Extra needs of a school for the blind

STEPHEN PULLINGER When Phil Feller opened a school for blind children in The Gambia he soon discovered he had taken on a whole new family in his 50s. But on his last three-week trip to the West African country the retired Norfolk police officer found his family had grown even beyond his wildest expectations with the Govi Resource School having started a nursery class and adult literacy section.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

When Phil Feller opened a school for blind children in The Gambia he soon discovered he had taken on a whole new family in his 50s.

But on his last three-week trip to the West African country the retired Norfolk police officer found his family had grown even beyond his wildest expectations with the Govi Resource School having started a nursery class and adult literacy section.

Returning this week to his desk at Yarmouth police station, where he now works as a civilian administrator, Mr Feller, 58, appealed for special Christmas presents - tactile toys for the school's youngest pupils.

He said: "Several of the children have come in from the provinces many miles away so they can go to school, staying with distant relatives or even members of staff."

The adult classes had begun spontaneously after visually impaired people, who had never had a chance of education, began walking in off the street.

Most Read

As normal, Mr Feller and his wife Joan have returned from their three-week break at their timeshare apartment without the vestige of a tan, having spent endless hours sorting out crises from leaking roofs and a lack of Braille paper to computer breakdowns.

It was seeing the plight of visually impaired children, many destined to end up as street beggars, which inspired the couple to begin fund-raising for a school 10 years ago.

Setting up the charity, Friends of the Gambian Organisation for the Visually Impaired (Govi), Mr Feller raised £27,000 to open the school in 2002.

Now a well-known figure in The Gambia, he has been bestowed with the African name Samba Wurry, recognising his efforts, and often features on local radio and television during his visits.

He said: "The hard work is worth it when you see the progress of the pupils. One girl, Saffie, who is 14, was treated as blind and useless by her mother's new partner, but she can now do work around the house and even read stories from her Braille book to her parents, who are both illiterate."

He said it was amazing to see the skill of youngsters, often totally blind, playing football with a special ball containing a bell.

The school has found support from people across Britain, including a Cornish woman whose church group has undertaken to fund school dinners for a year, but Mr Feller said fundraising was a perpetual headache as there were always new things to buy.

Mrs Feller has attended more than 80 car boot fairs in the past year to help meet the never ending bills for everything from stationery to Braillers for children leaving school.

Anyone who can help with tactile toys or general fundraising can contact Mr Feller on 01493 721506.