Grandparents Di and Geoff Miles have been Wiltshire’s own accomplished African drummers for more than 20 years.
The couple, from Pewsey, have been running workshops and classes across the county and are well-known in their community for their passion for music.
Di said: “It was back in 2006 that we finally took the step of going to the home of Kaya drumming to learn how to do it with the ‘masters’ of this type of music and we travelled to the Gambia.”
Little did they suspect that their working holiday to hone their skills would turn into a life-long commitment to a far away Gambian community.
They attended a course at a drumming school and stayed with a family of musicians. There they met the father of the family Kebba Jaina, himself a musician, who was also a local unpaid nursery school teacher.
Di said: “As we got to know Kebba, he told us that he’d had a dream to create a proper nursery school for his village.
“He felt he had to do something for the children of the Gambia as there were so many drugs coming into the country and he wanted to give the younger generations the chance and hope of a better future through education. He inspired us.”
At the time Kebba was renting a space for the nursery school, but his biggest fear was that families, who paid the equivalent of 25p a week for their children to attend, would not be able to continue paying and the school would close down.
“We were so touched by him, we asked him how we could help. He asked if we could help him buy some benches so that if they had to leave their rented space at least the school could still meet in the open under a nearby mango tree for shelter.”
On their return, Di and Geoff, started raising the money, with the help of a local school and soon bought some benches.
The seeds of their new charity, Afrikaya, were now sown and the charity was registered officially in 2007.
“Getting to know Kebba, we knew that his real dream was to create his own small school. We told him we’d help and that, while we were not making any rash promises, we’d do what we could.”
So in 2008, Geoff and Di started committing a large part of their lives to helping a community thousands of miles away to better itself through education.
“Some months later, we heard the devastating news that Kebba had died – he was only in his forties. Our mission began even more important to us then.
“We started supporting his immediate family and we wanted to help the community to build a school in Kebba’s memory.” Work on that school is now under way thanks to Afrikaya, a charity for which Di now volunteers full-time.
The Gambian community has rallied around the project seeing it as a way of improving their own lives.
They’ve formed a PTA and one of their tributes to Kebba was to name a tree on the school site ‘The Kebba Jaina Tree’. “For this community the tree is a symbol of strength, growth and life,” Di said. “It’s a fitting tribute to Kebba’s memory.”
Though extremely modest in their approach, this couple have been a lifeline for this Gambian community.
For Kebba’s own family, they have funded one of Kebba’s daughters and now one of his granddaughters to attend school.
Each year they travel to the Gambia to see their ‘adopted’ family and to record progress on the school project.
“We go out twice a year with bags of clothes for the community. These families live a hand-to-mouth existence which is hard for us to imagine here in Wiltshire.
“Yet these people are warm and friendly and deeply happy to be linked to us and our community of supporters,” Di said.
Di and Geoff, who are now both in their sixties, have committed much of their time to Afrikaya. Di manages the charity on a day-to-day basis and Geoff has a commitment too though he still has his main career as a psychotherapist.
Their drumming business Kaya Rhythm & Arts is now managed by one of their two sons, Alex, aged 37.
Alex also lives in Wiltshire with his wife Emma and their children Toby, ten and Ben, nine.
Di and Geoff still hold their own fortnightly drumming circles to raise money for Afrikaya.
Di said: “Kebba wanted to build a nursery school from scratch for underprivileged children. The creation of the school is to help this poverty-stricken community to take control of their lives and end their poverty through education.
“We supported that vision from the beginning.”
The next drumming circles, held at the Coronation Hall, Alton Barnes, take place between 2pm and 4pm on Saturday February 8 and 22.
Afrikaya’s profile in Wiltshire continues to grow.
During the current school year, Year 7 students at Highworth Warneford School, near Swindon, have adopted it has their chosen charity and are hoping to raise £2,000 to build a classroom for the Gambian school.
*According to the charity ActionAid, 14 years ago world leaders promised every child in the world would complete a quality education by 2015.
*There are still more than 70million children worldwide who are unable to go to school.
*Gambia receives aid from the EU which runs into millions of euros but it has great poverty and a poor human rights record.
* According to Unicef’s latest statistics, youth literacy rates for young people age 15–24 in the Gambia are 63 per cent for men and 41 per cent for women.
*The rest of the world’s average is 87 per cent.
* To find out more about Afrikaya visit www.afrikaya.co.uk