Rug Aid in The Gambia
Heather Ritche first travelled to The Gambia in February 2007
when she carried out a successful feasibility study: she
was amazed at how quickly the blind people she taught
at the GOVI (Gambian Organisation for the Visually Impaired)
Resource Centre learned to make rag rugs, even though
she didn't know their language.
Jankey and Heather working together, The Gambia, February
(Photo Pip Land)
Rug making is a tactile
skill: a blind student can create a random-patterned
rug and, after they have mastered the technique, they
will need very little help to fill in a complex and
beautiful design based on local motifs if a sighted
person hooks/prods the outline onto the hessian and
sorts the fabric into colours.
Heather returned to The Gambia in December 2007 for
another workshop session at the GOVI Resource Centre.
Some of the previous students returned but many of the
35 people who attended were new to the craft.
Heather and Jankey worked together again in December
2007 (Photo Mat Connolley/Rug Aid)
Heather would like to set up a permanent workshop in
The Gambia at which children and adults will be taught
the technique of rug making.
While she was in The Gambia, Heather met an extended
family of sighted and blind people who were very keen
to develop the skill of rug making into a cottage industry.
Doing this would help the blind family members, giving
them an alternative to begging.
Heather was introduced to this family and the GOVI
Resource Centre for the blind in Serrekunda by the Friends
of Govi, a UK based charity. The resource centre, which
includes the only school for the blind in The Gambia,
is run by GOVI: on every visit, she has worked closely with GOVI and the staff of Sightsavers International and one of her advisors is her daughter,
Chrissie, who works as a rehabilitation officer
for people with visual impairments.
Chrissie is always a great
help to Heather, setting up the workshops
as well as running mobility sessions with
the staff of the GOVI school. For Heather and Chrissie
vocational and rehabilitation training are both very
important, which is why Rug Aid will be supporting an ongoing training programme Chrissie will be running for the eight rehabilitation workers who are responsible
for all the blind people living in The Gambia.
If possible, Heather would like to hold further workshops at St John's
School for the Deaf in Serrekunda.
For disabled children in The Gambia the future is bleak
without the education they enthusiastically crave and
richly deserve. Many children at the school at the GOVI
Resource Centre come from backgrounds which would distress
even the most stony-hearted person. It is not unusual
for children who are blind to be abandoned by their
parents. GOVI and the Friends of GOVI (UK) offer these
children hope, security and justice in a world which
previously offered them nothing.
The community-based rehabilitation project associated
with GOVI and funded by Sightsavers International seeks
to help older blind people to become independent, self-sufficient
and respected members of their community. Rug Aid works alongside this project and shares its goals.