A tragedy that changed the life of a Gambian philanthropist

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Anna Grey-Johnson, one of the most important Gambian philanthropist in Europe and also the founder of ‘’Tesito’’ Foundation, founded in 2001, has told The Point that when she visited The Gambia several years ago, she ‘‘experienced a tragedy that changed her life and motivated her to do everything in her power to help save the lives of many people’’.

Grey-Johnson who lives in England but grew up in the suburbs of Banjul, in 2000, decided to visit the Sahelian countries of The Gambia, Senegal and Mali.

She recalled that driving through The Gambia, she stopped to pick up a woman and her baby who needed to get to a hospital immediately. She soon discovered that the baby had malaria, and ‘‘the mother’s only options were to wait in temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) by the side of the road for someone to pick her up, or walk for several hours with her baby strapped to her back to reach the nearest hospital’’.

 Grey-Johnson said: “By the time we got to her, she had been waiting three hours by the side of the road in extreme heat. Sadly, her child started fitting in the car and died before we got to the hospital. We were just too late.”

The experience deeply affected Grey-Johnson, and when she returned home to London, she immediately began researching malaria and what resources in Gambia were available to help.

To her astonishment, Grey-Johnson found that 40 percent of the deaths of children under the age of five in the country were due to malaria, which is a ‘‘preventable and controllable’’ disease.

She added that she was even more amazed to find out that the ‘‘government’s budget to fight the disease at the time was only £5,000 ($8,900 US)’’.

Grey-Johnson said: “I just knew I could raise more than that from friends back in England...I came back and started talking to friends, colleagues, anyone who would listen and before we knew it we had collected £100,000 ($178,000 US)!”

Founding Tesito, Grey-Johnson knew that she could not hand over this amount of money to the government’s Department of Health because there would be no way to track the spending and influence the outcomes. “I felt duty bound to ensure that the money was put to good use and I felt personally accountable for ensuring that”.

She acknowledged that Non-governmental organizations and local volunteers did exist, but soon found that there were language barriers taking into consideration the different languages spoken in Gambia as well as literacy problems.

According to her, the most appropriate option at the time was to establish her own charity. Thus, “Tesito” was born in 2001.

Grey-Johnson also revealed to the Point that the main beneficiaries are those living in Julangel ward. The ward includes the main village of Julangel and the 15 satellite villages which draw services from it.

The 15 satellite villages are Mangkama Kunda; Njum Bakary; Sare Mansali; Sare Musa; Madina Samba Jawo; Timbinto; Sinchang Nebeh; Tabajang; Sare Jajeh; Sare Demba Dado; Sare Yerro; Sare Demba Yo; Sare Njobo; Sinchang Teneng and Suma Kunda.

Answering question from this correspondent regarding the Foundation’s achievements, she responded: ‘‘We define achievement by the outcomes achieved for our beneficiaries. This requires taking a long-term holistic view. Over the 17 years we have worked in Julangel to create a Model Africa Village based on 3 pillars (infrastructure; services and livelihood)’’.

Grey-Johnson added: ‘‘Basically, we work with third parties to provide the basic infrastructure in the village (eg. clinic; school; skills centre; community gardens)... Once the basic infrastructure is in place we provide direct support to operationalize the structure so that it can provide a basic but good standard of service that is the second pillar’’.

The third pillar, she added: ‘‘ Is livelihood where we work with the community to find ways of creating employment and encouraging entrepreneurship in the local community by providing access to credit and routes to market’’.

She also revealed the example of Julangel Basic Cycle School, a school built with funding from Holland MRC Foundation; Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education has supplied the staff (headmaster Mr. Danso and 16 staff).

Grey-Johnson disclosed that her Foundation has provided furniture; books and other resources including a link with Thorpe House School in England.

Pillars One and Two entails Infrastructure and Services; it also  implemented malaria intervention initiatives which ‘‘have changed the bahaviour of the  beneficiaries as over 80% sleep under insecticide treated bed nets resulting in positive change with malarial mortality and morbidity rates falling dramatically especially in the under 5s’’.

She also noted: ‘‘Following the success of our interventions in Julangel, Centre of Innovation Against Malaria and the National Malaria Control Unit under the Ministry of Health subsequently rolled it out across The Gambia’’.

It could be recalled that in 2016 World Health Organisation (WHO) declared The Gambia no longer malaria endemic as her Foundation built a 10 bed clinic in Julangel to provide a first responder service to the community.

Tesito also provided the first community ambulance for patients to get quick and easy access to Bansang hospital.

Furthermore it also put in place a twinning arrangement with Thorpe House School, also assisting Julangel Skills Centre with equipment and a plan for income generation which will include assistance with basic tool-kits for graduates of the centre. This will enable them to set up their own workshops in their communities. The importance of Julangel Health Centre mother and baby clinic Education was also strongly emphasised.

Grey-Johnson also revealed new School building at Julangel Upper Basic School funded by Holland MRC, Julangel Skills Centre funded by African Development Bank Women’s Garden assisting the Women’s Garden Kaffo with irrigation and access to water as well as enterprise initiatives to sell their produce locally.

In addition, a 60,000 litre tank is being constructed for Julangel Women’s Garden Kaffo with funding from IFAD.

Answering question regarding obstacles, Grey-Johnson responded: ‘‘We faced many obstacles along the way, not least because we not operating under an enabling environment under the dictatorship (especially from 2008 onwards) which slowed things down considerably. However, with this new democratic dispensation we are hoping to engage with all governmental and non-governmental agencies to accelerate the work of Tesito Foundation in Julangel’’.

Recommendation for the future is includes  ‘‘communities to learn from Julangel with a view to replicating the Model in their communities’’.

The Founder of ‘’Tesito’’ concluded that ‘‘this type of development should be led by communities themselves...we will be sharing a step-by-step process map which can be adapted for use by other rural communities across The Gambia’’.

Grey-Johnson who is extremely passionate in supporting and helping poor and needy Gambians  also established a website:  www.tesitofoundation.com and is currently on facebook as Julangel Model African Village and Tesito Foundation.

Author: Author: Alhagie Mbye, The Point’s Europe Correspondent.