Sunderland Harrier Brian Bewick’s life changed direction completely in 2015 when his wife presented him with his birthday present.
For many years he had harboured the desire to do voluntary work in one of the world’s poorest countries and also get to run with the locals.
In the birthday envelope Lesley said that she had secretly organised and booked a stay at the Gunjur Project Lodge in Gambia.The trip was to help to build a new school in Kollokoch village.
“I had a great two weeks and I knew it would not be long before I was back in Gambia and planned to bring Lesley, for her to experience it. Lesley now helps out in the school and also helps with the organising of the charity work in the Gunjur project.’’
“We returned many times to Gambia over the next couple of years but it was in 2018, while here for Lesley's 50th birthday, that we heard there was a plot of land for sale so we decided to buy it”
“I have spent the last two years going back and forth and have now built a bungalow and lodge with a swimming pool and last year decided to sell our house in Silksworth and move here full-time.
“Now that I have built a small lodge with accommodation and with the Gunjur Project very close by, I would really love to see other running and football groups coming over to volunteer in schools or hospitals.’’
The 55-year-old bricklayer has since joined the local Gunjur Athletics Club and quickly found out the training facilities are very poor.
“Gambia only has one running track that is up in the tourist area of the city in Banjul. I have not known the track being used for any major competition, but it is used every year for the National Schools’Track and Field Finals.
“In our village, training on a track drawn into the sand, is not easy going on my ageing legs and to couple that with the heat, I find it very hard going.
“The club has many talented youngsters that Ifeel given the opportunity would be a force at many competitive meetings outside of Gambia. However, lack of funding will probably not allow them that chance anytime soon.
“I started helping out with coaching the youngsters in the club and when they said they had a competition coming up. I was taken aback to see so many kids running barefoot.
“When back home in the UK and with the help of friends of mine, Barry Walker, and Sunderland Harrier Simon Taylor, a former Nike rep, who is now involved with Hoka, I got two boxes of shoes and clothing to take back to Gambia.”
“The people here in Gambia don’t have much and many live on less than 50p a day and don’t know where their next meal is coming from, but they all own a massive smile.’’
The population of the village is around 2,800and live as full families in many cases 30 to 40 people living together in their compound. Few have running water or electricity and pull up water from the well.
The diet is very good being just 200 yards from the sea and it being a fishing village. They eat a lot of different types of fish as well as chicken, eggs vegetables and rice. They only drink water.
Bewick has been a talented athlete throughout his career which started when he won the bronze medal in the North Eastern BoysCross Country Championships at the age of 14.