Returning back to The Gambia never loses its excitement for Mick and I as we found out during our trip in December 2014 and after all the fundraising as committee members the excitement grew as our departure date grew nearer , we couldn’t wait to see what the charity and its supporters had achieved since our visit in March 2014 .
Our first day with the Charity was spent on a beach day with the pupils from the Bantangba Nursery, a beach day we had fundraised for, as we know how important the experience and the day is to the children and teachers, a chance to have fun relax and forget. On this day neither the teachers nor pupils had ever visited the beach, swam in the sea, or even made a sandcastle! The children and teachers arrived by bus , I’m not sure how they all fit in , it was like a magical bus the people, pots , pans and mats just kept coming out ! I will never forget the faces of the children as they stood in awe looking out to sea , a look of bewilderment and disbelief , which later led to questions about where the sea ended and how deep was the sea ?.We coaxed the children into the sea by Mick and I splashing each other, laughing showing them that the sea was fun and not to be feared, it didn’t take long before we were being grabbed and pulled by the children holding us tightly to take them into the sea, the sounds of laughter, screams of joy and excitement filled the air, such a wonderful sound. We showed the children how to make sandcastles and decorated them with shells to look like a jewelled palace. The day was filled with games, tug of war, skipping,what’s the time Mr Wolf, chasing balloons and the bucket race to name a few, the children were all keen to join in every game .A DJ was rehearsing for a programme he had in the evening, the kids loved it and had their own mini disco on the beach and of course we all had to dance! The ladies from Sanyang came to cook 3 wonderful traditional African meals; the food kept our energy levels up all day until sadly the day came to an end after the children received their party bags. But it didn’t end there!! The children and teachers wanted to give thanks for the day and the experience, it was quite emotional when one of the nursery children aged around 4 stood up and thanked us, our friends and the charity for the day, the work that the charity have done in Somita and for the building of the Bantangba Nursery and the chance of an education, this boy was so good he had to do it all again but this time over the microphone borrowed from the DJ. The teachers and children all had a fantastic day and we believe are still talking about that day at the beach to this day.
Our first trip back to Somita was to visit the Bantangba Nursery ,the last we saw in March was pretty much a building sight , how things had moved on through the hard work of fundraisers and the charity the Nursery had opened on 29th September , we couldn’t wait to see it and we certainly weren’t disappointed. As the bus drove down the road we could see the Bantangba tree a huge tree that stands in the grounds of the school, with a seating area at its base, this is where the children and teachers sit in the shade and escape the hot sun. The green and white building of the school walls stood out as we approached , an instant thought of how far the charity had come since we first visited the Gambia ,and now Sandys dream is now a reality .We entered the classrooms (4 of them) to be greeted by the biggest smiles and the loudest voices as the children stood up and either sang or showed us on the blackboard what they had already learned in such a short time , what they had learned was amazing , these children had only been in the nursery a few months and already they knew English songs, colours and could identify fruits , these children would have come from non-English speaking homes and in two months here they were showing us what they had learned , the hard work, dedication and commitment of the teachers really did shine through in the kids. We sat in the playground where the families had come to greet us there was dancing and singing before we gave over some donations of school supplies we had collected since our last trip , we do this in front of the villagers to show transparency that what has been donated is given to the school. We sat around talking to the teachers for a while but one thing we did notice; the children don’t seem to want to go home and some even repeating what they had learned in class to us and the buzz and excitement of the beach day was still apparent from both teachers and pupils.
Again a 2nd beach day paid for by our fundraising, this time for the pupils and teachers from Kitty School, again the children and teachers had never visited the beach .We watched the never ending amount of children and teachers get off the bus , the children all came to shake our hands and say “Hello “or ask our names. Once again it was time to entice the children into the water , this time I threw a bucket of water over Paul to show the children it was harmless , they laughed and soon Paul was bombarded with buckets of water as the children filled up their buckets from the sea. Again the fantastic food was cooked by Janko’s family from Sanyang over a fire on the beach, this kept our energy levels up once again to ensure that we could enjoy all the fun, games and dancing that were custom on these days .The children all received party bags before they boarded the bus to make the journey home.
