Vicky Pannell: Why I’ve helped two Gambian Sign Language Interpreters to attend ASLI’s conference in September

Posted on July 30, 2014

Over the past few weeks, I have been involved in trying to arrange for two Gambian Sign Language Interpreters to come to the UK in September for the ASLI conference.

So, how did I – a BSL interpreter based in London, suddenly find myself negotiating the red tape and dealing with the logistical nightmare of passports, visas, schedules and embassies?

Looking back, it all started at the ASLI conference back in 2012, where I met Yayha Jabbi, a Gambian Sign Language Interpreter who was delivering a workshop with Zane Hema at the conference.

Yahya spoke passionately about what was happening for Sign Language interpreters in the Gambia, the lack of funding from the Government for interpreters and how the seven interpreters who, at that time, worked for GADHOH (Gambian Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing) faced an uncertain future in terms of employment.

At the conference a bucket was passed around for us to donate to help the project and I remember feeling shocked when I heard how few interpreters there were and the very little money (comparatively) needed to fund interpreters, and so I popped my money in the bucket.

I counted my blessings that I still had work and that I lived comfortably. For a few days after, when I was complaining about work, Yahya would pop into my head and shut me up, but then, as with all things, life took over!

Then in March 2013 I was approached by Darren Townsend-Hanscomb about the possibility of donating monthly for five years in order to provide stable funding for two (at that time) interpreters.

The situation in the Gambia was dire – of the seven interpreters employed by GADHOH, two had had to be let go, and two more were on short term contracts.

The bulk of the interpreting provided by GADHOH is in higher and professional education, giving Deaf Gambians improved work prospects, and access to regular income, improved health, etc and so to lose two interpreters would have a huge impact.

Another thing that struck me was that £75 a month was enough to pay the monthly salary of two Gambian Sign Language interpreters! I probably spend that on my lunches for a month – Where can I sign up?

Since that initial tentative enquiry, the project has grown. There are 18 interpreters and one interpreting agency who donate monthly to the project.

It currently funds one interpreter – Lamin Sonko – with the remaining money we donate being used for other important work – such as covering salaries when other donors have been unable to pay, and for vital training for new and experienced Gambian Sign Language Interpreters.

The project also aims to support staff at GADHOH to look for alternative funding streams for when the project comes to an end in 2018.

Earlier on this year, we decided to apply for funding from the ASLI Give Up a Day’s Pay fund in order to pay for Lamin to attend the ASLI conference in September.

This would be a valuable learning experience for Lamin, which he could then take back to The Gambia and share with his colleagues. We were awarded £600.

However we recognised that Lamin’s colleague, Bakary Sannah, who has been asked to increase his work interpreting with the police, could also really benefit from the conference, training and shadowing opportunities. And it’s no more work to organise for two visitors than for one.

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Cue me falling blindly into the world of visas, flights and schedules.

It became apparent early on the £600 would barely scratch the surface of the money that would be needed. Then the herculean task of fundraising and trying to get together enough money to actually get them here – no mean feat.

However, a colleague called Shaunett Harris – also involved in the planning – came up with the wonderful idea “100 friends for Lamin and Bakary”. If we could persuade 100 people to part with £10 of their hard earned cash (or more – we’re not fussy!) then this should go a long way to cover the costs involved.

The plan is for all who donate to send us a photo, which we will then make into a collage and present to Lamin and Bakary. If any chicken readers (eggs?? chickenettes?? chicks??) would like to donate they can do so by visiting this lovely webpage our colleague Liana Lloyd created here:

I will leave you with a quote from Lamin explaining how much this opportunity means to him:

Coming to the UK will make a massive stepping stone for my profession as a Sign Language Interpreter working purposely for DEAF and Hard Hearing folks in the Gambia. During my visit in the UK, i’m hoping to meet a vast number of S.L. Interpreters with different personality, skill etc. and in this, i’ll cease the opportunity to to learn from them, listen to there advices especially when interpreting for DEAF people in school settings, curt cases, police stations, hospitals, family meetings, ceremonies, TV Educational programs etc in the Gambia. I love working for DEAF people and i dedicated my life working for the DEAF Association(GADHOH) for good. As a result, gaining knowledge from ASLI members will serve as an added value to my profession indeed. Finally, the knowledge gained in the UK will not only stop on to me but it will be disseminated to other Sign Language Interpreters as well. I therefore, wish all DEAFS and S.L. Interpreters of UK a good luck.

Bakary said:

Attending the ASLI conference means a lot to me and the deaf at large. As you may know i am interpreting in the GAMBIA best skill training school , a school which enroll a good number of deaf students, i attending the conference will give me a good experience as an interpreter and makes my work easier in helping the deaf.

Vicky Pannell is a fully qualified sign language interpreter Originally hailing from North Yorkshire, she now lives and works in London. 

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