Gambia.

We’re signing off now to go for a quick dip in the sea and catch a few rays.

Janet, Caroline and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors

More information

Get Set Go Gambia for five AFG Support Workers
AFG reveal the 5 Gambia Ambassadors
Gambia visit for AFG Chief Executive 
Introducing Mobee Gambia