Withington in The Gambia 2017

Thirteen Upper Sixth pupils and four staff, plus former Headmistress Mrs Pickering, participated in the fifteenth Withington expedition to The Gambia during the final week of the Autumn Term. Each year, the team has fundraised for many different infrastructure projects and financial help to improve the quality of life in the village of Illiassa. This year’s main focus was the construction of a borehole giving the village and school its own independent supply of fresh, clean water. The blog below is by the girls and  the most recent entry is at the top of the page.

Conclusion  from Lucia

A huge part of the Gambia 2017 Trip for me, has been seeing how the money we have raised has made such a huge difference. Enabling Mama Tamba Nursery to have such a basic necessity, water, through the borehole that our money has helped to fund, really brought home how much we are actually able to help the community in Illiassa.

Alongside this, the many opportunities we had to embrace Gambian culture were thoroughly enjoyed by all. Whether it was the sense of community, the food, the dancing and singing or just the joy and happiness we received from everyone we met, I have enjoyed every last minute of this experience.

Day 8, Wednesday 20th December

Today’s blog is from Zenab
Our final morning in The Gambia consisted of the popular breakfast pancakes at the hotel and last-minute tanning by the pool, trying to get as much sunshine as possible before we headed back home.

Reluctant to leave such a wonderful place, we arrived at the airport at midday. We were there welcomed by Lamin! We all said our final goodbyes to him and thanked him for all the amazing memories we had made over the past week.

The plane being delayed for over an hour almost felt like a reason not to leave! However, after a six-hour journey back to Manchester we all were excited to be back home.

On behalf of the team I would like to thank Miss Browning, Mrs Healey, Mrs Cotton, Miss O’Neal and Mrs Pickering for organising this trip, we really enjoyed it and felt it was extremely rewarding to see the outcome of our fundraising. And of course, we would like to thank Lamin for guiding us through the trip, helping it to run as smoothly as possible and introducing our taste buds to Lamin’s Chicken!

Day 7, Tuesday 19th December

Today’s blog is from Zenab

After starting our day with a later wake-up call than usual and lovely breakfast at our hotel, we set off to visit the Bijlo monkey park. The sunny morning stroll through a beach to get to the park was unfortunately only twenty minutes long. Our very sandy flip flops were washed clean as we got closer to the shore, and we did not forget to take plenty of pictures of our time by the beach!

When we arrived, the park manager greeted us and gave us all peanuts to feed the monkeys in the park. We followed a trail in a forest full of monkeys hidden in between branches and trunks of trees. First attempts at feeding the monkeys consisted of us trying to throw peanuts closer to the (initially) shy monkeys, yet missing completely or just not catching their attention. However, it did not take long for us to realise how cheeky monkeys really can be! Within no time monkeys were reaching out their hands taking peanuts from our own hands, some even tried following us till we gave them more! We even took selfies with the baby monkeys to capture how adorable they were.

After arriving back to the hotel, we took the time to relax by the pool and explore the hotel grounds, in which there were plenty of monkeys too!

We then ended our day with a celebratory meal at a local restaurant, inviting our very enthusiastic drivers Nikki and Alha Gi and both Lamin and Smiler who were our fantastic tour guides for the trip. We were all so grateful for the four of them making our trip truly incredible, we gave gifts and sang our unofficial ‘Withgambian’ anthem, ‘We are on the rock’. All the students also gave gifts to the teachers who joined us on this trip, with whom the trip would not be possible.

Our final evening in The Gambia ended with lots of dancing and singing along to a band playing all our favourite songs at the hotel, a perfect way to complete our last full day!

Day 6, Monday 18th December

Today’s blog is by Lauren C

Day 6 of the trip began with a later wake-up call than usual, which was much appreciated!

