Lasting legacy of Gambian charity's Norfolk Founder
Janet Clark from Mattishall, founder of the Christian charity Gambian Aid Through Education, has died aged 75, having devoted her retirement years to raising funds and coordinating life-changing aid for one of the poorest countries in the world, writes Jenny Seal.
In 2005 at the age of 60 Janet Clark founded the Christian charity Gambian Aid Through Education (GATE) with her husband Les. Since then it has transformed thousands of lives in one of the poorest countries in the world by building wells, supplying allotments, sponsoring the schooling of children, funding mosquito nets and installing milling machines.
Last week Janet Clark from Mattishall in Mid Norfolk died, following a short stay in hospital with an illness caused by the effects of cancer.
Talking about the charity in the month before she died Janet said: “My greatest wish is that GATE will carry on and grow. The work we have done has changed the lives of hundreds of women and children. God has blessed us, and I trust him to raise up those challenged to help.”
Before moving to Norfolk to retire Janet was the Chief Instructor at her own Riding School. For the last 17 years she had worked in the Visitor Centre of Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, but devoted much of her retirement to passionately raising funds and coordinating aid to the Gambian communities in which GATE works.
Janet and Les had first visited the West African country on holiday in 2000 and were invited to visit the home of a hotel worker. Seeing the living conditions of local people inspired the couple to get involved in charitable work in the country. They started GATE five years later.
Janet said: “Initially I didn’t want to start a charity. I said I can’t run a charity, I don’t know where to start, and God said to me ‘you do it in my strength and you can walk on water, just keep your eyes on me. And we’ve had so many God instances over the years. It has brought me friendship, joy and closer to God.”
The Christian charity works in the inland communities of Bakardarge and Farafenni. GATE employs a local coordinator who oversees the work on the ground and they work alongside the local village elders to identify needs. This has resulted in the creation of 18 wells, mosquito nets supplied for 11 villages and currently around 100 children being sponsored through education. Janet was greatly inspired by the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’
Often accompanied by another Trustee, Janet visited the area for a fortnight each year paid for at her own personal expense. When in The Gambia they bought local craft such as wood carvings, ethnic jewelry, bags and clothing at a fair price to sell in the UK to raise funds for the charity.
In the weeks before dying Janet received a letter from the Secretary of the Mamaudou Village Women thanking GATE for the village’s new well. She wrote “We write to acknowledge our appreciation for giving us access to pure water. It has been a major constraint affecting the women of this village by then we had to go extra mile for clean water…The entire women at the village is saying thank you for your well needed moral support.”
This year Janet had hoped to raise funds for a third milling machine in Sasita that will serve six villages, and enable around 400 children into school by making the women’s lives easier. The Trustees of GATE are continuing this goal in memory of Janet.
Jane Moore, the Treasurer of GATE, said: “Janet poured her life into the work and its affected the lives of thousands of people. She achieved no mean feat over the years”.
Janet’s son Andy Clark said: “My mum was truly amazing and I know she will be greatly missed by all.”
Janet’s funeral is at All Saints' Church, Mattishall on Thursday, July 4 at 1.45pm.
Donations in lieu of flower or in memory of Janet are to go towards the £6,500 needed for the "Milling Machine in Sasita" for which GATE are raising funds to build it in memory of Janet. All enquiries to GambianAid@gmail.com and donations in memory or support can be made through Gordon Barbers Funeral Directors in Dereham. Please call 01362 888116 for details.
In May Janet put out an appeal for volunteers. You can read about other volunteering opportunities with Gambian Aid Through Education here.