The benefactor, a United Kingdom-Gambia registered charity apropriately called Friends Of The Gambia Association (FOTGA) has built schools, health centres, provided educational bursaries and provided livelihood and gainful employment to thousands of young people in communities across the country.
Friends of The Gambia Association was founded on 22 July 1995 and gained the status of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in 2000.
FOTGA is a humanitarian organisation whose main focus is promoting education, alleviating poverty and supporting healthcare services. The following are some of its areas of operations and the places they are found in The Gambia:
Agriculture & Food
Kaur rice milling machine
Nioro Women’s Garden Project
Njolfen Ram Fattening Scheme
Rice for sponsored children’s families
The charity has built or rehabilitated over 10 schools for children from 3-year olds in nursery to primary and secondary schools covering 6 to 15-year olds.
Among these are nursery schools at Bafuloto, Bakindik, Brikama, Brufut Caledonian, Challa (kitchen), Hanne Vibbe, Maka Ali Sarr and Youna. They have also contributed to Balangharr and Banjul upper basic schools, and Bijilo and Brufut lower basic schools.
Friends of The Gambia Association uses any sponsorship money left over after a child has had their fees, lunch, uniforms, books and so forth paid, to cover certain costs and contingencies.
Examples are to pay the salaries of their staff in their Kotu head office, the continued sponsoring of children whose sponsors have stopped paying tuition; the administration of the sponsorship scheme in the UK; bursary for children who are suffering illness or extreme hardship and assisting schools in emergencies, for example, to repair classrooms or desks and chairs.
Among its latest completed projects is the 60×40 security wall fence at the Bakindik Health Post, a project that protects the health post from stray pets and cattle and provides protection for the staff who can now work in a more convenient atmosphere.
The imposing security fence and its artistically crafted doors (painted in white in beautiful contrast to the blue painted wall) provides a colourful attraction to passers-by on the main motor highway that runs by.
Inside the complex, FOTGA has dug a borehole enabling staff and patients to have access to much-needed water supply and maintaining hygienic standards expected of a health post.
The villagers who said they are profoundly grateful to FOTGA are not alone at the receiving end of these marvelous gestures.
A few dozen kilometers up the river, the imprint of FOTGA can be found in the form of a magnificent three-classroom building at Mecca Ali Sarr. Because of the nursery school, young children in that community now have access to pre-school education, a privileged commonly found only in urban areas of The Gambia.
Similar projects are found in Brikama Gidda where a solid three-classroom block is the main attraction of the nursery school providing early education to this populated metropolitan town. In the same community FOGTA funded the construction of a kitchen at the Brikama Lower Basic School, providing shelter and safe environment for the school cooks and safety for the food consumed by pupils daily. Another major activity of FOTGA in the area of education is the sponsorship of students which kept hundreds of school children in school over the past decade-and-a-half and is still growing.
Currently some 231 students from nursery school to university are receiving tuition and other fees under the FOTGA sponsorship programme.
The stories of some of the sponsored children is very heart-warming. For a start, most of the staff members of FOTGA, running their Gambia headquarters at Kotu, were themselves sponsored by the association. Some beneficiaries are so attached to their sponsors that they now enjoy family ties as stronger as their biological ones.
Led by Fatoumata Barrow and constituting of Sulayman Manneh and Hoyan Dubois, the trio supervise the daily activities of FOTGA in The Gambia and deal directly with the project beneficiaries as well as process and implement decisions taken by the FOTGA board back in the UK and trustees in The Gambia.
Each year, a pool of sponsorship applications are received at FOTGA-Gambia office at Kotu which are then sent to Britain where a board sits over them to determine the genuine and deserving cases before sending approvals to Banjul.
The Kotu office also serves as the liaison point between FOTGA and the Government of The Gambia and other organisations in and outside The Gambia.
Ever heard of the famous Brufut Marathon? Well they owe a lot of their success and fame to FOTGA, which since 1997, has been providing medals, cash prizes, certificates and preparatory budgets for the annual run. The event is also known for the famous FOTGA sponsored Rice Raffle which gives extra chances to the participants to go home with something more.
The organisers of the Brufut Marathon Association share similar vision with FOTGA – helping underprivileged students and their relationship has grown and remains strong since then. In fact, FOTGA has since extended this support to a football academy in the town, Gilcock, which trains children.
As he looks back at 20 years of operations in The Gambia, current chairman Rob Isdale said the hunger to bring smiles back to individuals is a personal joy for each and every one of the good people in the UK who provide support for the benefit of people they might not know at all. “To all of them, we owe this enormous humanitarian service,” he said.