Paul Lafferty, Dougie Borland, Jimmy Whelan and Frank Devine have returned from a hugely successful voluntary aid mission to Africa on 10th of November, asserting that people in the West – both children and adults – really need to reflect on the reality of life for millions of human beings only six and half hours ‘flight time’ from these shores.
On disembarking at Banjul Airport the guys were thrown in to an exciting itinerary which had been drawn up by Moduo Lamin Khan (‘Khan’ was a key partner to the mission, opening doors that may have remained closed for the group), a fascinating glimpse into another world was experienced over the next 7 days in this poverty stricken but beautiful country where huge sections of the population survive at subsistence levels.
Every morning Alasan Camara would accompany the guys over dirt tracks to various schools, meetings with principals, teachers , children, local religious figures like Sheriff Muhammad Lamin, community leaders and local people under a range of different scenarios and contexts as well as experiencing native African culture at a wedding reception.
Through Blantyre Soccer Academy, an appeal prior to departure for football kit was successful, and the guys were able to present the Father Gough Sports Academy (named after a legendary 68 year old Irish priest from Co. Kilkenny that the guys later had the privilege of meeting), with 6 full sets of football kit for the young members. Coach Dougie Borland took training sessions with the children and marvelled at the talent on display. The guys were publicly thanked by Technical Director of the Gambian Football Association, Musa Njie before being interviewed by Gambian state television, radio and newspapers, “We are very happy, and are doing everything possible to forge good and ever-lasting relations with Blantyre Soccer Academy, which is all geared towards the development of youth football in The Gambia”.
The entire trip had been co-ordinated by long time Gambian voluntary aid worker, Paul Lafferty, of the Scottish Soul, Funk and Jazz Society. While the society is currently involved in attempting to raise money to buy a kitchen for a school in Malawi, they were involved in The Gambia mission through the patrons of ‘Soul in the Park’ and ‘Mary’s Meals’ Soul Nights which raise thousands for good causes in Africa. Changing Places: An Anthology of Verse (a recent compilation of working class poetry) and the local Saint Joseph’s Primary School in Blantyre wished to assist the mission as well and provided Lego for the children in schools; small items such as these are treasured amongst the children and might well be the only toy they have ever owned.
Paul, Jimmy, Dougie and Frank still find it hard to process some of the things they witnessed that people in the West only scan on television. Dougie commented, “To be invited into family homes and offered food when they clearly did not have enough for themselves, was one of the most humbling experiences of my life”. Dougie re-paid this gesture with a bag of rice that would allow this family to survive for another month or so.
Currently reflecting on what was a hugely successful mission, the guys are aware that they have only scratched the surface in their attempts to assist the children. They are however resolved that the foundations of the partnerships cemented in The Gambia be built on. They wish to extend a large thank you to all who donated and to businessmen, Finbar Francis Bryson and Gary Doonin, for their generous support of Gambian children.