The Spirit of The Gambia

May 17, 2024

The heat and sunshine in The Gambia hits as soon as you step out of the airport in Banjul and this is why the coast here is a magnet for Brits searching for warmth and light after months of the cold and wet dark days of the UK.

This was my first time in Africa and I came with an open mind as to what to expect but I think the best way to describe it would be that it was an assault on the senses. The noise and crowds and colours on the road through Banjul filled my ears and eyes as we sped along a straight modern road. An important OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) Summit Meeting in Banjul at the beginning of May had prompted the building of some new smooth roads (no potholes here) from the airport and we were soon turning off from the bustle to the calm of our hotel and home for the next 11 days.

Meeting with with the Gambian Women’s Amputee Association

But my companions and I who travelled from Gatwick weren’t here to lie in the sun – well, only at the end of the day. It is 10 years since the inception of Legs4Africa in The Gambia and we were here to celebrate the occasion with staff at the National Rehabilitation Centre and to inaugurate our new name, STAND. Our small group of 5 all had specific jobs. Tom and Phil, the two founding directors of the original Legs4Africa were re-engaging with the people they have known and worked with over the past 10 years and wanted to record video interviews with clinicians and users of legs made from the components we have sent. One of the first meetings I had was with the Gambian Women’s Amputee Association which is a lively group of women who, amongst other topics, explained how the micro financing they run is helping women amputees to set up their own businesses, enabling them to regain their self confidence and help support their families. On other days we met with the manager of a bank to investigate new banking arrangements, visited a 3D printing entrepreneur to see if using 3D printing would be feasible for us to make some components and we made contact with the UK High Commissioner as well as caught up with our latest trustee on the ground, Ida.

Setting up my meetings was easy with the generous help of the staff at the National Rehabilitation Centre and facilitated by Bob who works from the Centre with his assistant, Ebrima, as Home Maintenance facilitator. Seemingly Bob knows everyone in The Gambia so being ferried around by him was a joyous experience in itself, from buying goat meat for the celebratory barbecue on Saturday night (though Naomi our vegetarian camera person probably found it less joyous as the poor goat was butchered in front of us against a backdrop of the noisy hustle and bustle of the street which carried on behind us) to stopping on the highway so Bob could make adjustments to a wheelchair, the user of which had spotted and flagged him down – Bob’s four wheel drive is easy to spot with it’s distinct STAND signage (including a prosthetic leg affixed to its front) and in its decrepitness – It’s a miracle it still goes. 

Meeting the Gambian Amputee football team as they trained for their next tournament

Thanks to Bob and staff at the Centre, I met wonderful amputees, from a very young boy who told us how his mother’s amputation had affected him to more mature amputees, who invited us into their homes or to sit in a yard under the shade of a mango tree or in the case of the amputee football team, to sit on their rolled up goal nets which cushioned some very uncomfortable stones. They all generously shared their experiences of lost limbs and I was struck by their unfailingly positive attitude. Regardless of how their lives had been changed by having a prosthetic leg, the message they wanted to convey to fellow amputees was that getting out and socialising was the only way to avoid depression and to regain their confidence and self worth. They all praised the work that the counsellors from the National Rehabilitation Centre do both before and after amputation. Talking to these amazing people was very humbling and I suffered a moist eye more than once when listening to their stories of perseverance and hope. 

STAND’s Administrator for the Gambia (Elizabeth), and her daughter

But it wasn’t all work and no play. Our one day off was spent sailing through the mangroves. Given my slight anxiety about small rocking boats this was a day to remember most notably because even here, far from the busy towns, I met young boys who gave me an insight into how they live and rely on money from tourists which is handed over to their village community to buy food and pay for education of the children. It was also interesting to hear (unbidden) a particular boy’s view on migration. Although he knows people, including his cousin, who have made the long and perilous journey to Europe. He himself has no intention of leaving his community but with no parents and a sister to support, he planned to succeed in school, get a good job and in this way help his village become more prosperous. 

I was really quite sad when the day eventually came when we had to leave the sun and lovely new friends to come back to a rather cold UK – and to discover I needed my bed socks on when I finally crawled into my own bed at some ungodly hour the following morning – from the sublime to the ridiculous in more ways than one. 

Now time has passed since those sun drenched days and my abiding memory, along with the impression of generosity, resilience, kindness and joy, is that of smiling friendly Gambians who made my introduction to The Smiling Coast so rewarding.

Elizabeth, Me, Adama, Oumie, Naomi

About the author

Name: SuePownall

Hey there, I’m Sue! I keep things running smoothly around here, answering all your queries at hello@stand.ngo, coordinating generous leg donors from around the globe with our partners in Africa. I’ve got a keen eye for detail, so I’m also the one catching typos and sprucing up our blogs. When I’m not wielding my admin wand, you’ll find me lost in a good book, doodling away, getting crafty with some sewing, soaking up some ballet or theatre, or just laughing it up with my mates. And yes, I’m often the one bringing the biscuits – because who doesn’t love a good biscuit?

Our Docu-series will inspire you...
Image
Marcia lost her leg to diabetes, and now she is able to work again and enjoy her family.

You'll receive 6 short movies, then be added to our ongoing updates. Unsubscribe at any time.