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With the serious threat of Ebola in certain areas of West Africa,  it was beginning to look as though our planned trip for February this year may not have gone ahead. Of course as 2015 arrived, the reality was, Ebola was very much contained, Gambia and Senegal were and remain completely Ebola free and the prevention of such an awful disease spreading remains the top priority for these countries, so firm measures have been in place for many months to keep everyone safe. We therefore flew out on 19th February for a 12 day trip.

This year's return to Gambia, saw particularly high temperatures, with more than the usual share of biting mosquitoes (groan) but once again, was a truly amazing experience.

It was so good to get back to the Nursery school in Jabang and see how well it is thriving. This year, we were able to furnish them with Jumbo magnifying glasses, colourful bouncy balls and alphabet bean bags, all courtesy of our kind friends at Halstead Nursery School, who as always donate a percentage of their 'Sainsburys Active Kids' vouchers for us to purchase items with. The headmaster Simon Mendy was thrilled with the new resources and was looking forward to taking the children out on a 'bug hunt' to find and study insects close up, with their newly acquired magnifying glasses.

Also this year, we donated a large drum to the school, courtesy of donated monies, which will enable the teacher Mohammed to now use his own drum whilst continuing to teach the children drumming and singing, which they enjoy so much. This year they entertained us for a whole morning with superb drumming, singing and dancing. They certainly know how to enjoy themselves!

With such generous donations of Calpol, Paracetamol, Savlon and Plasters, the newly built medical room has now been well stocked for the coming year and also some of the beautiful knitted blankets have been donated there too. The medical facility is there to provide First Aid at the school and also provides much needed medicines, should the children require them.

This year, 7 sacks of rice were purchased through donations, 6 of which were given to particular needy families in the village of Jabang, the seventh sack being split amongst many. The families in question came to the school to receive their gifts and there were many grateful smiles and handshakes.

Our annual visit to the medical facility in Sakouta, proved successful again and with a large donation of Paracetamol /Calpol/ sterile dressings/ surgical gloves/Savlon and Ibruprofen gel, we were able to provide much needed resources. Also, a donation of knitted and crocheted blankets were given to the labour ward again and were very gratefully received. Thank you so much Mary Freemantle, Margaret May and Jean Stevens of St Margaret's church for your beautiful handiwork. The nurses at the medical centre were thrilled.

This year, COGS also visited on two separate occasions, the SOS Children's Orphanage in Bakoteh, where we were able to see, first hand, how so many orphaned children are cared for, provided with a 'home' environment and good schooling. The work being carried out there is impressive and on behalf of all our kind supporters, we were able to leave donations of clothes, toys, shoes, stationery and medicines. A very humbling experience, always greeted by smiling, happy children.

On one of our 'days off' we took a trip to the ever popular and unspoilt 'Lamin Lodge' for a boat trip into the mangroves, arriving at an island where Dakarta village and its 55 inhabitants is found. The village, like so many in West Africa, is very poor and they have very little. We decided that afternoon, that they will be a priority visit when we return to Gambia next year and we look forward to contributing in some small way with clothes/ soap/ shoes and medicines for the families there.

Every year, our outreach brings new friendships with so many. And equally, every year, leaving our friends behind gets harder. Being part of COGS is a privilege and always a life changing experience. Thank you, on behalf of COGS, to everybody at St Katharine's Primary School, Halstead Nursery School, St Margaret's Church, friends and neighbours, for your continued kind support with all your amazing donations. Rest assured, that every year, every single item donated, is hand delivered to a very worthy home.

We plan to return next February, to continue supporting the children and families of Gambia. All donations of clothes/ shoes/ toys/soap/ Paracetamol and Calpol are of course, always very welcome, throughout the year.

With many sincere thanks,

Tina Bennett.