May 28, 2012
Our Girl Guides visit to Gambia 2012
Preparations for this expedition began early in 2011, with an approach to the local charity 'Snowballs in The Gambia' to see if a group trip was feasible. Having had a favourable response, a small number of girls were invited to apply for places. We spent the next seven months fundraising towards the trip expenses and wish it to be known our thanks to Metheringham Parish Council for their donation of £500: we also raised over £1500 for Tambana School.
On 10 February, two leaders and four Young Leaders left the snowy landscape of Lincolnshire for the heat of Banjul Airport. After a day acclimatizing with Richard and Ann Taylor (who started the project) by the coast in Brufut, during which time we attended a naming ceremony, rode camels, watched the unloading of fishing boats by hand, saw how herrings were smoked and travelled on our first bush bus; we left for Tambana.
The ferry crossing was interesting as sheep and goats mingle with cars, lorries and people with all manner of goods carried on their heads. On reaching Tambana, we paid the customary visit to the Al Kallo (headman) and got to know the family we were staying with.
The week in the school was an eye-opener for the girls. Class sizes are 50+, many of the teachers are young and doing on the job training, few children had books or pencils and yet, we are told by the British VSO workers, this is the best school on the North Bank,. We had taken out 60kg of basic equipment in our luggage allowance and money to buy exercise books for every child.
We spent the week helping with lessons in classrooms in the mornings, singing and playing games with younger children during the afternoons and running evening reading groups for older children; they get little chance to practise reading skills with 1:1 tuition. We also painted murals on classroom walls and created a shell name on the front school wall.
The girls also experienced no electricity, having to draw all our water by hand from the well and carry the buckets on their heads, having to wash clothes by hand and pound rice in a mortar and pestle. They were dressed in African dress by the family and underwent a marriage ceremony (nohusbands though). They visited the river on a horse and cart and saw the village gardens where all fresh produce is grown. Everyone enjoyed the food, which is mostly rice and fish.
Some of the money we raised was used to re-roof the outdoor classroom. Richard started the work while we were there and it was completed the following week. This classroom was built with money raised by Sleaford Guide groups.
All too soon, it was time to take the bush bus and ferry back to Brufut. As a special treat, we spent the afternoon relaxing by the pool at a small nearby hotel. Our last day was busy: we journeyed down the mangrove bordered river, bird watching; we visited a local clinic, Brikama market and the wood carvers' market. We also had a tour of the Water Works. Having spent the week drawing water from a well, it made us all appreciate where our water comes from.
Our last morning arrived and we packed up the few belongings we had not given away. At the airport, a final group hug and goodbyes and we were through to check-in. The journey home was filled with fond reminiscences, the viewing of everyone's photographs and the recurring phrase 'When we come back next year...'!!
At our post expedition meeting the girls told us how their priorities had changed since visiting The Gambia. They no longer take things for granted and appreciate everything. Topics their friends are discussing often seem totally irrelevant now: there is so much more to life. This was a life changing experience for the girls, which was one of the aims of the expedition. The other aim of benefiting the school was also achieved.