The Imam of Marlborough? by Henry Pearson

On my second visit to Gunjur in 1995, I attended a meeting at which the Chair began by welcoming me as the Team Rector of Marlborough. As she attempted to explain who I was and what I did, someone interrupted her and said "Henry is the Imam of Marlborough". There was much laughter and the title stuck. 95 % of the people of The Gambia are Muslims and even though Gambia is a secular state all community meetings begin with Islamic prayers.

On one occasion a Gambian friend, Lamin Cham, suggested that I should say a prayer. I went into a complete panic as I began to think what to say that would be appropriate. Lamin saw that I was in difficulty and decided to help me out by reciting the Lord's Prayer which he had learnt when brought up in a Catholic school. All was going well until he said "And lead us into temptation"!

To be involved in Marlborough's link with Gunjur during the 1990s was an enormous privilege and hugely enriching experience. I would say it was life-changing. And that would be true for a large number of Gap year volunteers, spending nine months in Gunjur before going on to University. We did a count up in 2000. Out of 55 volunteers, 39 were then working abroad in international development.

For me the link is about relationships, relationships between people from two very different communities. The quality of those relationships has grown throughout the years since the link was established. In 1994, in preparation for a clergy course, I wrote a paper entitled "One link to One World – a Study of Community in Gunjur and Marlborough" (If you would like to read, please let me know). I concluded this piece by saying "What matters to people links them together. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When people pull away from each other and do their own thing, then the community cannot remain whole. All human beings are links in a chain. Community at its best strengthens the links between people in interest and locality, both near and far. Each person in every community is One Link to One World."

What I have learnt in our link with Gunjur has been invaluable in the links that I have been involved in since moving to Dorset in 2002 until 2012; the link with the Catholic Community of Pays de Conches in Normandy with whom we completed the pilgrimage walk from the Abbey of Bec in Northern France to Santiago de Compostella in 2011 and also the link with the town of Idayangudi in Tamil Nadu, South India, established in 2003 by my family. Now living back in Marlborough I look forward once again to being involved with our link with Gunjur.