Gambia visit for AFG Chief Executive

On Saturday 2nd November Neil Campbell, AFG’s Chief Executive set out to visit the Gambia with Salifu Manneh, Director of Mobee Gambia, a newly established Gambian mental health charity we have partnered with for the AFG Study Tours.

The purpose of Neil’s 1 week trip is to meet and establish relationships with Government Ministers responsible for mental health provision in the Gambia, prior to the first AFG Study Tour on 23rd November 2013.

We’ll be keeping you up to date with Neil’s adventures throughout the week on the Latest News page of our website. You can also follow Neil’s exciting journey on our social media channels Facebook (AFGSupport) and Twitter (@AFGSupport #AFGgoGambia).

Read more about Neil’s experiences so far below:

My personal journey …

Neil Campbell, AFG Chief Executive

Neil Campbell, AFG Chief Executive

Saturday 2 November

I arrived safely in the Gambia after a good 6 ½ hours flight. I experienced the first taste of Africa with a local power cut and was amazed at how everyone just got on with things. We take so much for granted in the UK. The people I’ve met so far have been so welcoming and hospitable.

This evening I shared a tasty family meal of fish, rice and chicken.

I’m looking forward to taking some time out to see some of the sights Gambia has to offer on Sunday, aswell as preparing for the busy week ahead of me.

Monday 4 November

The day starts early, although much cooler than the weekend at 26 degrees. I’m off to meet the Directors and Co-ordinating Committee of Mobee Gambia, the mental health charity we have partnered with for the study tours. I’m looking forward to meeting with the Directorate of Health Promotion and Education from the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare later today.

The meetings with the Minister for Health and Permanent Secretary were very productive. They are so supportive of AFG’s partnership with Mobee Gambia, and following this meeting #AFGgoGambia Study Tours now feel very real.

Hearing the stories about how under resourced mental health care is in the Gambia is both shocking and heart breaking. It is now evident how much our staff members can contribute here and vice versa.

Everyone is so welcoming and committed in the Gambia, regardless of their level of seniority. Even though they lack the basic facilities we could learn a lot from the Gambian philosophy.

The Mobee Gambia Co-ordination Committee are really excited about the imminent arrival of our 5 Gambia Ambassadors. I can see that our staff members will be well looked after during their stay.

I’ve had a great afternoon with the Child Fund, a major international NGO who work to improve the lives of vunerable children in the Gambia. I’ve agreed for AFG to develop a partnership with them in the future; working alongside families and communities to ensure that the best possible outcomes are achieved for children.

I visited the Wellbeing Centre where Mobee Gambia will be based today and it looks great. I feel very proud that AFG is contributing to this project.

I’ve met so many ordinary Gambian families who have welcomed me into their homes and looked after me. They have so little but they always insist on providing me with food and drink, what great generosity. It is a humbling experience and I am confident our staff members will get so much from their study tour.

Tuesday 5 November

Today I’m getting a taste of Gambian bureaucracy as we are registering one of the vehicles Mobee Gambia will be using to transport our staff around during the study tours. I’m really happy we’ve got the vehicle but I’m not looking forward to the registration process.

I’ve spent the morning with Mr Gassama, the mental health lead for the World Health Organisation (WHO). He is very supportive of the project and interested in the work AFG are doing in the UK and internationally. I’ve been spending a lot of time building relationships with the senior officials, so I’m really looking forward to meeting the front line THRIVE mental health workers in each of their clinics tomorrow.

My trip is going really well so far. Everyone is interested in the project and there’s so much goodwill. I am so glad to be part of this and proud that AFG will be contributing to the develop of mental health services in the Gambia. Our ambassadors are going to have a great experience.

Oooh I’ve just received the first draft of the study tour placement programme and it looks fab!

Wednesday 6 November

Another scorcher in the offing, it’s already hitting 20 degrees here in the Gambia. It must have rained last night because when I woke this morning the ground was wet. This explains why last night was one of the hottest nights I have experienced so far on my trip. It must be so hot and uncomfortable for the many families I have met who have overcrowded living conditions.

I’m looking forward to meeting the THRIVE mental health facilitators and the PR Manager at the Serakunda Hospital today.

The THRIVE mental health facilitators are really enthusiastic and they’re looking forward to the arrival of our 5 Ambassadors in the next few weeks. They have such a huge case load and can only touch the surface with the resources they have. Whatever our thoughts are of our health care system in the UK, we are very lucky.

I’ve just left Serekunda Hospital and I couldn’t believe my eyes with the amount of people waiting to be seen. I am now left wondering how people with mental health needs have any chance of getting the attention they need with so little resources. I also wonder what a world where people control their lives would look like for the patients that I have met or even for the staff members. I’m now off to the next mental health clinic in Banjul. I’ll be visiting Tanka Tanka, the only psychiatric hospital in the Gambia later this afternoon.

I’ve been here for nearly a week and I’ve met some wonderful, generous and happy people, who by any standards are living in absolute poverty. But they aren’t poor because everyday they count their blessings and have hope.

Today I’ve visited 6 mental health clinics and two hospitals, witnessing such suffering and heartbreak. The people with mental health problems here don’t have hope, they truly have nothing. Maybe AFG and our partnership with Mobee Gambia can give hope?

Thursday 7 November

A bit of an easier day today compared to yesterday. It’ll be lights, camera, action this morning when I carry out two interviews with key journalists from the Gambia media. I’m looking forward to meeting with an expert in traditional healthcare practice this afternoon. Much of the healthcare is provided by traditional practitioners in the Gambia, so I’m wondering what their experiences of mental health issues will be?

I’ve just finished interviews with journalists from two local Gambian newspapers and interest and excitement is gathering here for the project. It was great to talk at length about the project and AFG’s role in it’s development. I felt proud with sense of achievement having got this far in our journey. There will be more media interest once our 5 Ambassadors arrive. Can’t wait to see the media coverage generated from my interviews! I will be sharing it with everyone once I get a copy of the newspapers.

Wow it’s been the hottest day so far on my trip, at 38 degrees even the shaded areas are unbearable. I’ve spent the afternoon visiting some local families in the Gambia communities. The greeting is always so joyous and sincere. I’ve had my hands full quite literally this afternoon nursing a couple of new babies. Maybe when they are older things will be better for them growing up in the community. One thing the Gambia has in abundance is happy, smiley children.

It’s an earlier finish for me today, so I’m off home to eat and cool off!

Friday 8 November

I’m nearing the end of my Gambia experience. There’s been no formal meetings today for me, just preparation for a dinner we are hosting this evening with all the partners we have met so far. I’ve been on quite a journey, a crash course in African culture and an insight into the everyday struggles people living in the Gambia face. Even so I don’t feel depressed or even sad, just very thoughtful about the future and the positive impact our partnership with Mobee Gambia will have.

Wednesday’s visit to Serakunda Hospital is not only the most memorable experience from the week, but also the saddest. Witnessing over a 100 people with mental health issues lying around for hours waiting to be seen, knowing that there was no chance of them getting to the front of the queue that day was truly heartbreaking.

It’s my birthday this weekend and I will be celebrating it with a shared meal with my Gambian friends, a note to say thank you for their kindness and hospitality this week.

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