David teaching a blind student at the GOVI school in Serrekunda, The Gambia, in January 2010
Malcolm Garner and the impact of that first overland journey to The Gambia:
I feel as though a part of my own history has died with him, as David and I go back a long way professionally, and then I shared with him one of the greatest adventures of my life – the drive to Gambia in December 2003 to deliver the Mitsubishi minibus to the School for the Blind in Serrekunda.
In our working careers, David was the representative for teachers of the blind and partially sighted when I was for teachers of the dear on an organisation called the Special Educational Needs National Advisory Council (SENNAC) which was actually far less important than its name suggests! Nonetheless we did some good work and organised a few national conferences which were interesting and sometimes influential.
It was through that contact that David got in touch in 2003 to ask if I (and others) would sponsor his journey to deliver the minibus to Gambia. I was impressed that he had set this up and wrote and said I would, and that I wished I was going too, to which he replied – “Well why don’t you. I need a co-driver.” Hence my involvement.
The journey was absolutely fascinating and exciting, including a complete failure of the clutch in the middle of our crossing of the Sahara Desert! The repair of that in the desert was an epic achievement and we made it to Gambia intact and were able to hand the minibus to the school as planned. The project and journey was all David’s idea and initiative and, to his great credit, he made the journey [several more times] with other vehicles to donate to work in Gambia. I know he is remembered in Gambia with enormous affection and gratitude and they too will be very sad to hear of his passing.
Above: David (left) and Malcolm with Mitsi on arrival in Banjul, The Gambia, in January 2003
This experience had a life changing impact for me as I was later to return to Gambia on a regular basis to try and develop health and education services for deaf children and adults, something which continues to this day. This has been a rewarding and fascinating (and sometimes frustrating) experience and I have David to thank for leading me in this direction.
David has left a very significant legacy of change for good among many pupils disadvantaged by limited or no sight, both in the UK and also in Africa, and also among professionals such as myself who have benefitted from his energy, initiative and enthusiasm. As such I will never forget David and will always be grateful for the opportunities and encouragement he has given me over the years.
Phillip Feller, Chairman of the Friends of Visually Impaired Children in The Gambia:
Thirty years ago David answered my appeal for assistance for the blind and visually impaired children of The Gambia. At that time David was head of what was then the Sensory Support Service of the Norfolk County Education Department.
Joining me in The Gambia David soon assessed the needs of the blind and visually impaired children there. His list was frighteningly long.
To mention a few: proper training for the few teachers who were working with the children; computers with special programmes to assist training; Braille machines and paper; tape recorders; and even a purpose-built school. At that time the few pupils attending a dedicated facility were housed in an annex to a mainstream school in Banjul.
David – with great enthusiasm – set to work with myself and my wife, Joan, to start meeting those needs. A charity was registered first as the Friends of GOVI (The Gambian Organisation for the Visually Impaired) and later as the Friends of Visually Impaired Children in the Gambia. Funds were successfully raised for building a special school for the children at Serrekunda.
A highlight for David was the purchase of a minibus in 2003 and, together with Malcolm Garner, drove to The Gambia with urgently needed equipment. Subsequently he organised and led several other overland deliveries including that with the Dales Team in late 2006 and with members of the Wensleydale Rotary Club in January 2010 The minibuses were then used by the school.
After several years of meetings with the Minister of Education we succeeded in obtaining an agreement that student teachers, as part of their training, would spend time with disabled pupils at St John’s School for the Deaf and at the GOVI School for the Visually Impaired (both at Serrekunda).
David worked closely with the Education Department and with the Integrated Education Programme headed by Nancy Mendy and her deputy Sarjo Bajinka.
Having just returned from The Gambia I was unable to inform David that there were now over 300 visually impaired children receiving education and of Nancy Mendy’s latest initiative to recruit more teachers. This is a legacy that David could be proud of.
All I can say is: Thank you David for all your help and support over the years and for realising my dream of a future of hope for the blind and visually impaired children of The Gambia.
(First posted on the website of the charity of which David was a founder member and a former trustee.)