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Gambia

Team size: 5 Sixth form students, 5 undergrads and two staff


Projects completed:


A new conference centre from a derelict building;
• New foundations, veranda and roof.
• Doorways and windows replaced
• Internal ceiling constructed, walls filled and painted, floors tiled.
• Electricity supply, lighting and fans
• Exterior of building painted.

Gambia 2010- 6th Form Group


For most of our 6th form group it was our second venture out to The Gambia! Departing school after the tedious bag checks, with Mr. Ralls showing no mercy to that one extra pair of trousers or dry shampoo. We headed on our way to York station to catch our train to London. In both the year 11 and 6th form group there was a positive buzz about going to Gambia! After the train journey we had to change trains, seeing on the board that there was only 3 minutes until the train left for Gatwick there was a mass of mumbles and then the stampede to the train- breathing a sigh of relief as we stood on the train doors closed and starting to depart; to then see the faces of the teachers and 3 other students standing on the platform! However we quickly resolved the situation by calling Mr. Ralls and letting him know what had happened. When we arrived at Gatwick we sat waiting for the other teachers to arrive, then off to the hotel for the night! Our last English meal we thought as we devoured it, or that’s what we thought…then off to watch the live episode of Coronation Street! Then bed.


We were up early the next morning to get the plane to Gambia, only to get to the airport to find our plane had been delayed by 8 hours as there was a storm in the Canaries! So we took advantage of the vouchers that Thomas Cook had given out for the inconvenience, having looked in every shop that Gatwick departure lounge could offer us we sat down to our final meal: Frankie and Bennies! Then we were on our way to Gambia!


Arriving at Banjul airport we grabbed our bags as quickly as possible as it had been a long day and we entered arrivals and were met by Mr. Jobe (a senior teacher at Bakau) and Musa (a grade 6 teacher). As the airport doors opened a soothing warmth hit us it was amazing compared to the freezing temperatures we left behind in the UK! The bus journey to the school was amusing as Musa was teaching us some Gambian songs that they sing at the school, a favorite was ‘Friends are like Flowers’ seemed to be taken by everyone as there were a few notes sung from it on a daily bases! When we arrived at Bakau lower Basic school, we were informed on how to put up our mosquito nets for those who didn’t know or had forgotten! Quick meal and then to bed!


Waking up to the bakeries finest croissants: Chocolate, Custard and coconut, plain or a Danish.


For our projects, the Year 11 group had to build a playground for the children which they had roughly designed back at school, so it was pretty much putting it from paper to the area they were given…when they saw where they were building they were stunned by the pyramid of tyre’s that stood in front of them, ready to be made into a playground!
Then our group was shown a building that was crumbling to the ground! Needing a lot of work. So there we were, we had 10 days to transform the building into a conference and training room!


Sunglasses, hat and gloves on. We were ready.


First things first we had to get all the building materials we need to transform the building. So we set off in the Gambian transport…with Tumbulu and Mr. Jobe there was a lot of bargaining with the prices after spending most of the morning going into the afternoon, buying the materials which was an experience, we arrived back at school in time for lunch. Back to work afterwards we started getting all of the debris and rubbish that had been collecting over many years in the building. We had to pull out a piece of rusty iron that had been drilled onto the window frame, no idea why though, bit pointless when there was no door or any other windows! Surprised we were when we got half of it off to find that it had been use to an insect’s family home. Not any ordinary insect though just one that has the nastiest sting in the whole of Gambia lets just say we left the rest of that to the ‘professionals’ who carefully removed the nest and the rest of the iron. Every time we saw one of those insects afterwards you knew about it because we would all run out of the building!


Next to do was the trench around the building to create the footings for the veranda. We started to do this but then it was the end of the day.
Dinner was a Gambian dish, with really nice rice that everyone seemed to like! Free time, meeting, bed.


