We featured a piece on the amazing ‘Calum’s Road in The Gambia’ project back in May of last year. It was a brilliant project, dreamt up by the irrepressible Stella Marsden, to build a road for the small community of Kuntaur in a remote part of The Gambia – a road used by women on their way to work in the fields, and by children on their way to school, but was often impassable due to local flooding and in large parts completely washed away. Stella Marsden unfortunately died before the project could get under way, but her equally irrepressible sister, Heather Armstrong, promised to see the project through to completion. And Heather has been in touch to say that they have completed the job! She’s also kindly let us publish her account of the project below and put up some of her snaps.
Despite her devastating illness, Stella Marsden, who founded the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Trust and Badi Mayo visitor camp, 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 four 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 the 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 2007, 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! Stella died shortly after I made my promise.
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.’ I was inspired by the story of Calum Macleoud who was in a similar position to our communities and so decided to build the road himself. It took him about ten years! On my return to The Gambia I had a meeting with the community elders and told them about Calum and we agreed that if he could do it on his own, surely as a group, we could also build a road. During our subsequent conversations the road became known as ‘Calum’s Road in The Gambia’.
A great deal of fundraising followed, where we were helped enormously by a group of motorbikers who made an incredible sponsored ride from Calum’s Road in Scotland to Calum’s Road in The Gambia and raised some £40,000 towards the building of the road.
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.
We have had some incredible highs and lows along the way, but to cut a long story short, Calum’s Road in the Gambia was completed recently just two and a half years almost to the day that I made my promise to Stella. Heartfelt thanks must go to everyone who helped us, the comminities worked so hard in the preparation of the road and it was a real team effort between The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust, funders, community, Ballast Nedam engineers, the machine operators, PIWAMP, Green Impact and The National Roads Authority, we are so grateful to them , thanks too must go to Calum Macleod and to Stella for inspiring us and giving us the courage to see it through.