Setting up a ‘ roadside wellness centre’ is no easy or straightforward task. Just like the roads here in The Gambia, it can be a bumpy ride…the iconic red dust of the African countryside clogs your senses –  it impairs your vision, stifles your nose and blurs your thinking. In the midst of such uncertainty, all one wants is some guidance – a clearly marked signpost or updated map – to get you back on the right track.

The confusion of such a dust cloud is, to some extent, comparable to my North Star journey. It has never been easy to find the (right) next step and the ‘Gambia Maybe Time (GMT)’ has been a frustration from the start. However, many roads lead to Rome. Currently, this is the case with The Gambia’s road network as well as with the project, thanks in part to the development of good quality and pothole free tarmac roads. It is a sign of development, in both senses. The country is improving its infrastructure and truck capacity at a time when everything is on track for North Star Alliance’s to have its first converted semi-mobile container in Western Africa.

A couple of weeks ago the Regional Manager for Western Africa (North Star Alliance), Dr. Danielle Coulibaly, visited The Gambia to scope out and facilitate progress with regard to the establishment of ‘roadside wellness centre’. The main activities of the mission included formal meetings with high-level strategic partners and government affiliates, discussions with local public officials, and informal engagements with our target group.  An overnight fieldtrip to Farafenni, the proposed transit town for the ‘wellness centre’, offered an important ‘on-the-ground’ understanding of the local context and practicalities. The highlights of the mission being the very long awaited meeting with the Ministry of Health, a crucial partner, and talks with the District Chief who helped us acquire land for the site.

A short, but very intense and productive mission resulted in a very clear and realistic outcome of where the project stands. Phase 1 – consolidation/validation – looks set to be completed. This entails the ‘explore’ stage such as hotspot mapping and stakeholder engagement as well as ‘acquire’ vitally important agreements such as site permits, legal documents and Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with key partners.

For me to finish off Phase 1 the following frontiers need tackling:

  • Registration – setting up a localized constitution and assigning Board members (Trustees) and their Terms of Reference as part of an accountability framework
  • Land – acquire site permits from local chiefs, government
  • Health Assessment – investigate medical supply chain and negotiate medicines, staff recruitment
  • Approaching Donors

Time is flying, and with only one and a half months before I head to Rome (by plane, not by road), some key developments are still required. Only then can Phase 2 – activation – start with the construction and finally operation of the first North Star clinic in Western Africa.

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Photography | David Childley, Gideon Mendel