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24 September 2014

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Africa Lives

Sohm is well away from the West Coast tourist area of Gambia

Report Two

The work involved, and the incredible relentless heat.

So how did you get started?
During the morning of our first day we carried out a few odd jobs to get the accommodation straight and then we were ready to start work. We had asked that the local contractor be paid to get the foundations dug and the pad down before we arrived and that was done exactly as asked.

The building site on the first working day
The first working day....

It had also been arranged that the local villagers, as their contribution to the project, would make all the building blocks in advance for us. They had made quite a few but not as many as we had hoped, it was touch and go over the first few days as to whether they would keep up with us- we did use a few blocks before they had really hardened but with no ill effect.

What about the heat?
The first day we tried to work in the afternoon but it rapidly became obvious that that was a non-starter. From 1pm until 4ish it was too hot. Every day it was in the high 40°C or low 50s and on at least 3 days it was in excess of 55°C. We ended up with a working day of 7am to 1pm and 4.30pm to 6.30pm, daylight was 7am to 7pm so this fitted in well.

We had arranged for 12 locals to join us on the site as volunteers and that arrangement worked very well. Although they were all men as opposed to our 5 men and 7 ladies they were a mixture of ages and abilities. Some of them spoke little English but we all got on very well and at times their knowledge of local materials and building methods proved invaluable.

Tell us more about the work involved...

Work progressed very rapidly with the skills that some of the local volunteers had and the enthusiasm which we all had. We soon formed up into groups, some cement mixing, some block laying and others doing the all important general work so it wasn’t very long before we needed scaffolding.

Working with local scaffolding
Local scaffolding - not quite up to it!

We tried, very briefly, the local version of scaffolding made with a few branches tied together, but decided that it would be safer to hire metal scaffolding as the building was higher than usual. Although the building was large at 10 metres by 40 metres it soon reached its target height of just over 3 metres.

We then cut and wired steel rods together for the re-enforced ring beam which ran right round the building. A lot of concrete was mixed, carried up the scaffolding and poured into this beam and it was finally finished during week 3.

Rather than start the roof then, we spent Friday and Saturday demolishing and rebuilding a cattle trough in the village. It had been damaged some time ago but the village could not afford the repairs.

We were able to renovate the village “Lavoir” that had suffered a lot of wear and tear over the years. These local repairs were financed by money raised in Jersey during our preparation and we felt they would be of benefit to the whole community.

Did you manage to finish everything?
As the final week dawned we started on the roof. First, by good team work, we manually hauled up the huge metal A frames, no cranes here(!), then bolted them into position before nailing in the wooden cross struts.

Working on the roof
Putting on the roof - no crane!

Once the first few were in place we started fitting the roofing sheets. We were using steel profile sheets which are much more hard wearing than corrugated iron and also much heavier. One slight problem towards the end was that the last few sheets had to be cut for ridge pieces and nothing in our tool kit or anywhere in the village was powerful enough to cut it. We had to get our “shopper” to get an angle grinder from Town.

As this took time it meant, unfortunately, that we were not able to fit those last few pieces before our time in Sohm came to an end.

Were there any celebrations to mark the end of your stay?
On the last afternoon we held a party in the almost completed building for all those who had worked with us and for us. During the emotional speeches I handed over the building to the Jersey Gambia Schools Trust on behalf of Jersey Overseas Aid and marked the occasion by presenting a plaque carved by one of the team. This will be displayed on the outside of the building when it is opened later in the year.

The building from the outside, almost complete
The nearly-completed building

Looking round on that last day made us realise just how much we had achieved in one short month and we all felt justly proud of our efforts. We had provided food for the party, many “western” things but a rice dish for those who preferred the traditional fare. Our guests of course went first and by the time we ate there was only the rice dish left!

During the party we distributed gifts to all the site workers and all the domestic helpers. In return all the team were given a Jersey Gambia Schools Trust tee shirt from the trust and from the community each person was given a large bag of groundnuts which, knowing their poverty, was quite moving.

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last updated: 15/06/05
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