In 1989 a group of Hampshire Venture Scouts, in conjunction with Action Aid, spent six weeks in The Gambia building classrooms at Jiroff and Soma schools. They camped amongst the mud huts with no electricity or running water, living and working alongside local Scouts with whom they came to form great friendships. A couple of years later Hampshire Scouts raised funds to bring four Gambian Scouts to the UK for an international camp.
These were young men who stared poverty and hardship in the face every day. They each arrived in the UK with just a passport and the clothes they stood in. They were to see and experience many things in those four weeks that they could only dream of having at home at that time.
At the end of their trip the young Gambians spent a few nights with the Christmas family, whose son Paul had been on the 1989 expedition. Paul’s mum Marion asked them if there was anything they would like to take back with them, thinking they might ask for a pair of trainers or a radio. They told her they would like their own Ferny Crofts, referring to the Hampshire Scout centre in the New Forest. So, in a moment of madness, she said she’d build them one!
An airmail envelope dropped onto her doormat three months later, inside was a letter which read “Dear Mom….. we have told the District Chief and the Village Chief, and everyone in Soma is praying for you and waiting for you to come to build the Scout Centre. Your sons, Lamin Jarjue, Lamin Manjang and Lamin Kinteh”.
She’d never built anything before, and she’d never been to Africa. But a promise was a promise. So followed years of fundraising, hard graft and perseverance; getting the project off the ground was not easy and the road travelled was far from smooth, both figuratively and literally. But Marion, with support from family, friends and her ‘Lamins’, sure proved she was up to the challenge.
The new Scout centre was to be called Kaira Konko, meaning “Hill of Peace” in the local Mandinka language. The British High Commissioner opened the completed centre in 1998 and the then Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, Lady Mary Fagan LG, DCVO, JP, became patron.
Today Kaira Konko is a busy place at the heart of a large community. It not only has a thriving Scout centre, but also operates a not for profit business offering accommodation to international travellers, Scouts and school groups, as well as Gambians, including Government Ministers and NGO staff.
Proceeds, along with charitable donations, are invested in Scouting, education, and various community projects including a rice fund set up to feed Soma’s poorest families. Many of Kaira Konko’s Scouts are sponsored through school. And the lodge itself provides employment and other opportunities for Scouts and their families.
Lamin Kinteh doesn’t regret turning down the new radio. He now oversees the running of the Scout centre and lodge and manages Kaira Konko’s community outreach work. He has been awarded an Honorary Commonwealth MBE for services to Scouting and education, in recognition of the success and significance of this very special project.
Kaira Konko Lodge and Scout Centre is supported by the Kaira Konko Scout Active Support Group in the UK.