Our next trip was back to Somita to visit the clinic, I had appealed to friends, family and work colleagues to buy paracetamol at 19p per pack in most supermarkets ,I wasn’t asking too much, I also did the dry January and had bought medicines to the value of the cost of my Saturday night bottle of wine .The support I had was amazing and I shipped out over 9000 painkillers,bandages,antiseptic creams,calpol to name a few, this was all put aside for me to personally deliver. The nurses and witnesses were waiting to greet us at the clinic. As we unpacked the boxes and piled up the medical supplies for photographs the smile on the nurses face grew and grew, none of them could believe how much had been donated. The nurse was keen to show us around the hospital, his diminishing stocks in his store cupboard, our donations had arrived just in time. I looked around again reflecting how things had improved here since the charity had given support, the beds now had mattresses, there were mosquito nets above the beds, a clock in the waiting room, a cot and most importantly medicines and qualified nurses ! I love visiting this clinic, every little thing is so much appreciated, and if me spending 19p every time I go into the supermarket assists in supporting this clinic and aiding in someone’s recovery then I will keep on collecting indefinitely.
There was another reason for us to visit Somita for a second time , during our trip in March 2014 we came across a lady at the clinic who was malnourished , her baby was also malnourished, she was living a very poor life even by Gambian standards , we learned that the 2 nurses from the clinic were trying to support her by giving her their lunch (they shared the other between them)to try and feed her up so that she had some nutrients to feed her baby who was very underweight for her age, a real act of humanity from the nurses, asking around and doing some digging we found out that the people from the village even spoke of how poor this family was and how much they needed help .It really did hurt to see this happening in this day and age and I came away from Somita determined to do something to help this family. Back in the UK we spoke to friends and family about how emotional meeting Awa and her baby had been for us, we had never seen this in the Gambia before, again our friends and family knowing how passionate we are about the charity stepped in and decided to sponsor all 5 of her children and one even decided she wanted to sponsor the mother to help support the family. Today was the day that we would meet them all, deliver gifts for the children , a bag of rice and even some material for Awa to have a dress made along with enough money to pay the tailor, she had only worn 2nd hand clothing given to her by the charity , it was time to have something new. Firstly we visited the house they used to live in, it can only be described as dilapidated cattle shed, it was unsafe, holes in the roof, the door lintel moved, cracks in the walls, this place would have almost definitely been washed away in the rainy season. With the support of the charity the family had been found new home. We arrived at the new home to be greeted by the family they were keen to show off their home and the 2 mattresses that Mick and I bought after finding out the whole family had been sleeping on the concrete floor, inside we presented the gifts, they were so happy, this was not the Awa I had met in March, the worried face had disappeared, she had gained weight and best of all she was smiling and happy. The children were eager to show us their school books, and what they had been learning, they opened their gifts and tried on the clothing, played with the toys, smiles never left any of their faces, there were lots of hugs from the children that day and lots of laughter as we played the game of hungry hippos out on the veranda. We left the family telling them we would see them again in March, knowing that the charity , friends and family had made such a huge difference here left me feeling content that this family now had a chance. It was then off to a compound for lunch ,and to give out some donations of football kits , to deliver rice from a friend who decided it was better to feed a family for a month rather than buy Christmas cards. The compound was soon filled with children who again filled the air with the songs they had learned in the Bantangba nursery .I asked if the songs from the school were for us, I was told no the children are often heard singing these songs , even the children that don’t go to school know them and join in .
This is just some of the highlights of my latest Gambian experience and the joy and satisfaction that the charity and its supporters bring, so if you are thinking of booking for the Gambia for the first time or returning, please remember to contact GOAL for the Gambia and come and see for yourselves the difference the charity makes and that you can help make. I personally can’t wait to return in March 2015 along with my husband and my daughter who I know will enjoy her first Gambian experience.