ALAN Pickles is back from his latest trip to Africa where he has been checking on the progress of St Peter’s and St Raphael’s third world Gambia education project.
This time he had an additional brief as he was asked to accompany Schools for Gambia to help check water pumps at communal village wells, some of which had been reported as needing repairs.
“I travelled to remote villages and made a list and report for them, so the group could arrange repairs by a local contractor,” explained Alan.
The Gambia education project has been running since 2005 and has helped many children enjoy a more varied learning than they are offered by the state-run classes.
The project started with a winter holiday by Alan and his wife Mary and has since progressed with Alan making visits each year to supply the teachers with different educational resources such as posters, partly used and new exercise books, pencils and school furniture.
Many of these were collected from local schools in July when the school year finished.
Soon after selling his business, Alan was asked by St Peter’s headteacher to carry out alterations and improvements to the school, where he saw the things teachers were throwing away and renewing each year.
He decided to collect them and send them to the schools he had visited in Gambia on their holidays.
From this grew the church funding group setting up a nursery in a township called Bundung Borehole in Serrekunda, a place similar to Greater Manchester.
After a few years of regular visits, Alan realised that as much as education, the school leavers needed to earn a living.
At the same time another charity he was working with, Schools for Gambia, asked the funding group to help a woodwork class at a senior school in a town called Farafenni near the Senegal border.
After visiting the school and seeing the potential for students and the school, the woodwork funding project was started in 2010.
The senior secondary school employed the woodwork teacher in a classroom already equipped with benches and a few tools set up with a foreign grant around 1998.
The main problem was that the school could not afford to buy the wood for the students to have practical woodwork lessons.
The funding group supplied wood for students to start making small wooden articles.
They also regularly bought old British-made hand tools that were being replaced here with modern electric tools and sent them over to be used in the school.
If students gained employment after school they would have to work with hand tools anyway.
After only a few years, the Gambian Government’s annual reports on the school regularly showed the woodwork class the best in the North Bank region.
On one of his trips Alan got in touch with a Gambian man who had started a container shipping company where he negotiated a price for sending the tools and school equipment boxes out at a discount, in exchange for helping to support his Gambian village schools.
This has helped the group to send over school equipment clothes and food every month, benefiting more than 10 schools and nurseries.
On his trips Alan tries to stay in family compounds where he carries out improvements to the houses in exchange for a bed and food.
On his next trip he will be fitting LED lights to a solar system to give the houses in that compound light during the evening.
One of the villages he helps is called Chamen in the North Bank region, where there are about 700 families. He has helped the teachers to give the children structured games (learning through play).
The funding group is attempting to start another woodwork project at an Anglican Mission Institute senior school that is having problems with poor woodwork teaching, but he is hopeful of better results after the school employed a new head teacher in September.
• Anyone wanting more information or wishing to donate to the project can contact St Peter’s and St Raphael’s Church, Castle Hall Close, Stalybridge, or call 0161 338 2575.