The journey through the Gambia begins as our 2nd Study Tour gets underway

Following the success of our first Mental Health Study Tour in the Gambia we’re delighted to announce the safe arrival of our next 5 Ambassadors, as Study Tour 2 officially gets underway.

Meet our 5 Ambassadors of Study Tour 2!

Meet our 5 Ambassadors of Study Tour 2!

On Saturday 18 January our 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors (Joseph Clarke, Amy Bowers, Jenny Glover, Georgina Robinson and Sue Whitehurst), led by Kirstine Ferguson, AFG Company Secretary touched down in the Gambia to begin their exciting 2 week Study Tour.

Working in partnership with Mobee Gambia, a newly established mental health charity, the AFG Gambia Study Tours aim to provide a first rate opportunity for both organisations 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 group’s life changing experiences through their daily blog, which will be published on the latest news page of our website. You can also follow the group’s adventures on our social media channels – Facebook (AFGSupport) and Twitter (@AFGSupport #AFGgoGambia).

Read more about the group’s first day below:

Join the journey

Monday 20 January

We arrived safely on Saturday 18 January to be met by Salifu, Mobee Gambia Director and a power cut. Being the Gambia the baggage handlers just jumped onto the conveyor belt and pulled the bags out for everyone, rather than wringing their hands. We have had our first visits today which have been a real culture shock, emotional and also insightful. Tomorrow we may be able to describe the impact more clearly but one of the biggest realisations was that people are people wherever you are and suffer in exactly the same ways – but the huge lack of resource makes it so much more challenging. We are really enjoying the Gambia, its culture, the people and the wildlife!

Kirsty and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors  

Tuesday 21 January

“Everyone had a really good day today – very positive and a lot of interaction with people as well as some very good feedback on the impact it is having.” says Joe.

Sue, who spent her second day at Serekunda, says: “Today was really enjoyable, very relaxed and we learned a lot.”

Joe says he has had a fantastic day at Tanka Tanka Hospital – not surprising, he and Georgie spent most of the day playing football with the patients and playing the drums, when Joe wasn’t watching the Gambian version of Coronation Street.

Amy can’t wait to get to Tanka Tanka Hospital and the staff are keen to tap into her experience in rehabilitation. Jenny visited the Poli Clinic with Adama, one of the Mobee Support Workers and that has resulted in Salifu, Mobee Gambia Director being approached and asked if Adama can do a placement there; a really positive outcome for Mobee Gambia. Just had a row with Jenny for not saying that she really enjoyed herself too! Right at the moment though we are all sitting eating papaya fruit after an outstanding Gambia meal!

Kirsty and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors  

Wednesday 22 January

Today has been a rest day for us though not without incident! Joe and Amy got told off: no language barrier – being told off is universal everywhere! We are all still laughing – and you can ask them why yourselves when we get back! It has been a quiet day and a good time to reflect and share our experiences of our first two-day placements. We have been to Serekunda to go to the market and take in Gambian life – an incredibly busy place and an experience in itself. We were surprised at the wide variety of goods available. We are all looking forward to new placements on Thursday with even more experience and exposure to Gambia life.

Kirsty and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors  

Thursday 23 January

It has been a good first day on our second placements. Georgie had an inspiring day meeting dedicated and passionate people at Sukuta Health Centre, which is more like a small district hospital than what we are familiar with as a health centre in the UK but run by the nurses only. Jenny and Joe went to Tanka Tanka Hospital and had a hard working day digging and hoeing round the banana plants with the Mobee workers. Sue and Jenny spent their first day at the Polyclinic in Banjul which is the feeder clinic for Tanka Tanka Hospital. Sue said: ” I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to go back tomorrow.” Salifu has been looking for information from government organisations about how to seek assistance from the Gambian Government to ensure the sustainability of Mobee as a charity.

Kirsty and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors  

Friday 24 January

Jenny, Joe and Amy (finally!) spent the day in Tanka Tanka Hospital and took part in the therapy session for patients – which they found very interesting but were extremely nervous when they were asked to speak as well, talking about mental health in the UK and the work of Mobee Gambia. Sue found her day went very quickly and she learnt a lot. Both Sue and Georgie found it sad to see people who were now very ill because they had delayed coming for help because they could not afford the fees. Georgie said: “I found it quite shocking and difficult learning about the prevalence, and the terrible impact that malaria has in the Gambia.”

Kirsty and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors  

Saturday 25 January

We were all invited out to lunch on Saturday to the homes of the two Mobee office workers – both of whom are called Fatou – to meet their families and enjoy traditional Gambian food. This allowed us to get an even better understanding of Gambian life. From there Sue, Georgie and Jenny were taken to see a masquerade complete with banging machettis to scare away evil spirits. The rest of us went to a naming ceremony celebrating the birth of a little girl – only a week old. Very colourful and very busy with all friends, neighbours and family in attendance. Amy, Joe and I returned to our compound to find that we had no electric – so we cooked chips by torch and lamp as you can see! Kirsty and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors  

Sunday 26 January

We can’t believe that a week has gone already! Today has been very much a day of relaxation for us. This morning some of us went on a bird trip to Koutou which was wonderful. So many beautiful and exotic birds, not to mention the rice fields, the pigs and the sheep – all so different to the ones we see at home. We also had the great good fortune to see a squad of young boys climb an enormous coconut tree to cut down the coconuts – and quite literally tasted the fruits of their labours! We are currently relaxing at Paradise Beach watching the fishing boats and listening to the Jolla peoples play and dance.