We spent the next day digging the footings for the veranda; it was like picking the short straw with most of the shovels as some had half of the handle missing, others the spade bent or was rusty…but if you had a good one you were on your way! We also picked up the skill of using a pickaxe, building lots of muscles! Later on we had to mix cement, yes, teenage girls carrying cement bags, wheeling gravel and sand, and developing a new skill…mixing cement Gambian style! This was a re-occurrence through out the process, and to be honest we were getting quite good at it that was until one day when we need lots of cement mixing we hired in some Gambian cement mixers which put our mixing to shame! Filling our trench with cement we made handprints, by the end of all the backfilling more cement (mixing as well) and more digging, we had our handprints on every level and the veranda was starting to take shape!


One morning we were invited to the schools assembly to introduce ourselves to the children and the teachers, the choir then sung a few songs for us, including: God Save the Queen!
We then made the rods for the pillars, and the bricks that had been made the day before had dried so we started to lay the bricks for the wall around the veranda making sure they were level or else Tumbulu would put us right; this was another skill we acquired!

The next day was the last day of school, where the drama and music students performed a number of pieces that they had prepared the singing, dance and drama, was good! After this we finished off building the wall around the veranda! That night we were invited to the schools finishing party, where we were asked to sit down and the entertainment started. Which consisted of dancing, music and singing. After about 10 minutesinto the evening one by one we were asked to participate in the dances.Sme of us were up for it, but others were a bit hesitant…as you can imagine all the Gambian’s were very good at the dances. They consisted of tribal moves, which were a lot harder than they looked however the interpretation that some people made of the moves was quite hysterical! The atmosphere was amazing and everyone had an amazing night!


The next day we concreted the whole of the veranda (with the help of the cement mixers) using some very imaginative tools…consisting of a plank of wood to make the cement smooth! The way they use the resources they have is very inspiring as they can get the same work done that we do in England but by hand! For example the next day Tumbulu told us we were making the pillars today. Four pieces of wood nailed together with the iron rods we made in the middle, Tumbulu standing on two tables one on top of the other (health and safety would have a field day) and pouring the cement into the top of the wood until it was to the correct level and this happened on all of the pillars! Whilst Tumbulu was doing this with help, others were helping put the roof up in the building the roof was simply big wooden sheets. First sheet was on when Tumbulu came into check how we were getting on and the first thing that came out of his mouth: ‘you have put it the wrong way around’. So back down it came and then we were on a roll and the whole roof went on. Successfully this time. That night Lea, Phoebe and I went to Mr. Jobes house to collect the dinner, we entered a small room which was their living room and his four children were sat there with smiles on their faces and they were very welcoming, we talked for a while and when we left Lea and I were discussing how happy they all were with just the basics and we have so much more and aren’t as positive and happy as them.


Second to last day and the painting began, we painted the whole celling once…twice, then the walls! Lets just say by the end of the day our arms felt as if they were about to fall off and our body and clothes were covered completely with splashes and speckles of paint. Thankfully most of it was removed by baby wipes also by accident we found out that sun cream also helped!

On our last day we finished off all the bits that we needed to complete before we left and then went to the tourists market that was filled with a mass of colorful scarves and wraps; necklaces and bracelets filled every table.


That evening we said our final goodbyes to everyone, which was very emotional, then headed off to the airport. To find our plane had been cancelled. After cheese toasties and potato wedges, with fruit juice, Sarah and I decided to get out our sleeping bags and go to sleep on the floor, quickly followed by Anna and Keira. Not even 10 minutes later Mr. Ralls tells us to pack up we are going to the 5* Sheraton hotel, half an hour away! With an interesting to say the least taxi ride we arrived at the hotel and a rush for the showers. Let’s just say that shower only removed the first layer of filth that we had been collecting over the past 12 days! Then into a massive comfy bed. The next morning we woke up and put on our swimwear and headed for breakfast and as general conversation to Keira I said “what would you do if we got up to breakfast and Mr. Ralls told us our plane was leaving in an hour and we had to run back to the room!” Let’s just say I jinxed us because the exact words came out of his mouth when we reached breakfast. So with no breakfast, we ran back to our rooms packed our bags and left!


We all really enjoyed our time in The Gambia- and are planning to go back soon!