The Gambia 2012
On Tuesday 14th February 2012 a group of Kingswood Staff and students led by Faye Austin, Head of Geography, set off for the third time to the Gambia to continue their work in Penyem Village.
The group was made up of six Year 13 students, one Year 12 student and two former students. The trip involved three daily visits to Penyem, a day of taking in the various sights and a day or so enjoying the sunshine!
The following extracts are from the diary Faye Austin kept of her experience during the trip.
Tuesday 14th February
After a very early start and a flight of just over 6 hours (with no onboard entertainment) we arrived to the hustle and bustle of Banjul Airport (the capital of the Gambia). We collected our cases and charity boxes and met with Andrew and Dan, our guides for the week. Andrew is a native of Penyem village. We were all given a fan in arrivals and the students made a lot of use of it on the journey to the hotel. We arrived at the hotel Djeliba within half an hour.
The entrance was colourful and it seemed a very friendly place to spend our week. We checked in and made our way to our rooms, after a freshen up we walked to Senegambia to change our money and to get some dinner. Most of the students chose pizza (not a traditional Gambian dish!) whilst Mr Tristram chose the local ‘butter fish’. After the very early start everyone was ready for an early night, but the Gambians were disappointed that we didn’t want to party!
Wednesday 15th February
We got up and went for breakfast, it was quite breezy and the sun wasn’t out. So, we cloud bathed whilst waiting for the Village Chief to arrive and welcome us to the Gambia. In true Gambian style he was late!...everything tends to take a long time in the Gambia. When he arrive he was introduced to the group. The students then chose to go and explore. Coincidentally they strolled upon ‘Par’, a guy running a juice bar on the beach who happened to be from Penyem. He was very impressed with the work the Northampton Trustee Fund (NTF) are doing and equally impressed with the Kingswood Students.
The cloud bathing took its toll on Becky Liquorish, as she ended up with lovely red stripes down her legs! The students had a game of volleyball in the pool, there were mixed reactions about entering the very cold pool, but soon there was lots of fun going on. In the hotel we were able to get a taste of the local culture, with traditional African drumming and dancing. In the evening we went to the Poco Loco beach bar for dinner. The girls ended up dancing whilst still wrapped in fleece blankets as it was a little too windy on the beach front. On the way back home we stumbled upon a rather large stick insect just sat in the road!
Thursday 16th February
An early get up, ready for the first visit to the village. On the way to the village we stopped in Brikama, the last tarmac town before dirt tracks to the village. We had a walk through the market, Kelsie McIntyre was very uneasy and looked horrified at everyday life for the people of the town. There were lots of screwed up faces as we walked through the fish section of the market. We made sure we had all our sweets ready for the children (minties). As soon as we hit the dirt track there was screams from children shouting ‘twobob’ (white person) and ‘minty’ (sweets). Every dwelling you pass there are waves and screams…already it was overwhelming.
As we reached the village straight away there was "Andy, Andy" (Andy Butler, the founder of the NTF). It’s amazing that everyone knows of Andy! We pulled up at the house of one of Andy’s first connections with the village. A lady had knitted 100 bobble hats, so Andy gave those out to the family and friends there and delivered them a bag of rice. My eyes were starting to leak as the smiles stretched across the childrens' and adults' faces receiving a bobble hat. Eleanor Springham an ex student of Kingswood was greeted by a huge hug from the child she sponsors…the tears had certainly set in by then. Already so emotional. We climbed back aboard the trucks and drove around the corner to see hundreds of small children in purple checked uniforms and paper hats lined along the dirt track. We jumped out of the trucks and walked along whilst the children chanted "Welcome Andy, welcome Andy" over and over. This continued right into the school yard as the children clung to our every limb and spare finger. We sat under the tree in the shade and the children just climbed all over us. At this point there were welcome speeches and we handed over the gifts of stationery and equipment for the school. Unfortunately less than usual as we were denied double baggage by the airline. There was then a tour of the nursery school and the village. Seeing the bee hives and developments that the NTF have done since 2004. Andy was very happy to see the doctor in action as the heat got to Becky and she conveniently and luckily fainted and fell into Eleanor’s arms. Thankfully she had a rapid recovery.