Once we’d had our breakfast we jumped in the jeeps and headed to Kachikally Sacred Pool at Bakau, where there was a museum and a chance to take photographs with some crocodiles! We learnt about traditional Gambian rituals; such as Juju superstition, and the role that Gambians played in the Second World War. In particular, we learnt about Kinte Kamara, a Gambian solider in the Second World War, who won accolades and decorations for his bravery against the Japanese.

After a quick wander around the museum we made our way to the sacred pool where we took advantage of a photo op with the crocodiles! Some were more cautious than others, however after firm reassurance that the crocs were well fed, we all got some great pictures with some even purchasing crocodile tooth necklaces in the gift shop.

Our next stop was the Computer Centre near Lamin’s compound, there we began to tie-dye dresses that Sophie, a woman who worked at the centre, had kindly made for us. Some found this a lot more frustrating than others, and the lack of scissors proved many a problem! But, in true Withington spirit, we applied our resilience to finish our dresses which we are all very excited to see tomorrow!

After a challenging morning that put our creative skills to the test, we (finally) enjoyed the much anticipated Lamin’s chicken! Our meal was accompanied by the usual carb heavy rice, noodles and chips. This led on to our final stop of the day, Lamin’s compound, where we met his wife Mariama and thanked her for our delicious meal. This quickly erupted into mass singing, chanting and dancing, in true ‘Withgambian’ style!

Our day ended with a relaxing afternoon at the hotel followed by a lovely meal in a nearby Lebanese restaurant. Our evening entertainment consisted of a traditional African dance troupe, which we all thoroughly enjoyed!

Day 5, Sunday, 17th December:

Today’s blog is from Isobel M 

After breakfast we once again climbed onto our open-top jeeps to head back from Tendaba Camp to The Senegambia Hotel. As we drove through smaller villages and settlements we were able to look at the small, concrete houses with corrugated iron roofs where the families live and sometimes their gardens where they were growing crops. Seeing the children playing together on the streets and the women going about their daily jobs gave us a real insight into how important community is in this country and made us reflect on how different life is back home. When we would stop for toilet breaks and water we were quickly surrounded by local children asking for water bottles and pens and at one time, when we had to put more air in the tyres, we ended up dancing and chanting with an older lady carrying a fruit tray on her head.

One of the most surprising things of our three-hour journey was the amount of military checkpoints we came across. Smiler, our tour guide’s brother, then explained to us how only in the past year The Gambia has changed after the previous president lost his power. These military officials were from the African Union, which includes countries such as Senegal and Nigeria, which The Gambia joined after a democratic government was elected. He concluded that although the previous president, Yahya Jammeh, had done many good things for the infrastructure of the country, people now felt that they could speak more freely and that they were treated more justly. His stories became even more relevant as we drove past what was previously Jammeh’s village.

After several cheers from locals saying Tubab (the Mandinka word for white people) and numerous traditional songs, we finally arrived back at the hotel. The afternoon was spent recuperating from our adventures over the last three days, which some people did by relaxing by the pool and others partook in making some artwork out of sand.

The evening was spent having another delicious, group meal in which everyone overindulged and then we followed it up by karaoke at the hotel, where it was safe to say Withington girls stole the show. Another day thoroughly enjoyed by all.

Day 4, Saturday, 16th December

Today’s blog is from Claudia C

Our day began with a breakfast of locally baked bread and coffee at the guest house before we set off on the short jeep ride back to Mama Tamba Nursery School. We arrived and split into our four teaching groups, each sorting our resources for our pre-planned craft activities in our assigned classroom. The teaching group for Level 1 (ages 3 & 4) were faced with the largest class of 35 children yet were still able to interact with all of the children, with everyone enjoying making their own musical shakers from recycled water bottles and jingling pipe cleaner bracelets. The teaching group for Level 2 (ages 4 &5) began by giving each child their own colourful t-shirt which they were then able to decorate using fluorescent fabric paint and stickers. The second activity involved transforming white paper plates into brightly coloured fish using tissue paper, painted pasta pieces and sequins which looked fantastic when we stuck them on the river we had painted on the classroom walls the previous day. The oldest children in Level 3 (ages 5 &6) made paper bag puppets and paper birds which, similarly to the fish, were then attached to the tree silhouette which we painted on the sunset in their classroom on the previous day. Following the activities, we taught the children some of our beloved British childhood songs like Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes and The Hokey-Cokey which they thoroughly enjoyed and then had fun playing with the bubbles and balloons which we brought for them as gifts.