Kirsty and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors  

Monday 27 January

A very busy day for all of us. Jenny and Joe went to Brikama Health Centre which was even busier than Sukuta! It serves a very large area much of which they will visit tomorrow when they go out with the team doing field work. Georgie built on her experience by spending the day with Polyclinic in Banjul – the “feeder” clinic for Tanka Tanka. Sue and Amy were at Tanka Tanka and tonight Amy will be preparing for the hour long presentation she has been asked to give to the nurses tomorrow on how we support our people in our mental health services in AFG, particularly around relapse prevention and early warning signs. She is very nervous but she will be just terrific at it!

Salifu and Kirsty had a really useful day too but the crowning event was an invitation to meet the Speaker of the House, Abdoulie Bojang, to talk to him about the work of Mobee and the partnership with AFG. We then met Fatou Mbye, the Deputy Speaker, Chair of the National Women’s Council and a member of the Health Select Committee, who will put us in touch with other key members of the Gambian Government. Both were very supportive and will do everything possible to help ensure that Mobee work within the Gambia is sustainable: a huge step forward.

Kirsty and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors  

Tuesday 28 January

Another busy day in the Gambia. Jenny and Georgie had an incredibly interesting day out and about by Brikama, including following up some clients they had met in the Polyclinic. They also visited a number of schools where they talked about Mobee Gambia’s work and spoke to local doctors who were particularly interested in the library that Mobee is setting up. If you have any relevant text books you no longer want do consider sending them to Mobee for their library. Amy and Sue were back at Tanka Tanka Hospital today. Amy was asked to change the focus of her presentation at the last moment, a daunting thought for anyone but she and Salifu gave the staff a very thought-provoking hour and got very positive feedback afterwards! …..and finally, a meeting has been set up with the permanent secretary for health and social care and Salifu and Kirsty will meet him tomorrow.

Kirsty and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors  

Wednesday 29 January

An eventful and emotional day which has highlighted for us the need for the services Mobee is setting up. In addition we had a very productive meeting with the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Social Care, Dr Makie Taal, who, like all the government members and officials we have met, was both very interested and supportive. We look forward very much to working closely with them all.

Kirsty and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors  

Thursday 30 January

Our last full working day! In the morning all the ambassadors were either in Serekunda at the Hospital and Health Centre or in Brikama. Salifu and Kirsty were in Banjul meeting with Fanta Bai Secky, the Director of Social Welfare for the Gambia: another extremely positive and productive discussion! Tonight we met with all the people who facilitated the study tour for us at this end – a terrific group of dedicated professionals – and shared experiences and ideas for future tours. It has been a long day though. And on a final note Joe has finally triumphed over the side effects of the malaria tablets and slept last night!

Kirsty and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors  

Friday 31 January

Today was great! Our last full day in The Gambia and we have made the most of it. This morning we drove up country on the main highway to the village of Kafuta where we visited the school and presented the staff and pupils with the football kits which Everton gave us to take out – together with two footballs which were especially welcome as until today if they wanted to play a match they needed to borrow a ball from the school in the next village! We also had a quick whip round to provide enough money for the school to get the electricity run from the line which runs along the road outside into the school. It is not possible to adequately describe how happy and grateful everyone was – or how touched we were. From there we drove further up country to Foni Block and visited Salifu’s old school, St John Vlanney, and delivered a number of things we had brought out and a small amount of money which Jenny, Joe, Amy and the others had collected to help pay for uniforms and school fees. I have to say we got a fabulous welcome. A group of youngsters sang, we met everybody who had any connection with the school and given a guided tour, this included the school garden which is a place of beauty as well as a source of income as the produce is sold locally. I have never seen aubergines and tomatoes growing outdoors before.

Kirsty and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors  

The Last Word

We are now all home – following a long journey which included a detour to the Canary Islands as Banjul airport had a shortage of fuel and we needed more if we were to get back! Although tired there is a tremendous sense of achievement. The 2 weeks have been full of interest. We feel we have contributed to the development of Mobee and mental health services in the Gambia: along the way we have had fun but have encountered some major challenges as well – sharing laughter and tears (sometimes of frustration!). The last words, fittingly, come from some of the ambassadors :

“Hey – I want to go back! It was a fantastic experience and has made me appreciate what I have and inspired me to make the most I can out of my life. It has given me a lot more ambition and drive to make positive changes for my future.” – Jenny Glover

“How long do I have, there is so much I want to say about my experience in the Gambia. It was life changing and my life has changed for the better.” – Amy Bowers

“The one sentence is life changing! ….and I have slept!!” – Joseph Clarke

“Absolutely amazing!! It has made me a different person, and I’m going to not take things for granted like I used to – love to be able to go back and visit such wonderful people.” – Susanne Whitehurst

“An opportunity not to be missed. I was inspired by the willingness, dedication and commitment that the facilitators had towards the steps that need to be taken to tackle the stigma of mental health and the care provision in the Gambia. For me this reinforced my already present ambitions to help people with mental health issues to lead the hope of a happy and healthy future. An amazing experience, which has enlightened me to the wider scope in which this message needs promoting. Thank you it has been a privilege.” – Georgina Robinson

Kirsty and the 5 AFG Gambia Ambassadors