Partnerships in The Gambia (PinGambia) is a working name of Wonder Years Centre of Excellence (WYCE) registered charity number 1089167.
Statement about the end of the partnership between WYCE in the UK and WYCE Gambia NGO.

It is with great sadness that the trustees of WYCE UK announced the end of the Charity’s partnership with Wonder Years Centre of Excellence, a Gambian-registered non-government organisation (A78) (referred to in this statement as “WYCE Gambia” or “the NGO”) that has operated since 2003.  

 

This decision was taken as a result of certain developments at WYCE Gambia. The Charity’s trustees raised serious concerns about these developments with the WYCE Gambia Board on several occasions over the course of 2019, specifically about the content of the wycegambia.com website, the operation of a parallel volunteering programme, child protection and financial transparency.  However, despite repeated requests, the NGO Board failed to provide a response that, in WYCE UK’s view, adequately alleviated its concerns. Further, as far as WYCE UK is aware, the NGO Board has taken no action to address those points.  

 

Having carefully considered our duties under the Charity’s constitution and English law, the trustees considered that they had been left with no option but to terminate the partnership with WYCE Gambia.  This was communicated to the WYCE Gambia Board, and took effect on 19 February 2020.

 

WYCE UK remains committed to supporting education and healthcare and relieving poverty in The Gambia – that is and remains the Charity’s legal purpose.  The Charity’s trustees are now working on plans for future work in The Gambia, and want to involve the Charity’s many supporters in those decisions as we recognise that we could not have achieved anything without your support. 

 

Future work may include funding specific projects delivered by WYCE Gambia, but the wide-ranging partnership that existed since 2003 has now ceased.  

 

The change brings new opportunities for the Charity to provide much-needed support in other areas of The Gambia where better access to education, healthcare and livelihoods can make a real difference to people’s lives.

 

We have made full reports to the Charity Commission regarding this situation and will be updating the Commission regarding the latest developments and our future work.  

 

The Charity’s trustees send best wishes for the future to the staff of WYCE Gambia NGO, and the community of Madina Salam.  

 

Over the past 6 years, WYCE Gambia has made significant progress towards self-sustainability, and we are proud of what we have done to support that change.  Until 2013, WYCE Gambia relied heavily on the UK Charity as its primary funder. Over the past 6 years, however, the Charity’s focus has been upon enabling WYCE Gambia to move towards self-sufficiency – financially and also by helping to develop the skills and confidence of the Gambian management team to manage operations of the NGO themselves.  The Charity’s trustees firmly believe that WYCE Gambia should be run by Gambians for Gambians and that the Charity should exist to provide a hand up, not a hand out – enabling Gambians to help themselves rather than creating dependency.

 

The WYCE UK trustees are Penny Darlington-Twibill, Lesley Dunlop, Steve Evans, Ian Marshall, and Heather Scott.  

 

WYCE UK can be contacted at 01922 663014 or admin@wyce.org.uk

 

This is a very sad situation, that we feel could have been avoided through a constructive dialogue, but this was not forthcoming.

 

Background

WYCE Gambia is a separate organisation from WYCE UK, but historically the two have been closely linked.  WYCE UK is primarily an enabling organisation, with a purpose of supporting the delivery of education, healthcare and sustainable livelihoods in The Gambia. The trustees believe that this is the key to enabling Gambians to make a better future for themselves. To date, WYCE UK has been focused on enabling, facilitating and supporting the delivery of education, healthcare and livelihoods by WYCE Gambia.  

 

Since 2003, WYCE UK and WYCE Gambia have worked in close partnership.  What has been achieved together has been remarkable. Over the years, what started as two nursery classes to support children’s learning and development has evolved and grown. WYCE UK and WYCE Gambia have worked closely together to build a school, clinic and cycle repair workshop in Madina Salam, providing education (in partnership with the Gambian Government) and a hot meal to more than 900 children each day, a primary health care clinic and emergency hospital transfer service, skills training and livelihoods for the local community.

A further statement by the trustees of Wonder Years Centre of Excellence, UK-registered charity No. 1089167 (referred to in this statement as “WYCE” or “the Charity”). 

 

The trustees of Wonder Years Centre of Excellence (WYCE) recently announced the end of the Charity’s partnership with WYCE Gambia NGO (referred to in this statement as “WYCE Gambia” or “the NGO”).  We made a short announcement on 20 February 2020 summarising our reasons, emailed it to supporters and posted it to our website and Facebook page.  In the announcement, we sent best wishes for the future to the staff of WYCE Gambia NGO, and the community of Madina Salam.  Our aim in making the announcement that way was to be reasoned, measured and to minimise the negative consequences for both the Charity and WYCE Gambia.  However, it has now become necessary to provide this further statement in order to correct a number of untrue and potentially misleading allegations made in response to this announcement.

