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Despite her devastating illness, Stella was always thinking ahead and trying to find ways to assist her local community in The Gambia. One of the things that had been bought to her attention was a stretch of road 7.5 kilometres long, which leads from the villages surrounding Stella's camp to the nearest town of Kuntaur, which is on the North Bank of the river.
The village women use this road daily to get to the rice fields, and it is the route to the nearest secondary school, health clinic and market from which they can both buy goods and sell their produce. Most of the road has been washed away and during the rains and for some months after the rains, this road is under water. This causes great hardship and people have to remove their clothes and carry them on their heads as they wade through seven kilometres of water. It is dangerous for children going to school and must be very disheartening if you are sick and need to get to the clinic. People have been known to put off the visit until it is too late and this has caused unnecessary deaths. We have also treated several horses and donkeys that have sustained injuries whilst trying to pull their carts along the submerged road.
Sadly, despite her best efforts, Stella was unable to raise sufficient funds to rebuild this road before her death and on Christmas night, though she was very ill, she asked me if we would ensure that the road was built. I made my promise, though I was rather daunted by the prospect, particularly after I had received some of the quotes for the road!
I discussed it with several people including Professor Max Murray, who is a Trustee and a friend. He had recently read a book called Calum's Road, which had inspired him, and when he heard the story of this road, he immediately said that of course it was possible and of course it could be done and he advised me to read Calum's Road.'
During our subsequent conversations the road became known as 'Calum's Road in The Gambia' and it will be built, inspired by Calum and in memory of Stella.
The road is estimated to cost £130,000 - £150,000 to build. It will be built with community involvement and we hope to start it next dry season roughly a year after Stella made her request to me. If anybody knows of any company or organisation that may be willing to sponsor a part of the road or even fund raise for it, we would be very glad to hear from them.
Donations can be made to The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust (Calum's Road) HERE.
The rehabilitated horses and donkeys that belong to the Trust will be playing their part in fulfilling Stella's dream by helping to carry materials for the road on their carts. Calum's road took twenty years to build, let's hope that we are able to build ours more quickly.
We would like to thank the following people for their support for Calum's Road in The Gambia:
Mr. and Mrs. Law
Professor Max Murray
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CALUM'S ROAD COMPLETED
Well we made it and I have the pictures to prove it! Please click HERE to view the photos and HERE to watch the 'Calum's Road by Motorcycle Ambulance' You Tube video.
The rain kept away for the most part and when it did come served as a water bowser, because the one we hired was faulty. We only lost a couple of days work to rain. It was a bit touch and go and I had a few sleepless nights, but somehow we made it and we now have a super highway! It was such a pleasure to see the horses and donkeys trotting along so happily to the lumo last Monday, rather then staggering and straining as they did on the old road.
In the end it turned into a real team effort and our team of contractors worked incredibly hard to see it through and they did it with much humour too.
Though I had been told to watch the fuel like a hawk, none was stolen and the operators quite often refused to take their quota because they hadn't used it all up the day before.
The local communities as well as those from across the river have all asked me to give thanks to all of you who made it possible for this road to be built, they are quite ecstatic about it and people travelled from far and wide to come and see it because they could not believe what they had heard. There were always lots of people to watch and when we were laying the sticks, the army even turned up to help as they had heard that we needed manpower!
It turned out to be a real community effort, with the ladies of each village providing breakfasts and lunches for the drivers and operators of the machines.
We could not have had a harder working team, everyone, from the hard working Gambia Horse and Donkey staff who helped to collect the 11,200 litres of fuel and decant it into bidons ready for the next days allocation, to the lovely lorry drivers of the three lorries which we called Tom, Richard and Harry (we had a fourth lorry called "Non Starter" as well but he only stayed a few days!) to the machine operators and the supervisor from The National Roads Authority, were so pleasant, humorous and dedicated to completing the project before the rains stopped play. They were up early and finished late and there was a great team spirit.
I would like to extend my very sincere thanks to you all for all the help and support that you have given me, I shall never ever be able to thank you enough. After many trials and tribulations, it turned out to be a very uplifting experience and I met so many really lovely people through it.
Thanks too must go to the local communities who worked so hard, to Ballast Nedam who surveyed and designed the road and who kindly provided the culverts, to PIWAMP who helped by loaning me their machines, to Green Impact who also supplied machines at reduced rates, to the Horse and donkey staff and to The National Roads Authority who were so incredibly helpful and supportive and who ensured that the work was carried out to standard.
