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Rug Aid
Newsletter 16

November 2009

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You might like to get a drink before starting to read this newsletter - there's a lot in it!

Visit to The Gambia, 9-16 November

Heather and her husband Les were reunited with their recent house guests, Miriam and Jacqui, shortly after they arrived in The Gambia: all four of them went straight to the GOVI School. The two Australian volunteers had been in the country for a couple of days and had got over their shell-shock at the poverty, but nothing could prepare them for the busy, noisy, productive atmosphere of the Rug Aid workshop. Luckily, they loved it!

Miriam and JacquiMiriam and Jacqui in the workshop

Miriam and Jacqui shortly after Heather and Les arrived in The Gambia (left) and (right) Jacqui and Miriam after a few days in the workshop, with one of the Rug Aid trainees


Heather at work

Heather got straight down to work, and you can see for yourself what ‘work’ means if you watch the video Les shot: it’s on our website

The workshop had run out of fabric (again!) so Heather went shopping for printed African cottons. When she got back with the lengths of new fabric for cutting up, someone told her that a tailor in Serrekunde was happy to give the workshop as many scraps of fabric as it could use. That’s a lot of scraps…


Above: Heather wearing a Gambian headcloth, like those worn by Jacqui and Miriam (top right). Heather thinks that she looks like Samuel Pepys wearing it, but the trainees loved to see the Rug Aid women dressed like this.

Heather handed out the donated items she had brought with her: hooks (made by Les) hanging on laces (donated by Alan and Margaret from Durham, carried in one of the embroidered bags they also donated - what kind people!) with which the trainees quickly got to work on hessian which had been beautifully edged by the Yorkshire Rugmaking Group in Wakefield. They were able to cut off their loose ends with scissors donated by Hilary and they kept those scissors near at hand in one of the little bags Jocelyn had donated. Marvellous!


Heather was delighted to be told that some of the older students at the GOVI School and their teacher would be joining the workshop to learn rug making: the subject will form part of the art curriculum for older students from now on. That’s such wonderful news!

Right: A group of students from the GOVI School and their teacher just after they arrived for a lesson in rug making.


Below: A blind Rug Aid trainee working on her rug - Miriam is passing behind her and Sanaibou, who Heather appointed to be the new workshop supervisor, is in green at the end of the table.


GOVI School students

The workshop One boy caught Les’ attention as his video camera rolled. His name was Cherno Ceesay and he was almost completely blind. Heather sat with him and guided his hands, clapping her own hands with joy when he showed signs of picking up the basic technique very quickly. A soon as she was confident that his hooking was improving, she handed the teaching task over to Jacqui who sat patiently with him for many hours. By the end of the week, he had completed one rug (which Jacqui bought to take back to Australia) and had started on another.    
Meanwhile Miriam was working alongside Natu in a frame which had been donated to Rug Aid by a church in Hull: we told you about the donation in October’s newsletter. Heather took just one frame as an experiment, and it was a success. Before she returns to The Gambia (probably in March 2010), she will draw some prayer mat patterns onto hessian and sew them into the remaining frames to take with her.    

Right: Natu working at one of the frames donated by a church in Hull. A group of church members used them to make 400 new kneelers before giving them to Rug Aid.

You may remember that Natu was appointed to be Rug Aid’s helper at the workshop between Heather’s visits: she is expecting her first baby in March next year so Sanaibou, the cleaner at the GOVI School, has taken over the task. We are delighted to welcome such a talented and enthusiastic rug maker to this role.

Natu and frame

Anke and the maker of her rugAnke and the maker of her rug


Jankey, who has been a Rug Aid rug maker since February 2007, sold one of her rugs to Anke, a German volunteer who is working at the GOVI School through VSO. Anke, who bought two other rugs, was thrilled to be able to buy such unusual Christmas presents for her family at the Rug Aid workshop after watching them being made.

Left: Anke with two of the rug makers whose work she will give as Christmas presents this year. Her t-shirt reads 'GOVI celebrates World White Cane Day'


Ebrima was a wonderful help to Heather, as he always is. He collected her from the airport and took her (with Les, Miriam and Jacqui) to visit Mr Musa at his compound. Here everyone was delighted to see spontaneous rug making going on all around as Mr Musa’s talented daughters worked on their latest creations.    

Ebrima also took Heather and Les to meet Mr Muhammad Jagana, a member of the Gambian Rotary Club. When they arrived at his office Heather was surprised to see one of the Rug Aid postcards on his wall: by the time they left, it had been joined by a Gambian rug which he had bought at the workshop earlier that day.