 

A series of comments were made on our Facebook announcement containing factually incorrect allegations of a serious nature about the conduct and actions of the Charity’s trustees.  A number of these allegations were repeated in communications sent to long-term and generous supporters of the Charity.  We absolutely reject the allegations as they are untrue.  Although we do not particularly wish to draw attention to these allegations, we are aware that they will sow seeds of doubt in supporters’ minds, and so we feel that we have been left with no option but to address the allegations directly.  We are mindful of the damaging effect that such allegations, if left uncorrected, could have on the Charity, but also on WYCE Gambia. The purpose of this statement is to reduce such harm to both organisations, by setting out the facts relevant to the allegations that have been made.

Documentary Film

It was alleged that the trustees had tried to prevent or disrupt the making of a documentary film about Mr and Mrs Walker’s efforts to establish WYCE Gambia. 

 

At no point have trustees of WYCE stated or implied the intention to, or taken any action to prevent or constrain the production of the film.  We have never refused permission for filming to take place on WYCE land in The Gambia.  The Charity was not informed of the production of the film by the filmmaker, nor was any serving trustee approached to take part in the film.  We have never sought to influence anyone else regarding their participation in the film – people have made their own decisions.  These allegations have been made previously, both during and after the production of the film, but they are not true.  We did, however, have to take action in February 2019 to prevent defamatory (untrue and damaging) statements that were made by the filmmaker regarding the actions of the trustees, including that we had attempted to frustrate and delay the making of the film.  We stated at the time that the allegations made were likely to cause serious harm to the Charity’s reputation, jeopardise its sources of funding and put at risk the Charity’s primary aim of helping the most vulnerable in The Gambia. 

 

A letter sent by the trustees to Mr and Mrs Walker in January 2019 stated that the trustees understood they were visiting The Gambia and that they intended to visit Madina Salam and the WYCE project. We said it was great news and we knew they would receive a very warm welcome from WYCE Gambia staff and the community. Our letter outlined the requirements for visitors as there had been a number of changes to policy and procedures relating to visitors to the lodge. These reflected changes in legislation and good practice in safeguarding and charity law and would include the need for an enhanced DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) or equivalent check and agreement to comply with the visitor code of conduct. This would also be required of the filmmaker.  The trustees were told by the filmmaker that the small crew would not be staying at the lodge and so we agreed that a DBS check would not be needed, but advised them that visitors would need to agree to comply with the visitor code of conduct and safeguarding guidelines.  In the event this was not done and, contrary to what we had been told, the film crew did stay in lodge accommodation in February 2019 without adequately meeting our child protection safeguards (see child protection section below).

 

Child protection and the volunteering programme

It was alleged that there were no issues affecting the visit of a youth group in February 2019, and that child protection requirements set out on the WYCE Gambia website are as robust as those operated by the Charity.

 

Safeguarding children and vulnerable adults in The Gambia is very important to us, and the Charity is required by UK law[1] to apply the same child protection checks to the volunteers it sends to The Gambia as to volunteers in the UK – we require all volunteers to provide an enhanced criminal records check and to comply with our safeguarding guidelines.  The Charity’s child protection responsibilities also apply to young volunteers.  The volunteering programme advertised via the WYCE Gambia website has no equivalent requirement – only that visitors complete a declaration – and is not linked to the volunteering programme that the Charity ran, risking double-bookings at the lodge.

 

The trustees were very concerned to avoid any repeat of an incident in February 2019 when a youth group, who had booked the entire lodge more than a year in advance via the Charity arrived to find that the film crew (who had assured the trustees that they would not be staying at the lodge) and Mr and Mrs Walker were already staying there, although they had not booked via the Charity and had refused to comply with the Charity’s child protection/safeguarding requirements (see above).  In addition, both they and the WYCE Gambia management team had been informed that the youth group had booked all of the rooms at the lodge.  The youth group leaders had to take immediate steps themselves to manage the additional risks this situation caused, and carry out additional checks and safeguards.  In addition to the safeguarding concerns there was a double booking of rooms, and the youth group had to manage in the rooms left available, meaning that complicated room sharing arrangements had to be put in place.  The Charity’s trustees wrote letters asking that the visitors leave, due to the double booking and safeguarding issues.  The request was ignored, significantly inconveniencing the youth group for the duration of their stay.  We are very grateful for the professionalism and experience of the youth group’s leaders to manage the situation in a way that minimised the negative impact of this difficult situation on the youth group’s voluntary work with the young people of Madina Salam and the local community.  Whilst no child protection incident occurred during the stay, the youth group had to put in place restrictions on their activities and the experience had a detrimental effect on the youth leader’s trust in the safeguarding practice at the WYCE lodge.  They have stated that they will not be able to bring the group again.  This incident raised real concerns for the Charity about visitors, some of whom choose to volunteer with WYCE with the assurance that our child protection approach provides, arriving to find others staying at the lodge who have not had the same checks. The Charity reported the situation to the Charity Commission as it was considered a serious incident.

