14 November 2017

It was blue lights and sirens at West Nottinghamshire College’s Engineering Innovation Centre last week. But this was for no emergency, it’s a charity mission, which is heading nearly 4,000 miles away from Nottinghamshire.

That’s because motor vehicle engineering students are underway with repairs to two ambulance vehicles, ready for them to be driven over three thousand miles to The Gambia in West Africa, where they’ll start a new life supporting communities and clinics in emergencies.

Led by Nottingham man Mark Hammans, Aid2Gambia is a charity project which launched in 2014, helping poorer communities in The Gambia with supplies such as medical dressings, books and stationery.

This began after Mark, a retired police sergeant, started holidaying in the country in the mid-1990s and recognised the needs of the people. He began the charity work on a small scale, filling suitcases on his visits with vital equipment which he knew would help the locals.

Over time, the small items turned to shipping over chairs and tables for schools in need, with Mark working closely with the Early Child Development Association who would help to distribute the goods in a fair way.

That is when the Aid2Gambia project was born and Mark routinely works with his contact abroad Baba Bojang, a Gambian national who calls himself ‘the boy from the jungle’. Baba now runs the charity shop for Aid2Gambia.

The group of 11 students will now be using their motor vehicle skills to bring the old ambulances up to standard ready for the 3,390 mile drive across France, Spain, Gibralta, Tangiers, through Morocco and into The Gambia, in November 2019.

They will be ensuring that all brake systems, suspension and steering in the vehicles, ranging from 13 to 18-years-old, are road-worthy in their mission to help Mark and his friends reach Africa.

Mark said: “We’ve already driven ambulances to The Gambia before, so we know it can be done. We’re really grateful for the students’ help on the vehicles and it’s great that they’re getting some experience on different vehicles.

“Once we deliver the ambulances we’re hoping that these will be self-funded and put to great use helping ladies who are in difficult labour get to a safe environment as the mortality rate there is very poor. It will give both mothers and their babies a better chance. They will also help road traffic victims and those who fall seriously ill can get transferred safely instead of taxis or donkey and cart which can happen now.

“The charity shop is self-funding and money from this helps us to build toilet blocks in local schools and carry out general repairs at schools and clinics.”

Level 3 Diploma student Simon Wicks, 18, said: “It’s great to be involved in this project as it’s going to help people less fortunate. It’s something different for us to work on in the engineering workshop and as a group we’re enjoying the challenge.”

To find out more and contribute to Mark’s charity, click here.

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