My first visit to The Gambia was in February of 2017. I was invited along by my girlfriend, Rebecca, who’s dad is one of the charity’s founders. There were a few of us on the trip: Paul, Sharon, Rebecca and myself. We flew out of Manchester airport late on a cold and wet February night, and arrived 6 hours later to the warmth and bright sunshine of a Gambian morning. I’ve gone abroad before to various countries but wasn’t sure what to expect from a country so much closer to the equator. The Gambia is about half way down the west coast of Africa, the “smiling coast of Africa”.
Once we got our bags and were through customs, we met Alasan, who took us to our apartment in Serekunda, which is a big town on the Atlantic coast. We dumped our bags in our hotel and went out to explore the area around the apartments. Then, in the afternoon, we went to visit the school.
St John’s School for the Deaf is in a residential area of Serekunda – the school is made up of a few flat roof buildings built in a U-shape. The classrooms are shaded by trees as much as possible, and the shutters on the classroom windows try to give shade also but still allow the air to flow. It was really hot in the classrooms.
I got the chance to spend some time doing some maths questions with some of the kids aged between 10-12. I was really surprised how keen they were to write the answers on the board. At one point, there were 10 kids answering 10 maths questions on the one blackboard. The teachers I spoke to told me that’s how they are normally, it wasn’t just because we were there. They put it down to the fact that the kids get a decent meal because of our feeding programme. We all know now that eating the right kind of food at the right time of day impacts hugely on our own performance at work and on how we can slump if we don’t eat properly. It was so great to hear how the feeding programme run by Project Gambia : People Feeding People had such a fantastic result for kids who would miss so much schooling previously.
In an other class, with children from 14-16, I had a great session talking to them about which infections diseases can affect them in The Gambia and how they can go about protecting themselves. We discussed the importance of hygiene and washing their hands before touching food and after going to the toilet, as well as sleeping under a Mosquito net and only drinking water which has been filtered. Malaria is an infectious disease which is spread through a bite from an infected Mosquito. In 2012, 212 million cases of Malaria worldwide were estimated. However, Malaria is just one of the range of infectious diseases which plague The Gambia. When teaching the kids, it wasn’t all one way either – the kids asked as many questions as I did.
I really enjoyed by first day at St John’s School for the Deaf. Despite the fact that my sign language is basic, I was still able to fully interact with the children. From there, the rest of the trip just got better.