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Empower the Gambia: Swindon charity supports deaf children in Africa

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Volunteer team and staff in Gambia. Picture: Empower The Gambia

Volunteer team and staff in Gambia. Picture: Empower The Gambia

A SWINDON charity that provides training and resources for communities in The Gambia has raised £500 to supply a school with a deaf unit. Empower The Gambia, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, is to establish sign language classes for deaf children at the Daru Lower Basic School in February.

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Jo Heaven, founder of the charity, said: “As the deaf unit grows, we’ll set up a classroom there. Children from neighbouring communities come to it, and we provide them with uniforms.

“Most deaf children don’t go to school. Villages do look after people with disabilities, but teachers can’t deal with different students of different abilities.”

A young woman from a Gambian community has been selected to receive teacher-training from St Johns Deaf School, the only school of its type in The Gambia. Ten of her students will be sponsored BCL, a sign language group in Swindon which is working alongside the charity. Empower is in the process of seeking sponsors to cover the £20 monthly wage of the new teaching assistant who will support these students.

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Progress has been made possible by teams of domestic volunteers who fundraise their own trips to The Gambia, where they focus on sustainable development projects.

Funds raised during a trip to the country in February have already been used to redecorate a temporary classroom for deaf children to use until a brand-new classroom is complete. Teaching resources for the class are also being sent to the school this month.

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Mrs Heaven said of her charity’s involvement in the country: “We sit down with local leaders and chiefs – they come up with their ideas, we come up with some of our own – we work collaboratively.”

The charity recently provided community nurses with bicycles, allowing them to travel quickly to and from the local hospital and deliver vital medicines.

Linda Barnes, a long-time friend of Mrs Heaven, has volunteered for Empower on some of the health projects its undertaken. She said: “The bikes are really helping and the nurses are getting around a lot easier now. The charity has really helped to empower people and helped them to become more productive and independent.”

The volunteer from Ferndale added: “I’ve known Jo for a number of years. I started supporting her with goodie bags and visited Gambia in February as well as last year. She’s got boundless energy, boundless love for these people, and they’ve got so much love for her.”

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Empower The Gambia runs the Emporium of Loveliness boutique stores in Swindon, Malborough and now Malmesbury, which raise money for development projects through clothing and fabric sales. Mrs Heaven said: “We’re the best charity shop going! Come and see us in the shop, find out more about us, and get involved.”

From: Swindon Advertiser

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