Right: Mr Muhammad Jagana proudly displays the rug he bought at the Rug Aid workshop.

Mr Jagana

Mr Jagana invited Heather to attend a meeting of the Rotary Club which was scheduled for the following night. Ebrima took them to that meeting too, for which we are very grateful. The meeting was in progress when they arrived, so they waited for a while before Heather ‘took the bull by the horns’ and walked into the room. The lady president was a little taken aback, but other members of the committee greeted her like an old friend (which she is!) and asked how they could help Rug Aid.



Mr Musa's compound

Above: (Left to right) Miriam, Jacqui, Ebrima and Les stand head and shoulders above a group of children when they visited Mr Musa's compound

One member was especially keen to help and made several useful suggestions: the result was that Heather persuaded the Rotary committee to help Rug Aid! We have been asked to prepare plans for the building and take them to a meeting in early December. Heather asked Ebrima to take care of this and we are waiting (with our fingers crossed and our breath bated!) to see what the committee says. We think it would be sensible to ask Mr Jagana (as a man used to dealing with money on behalf of his customers) to look after Rug Aid’s building fund, paying the bills which arise locally. In a sense, we would like the Rotary in The Gambia to act as our ‘site agents’ and oversee the building project. Of course, we haven’t yet got enough money to complete the project but, as we’ll tell you shortly, we are making wonderful progress towards our goal.


Heather has now trained over 100 Gambians to make hooky rugs: it’s hard to say how many of those people could be described as 'blind', although probably around half of them have visual impairments. Giving these people hope for the future and the chance to earn a dignified living through making rugs to sell to tourists is Heather’s dream come true, and she is rightly very proud of her achievement.    

We have created a gallery of some of the best photos from this trip, as well as editing Les’ video film into a fascinating 30 minute tour of the workshop, including footage of Heather teaching a young blind boy and a tour party visiting. You’ll find these, and a lot more, on the gallery page of the Rug Aid website,

Right: Jankey (nearest the camera) and other Rug Aid trainees working on Heather's special design for Rug Rave day in the Rug Aid workshop, The Gambia

Rug Rave rug

Gambian rug

Left: The Rug Rave rug which was started in the workshop was finished in Mr Musa's compound in time for Heather to bring it back to England with her.

Heather took a Rug Rave design with her and started it off: blind, partially-sighted and fully-sighted trainees, including Lamin Coley, Jankey and Ernest Faal, took over the hooking. The rug was finished by the time Heather left, so she brought it back to England with her. It is very brightly coloured thanks to the printed African cottons used in the design which Heather created specially for Rug Rave day. And that seems a good point at which to change the subject!



Rug Rave Saturday 21st November

We were absolutely delighted with the number of Rug Raves that you, the amazing world-wide band of Rug Aid supporters, arranged on or near Rug Rave day last weekend. And we are quite astounded by the amount of money which you raised to support Rug Aid’s work through the various activities you undertook at your Rug Raves. The picture isn't complete yet as we haven't heard from everyone, but we thought you'd like to see what we've got so far: watch out for the next Rug Aid newsletter in which we hope to complete the good news story for you!    

We have created a series of galleries showing the different Rug Raves but, as we said, we haven't heard from everyone yet! Please send your photos in and we’ll add them - it’s never too late!

Right: The busy scene at The Station in Richmond, North Yorkshire, during the first UK Rug Rave on Friday 20th November. At the middle table on the left is one of the groups of school children. You might be able to see a scene from the new film of the workshop in The Gambia which is being projected onto the huge screen at the far side of the room.


(Left) The Narawilly group was probably the first to hold a Rug Rave as they are in Australia. The Narawilly group meets at Miriam's home studio: as Miriam and Jacqui were in Europe, taking a well-earned break after their busy summer of rug making, Sarah organised the event. It looked like a lot of fun with an excellent lunch as well! Miriam and Jacqui held their own two-person Rug Rave in the south of France, so they didn't miss out on the day's fun!


On Friday 20th, Heather led a Rug Rave at The Station in Richmond: this was very well attended, with two parties of school children (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) swelling the numbers. By the end of this Rug Rave, an astonishing £500 had been raised for Rug Aid: thank you Richmond!

Right: One of the two groups of schoolchildren who came to the Rug Rave held in The Station, Richmond. We are very grateful to Kathryn Guy, a trustee of The Station, for donating the room with its projection screen.