 

Our concerns about child protection and the operation of a parallel volunteering programme were raised with the WYCE Gambia Director and NGO Board in February 2019 and were followed up with a series of letters over the following months explaining the trustees’ concerns, the potential damage that was being done to the reputation of the Charity and the NGO and explaining the UK legal requirements regarding safeguarding where volunteers are deployed overseas. The trustees asked the Board to take steps to address these concerns, such as taking the website offline while the Charity and WYCE Gambia worked together to explore how volunteer recruitment and management could be coordinated.  The NGO Board failed to engage with, or in most cases even to respond to, these concerns.

 

As we received no assurances that issues regarding the double-booking of accommodation or coordination of safeguarding were being addressed, the trustees made the decision in July 2019 not to promote the Charity’s volunteering programme actively until the issues regarding differing child protection requirements and booking systems could be resolved.  As a result, the Charity has not generated the usual level of lodge fee income during 2019 that it has in previous years – income that for the past 3 years had been used to fund the shipment of containers of donated bikes to The Gambia.

 

Self-sustainability

It was alleged that the Charity has not fully supported WYCE Gambia’s efforts towards self-sustainability.

 

Self-sustainability for WYCE Gambia has always been a key priority for us. That is why we have worked hard to enable progress to be made towards that goal and promoted the income generation initiatives within The Gambia and in particular a partnership with Re~Cycle.

 

Until 2014, WYCE Gambia relied heavily on the UK Charity as its primary funder (relying on money being sent over to The Gambia to pay salaries, for vehicle fuel for example).  Over the past 6 years, however, the Charity’s focus has been upon enabling WYCE Gambia to move towards self-sufficiency – financially and also by helping to develop the skills and confidence of the Gambian management team to manage operations of the NGO themselves.  The Charity’s trustees firmly believe that WYCE Gambia should be run by Gambians for Gambians and that the Charity should exist to provide a hand up, not a hand out – enabling Gambians to help themselves rather than creating dependency.

 

Since 2014, we have increasingly used available income to enable WYCE Gambia to earn income itself – primarily by funding the shipping of containers of bikes to Banjul, through the Charity’s partnership with Re~Cycle.  Bikes were renovated at the WYCE Gambia workshop in Madina Salam – some were donated to school pupils, and most were sold.  This provided sustainable employment for mechanics, sustainable and affordable transport for Gambians and generated income in The Gambia to fund the school, the clinic and other activities.   This is in addition to the funds provided for specific projects (see the section “Monies provided to WYCE Gambia” below).

 

Significant progress has been made to achieve self-sufficiency for the NGO – in 2018, WYCE Gambia generated over 70% of its income itself, the vast majority from bike sales. In 2018, the Charity funded 4 containers (a cost of £12,800), and in 2019 we funded a further 4 containers (a cost of £13,300). The accounts figures provided to us from WYCE Gambia show that in 2018, sales of bikes generated income for WYCE Gambia of more than £30,000. It is clearly much more beneficial to have funded containers so that WYCE Gambia can generate more income from the sale of bikes rather than funds being sent directly.

 

This commitment made by WYCE clearly demonstrates our support of income generation within The Gambia and our commitment to self-sustainability of the work of WYCE Gambia. WYCE Gambia’s efforts towards self-sustainability played no role in our decision to terminate the partnership with the NGO – on the contrary, this is something we have always encouraged.

 

Website (wycegambia.com)

It was alleged that the Charity’s trustees do not support WYCE Gambia having its own website.

 

The trustees have never made any detrimental comments or taken any actions to prevent WYCE Gambia having their own website.  The need for a separate website was never raised with us by WYCE Gambia, nor were any issues raised about the original WYCE.org website.  We became aware of the existence of the WYCEGambia.com website by chance.  We have, however, tried to work with the WYCE Gambia Board to coordinate the two websites, and minimise the confusion and potential damage that the appearance of the WYCEGambia.com website could cause.  Our concern is not with the existence of a separate WYCE Gambia website.

