Volunteer Diary

Ashleigh and Max

After a long flight to Gambia we arrived at Banjul to oppressive heat and clambered onto a crowded, sweaty bus which took us to the small airport where we had to queue to get through the passport check. However stressful this might have been in England, it was all forgotten in the Gambian spirit… we’ve never seen so many people smiling in all my life.

The first place that we stayed was near to the airport and we stayed there for one night to refresh ourselves from our journey exploring nearby the hotel on foot, including the beach and monkey reserve. After the shock of stepping into the Gambian heat it was nice to have a refreshing dip in the pool to cool down and get ready for the thirsty work that was to follow for the next few days.

On the second day we journeyed to Tendaba camp near Kwinella, where we were to help at the local school. When we got there we had refreshing drinks of traditional Gambian tea which was poured into thimble sized cups from incredible heights which we greatly appreciated. Tendaba camp was absolutely beautiful. It looked out over the Gambian river which runs through Gambia and the mangrove swamps which border it. The perfect home for crocodiles!

The next day we went to Kwinella Lower Basic School to see what needed to be done to some of the other disused classrooms to make them in working condition. The school held assembly to introduce themselves and welcome us the ‘Taubabs’. It was really touching to see the effort they made to welcome us, and also very fun to hear and watch them sing, dance and enjoy themselves.

The children at the school were incredible, so enthusiastic and eager to learn. As soon as we met them we were determined to do something to help them in their pursuit of education, which is why it was decided that the next day we should buy paint and renovate two of the disused classrooms and clean them up for classes to be taken in. That day we set about washing the dust off the walls so the paint would stick better and sweeping the dust out of the rooms and giving them a good tidy. We had to leave it at that for the rest of the day as we didn’t have the paint and we were running out of our water supply. It is very easy to underestimate how much you need and the physical effort it takes to transport the water from the pump. The strength of the children was unbelievable.

Our relaxation time at the camp was well received. The first thing to do was to go and have a drink and a shower to freshen up with the freezing dribbling shower in our room.this might sound bad, but we wouldn’t have traded our room in Tendaba for any other… it was an experience.

That evening we met, and had dinner with, two Canadians called Peter and Laini and we shared the next two evenings with them.

The second day at Kwinella was hard work in the heat, well… mostly. For the first part of our time there we had Gambian tea under a huge mango tree whilst we talked with the nurses from the health centre, which was tricky as they we couldn’t speak Mandinka and they couldn’t speak English. However not long after the headmaster from the school came and sat with us too and translated for us and they all tried to teach us some Mandinka. I can still remember some…

We completely renovated the two classrooms that afternoon when the paint arrived. Everyone from the school chipped in with the hard work. Three coats of paint were applied and everyone was exhausted by the time we had finished. This hard work prepared the rooms for the new tables and chairs that were in a container on the way to Gambia. Unfortunately we were unable to help arrange these in the classrooms because the container was due to arrive when we were back in England.

For the rest of our time in Gambia we had free time to explore and appreciate the Gambian way of life. It was such a shock to step off the plane in England to a bunch of grumpy people waiting to get through customs. It really makes you think, we have all the luxuries that we could ask for and yet we will never be satisfied. Gambia has changed the way in which I see life and we’re so grateful for the experience and all that we have.