They’d been looking forward to their holiday for months. As a self-employed couple, then in their 50s and 60s, June and Brian Cox took very little time off – and only when business was quiet. But when they decided to treat themselves with a trip to The Gambia in 1990, little did they know that their lives were about to change forever.
“There was no special reason for going,” explains Brian (now 83). “We just wanted some sun at a time when we could afford to get away. Once we arrived we started taking walks along the beach and made friends with a local policeman called Lalo.
“He mentioned his family and I casually remarked that we’d love to see a picture. But the poor man couldn’t afford a camera to take any photos so we visited the family at home instead."
"The taxi journey cost just £15,” says June (76). “But that was a fortune to them. They couldn’t believe we’d taken the trouble.”
Indeed, their kind words and actions did not go unnoticed. June and Brian received a letter from Lalo the following year to say that his wife was pregnant again. When the baby was born it would be christened either June or Brian. Particularly touched by this turn of events, June was honoured that they named their little girl after her!
Once the baby had arrived, the Coxes later made a special return trip to visit baby June at her nursery. But when Lalo showed the couple where the toddlers at the nursery spent their time, June and Brian were shocked and dismayed to find the children had nothing other than the floor to sit on.
The pair rushed out to buy tables and chairs – and so began the start of their work to help improve the impoverished lives of local people.
“It just happened,” Brian tells us. “We never planned to do these things. But we soon found our charity work was a welcome commitment. It gave us something to do, especially once we had retired.”
And ever since, June and Brian have been dedicated to improving standards of living and education in The Gambia.
A whole host of goodwill purchases followed, as the Coxes decided that returning to The Gambia meant they could enjoy time away from home, as well as make a difference to those in need. “We went on holiday and got hooked!” says June.
And people certainly were in need. In addition to the sponsoring of local toddlers and their schooling, the couple’s generosity soon knew no bounds. They’ve been back every year since 1994 to provide clean water, food and clothing, and help with medical bills.
Their charity, The June & Brian Cox Project was officially set up in the mid-Nineties. “We help anyone who comes to us,” June says. “One man was really suffering with cataracts, so we paid for his treatment. It’s such a simple operation, which could be done in a flash here in the UK. But Gambians haven’t got the money.”
Then there are the bigger projects, like the piping of clean water to rural villages, though it’s difficult for June and Brian to help with any physical work. “We don’t build anything ourselves,” smiles June. “We pay the villagers to dig the wells.”
The couple also pay for staff training, and provide accommodation for their nursery teachers. “I do paint, though!” June adds. “I hate to see everybody else working around us.”
But until just a few years ago, though their work helped a variety of projects, the charity didn’t have anything concrete to its name. So June and Brian bought a plot of land to build their own nursery from scratch.
“An incredibly kind donation provided us with the money – and Jambour village nursery was founded,” says Brian.
While they’re in the UK, June and Brian leave it to another of their good friends, Jawo, to run things. “He emails every day,” says June. “Mostly just to say, ‘everything OK here’.”
Meanwhile, back in Britain their dedicated British supporters knit clothes and teddy bears to sell to raise funds. Any spares go to the Gambian children.
And it’s all worth it, for the happy tales and memories. Most memorable was the time June and Brian brought films to the nurseries, particularly as the children had never seen television before. “We were there when Jawo put the first videos on,” remembers June, “and oh, their little faces. I cried!”
“Yes,” agrees Brian, “we’ve shed many a tear over the years.”
But they don’t think their work makes them special. “We’re just like anybody else,” says Brian. “Anyone could do what we’ve done.”
And even after all these years, the Coxes are still going strong. June insists they’ll travel to Gambia for as long as they can: “I’ll take Brian in a wheelchair if I have to!” says June.
When they next head overseas, June and Brian will be kitting out an ambulance for their very own clinic in Jambour village. It’s easy to see why they’ve been awarded the British Empire Medal for their efforts over the last 20 years – and not a moment too soon.
- June and Brian fund two Gambian nursery schools, one in Bakoteh, and another in Jambour. Together they support almost 300 pupils with daily breakfast, uniforms and education.
- To find out more, sign up to The June and Brian Cox Project newsletter, or if you would like to make a donation write to: June and Brian Cox c/o Yours magazine, Media House, Lynchwood Business Park, Peterborough PE2 6EA, including your contact details. Cheques should be made out to: J&B Cox, Gambia Account. We will forward any correspondence received until April 5, 2015.
Photo © Patrick Boyd Photography
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