Richmond schoolchildren    
Durham group

Above: The group of rug makers who attended the Durham Rug Rave including, kneeling and wearing her green Clayport Matters apron, Elsie Shaw who did so much work to organise it.

On Saturday 21st, when the majority of Rug Raves took place, Heather went to the City of Durham to join the Clayport Matters’ Rug Rave. Again, a large number of people took part and they raised over £800. Amazing! This day was made all the more fun for Heather as it was her 65th birthday and the group celebrated with a wonderfully imaginative cake and they presented her with three hooky/proddy bags they had made for her birthday.    


The raffle we told you about for Joan Coombes' version of the Rug Rave rug was drawn during the Durham City Rug Rave. It was won, very appropriately, by Elsie Shaw who has done a huge amount to support the work of Rug Aid since it started: we are delighted that she now owns this lovely rug.

While Heather was in Durham, just across the Pennines in England’s Lake District there were some terrible floods following astonishingly heavy rain. This led to the cancellation of at least one Rug Rave, but Jocelyn hooked at home on her own: the previous day she had led a group at the school where she teaches (right). It's lovely to see so many young people getting involved in rug making and supporting the work that Rug Aid does in The Gambia. Alston    

At the other end of England, in Cornwall, the very supportive and friendly Lostwithiel Rug Makers held a Rug Rave. Kat Smith (whose company Iteracy generously hosts the Rug Aid website and provides technical support on a pro bono basis) took some great photos of the event as heavy rain lashed the windows of Diane Best’s lovely home.

We don't know the name of this participant, but she looks very happy as she has a go at hooking blindfold to get an idea of what it's like for blind trainees in The Gambia to learn rug making.

Also in Cornwall, The Happy Hookers of Penzance held a Rug Rave which raised £265 - thank you very much indeed!

And, as Saturday 21st turned into Sunday 22nd in England, the ATHA Orange Coast Classics group meeting started in California, USA. This looked like a wonderful day, full of colour and fun. Afterwards, the Guild voted to add US$500 to the amount raised during the Rug Rave which meant that they gave Rug Aid a donation of US$773. That was a marvellous and greatly appreciated gesture: thank you! Gene has written about the day on his excellent blog.

Below: The fabulous spread which members of the Orange Coast Classics ATHA group enjoyed on Rug Rave day: the event coincided with their Holiday Party and gave them a good excuse to have a lovely feast!

Orange Coast


Alice's friends

Above: Alice Frazier and her friends, as well as running a Rug rave which raised US$230, made a birthday cake for Heather. It looks very tasty!

At the same time, Alice’s Friends (left) and other groups in Ohio, as well as the Quoddy Loopers in St Andrews, Canada (below) were running their Rug Raves.

Quoddy Loopers

Above: The Quoddy Loopers met in the Kingsbrae Garden board room to work on their specially-designed Rug Rave rugs


Both Alice and Maureen (of the Quoddy Loopers) have written about the Rug Rave on their blogs, and they are well worth reading. There's a link to each blog on the Rug Rave page of the website



And we were delighted to know that, whilst Rug Raves were being held around the world on Saturday, a group of rug makers was meeting in the Gambian workshop! Paul and Anne Sayer, who have taken items out to The Gambia for Rug Aid when they go to visit their future home there, were in the workshop delivering items to Ebrima and they joined in the fun too and took this photo.

Thank you to everyone who took part, wherever you were and whatever you did!

Right: A group of Rug Aid trainees at work on a rug on Rug Rave day: this world-wide event was organised to raise awareness of Rug Aid and to raise funds to develop a permanent workshop building.

The Gambia    


The day was a brilliant success, but it would have been nothing without the enthusiasm, dedication and hard work of the people who organised the Rug Raves. There are too many of you to write a list giving you each the thanks you so richly deserve, but please accept our gratitude. You are wonderful, kind and generous people and we are very grateful to you for giving so much time and energy to support Rug Aid. We can’t say it often enough: thank you.

And on that happy note, we'd like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! We hope to bring you plenty of news of positive developments for Rug Aid in 2010, not least that we make a start on the building we so desperately need to house the workshop. The money raised on Rug Rave day will go a long way towards getting the building project started and we’ll keep you informed about its progress.

In the meantime, look out for another newsletter with more photos from Rug Rave day - we hope you've been inspired by these photos (and the others, in our gallery pages) to send in photos of your own Rug Rave and we look forward to featuring them next time!



Thank you again - everything Rug Aid has achieved has only been possible because we have had your support, and we are truly grateful to you.

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