Saidiba said the Royal Victoria Hospital in the capital city of Banjul is 240 kilometres away from Soma. With no means to get an ambulance, most people catch a cab. He said people pay around $200 Gambian dalasi (approx. $34 CAD) for the cab ride, but most people can’t afford that since the average monthly salary in Gambia is around $100 dalasi, and Saidiba said most people don’t work.
“If your friend or relative is sick, you have to hire a taxi to take (them),” he explained. “But if you’re not well off in the pocket, you can’t do it.” Saidiba personally understands how crucial an ambulance is to Soma, due to his niece, Kaddy (Fatou), becoming sick with pneumonia. One morning, he received a call from home asking for help. Following his shift, he sent money back home for her to be brought to the hospital in the capital city of Banjul but it was too late.
“The next morning, I received a text saying she didn’t make it. You know, (she was) 26 years of age…. She was such a nice young girl. I said, ‘Can I do something to change the community over there?” Saidiba said. Luck would have it that Shell Scotford was decommissioning a 1993 Ford ambulance from its fleet. In 2007, the vehicle was brought on-site and was being put up for auction this year. Shell said the retired ambulance is still in great condition and is valued between $15,000 and $20,000.
When Saidiba approached his maintenance lead, Kelvin Rusk, for help, Rusk couldn’t refuse. Saidiba said Rusk has a big heart and couldn’t believe the circumstances people were facing in The Gambia.
“Malaw told me how hard it is for people to get to a hospital and how badly it’s needed there,” Rusk recalled. “I thought it was just something that Shell should be able to help these people out (with).”
The ambulance was brought to Heartland Ford, where any repairs needed were taken care of, free of charge. “Now (the ambulance) is 100-per-cent road-worthy and should be ready to operate for years for them over in Africa,” Rusk said. “It shows that Shell is willing to help people no matter where in the world they are. I think it’s great and I hope we can do more of it.”
Saidiba’s luck continued, as he figured out the logistics for shipping the ambulance. Ironically, he dealt with a fellow-Gambian who works for Sea Can Containers. The man told Saidiba since he was doing such great things for their home country, he would reduce the shipping charge of $4,000 down to $2,700. The Town Development Council in Soma will cover the shipping fees.
Wept for his county
Saidiba has lived in Canada for almost 30 years. During his last visit to Soma two years ago, he said he wept because of what he saw: “What I saw in the community — it was too much.” “It’s really mind boggling. A family of six or 10 will have only one person working. It’s not easy. You feel really sad because you think ‘Oh my God, think of the opportunities I have with Canada — what God gave me. And my own people are suffering. It’s terrible.”
The Gambian-native said people find it hard to provide their families with more than one meal a day in his home country. He added that being from a third-world county, he knows people can’t always rely on their government to get things done, so they help themselves. Saidiba said he’s grateful to Jacobs, Shell and everyone who made this possible. The ambulance was shipped on March 15 and is currently on its way to Gambia. “This will make a big difference in their lives,” Saidiba said. “Believe me, there’s going to be a nice festival for this ambulance when it arrives there.”