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Gambia

So Roisin, Kelsey, Alice and myself headed into the town with Musa guiding the way. I think everyone who has met Musa, is inspired by him. He has such strong morals and clearly is devoted to children; it really is inspirational just to talk to him. So as we walked into the town centre we were approached by a group of young men (we all soon learnt this was expected if we went outside the school walls), I think most of us just found it comical with the amount of cheesy chat-up lines they’d come up with. They would often hang round us until we reached the town where they would quickly disperse when they would get some looks from other locals. The food market was an experience in itself. The fruit and vegetable stalls were extremely bright colours, and all the food looked delicious! We had to go to the small shop to buy the cheese and meat (very similar to spam, disgusting!), the bread was brought in the mornings when the allocated people would go to the bakery to get breakfast. The bakery was different, health and safety would have a field day! I loved going to the bakery and out to lunch, it was one of the best parts of the day to go out of the school walls.

We became close to many of the children but we each had a group of children we were extremely close too. In my case, there were four girls named: Kaddy who was 8, Ounie who was 10, Kadjatou who was 11. Last but not least, little Fatou who I got really attached to she was so sweet and was often sent to the market to get her food for her family of 16 people, she was 5 years old. I remember one morning, we walked out of the library where we slept and I heard my name being called, the girls had come to school nearly an hour early so they could see me, they were incredible. We adored the kids, and they were so happy with nothing, it was amazing, they would always beg us to finish work and come play –If we were outside then they would try to teach us this creative game which could only be made from having nothing, it was so complicated and only involved sand – which there was a lot of! When we left the school, no matter how far away we went, if I turned around there were always Kaddy, Ounie and Fatou following behind. Over the days, we all got really close with the children. Whilst working you would often get men at the window, and one day, I asked them to move to I could sand the windowsill and suddenly Kaddy ran over and said ‘no, no, no,’ she then dragged me away and said ‘you don’t speak to them Keira, they’re mad, they’re crazy, they just want money’. When we sat down in our breaks, the kids would love to braid our hair, however half way through having our hair done, Mr. Ralls came over to say lunch break had ended, they then pulled their fingers through the plaits ripping them out – so painful! They were pulling our hair every direction, then suddenly my hair started to fall around me, it turned out that if a strand of hair didn’t fit in the plait or got in their way, they would simply tear it out. We often had to watch what we were saying, something which Roisin accidently forgot one day, when she announced to me (whilst surrounded by a group of children) that she was hungry. The children disappeared as we turned to speak to Mr Ralls, it turned out that they put their money together, bought a sandwich and approached me asking for Roisin, they explained they had bought her a sandwich so that she wouldn’t be hungry. I made sure they ate the food themselves. The kids in general were always smiling and happy. If we were working then they would come in and help with sanding, painting etc. They would get covered from head to toe but they didn’t care, because they were so enthusiastic and keen to help us.

On one of the days we were there. Mr Ralls had volunteered for everyone to teach a class of students. Roisin and I were put in charge of a Year 3 class which had around 70 students. This was definitely a challenge! We played some spelling games on the board and split the class into two teams called Crocodiles (my team) and Alligators (Roisin’s team) we both chose students who would come up to the board and race to write a word we had chosen. It was heartbreaking to see the difference in ability especially when a seven year old beat a thirteen year old who had been held back a few years due to not passing her exams. We went outside and played ‘The Hokey Cokey’ (a favourite with the children), we taught them ‘Who stole the cookie form the cookie jar?’ (But replaced the word cookie with apple and jar with tree thinking it was slightly harsh). We then had races, which got very confusing due to there being only two of us to announce the winners, organise the children etc.


On our second to last day at Bakau Primary School, a group of students who had left years ago including Musa and Obie, led us through the slums for a day out. The slums were a shocking reality. The litter was scattered around the pathway, open sewage on the left, young toddlers sitting on the right. Yet they all came running up to us, just to hold our hands. Firstly we went to the Alligator Park, where we all got a chance to stroke ‘Charlie’ the alligator and have a quick photo. We then were led back through more of the slums and I saw the girls I had got close to following behind. We walked past a small shack, which Kaddy disappeared into. After walking for another 5 minuted, we reached a shack, this was Seesay’s home. Seesay was working at the school with us and a big part of all the work. His wife and mother-in-law were there along with all his children. They invited us in to his home, found us all chairs and then gave us the red juice which was nicknamed ‘magic juice’ by us due to it soothing you’re throat after a very spicy meal. He then proceeded to give us all a necklace he had got for us. I don’t think you would find many people in Britain who would invite 20 strangers into their home, give them drinks and then a gift!

 

Eventually the day that we would be leaving dawned. I think we all knew it was going to be difficult. It was a weekend morning which meant it was strangely quiet as we walked outside to get breakfast. The day seemed to go at a fast speed throughout the day. The children arrived and we were excused from work. This meant we were free to spend the whole day playing games and unfortunately braiding hair! One of my favourite parts of the day was when I was sitting with the group of girls and several other people in our group and Mussa. When he asked me to tell the story of Cinderella, the stories just carried on from there. Around 3ish we were invited to a ceremony that the headmaster and Mr Jobe held for us. Walking over to the middle of the grounds we approached a small gathering of plastic chairs sitting opposite a table with an important looking man sitting behind. There was a choir of prefects singing several songs such as ‘Friends are like Flowers’ and several others, this was amongst the moving speeches from the senior teachers, the children crying on the left, the presentation of certificates and a short speech from Roisin thanking the school. It got emotional and I, like many others, were holding back tears. We then went back to the room we were sleeping in and collected the last few items into our backpacks. Much too soon, Mr Ralls told us we had ten minutes to say goodbye and get on the bus. It was sudden, and that moment of comprehension that we were actually leaving suddenly dawned. I turned around and all the children I had got close to were there. They ran up to me, and we hugged and laughed. I told them another story and promised I’d be returning the following year. Sir then called us to get on the bus; Kaddy then threw her arms around me and begged me not to leave her behind. Jenny Alice walked over and we played one last game of ‘Hokey Cokey’. Once again sir called us onto the buses. I started walking to the bus and the children were outside, crying. It was horrific to say goodbye. You could hear them crying even when we were on the bus. I don’t think anyone on our bus had dry eyes, as soon as the bus started to move away, the children ran after the bus. It was heartbreaking to see them standing at the school gates as we drove away, leaving them behind.

Since returning to the UK, I have had several emails from the girls and I even had a phone call from Kaddy in which she sang a song to me that she had actually written, it meant a lot that she had used her own money to phone me. Still now, four months later, I got an email from Fatou yesterday. The Gambia was an amazing experience which I would recommend to anyone. It has left me with fantastic memories, new friendships and a new perspective of the lives that we lead.