We had a lovely lunch of Benechin ( a local Gambian dish), topped with chicken. Back under the tree we were provided with traditional entertainment of drumming and dancing and we were each dragged up to join in with the dancing. We left the village and had a chilly journey back to the hotel. After a Shower and change we went out for dinner, I sampled ‘Yassa’, a very nice Gambian style curry dish. The students sampled some Gambian nightlife with our guides, they were very impressed with their dancing!
Friday 17th February
A nice early breakfast in a small suntrap with a stray cat that parked himself on top of my bag while I got a coffee! A day of excursions….we set off at 9:30am and went to the monkey park. Some people more enthused than others! I don’t think Mr T was too impressed. But, Ashley’s champagne moment of the day was feeding the monkeys! They were pretty cute, I liked the baby ones! From the monkey park we headed towards Banjul, and stopped at the Crocodile Pool. I was very scared at the thought of being around crocodiles, but I was assured it was all safe. This one was down to Mr T!...It started with a very interesting history museum and a large circumcision tree, we then strolled around the corner and there they were. Two crocodiles sat in our path and loads huddled around the pool. We went over and shook the hand of a crocodile, everyone managed it…some with more fear on their face than others! Again, the baby ones looked more appealing!
We survived the crocodile pool, then it was time to experience the market hassle in Banjul. We headed into the market, and straight away we were all drawn in and asked to ‘look, look, only look’! We managed to buy some great items between us all, and some were better at bartering than others! As we were leaving we were caught in the Friday 2pm prayer. The men were rushing around trying to line up their mat on the street. The main street was layered with men praying, it was magnificent to see. A moment I have never seen in my world travels.
Back at the hotel we relaxed by the pool, until it was a little too chilly. Heading out for dinner, I decided to carry on the testing of Gambian food, this time, fish Domoda…very nice. We went for a little dance, but by the time the 90’s classics had gone, I realised very quickly it was bedtime!
Saturday 18th February - The Gambia Independence Day
Initially this was the day that we were going to Penyem, but we had to change this because of the Independence day. It was a day to relax, the majority of the day spent by the pool and the students going to the beach and the craft market. Andy Butler knows everyone!... David, Andy and I walked along the beach to see some of Andy’s tourist guide friends that he has known for years, before our walk commenced we had a fruit juice at Par’s juice bar and a Mr Kipling Cake! It was a beautiful walk, seeing the horses on the beach, herons, until I almost stood in a rather large carcass! In the evening we went to Poco Loco, but it was far too windy and cold to sit outside. We had some food and then had an early night to prepare ourselves for the next two days at Penyem.
Sunday 19th February
It was an early start for a very important day in the village. On arrival we were again greeted by hundreds of children, the tears still trickled down my face as they were so excited to see us. As we waited in the school yard the teachers gathered together the sponsored children. Gradually each of us walked away with our translator, sponsored child and their family. This was my second visit within a year to the Nyassi family. It was fantastic to see them and they were so grateful for the gifts I bought for them.
I was dreading the visit to the hole, aka the toilet at the school, so I thought I’d go at the family home instead. I’m not sure which was worse as ‘Lala’, the Mother of my sponsored child led me into their yard and just pointed to the floor!...and no water to clean the area afterwards! I bought the boys some toy soldiers which they started to play with straight away whilst the rest of the children enjoyed trying on my sunglasses! Eventually everyone returned after having a great time in their home, it was an even bigger insight into the way the people are living.
Gemma Jackson (a sports coach from Northampton accompanying us on the trip) arranged some fun sports for some of the children. Our students and the Gambian children took part in the races. Bean bag, egg and spoon, sack races, all of the children and our students thoroughly enjoyed the races. The Gambian children were totally elated when they received their medal for taking part. The smiles on their faces were just magical to see, and again brought a tear to my eye.
