Thousands of impoverished children across the world are being given a reason to smile thanks to tireless, year-round charity work taking place right here in this town.
Last month a party of 12 trustees from Burnley charity “Furniture for Education Worldwide” flew to The Gambia to build a playground for the children of Sanchaba Sulay Jobe Lower Basic School and Nursery.
It is the second playground project undertaken by the charity in a little under 18 months having successfully constructed a similar installation at a nearby nursery in Bijilo in November 2014.
One of the trustees, Liam Kilbride, who was making his first trip overseas with the charity, said it was an experience that would stay with him forever.
“We spent three to four days building this park and the children were just there the entire time watching us from behind these walls,” he said. “They never stopped looking through these gaps. When we let them in it was unbelievable. It was like a stampede. Within two minutes there were 500 kids on that playground. You couldn’t see the playground for them.
“When you drive to the school down the streets, you just see shanties, shacks, corrugated sheets everywhere. There’s nothing but dirt tracks. This playground, it was like a small Disneyland to them. It was superb.”
The Gambia ranks in the bottom 25 poorest countries in the world and education of their children is their only passport to a better life. At Sanchaba the school holds 3,200 children aged 4 to 14 and with insufficient buildings, teachers and resources operates a morning and an afternoon school.
The playground equipment was donated by a Lancashire philanthropist and was shipped from the charity’s warehouse facility in Briercliffe on February 16th, arriving in The Gambia just prior to the group’s arrival.
All the trustees that travelled to The Gambia paid for themselves and worked in sweltering, challenging conditions to ensure the playground was ready before they set off back to England.
“It was 40 odd degrees and we were working in a little compound,” said Liam. “It was hard work. We were getting picked up at 9am and we weren’t getting back until after 4pm every day. It was a decent days graft. It took around three or four days to build the park but to see the looks on the kids’ faces, you just can’t explain it.
“Local schools and colleges donated a lot of stationery as well which was nice. We took a lot of football kits out there as well and sports equipment.
“We had been told the kids have to drink out of plastic bags so I got onto United Utilities and asked them for some water bottles. They gave us 3,500 water bottles to take over. There was no space left in this container. You wouldn’t have been able to fit an exercise book in the top corner.”
FEW’s primary role is to salvage school furniture and equipment which would otherwise be consigned to land fill and export these materials to developing countries.
Incredibly, this was the 73rd container of its kind sent out since the project began in 2008. The Gambia alone has received 13 of these consignments while other countries to benefit include Pakistan, Egypt, India, Ghana, Nepal, Kenya and Cambodia.
It costs between £2,500 – £6,000 to send over just one container, not including the items inside it, meaning that approximately £250,000 has been raised in just eight years by the charity.
“I am very proud of what we have achieved,” said chairman County Coun. Terry Burns MBE. “The trustees work tirelessly for children thousands of miles away who have very little. It’s worth all the hard work when you see the beautiful smiles on the faces of the children.”
Terry’s idea for the charity came following an eye-opening visit to Pakistan.
“Just after I got back I was driving past Gawthorpe High School. The building was being knocked down as part of the Building Schools for the Future scheme. They were bulldozing all the tables and chairs into skips and I’d just been to Pakistan where all these kids were sat on the floor with nothing. It started then really.”
Whilst in The Gambia a presentation was also made to Burns’ Musical Stars, the school’s marching band that was named after Terry following a previous shipment of instruments he had orchestrated.
“This time, when we were sending over the playground, I sent a selection of new instruments over as well – cornets, violins, bugles, a saxophone, that sort of stuff. They were over the moon. We tried to use them before we packed them up but we couldn’t get a sound out of them. They had them for five minutes and they were playing them. It was fantastic.”
FEW receives no government funding and Terry says the work done by the trustees would not be possible without the support of Unite the Union, local and national companies and of course the Burnley community.
“We get nothing in the way of funding from the government,” he said. “Everything we do is done through fund-raising. It is pure fund-raising and we are extremely grateful to everyone who has helped us. The more money we raise, the more money we can send over.”
The charity holds an annual fund-raising dinner dance at the Dunkenhalgh hotel with this year’s event booked for Saturday, November 12th. Corporate tables can now be booked through Terry on 07976611119.
The charity’s work can be followed on www.fewcharity.co.uk and through Facebook. There is also a Just Giving page if anybody would like to make a donation. A link can be found on the website.
• The other trustees who visited The Gambia were: Phil Crowe, Keith and Sheila Bolam, Paul Burns, Paul Burnie, Gary Burns, Richard Smith, Rob Whewell, Rob Rapson and Steve Durkin.