 

In 2019, WYCE Gambia entered a partnership with Wonder Years International (WYI) which is a trading name used by The Wonder Years Day Nursery Limited, a UK registered company owned by Hilary and Keith Walker. Mr and Mrs Walker founded the Charity WYCE and the WYCE NGO, and retired from the Charity and the NGO in 2013. The Charity’s trustees understand that Mr and Mrs Walker became involved in the NGO again early in 2019, with the making of the documentary referred to above, and joined the WYCE Gambia Board as honorary members during the year.

 

A website was created for WYCE Gambia which is overseen by WYI. This website presents Mrs Walker as the UK contact for the NGO, advertises a volunteering programme, permits the booking of lodge rooms and asks for funds to be provided through the website; none of this being co-ordinated with the Charity.  The Charity’s trustees raised a number of concerns regarding this website with the WYCE Gambia Board, including:

  • No mention is made of the Charity. Our concern was not for our own recognition but because of the confusion caused to existing supporters about the relationship between the Charity and the NGO, and the potential to cause confusion for new supporters.

  • The parallel volunteering programme advertised on the website does not provide the level of child protection that WYCE, as a UK charity, is required by law to ensure is in place.

  •  The lack of coordination with the volunteer programme run by the Charity risked double bookings of lodge rooms, and the potential for inconsistent booking arrangements and messages to be provided to volunteers

  • Supporters may have been led to believe – wrongly – that donations made through the new website are being managed by the UK-registered charity, which is subject to independent audit and regulation, and regular reporting by trustees to supporters

 

Unfortunately, because of the confusion caused by the second website regarding governance and the relationship between WYCE and WYCE Gambia, the opportunity to bid for funding for two major capital and development projects in The Gambia was lost.

 

The Charity’s trustees requested that the WYCE Gambia Board take steps to address our concerns, for example to take the website offline while WYCE and WYCE Gambia worked together to make the two websites lined and complementary. The NGO Board failed to engage with, or in most cases even to respond to, these concerns.

 

Employment and salaries of staff in The Gambia

It has been alleged that WYCE trustees have prevented increases in staffing at WYCE Gambia, and have not awarded salary increases.

 

The Charity is not entitled to appoint employees of the NGO or determine their salaries, and it has not done so in the past 6 years.  We understand that decisions regarding hiring, dismissal, promotion and training of WYCE Gambia staff are taken by WYCE Gambia Director Mr Lamin Kijera (in consultation with the WYCE Gambia Board for senior positions).

 

In 2018, a trustee of the Charity with experience in this area supported WYCE Gambia’s management team, led by Director Mr Lamin Kijera, to develop a salary policy and salary structure for WYCE Gambia, which enabled fair and consistent decisions to be made about the amount that should be paid for each job.  WYCE Gambia’s salary policy states clearly that the WYCE Gambia management team are responsible for making recommendations to the WYCE Gambia Board (and the UK trustees for budgeting purposes) about proposed pay rises. The Charity has no role in deciding salaries or other rewards and benefits for WYCE Gambia staff. 

 

We firmly believe that the WYCE Gambia management team is in the best position to make decisions about hiring, firing and pay, not us.

 

Monies provided to WYCE Gambia

It was alleged that WYCE has been unreasonably withholding funds raised or donated for WYCE Gambia, and that the trustees suggested that funds donated via Wonder Years International were not reaching The Gambia.

 

As noted above, when the Charity was initially set up, it would send money to WYCE Gambia to pay for staff salaries, vehicle fuel, medicines for the clinic etc – the vast majority of WYCE Gambia’s income coming from UK fundraising.  However, as part of the efforts towards self-sufficiency for WYCE Gambia, and in support of WYCE Gambia’s Sustainability Strategy (2015), we moved instead to using that money to ship containers of bikes to The Gambia, which WYCE Gambia would refurbish and sell, generating income to pay for staff salaries, fuel, medicines etc themselves, rather than depending on hand-outs from the UK.  (See the ‘Self-sustainability’ section above for more information.)

 

In addition, the Charity sent monies to WYCE Gambia to fund specific projects, including those for which donors had raised funds.  For example, in the past couple of years, such funds have been used to: build a perimeter wall for the school; purchase a milling machine and construct a building to house it; construct classroom buildings; build school toilets; replace the clinic roof; install a solar powered system providing water to the school, clinic and lodge; and to progress many other projects.  When funds were transferred to WYCE Gambia there was always a clear message as to what the funds were to be used for.

