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Team size: 16 Secondary school students and two staff

Projects completed:
• Playground constructed from recycled tyres (including balance beams, educational elements, tyre swings and climbing pyramid)
• School desks repaired.

The Gambia trip, 10-17th December 2010

There’s only one way that I could begin, and that is to tell you that my trip to the Gambia was the most rewarding week of my life. The people, both young and old were just amazing and you couldn’t walk from A to B without a faction of children clinging to either hand! Gambia itself was very smiley, and both the teachers and students were so welcoming, they were a pleasure to be around. Having signed up for the trip a good 6 months before, it felt like it was never going to come around, but December soon sprung upon us and we were counting down the weeks which soon turned into days and the day finally came to depart for The Gambia.

I’ll have to be honest though and tell you that the journey didn’t get off to the best of starts! We all travelled down to Gatwick, firstly catching a train from York to Kings Cross, an adventure on the tubes with 2 litre rucksacks, not impressing the other travellers too much, then a journey on the Gatwick express and every other mode of transport going! (well, not quite!) A night at the travel lodge and then an early morning wake up ready for the long, nevertheless exciting day we had ahead. Little did we know how very long it was actually going to be…!! After checking in, we were enlightened with the news that there was going to be a 6 hour delay which later turned to 8, and before we knew it- we’d calculated that we’d spent 11 hours in Gatwick airport. Not the best start by any means! However, we didn’t let that put too much of a damper on things and after a journey across several countries and some sea water, we arrived in at Banjul’s airport at 2.00am, later putting up mosquito nets and hitting sleep mode at about 3.30am, well and truly zonked! We were awoken at what was thought to be a “reasonable hour” of 8 o’clock by Mr Ralls the following morning and we all crawled out of our sleeping bags and got ready to begin the working day.

Stepping outside is something I can remember quite well, my first sights of the school, on a larger scale, of the Gambia and even greater- of Africa. It was the first time I’ve ever visited a third world country before and what I’d heard about it, to now seeing it allowed me to combine the two interpretations I had, into one. The school itself was a lot bigger than I had expected it to be, it seems they weren’t short of space and the facilities about matched up what I had imagined them to be. So, our first day in the Gambia was Saturday- quite an easy day and quiet in terms of children with it not being a school day. We planned out the playground on scale, figuring out what was going to be the best way to create a playground safely, yet fun, using the resources we had available- plenty of tyres, wood, sand, and plenty of that also! We also spent time meeting some local people before later taking a wander outside the school into the village of Bakau where many of the school children and teachers live. It was very much an eye opener, seeing families and children walking around, and seeing how many make a living selling food and other items at the market, fish and peanuts were by far the most popular! And after a tour around Bakau itself we had our first meal! Rice and fish with vegetables was enjoyed by most- I mistook a red hot chilli, being told it was a tomato so the first meals always going to be one to remember for me!

Sunday was the first physical working day, and our real experience of the heat, nothing like the minus temperatures and snow we had left behind in England, and glad of it!!! Bethan turned 16 and we started digging holes placing the tyres in as the outline for each playground obstacle and as the sun started to go down drawing an end to the working day, we had just started mixing cement to concrete the hopscotch which would wait for our work the following day. Monday saw us start the day at the school assembly, and after introducing ourselves to them all, we were welcomed with songs as they sang to us, hundreds of their smiley faces all excited for the result of the playground which was to come at the end of the week! Soon back at work, we continued mixing cement, later covering the hopscotch with concrete whilst other members of the team were busy cutting wood, and others digging more holes for the next obstacle.  Tuesday followed as a busy working day, making more progress on the playground, seeing the hopscotch almost complete… well, our first attempt at the hopscotch!

On Wednesday we started with a seat at the school’s culture show where some of the children did some acting, dancing and singing, a nice way to start the day for both ourselves and the children. Following on from that we worked more on the playground, setting in concrete the leapfrog tyres and starting more digging for the balancing snake but we had an early finish as we were invited to the school’s ‘sol’, plenty of dancing and smiling with each other and the locals. A very enjoyable evening for everyone! Thursday saw Libby turn 16 and the playground was finally starting to look finished as we worked on painting and adding finishing touches such as sanding wood down. There was very little to be done in terms of mixing cement, and the digging days were over! We took a trip to the crocodile park later that afternoon were we were all given the chance to touch, or for the more brave- sit on a crocodile! We also took a wander around the market, and were given the opportunity to buy some gifts, learning to barter the price down and we went back to the school for our last night in the Gambia. Most of the team spent time outside chatting with the local people who had helped us with various things through the week, and we played some games on the sand, not going in before the boys got their own way with a game of rugby- boys against girls of course! Friday morning saw us packing up our bags, adding the very final touches to the playground and then attending a small goodbye ceremony where we were entertained with some dancing and then awarded certificates thanking us for our help! The few hours before departure saw us all exchanging email addresses, writing down facebook names and saying our emotional farewells to the ones we had become most close too! The children gave us gifts and letters with their phone numbers on, and as we all climbed into the coach on our way to the airport for home, I sat and felt a sense of pride as I reflected on the week I had just experienced, one to remember and talk about for a lifetime.