At this point it was time for the grand opening of the new school building. We were all grateful to receive a certificate for our efforts in supporting the village. After a few speeches, Andy, David and I cut the ribbon and officially opened the new building. It was then time to get motivated for the Kingswood V’s Penyem football game. We jumped in the trucks and drove to the football field, the village children ran as fast as the trucks could drive. The team turned up, and was the Upper Basic girls team, all dressed very smartly. Our kit was donated by Long Buckby Football Club (the village where I grew up). The Gambians lined up very neatly, our line was a mess!. Due to the heat it was a very short game, joined in defence by a goat, a flying shoe by Kelsie and the first goal scored by Ashley Church. We confirmed our win by a goal by Joseph Dixon. We drove away from the field, with the children chasing the trucks as we drove into the dust! By the time we arrived back at the hotel, a late meal was on the cards.
Monday 20th February
Another early start, in the trucks for our drive to the village. On arrival we briefly went into the nursery school and then had to tear the children away from us so we could walk to the Upper Basic School. We met with Mr Bah the Headteacher and had a tour around the school. We went into a few classrooms and watched the boys doing woodcarving in the outside woodwork area. Mr Bah then showed us the only access to water the school has, which is a well. Currently the pump for the well is broken so they have had to build their own dangerous contraption to get the water out. The Headteacher told us that they have no money to fix it. Between our group we were all trying to think of fundraising ideas for the £250 needed to fix the pump.....Can you help?. After the tour we split up to go and join various lessons, our students learnt about agriculture, clothing fibres and technical drawing, whilst I ended up doing some teaching as there was no teacher in the class we visited! The students were just told to get on, and they were doing exactly that!
Shortly after we left the upper school and walked back to the nursery, I was amazed for the second time that seventy 2-4year olds were left in a room on their own. I could hear singing from one classroom so I walked over; again water filled my eyes as a huge sense of joy washed over me. Such happy obedient children sang and stopped silent when the teacher conducted the class. Those students who had sponsored children at the nursery were able to allow them to come and eat lunch with us, but I felt a little sad as I hadn’t seen my boy ‘Musa’ as he was at school at the lower basic. We had a very tearful goodbye; our truck was a blurry eyed mess, it was so emotional. As we drove past the lower basic school all the children came running out of the school grounds to the trucks, I was looking in the blue sea of children in their uniforms for Musa. My hope was running out, but then there he was running like lightning after the truck…he called ‘Faye’ and held his hand out to mine. This was so overwhelming as he is such a shy boy and had never mentioned my name before. Our truck was a tearful silence as we drove into the distance.
On the way back from the village we went to Tangi fishing village, the coastal village where the fishermen bring in the fish and they are smoked and preserved for transportation. There were mixed opinions on the village, mainly due to the stench even on the approach, but it’s an interesting and must see experience. We managed to relax for a short while before our final meal.
Tuesday 21st February
A rather hectic last morning, due to the unfortunate illness of Joseph. However, I managed to get the local mini bus to Serakunda market. It was about 15p return…bargain! I beleive you have to spend money to make money, so I bought some jewellery to sell, so we can start over with fundraising.
As we waited for the bus to the airport everyone was very quiet, sad faces as we didn’t want to come home. We said goodbye to our Gambian friends, and a few more tears appeared! We headed to the airport in Banjul and were fortunate to check in very quickly. There was a 3 hour wait until takeoff, 6 hours 15 minutes in the air, then the drive back home from the airport; a long journey, but we all arrived home safely.
A truly amazing week, and I hope that more students will be lucky enough to enjoy the experience next year. The work Andy Butler and the NTF, as well as the Kingswood School are doing is outstanding. However, there are still many children and teachers that need sponsors and money is required for everyday living. Our first fundraising efforts will go towards fixing the water pump at the Upper Basic School.
To view more of the pictures taken during the trip please click here.