Paul grounded by trouble in Gambia

Paul and daughter Rebecca were unable to fly to Gambia.
Paul and daughter Rebecca were unable to fly to Gambia.

An aid worker from Bellshill had mixed feelings after the unpopular leader of Gambia was finally forced to leave the African nation.

Paul Lafferty missed out on his latest trip to Gambia last week because flights were cancelled due to the political unrest.

He said many people were terrified of Yahya Jammeh and are glad to see him go, but is concerned that rising costs in the wake of changes will hit the work of Project Gambia: People Feeding People.

The Lanarkshire-based charity, set up four years ago, has transformed the lives of pupils at St John’s School for the Deaf in Serrekunda.

Paul and colleagues, backed by support from individuals and organisations throughout Lanarkshire and beyond, run a feeding programme for the 300 pupils and have also supplied school uniforms and hearing aids.

Recently they secured supplies of IT equipment from South Lanarkshire Council to take to the school.

Paul, wife Sharon and daughter Rebecca (16) were due to travel to Gambia last week with football strips and boards displaying the names of various class sponsors.

However, the Foreign Office advised against non-essential travel after Jammeh, who had been in power for 22 years, pledged to contest the result of the presidential election which he lost. The airline the Laffertys were due to fly with then cancelled all flights to Gambia.

Paul said: “It was disappointing, but our main delivery of aid was in November and this just to be a chance for me to see how things are going at the school. The boards can be delivered later.”

Jammeh has now left Gambia, meaning the country can begin a new chapter, but Paul warned it won’t be plain sailing.

He said: “People will be happy as they were terrified of the president. However, I would expect prices to rise as it will take time for the Government to get organised.

“Two years ago it cost us £10,000 to supply every school pupil with meals. Last year it was £12,000 due to inflation and the cost will go up again.”