I was reduced to tears on my last day when one of the Sambel ladies started to cry, when I asked her why, she said, " wherever she is, I know that Stella will be happy now, but I wish she was here".
THANK YOU ALL so much, we could not have done it without you.
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MAY 15th 2010
Great progress is being made on Calum's Road. Ballast Nedam, a Dutch engineering firm who are working on a major road building project in The Gambia, have very kindly offered to help us with this project at a vastly discounted price, though at around £65,000 it is still a HUGE amount of money to raise. Thanks to the motorbikers and a number of fundraising events, we have managed to raise just under £50,000 and just need to raise the final £15,000. Ballast Nedam, with their incredible kindness and generosity have extended the time required to pay the final instalment in order to help us to meet our target.
If any of you know of any organisation, grant making trust, individual or even media who might be interested in the Calum's Road story, please contact us as we need all the help we can get to complete this road.
Calum's Road in The Gambia crosses a swamp so will need to be raised quite high to rise above the rainy season water levels. I am no engineer, but apparently if you just raise the level of the road without giving it time to settle, it will quickly break down again unless other measures are taken.
Ballast Nedam have decided to design this road as they would a Dutch dyke, this means that the local community are heavily involved preparing bundles of sticks and sewing "geo matting" together, enough to cover the 1.3 kilometres of the lowest lying piece of road.
The communities have been coming out in force to help and have pooled their money together to enable the ladies to make their breakfast and lunch on the "work" days. They are hoping that by next week, (20th May, 2010), they will have completed their part of the road and the heavy machinery will then be able to come in and complete it. Ballast Nedam hope to begin early in June and hope to complete the road by the end of June which will hopefully be just in time for the rains.
A family friend, Nigel Orbell, went out for a month on a voluntary basis to organise and supervise the community efforts and we are very grateful to him for his sterling efforts.
You will see from the pictures HERE that the people arrive from far and wide to help, from across the river, on foot, on bikes and motorbikes, by tractor and trailer and someone even came in an old Mercedes!
We are so close to the end of our journey for Calum's road now, if you feel you can help at all with fundraising for the final push, it would be a great help to us, to the community and to the animals who have to pull heavily laden carts on this road.
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For a BBC video of extended footage of the trip from Raasay to Gambia please click *here
NB The BBC video may not be available for those resident outside the UK
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Picture Gallery (Before Road was Built)
Click on Image to View larger Version
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Sponsored Bike Ride for Calum's Road
The Heroes arrive!
On the 31st January after some 4,700 kilometres our heroic motor bikers arrived. The day had started in great excitement, they had phoned ahead to tell us that they were on the Senegalese border. The news spread like wildfire and the "bush telegraph" which is now helped by mobile phones(!) worked its wonders. For the last 27 kilometres of their journey the bikers were given the warmest of Gambian welcomes and by the time they reached Horse and Donkey in the dark and completely exhausted, I think they had realised just how important this road was to the people of our area!
Many toasts were drunk to absent friends, sadly not everyone who had fundraised was able to make the trip, some were physically unable to make it due to the inclement weather conditions when they left, for others, the economic recession had bitten too hard and though they had bravely managed to raise money for the building of the road, they didn't have enough to pay their own way on the trip. This reflects the incredible spirit of selflessness of the Calum's Road Motor bikers.
Both the community in and around Calum's Road and all of us at Horse and Donkey feel privileged and humbled by what a group of men who were complete strangers have done for us. They have managed to raise in excess of £40,000 for the building of the road and are helping to make Stella's Dream come true.
HUGE thanks and hugs to each and every one of you who took part in the fundraising and planning of this incredible event, you are ALL heroes and I hope that you will take comfort in the knowledge that through your efforts, the lives of a great many people will be transformed for the better. We hope to meet you all in May and as soon as the road is complete and we have organised the official opening, we shall be sending out the invitations! Thank you all so much!
Post script. As if receiving help from the motor bikers was not enough, we have also received help from a Dutch road building company called Ballast Nedam. We originally approached them for help and advice with the culverts for this road and they have given us so much help with surveying and suggestions and plans for the road. It is hard for me to describe just how much having such willing expertise means to me and it is hoped that work on the road will begin in the next three weeks, subject to approval from The National Roads Authority. Saying "Thank you" seems completely inadequate for the help we have received. I just hope that one day in some way, we can return the incredible kindness and generosity that we have received from this company.
Please click HERE to view the photos!
Some of their fundraising exploits can be seen on *You Tube.
*The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust is not responsible for the content of external websites
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