During this trip our eyes have been opened to how fortunate we are to have access to privileges such as education and clean water. On the first day, traveling to a secondary school immediately shocked us as to how little facilities they had; they stated they had the “best science facilities in the country” yet these were extremely limited and minimal compared to what we have. This immediately inspired us to make as much as a difference on the trip as possible by giving in any way we could; we hope to not stop there and continue helping when we are home, by fundraising and raising awareness. The friendliness and welcoming attitude of the community and people highlighted the difference between Gambian and British culture; at the Islamic school with extremely little facilities they provided us with biscuits and drinks, insisting we took them. When we gave these to the children, the desperation saddened us, demonstrating how desperate they were for a few Pringles we had spare in our bags. It opened our eyes to how lucky we really are. Yet the appreciation they showed warmed us at the same time, with them hugging and holding our hands. Regardless of how little they had, the community and children never failed to openly welcome us, performing dances and getting us involved, making us feel part of their community, seeing their gratitude and love for life was heart-warming.
The day began in a very pleasant, relaxed manner as we acclimatised to the dramatically different climate. Having hopped on the bus at a ‘Gambian first thing in the morning’ we arrived at the Gambian High School where the senior students had just finished an accounting exam. The students showed us around their school in small groups and they were incredibly proud of it; it was so lovely to see the community that existed and the tight-knit nature that existed between the students. It was evident that there were immense differenceses between their school and our school especially regarding facilities and the class sizes. However it was particularly lovely and reassuring to see was equations and concepts on the boards which we too have covered at similar stages in our educations. Personally I feel that I do not take CHS itself for granted. I do perhaps take the fact that I have a right to a fulfilling education for granted, which I won’t anymore.
The next stage of the day consisted of visiting a crocodile centre. There was a pool which had over 100 crocodiles and had been there for 500 years. The man in charge explained that those who had many troubles could wash in the water and if they truly believed in the healing properties of the water – they would be lifted from their troubles. It was fascinating to see something which was very important in African tradition and so different to any kinds of spiritual or cultural ritual.
It was time to visit the schools! We were all filled with excitement on arrival to Samsang Senior School, in the heart of The Gambia. Here we were welcomed by some fabulous acting, singing and cultural dancing. It was great to get an insight into the students’ lives and learn a few moves or two! Special mention goes to Gina Whittaker who actually won the dance-off despite not knowing any African moves to start off with! The English club performed an inspiring drama piece with the powerful phrase, “education is the key to everlasting success” as the moral of the story. Looking around everyone seemed in awe of the students, despite their poor facilities their drive and ambition for success was second to none. We finished off with a motive speech from the headmaster where he explained what it meant to Samsaang that we’d had come to help them. At that moment especially, we were proud to be a part of CHS. Our send-off was just as amazing as our welcome and we began our route to a primary school not far from Samsaang.We were met with gleaming faces and welcome hugs in Dumbutu. Every CHS students’ hands were taken and as the children lead us into the shade the woman of the town showed us some traditional tribal dancing. It was definitely harder than we anticipated but we all gave it a good attempt. We were then taken inside for some refreshments and food and we were happy to say the watermelon went down very well with us all demolishing at least 3 pieces!
To finish off the day the Headmaster gave an emotive speech about the gratitude he had towards CHS and ensured us that all funds given to the school in the future will be put towards new furniture and toilets. The day had been amazing, not only had we learnt about the traditional Gambian culture, but we had also met so many inspiring students and teachers whose positive views on learning and education left a permanent impact on many of us. We felt proud to be a part of CHS that day and we will remember it for the rest of our lives.
The day started with us walking to Tendaba Primary School, where the children ran down the hill to greet us and welcomed us with open arms. We were then taken for a tour of the school where the children read to us, showed us their classrooms and the water pump. The best part for everyone was doing the Hokey Cokey, singing and dancing with the children. It made us realise how fortunate we were and how much they rely on our help, even the simple things like a pen can make all the difference to them.
Next we went to a nursery which is not government funded and they rely on the local community and funding to run. The children sang for us and reciting the alphabet and counted for us. They were so cute and tiny.
We then visited rural Islamic and Christian schools, where 94 children have to fit into a tiny classroom and they really lacked resources, we learnt of the struggles of community funding and the sheer importance philanthropic activities such as our own. It really struck us that all the children we have met so far despite having so little are always willing to share and are happy, which only makes us feel more welcome.
Whilst it was sad to leave Tendaba Camp behind, we looked forward to the day ahead with much excitement. On arrival at both Barundeen Islamic School and the Cheadle Hulme School itself, we received the warmest of welcomes, filled with speeches giving us an insight into the upkeep and progress of the facilities, singing from adults and the children, cultural dance, prayers, and even a DJ! This was followed by dancing and playing with the many young children who seemed so happy to see us all. Innumerable photos were taken which I’m sure will provide us all with fantastic memories in the future, and the kids enjoyed seeing them as well. The hot sun eventually led to the demise of the dance party and so the group, each member was kindly escorted by the hands of as many children as possible, headed over to the local football field to play the big game – ‘Manchester vs the Gambia’. I think the playing conditions must have been what caused our 4-2 defeat, but either way it was heart-warming to see everyone so happily come together in a game to which it seems everyone in The Gambia can relate.
Afterwards, we ate lunch provided by the school, and then exchanged the few gifts that we had for the students and the Headmaster, in the comforting knowledge that they were to be met with many more in the coming days, once our boxes finally made it into The Gambia (courtesy of Thomas Cook!). In reflection now on the bus back to Kombo Beach, the day and the trip as a whole have been overwhelming to say the least. Never have I met such a kind and welcoming people, with the most outstanding attitude towards learning and acting as a community. I have been both moved and inspired throughout our few days in this country – my personal highlight being a small 7-year-old boy explaining the importance of learning, before asking me to teach him to read properly. I’m sure I speak for us all when I say that our outlook on life, family and education has changed because of this trip, and I look forward to returning home and appreciating everything I have to a much greater extent than ever before.