Giving Something Back in The Gambia

gambia picturesMy recent voluntary work in The Gambia prompts me to write about an ‘ordinary’ but remarkable woman from my village in Hertfordshire: 70 something Margaret Meeks.  Margaret has been ‘giving something back’ by helping people in The Gambia for over 17 years, establishing her own registered charity, HELPING.

HELPING  has provided a staggering 6 nurseries with salaried teachers, an accommodation centre for tourists and volunteers, a clinic, two land rover ambulances and numerous  sponsorships of children and teachers. Their work has not only saved lives but offered education and hope to so many Gambian children.  Education in The Gambia is now state funded from age 7 to 16 but there is no provision for the under 7’s who, without HELPING’s nursery education, would struggle to learn an English taught curriculum where no English is spoken at home.

When Margaret took her family out there for the first time 17 years ago, she was so moved by general poverty and lack of nursery provision, she returned to the UK vowing to make a difference. Most people laughed at her: they had good reason to doubt her- she and her husband were working class people earning modest incomes, without the benefits of higher education  and did not move in influential or affluent  circles.

Undaunted, Margaret pressed on. She and husband Chris braved wintry winds at car boot sales, trekked across the country talking to schools, rotary clubs and scout groups to attract sponsors and amassed a small group of fund raisers to help run a panoply of fund raising events.

The story of Margaret’s daughter, Lisa Osborne giving all her wedding gift money to build and equip ‘The Osborne Nursery’ is legendary in The Gambia. The Gambian people’s appreciation for HELPING’s generous work was expressed during our visit by lining the streets when we arrived: singing and dancing to the booming  beat of the African drums. I was fascinated but also embarrassed  – I had only recently joined the charity and done very little by comparison– but I knew  I was just a stand in for the real heroine- Margaret Meeks. Now in poor health and retired, Margaret is still driven on to run HELPING’s work by an unselfish desire to continue to change lives.gambia picture with children

What is unique about this charity is that it is small scale and family based, despite its stella achievements.  What compelled me to sign up was the fact that every penny raised goes directly to help the people in The Gambia; there are no costly admin fees.

Margaret is desperately looking for more support- financial and voluntary. Corporate interest, sponsorship and fund raising is especially sought after. If you, or someone you know would like to go out to volunteer in a developing country, even if it’s just for a week or two, the accommodation, food and cleanliness provided by The Lodge are of a very good standard . The North Bank is peaceful and safe, making it the ideal place to do volunteer work.  After our week volunteering, we stayed at the gorgeous boutique Coco Ocean Hotel on the South Bank. Miles of empty beaches, wonderful food and bargain spa treatments allowed us time to reflect on what we had learned about the Charity and how we can play our part in its future. If you decide to have this kind of experience, the difference it will make to your own life and to others will be immeasurable.  If you would like more information about any aspect of the work of HELPING, please contact me:  or

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