Over the years we've grown very close to our friend Musa Jaiteh and his extended family in the village of Sukuta in The Gambia. Musa dyes our very special Kola Nut & Indigo fabrics.
Musa is a stalwart of his community. One of his many contributions is as a volunteer at his local health centre, doing all sorts of odd jobs to keep things running as smoothly as possible. We've been there with him on many occasions - once to meet Aminata, his newborn daughter - so we know how basic and difficult conditions are there.
Enter Helen Conway. Helen is a talented UK textile artist and a good friend. She's used our African fabrics extensively in her quilts.
A couple of years ago Helen surprised us at the Quilt and Stitch Village show at Uttoxeter by exhibiting her latest quilt - a wallhanging called 'The No.1 African Fabric Shop'. It was magnificent and very, very big! We loved it.
Then Helen had the idea of doing something with her quilt to raise some money for Africa. The question was: what?
We put our heads together and had an idea. Many of the fabrics in Helen's quilt were from Musa. Why not raise money to help Musa’s clinic?
The next question was: how?
This was Helen's crazy idea and it worked brilliantly. She cut her huge quilt up into 28 random pieces. She called the pieces 'planks' and the project became 'Buy a Plank'. We sold the planks online to 28 quilters - some of them quite famous - and they each made a new quilt using their plank as a starting point.
We exhibited the finished plank quilts at the next Quilt and Stitch Village show. It was a fantastic display and a highlight of the show.
At the show and simultaneously online, we auctioned the quilts to the highest bidders and also took direct donations. When we did the final tally it came to just over £3,900 raised to help Musa’s clinic.
We - Magie and Bob, that is - are honoured to be the custodians of all this money. It makes sense, as we travel to The Gambia regularly and are in constant contact with Musa.
Spending this amount of money is a serious task and we want to spend it well, with input from the clinic staff and the community helping decide how do to this.
On our December 2015 trip to The Gambia, we met with head nurse Rose Mendy and her clinical colleague Morro Yarboe to discuss the many options. Also, with Musa's help, we made a presentation to the village elders, who are now also contributing ideas for future spending.
The first area that needed urgent attention was hygiene, specifically the clinic's badly damaged, barely functioning sanitation system. We commissioned local tradesmen to completely overhaul and renew the toilets, plumbing, drainage and septic system. These upgrades are now complete, benefiting staff, patients and visitors alike. We've also invested in cleaning equipment and supplies for the volunteers to use.
On the clinical side, we've begun a relationship with a local pharmacy and medical supplier, where we've purchased digital thermometers, a digital blood pressure monitor and a nebuliser for treating asthma.
That's up to the staff and the communty they serve. As they make their own decisions about how they want to spend this money to improve their clinic, we’ll be reporting here on our website.
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Finally, this pot of money will eventually be finished. Of course, we'll gratefully accept any donations.
Thank your for supporting the Sukuta Health Centre.
Press report: Huddersfield Examiner