 

It is true that the amount of money that has been sent to WYCE Gambia for general spending has steadily reduced over the past 4 years.  This is because we invested our available general funds to ship bikes to The Gambia.  We therefore did not have these funds available to send to The Gambia directly.   The clear benefits of this arrangement are noted above (see the ‘Self-sufficiency section).

 

The finances of the Charity are independently audited and published each year, and accessible to anyone who wants to see them at the Charity Commission and Companies House websites.  The funds that we send to WYCE Gambia are clearly recorded in our annual report and accounts, along with clear information about what has been achieved in the year.  Regular supporters’ forums also detail current projects and how the Charity’s resources will be used.  As a responsible charity, we also hold reserves to cover contingencies, and to meet our obligations as an employer.  Over the past few years, we have supported and encouraged WYCE Gambia to do so too, by setting aside some of the funds that they have earned from bike sales.

 

We have noted our concern that supporters may be led to believe - wrongly - that donations made through the new WYCE Gambia website are being managed by the UK-registered Charity, which is subject to independent audit and regulation.

 

Partnership with Gambian Government- ‘handing over the school’

It was alleged that the trustees made WYCE Gambia hand over the school to the Gambian government.

 

The WYCE trustees did not hand over the WYCE school to the government or cause WYCE Gambia to do so.  From early 2014, the then WYCE Gambia Chairman, Mr Ebrima Jallow, led work to negotiate a new working relationship with the Gambian Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE), with the support of WYCE Gambia Director Lamin Kijera.  The Charity’s trustees supported the move in order to ensure that WYCE Gambia could continue to operate (the benefits of this arrangement are described further below).  The school was ‘handed over’ in September 2014, and a new agreement between the Ministry and WYCE Gambia, formalising responsibilities and commitments from each party, was signed by both parties in November 2015.  The Charity is not a signatory to that agreement.

 

WYCE Gambia’s annual report for 2014 states the correct position:

“By far the most significant development in education this year has been the new partnership between WYCE and the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE) to operate the nursery and school; this process began in September, at the start of the 2014/15 school year.  The drive for this move is partly financial (the costs of operating a full nursery and Lower Basic School have grown to more than 1,000,000 Dalasis per year, at a time when charity incomes across Europe continue to reduce), but also to ensure the quality of teaching and learning, and leadership of the school, as it was impossible for WYCE to recruit the numbers of qualified teachers and head/deputy head teacher required to operate the growing school. Under the partnership, WYCE has handed over to MoBSE responsibility for school teaching staff salaries and core text books.  WYCE will continue to provide support in terms of infrastructure, buildings, equipment, school support staff, feeding programme and other developments in order to complement the desire aim and objectives of both MoBSE and WYCE to create a better future for children in the Gambia.”

 

It is true that if the school had not been ‘handed over’, it would not have been possible for the school to continue operating; WYCE Gambia (even with the support of the Charity) could simply not afford the cost.  WYCE Gambia is now in a much healthier financial position than it was in 2013/14, including having financial reserves to be used in the event of emergencies.  In addition, it is very difficult to recruit trained and qualified teachers in The Gambia, the Government employs the vast majority of them, meaning that the school would likely need to educate local children using unqualified teachers.  There was no clear rationale put forward at the time for the school remaining outside the Gambian Government’s national education system. 

 

Handover

It has been alleged in communications from representatives of WYI to WYCE supporters that the Charity’s trustees did not engage in a proper handover prior to terminating the partnership.

 

Although we have written to the WYCE Gambia Board on several occasions since March 2019 to seek resolution of the various serious concerns detailed above, the Board has not provided any substantive response to those requests or taken any action to resolve our concerns.  It is in these circumstances that the Charity’s trustees finally felt that they had no other option but to terminate the partnership.  We have written to the WYCE Gambia Board again since to reaffirm our commitment to engage in constructive dialogue to ensure that the change in the two organisations’ relationship can be managed effectively.

 

Conclusion

The trustees believe that this is a comprehensive and factually accurate account of its rationale to break its long-standing partnership with WYCE Gambia.  We continue to wish WYCE Gambia and the local management and staff teams, many of whom we consider to be our friends, well in their future endeavours.

 

[1]  https://www.gov.uk/guidance/safeguarding-duties-for-charity-trustees   In particular, the section ‘Working overseas’, which states that “You should apply the same practices as in England and Wales and make sure you comply with any extra requirements of the other country.”

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