After we had completed our lessons, we crossed the road to visit the village’s maternity clinic which encourages women to give birth in a health care facility rather than at home to prevent childbirth mortality and also treats other outpatient problems like malaria cases. We were fortunate to be able to speak to the working midwife and nurse and learn about their important work within the community and their links to Mama Tamba Nursery School which means that the students get priority treatment as well as give them gifts of baby clothes, sterile dressings and toothbrushes.

Following this, we were able to visit the borehole which we had spent the year fundraising to build so the village and school could have their own constant, independent water supply. We listened to speeches of thanks from the village elders and witnessed some fantastic traditional dancing by the women of the village as well as giving our own well wishes to the future of the school and village. We also visited the farm plot which reared poultry and grew paupau (papaya) to support the nursery school and village both financially and by providing a food source food.

We then left Illiassa and drove through the grasslands to reach the motorised canoe which would transport us down the River Gambia to our destination for the night; a riverside tourist camp in Tendaba. However, before we could embark the boat, we were challenged with having to attempt to navigate the marshy terrain and many shoes were lost! Our driver; Wandy, took us on a scenic route down a tributary which then joined the main river where we caught glimpses of a variety of native wild life including storks, herons and much to our excitement, black dolphins.

Day 3, Friday, 15th December

Today’s blog is from Niamh S

We had an early start on Friday morning in order to get the ferry from Banjul to Barra. After driving two hours to the ferry port, we travelled along the north bank of river to Illiassa, our main project. There, we were introduced to the chief of village and greeted by excited ‘welcome’ songs by the children of Mama Tamba Nursery School as we drove up. We met Tamba, the headmaster of the school, who also runs a small farming industry with Muranha. He is  an inspiration to younger generations.

Starting on the nursery rooms, we white-washed the walls of classes 1 and 3. Then we painted various designs on the freshly painted walls, including an animal sunset scene, a family and a baobab tree, which is native to The Gambia. Throughout the painting process we were able to interact with the children who were very excited to meet us all. It was a long, hard day but very rewarding. To finish the day we drove to Farafeni where we were staying for a huge home-cooked meal followed by singing and dancing with the family.

Day 2, Thursday, 14th December

Today’s blog is from Kate S

We travelled on the open-top jeeps to Arch 22 in Banjul. This arch symbolises the military takeover of the last president in 1994. There is a museum in the arch which taught us a lot about history and politics of the country. As well as this there were amazing views of city and the Atlantic coast. We then walked along Marina Drive, passing the main hospital, court of justice, the army barracks guarding the presidential palace, meeting lots of Gambians along way as well as children who were very keen to see us. We enjoyed the Hustle and bustle of the markets and seeing the smiley faces greeting us.

Then we went to ‘Myfarm’ where we learnt about organic farming, and learnt about the medicinal properties of the moringa plant. We made lip balm with honey, bees wax and coconut oil and were treated to a traditional Gambian lunch with spicy rice and chicken. After a long day, we travelled back in our jeeps back to the hotel! It was such an amazing day!

Day 1, Wednesday, 13th December

Today’s blog is from Kate S

We arrived in Gambia and were greeted by our project manager, Lamin Jammeh. We were welcomed with beautiful handmade fans and much-needed water. Then we travelled to our hotel and settled in to our rooms and managed to have a quick swim before our evening meal. Our Gambian journey had just begun! We watched a traditional dance show which taught us a lot about Gambian culture. The dancing was incredible and they even let us join in at the end.