Lush go to the Gambia
On 5 January 2010 fourteen Lush staff and a cameraman headed out to Gambia, West Africa, for what was to be the experience of a life time. (To view the video diaries of their visit, click here). The trip had been organised after Lamin Daffeh, the co-founder of the Fresh Start Foundation talked to Lush staff about his work to help vulnerable children at one of our meetings. Lamin’s presentation resulted tearful, inspired Lush staff pleading that we organise a trip to his project so they could help him fulfil his dream for the children of Gambia.
After a long bumpy journey, the lively and welcoming greeting at Kwinella, the village where Lamin grew up, took us by surprise. School children, their parents and community leaders greeted us with drums, singing and dancing and lead us to where we would be working over the next few days, the Kwinella Lower Basic School. The second we arrived we each had at least one little hand in ours and the children quickly became a part of our every activity.
On arrival we were given a list of tasks, which grew longer as the days passed! The first and most pressing job was the painting of the school buildings, which needed painting inside and out. The two buildings had recently been rebuilt following a storm in July that had knocked them to the ground. Steve, Roisin and Laura were assigned to this task and they not only painted the two rebuilt classrooms, but also painted all the other buildings which hadn’t seen a paint brush since they were built in 1965. The school was completely transformed. The headmaster was thrilled, “I have a new school!” He was especially pleased since we also painted his house, which is in the school grounds.
Rose, Hannah, Steph and Gav formed the library team. Hundreds of books needed to be organised and put back on the shelves in categories. It was a massive job, but the random nature of a few of the books gave them some giggles along the way; the favourite totally irrelevant book was the Argos catalogue – what would a Gambian child do with that?! They were then beautifully sorted and the categories labelled. The library is not only used by the school, but also others in the community and is dedicated to Pa Jamanty Daffeh, Lamin’s brother who tragically died at the age of 24 in 2009.
Liam, Sophie and Aebbe spent most of their time in the impressive vegetable garden and orchard. The new solar panels, which provide the power to pump water from deep under ground for use in the school and clinic also supplies water for the plants and has allowed the garden to expand, now providing food for the school. When Lamin was at the school he’d have to walk miles to collect water for the garden, on top of a long day at school.
The first job in the garden was to plant twenty orange, mango and banana saplings around the edge of the plot. The rest of the Lush team then joined in to plant one tree each, to dedicate to a loved one. The gardening group then set to work on creating fifteen new vegetable patches which needed to be dug, fertilised, planted with seedlings and watered. With sun-baked rock solid soil, it was harder than we first thought! We took a trip in to the village to collect goat poo for fertiliser, and then pounded it in to a powder with a giant pestle and mortar; organic farming at it’s best!
The artistic team, Ben, Ro, Charlie and Lucy, created a beautiful map of Gambia which stretched the length of the library wall. Every bend of the Gambia river was drawn out to scale, all the main villages were marked and then painted in the colours of the Gambian flag. They also stuck printed maps and other educational aids on the walls, but there’s no hardware store in Kwinella, so the glue was provided by three boys who climbed a Baobab tree and picked the fruit for us; once the fruit goes brown it can be mixed with water to make a glue.
On the Saturday we attended the inauguration ceremony to celebrate the work of the Fresh Start Foundation. Around two hundred people from the local community were there and it was incredible to hear speaker after speaker express their heartfelt thanks for everything that the Fresh Start Foundation had done for them. The Kwinella chief described Lamin as “the true son of the nation”. A special moment.
The night before we had been informed that we’d need to entertain everyone with a performance and came up with our very own version of Snow White’s Hi Ho song and dance. With so little practice, and rather lacking in the effortless rhythm and musical ability of the local Gambians, we made real fools of ourselves! But we didn’t mind, it was just amazing to be there.
Of course, you can’t put Lush staff in the middle of rural Africa without them also looking out for the local animals. We helped to organise a visit from the Gambian Horse and Donkey Trust (www.gambiahorseanddonkey.org.uk) who ran a clinic to treat the animals. Over a hundred sick animals visited the clinic. GHDT also gave a short lesson to the kids to teach them how to look after their donkeys. People in rural areas of Gambia are dependent on their horses and donkeys for transport and farming so it’s important they are well looked after, as much for the people as the animals themselves.
We also rescued a small puppy who was found terrified, weak and starving, scavenging for food on the beach while his healthy, happy siblings played with the local children. He’s now safely in the hands of the Gambia Animal Care Association (www.animalcaregambia.com).
Once the main jobs were finished, we all got stuck in to other tasks, such as stencilling and painting the alphabet on the classrooms walls, painting signs on the buildings and creating a huge emblem and motto of the Kwinella school at the entrance of the grounds. Lucy taught the children how to weave using a loom she’d brought, others sat and read with the children and taught them nursery rhymes and favourite games from their own childhood, such as hokey cokey, hop scotch and heads, shoulders, knees and toes.
We also learnt a great deal ourselves. The school chefs showed Lucy and Steph how to prepare the school meals and the Mother’s Club showed us how they created batik and tie dyes. We also had a talk from the national environment agency, who talked about how climate change is affecting Gambia, and went on an amazing boat trip to discover the birds of Gambia.
But the most important lesson we learnt was to appreciate what we have and not to be so complacent. The people of Gambia are so welcoming and generous. It came as a surprise to many of us that, despite the poverty, they were on the whole very happy people. They don’t have iPods, Nintendos or laptops like we do, but what they do have that is so often lacking in Western culture is a close family and a supportive community; and that is what ultimately fulfils us human beings, not the material things. In Lamin’s words, “it’s about enhancing their lives, not making their lives like ours”.
Story taken from Lush Official website