I’ve just returned from The Gambia, the smallest mainland African country and a former British colony that lies on the West coast just south of the Sahara. Through the African Oyster Trust, Leader Communications supports a number of humanitarian projects (mainly nursery schools and a couple of clinics) and I was out there seeing how an amazing person named Lady Kira Dalton is working to make a real difference on the ground.
Her latest project has been the construction of a new hospital in a town called Jappineh which has been funded by an American donor in memory of Kira’s late husband, and world renowned scientist, Sir Howard Dalton. The hospital has just opened and we were greeted (and thanked) by the entire town.The greeting was phenomenal – involving a two-mile dancing procession, speeches and Gambian style feasting.
It was wonderful, but hot and tiring too. One day, after lunch,the chief invited us to his compound for a rest in the shade of his Bantaba. A Bantaba is essentially a flat floor covered in rugs protected by a thick thatched roof – wonderfully cool and a great place for resting and chatter (hence our word, “banter”).
Whilst I lay in cool relief, I looked up and saw a strange clay structure fixed in the apex of the roof. It turned out to be the nest of a bird – one that the chief greatly valued.Through an interpreter he told me why: “This bird only builds its nest in places of people who are honest and peaceful. If this bird ever leaves your bantaba then it is a sure sign that you have succumbed to evil ways. This bird is a sign to all that you can be trusted (or not)”.
Immediately, I remembered that PR is all about building trust and mutual goodwill and I was disappointed not to see these avian symbols of good reputation. Thankfully, later I saw them flying high over the village rice fields and vegetable gardens.They were red-rumped swallows – very like our own swallows, but bigger and with a pinky backside. What a wonderful symbol of goodwill, I thought, and proof that reputation is something that has inestimable value wherever you are in the world.