Fourteen Lower Sixth pupils and four members of WGS staff embarked on the first visit to The Gambia since 2019 during the final week of the Autumn Term. The trip was led by Ms Browning, accompanied by Miss Bruce, Mrs Edge and Ms Halfhide. The group departed Manchester Airport on Sunday 11th December, returning home on Monday 19th December.
Before departure, the team were tasked with fundraising £8,000 to help fund various projects, specifically at the Mama Tamba Nursery School in Illiassa. Fundraising activities this year included a teddy tombola, the hugely popular Family Fortunes event, a dog show at the PTA Spring Fair, a 5K colour run and the 17-mile-long Welsh three peaks challenge. The money raised from these and other activities has contributed towards the sponsorship of the teachers working in the nursery school, which ensures that all the children are able to go to school at no cost.
Additionally, the money raised was used to build a new kitchen area for the multi-purpose hall, a space used by the school and local community which opened in 2018 with the help of funds raised by WGS, as well as four new guest houses which can accommodate visiting teachers and school groups. The ‘bantaba’ (a Gambian bantaba is a traditional meeting place with open sides and a roof) was also repaired with the money raised by this group.
Over the course of the week, the group took part in a number of activities which included artistic projects, teaching the children at the Mama Tamba Nursery and exploring The Gambia. After a five-hour journey by ferry and jeep, the group arrived at the school where they had some refreshments and began working on painting three baobab trees in the area surrounding the multi-purpose hall.
Bella explained: “Grace, Shenara and I had carefully planned creative intricate patterns, presuming the trees would provide a smooth canvas for us to decorate. How wrong were we! Instead, we were met with these huge trees, vast and uneven bark with deep ridges and grooves all around the 5-meter diameter. With no time to waste, we quickly drew up new simpler designs and with very limited paint, it truly was a test. Children from the surrounding houses were quickly on hand to help; they thoroughly enjoyed being part of the process, painting their hands and leaving personal handprints. They loved getting messy and with it being the first time we met many of them, it was a great bonding experience.”
The group were also tasked with painting the nursery classroom. They first had to whitewash the room so there was a blank canvas on which to work. The group divided up the workload and with the help of Ms Browning and Ms Halfhide they produced new artwork. Now the walls of the classroom are adorned with paintings of the solar system, a counting line, an alphabet tree and shapes. On the project, Sonali said: “Painting the nursery classroom was one of the many highlights of our time at Mama Tamba Nursery School and the experience was a testament to teamwork and perseverance in true Withington fashion.”
The pupils split into three groups to teach children of different ages from three to six years old. Drawing influence from The Gambia’s famous wetland bird life, in one group’s session, the children created birds from paper cups, feathers and string. In another class, the children played games including hokey cokey and Kiln Kiln Tan (duck duck goose) before beginning t-shirt painting and mask decorating activities. In the third class with the youngest of children, Withington pupils helped them create caterpillar hand paintings and moulding plasticine into different shapes. They also sang, learning alphabet and number songs. The children played football with the Withington pupils and staff. We have been able to donate bibs and a ball pump to the school.
On teaching, Sophie said: “Teaching the children of Mama Tamba Nursery is certainly one of the most important activities on The Gambia itinerary. It is extremely rewarding but requires much preparation to ensure its success. During the lesson, the children showed lots of interest and they enjoyed the experience.”
The impact of Withington’s continuous efforts over the past almost 20 years were highlighted to the group by Tamba, the Headmaster. The development of the school has benefited the local community: Tamba has established a bakery where employees bake and sell fresh bread and biscuits and 200 chickens were purchased in order to sell eggs and poultry. Employees also make and sell organic soap and body cream products containing local organically grown ingredients like aloe vera, moringa and beeswax. Money generated from the sale of these products pays the wages of the young people working on the project with the remainder invested back into the initiatives.
The Gambia Team experienced the vast opportunities that the country has to offer including a visit to Baboon Island where they took a wildlife boat journey and saw chimpanzees and a hippopotamus in the wild. The group also visited the sacred Wassu stone circles, a heritage site where the huge stones are believed to be burial mounds of kings and chiefs from ancient times and have been dated to between 750-1000 AD, and Kachikally, one of three sacred crocodile pools. They visited Arch 22 in Banjul, which was built in 1994 as a symbol of the previous president’s power. They climbed the spiral staircase of the arch up to the top and looked out across the view of predominantly low-rise buildings stretching out towards the Atlantic coast.
Throughout the trip, the pupils experienced The Gambian culture: music and entertainment were a big feature of the trip with drumming, singing and dancing and in the long jeep rides, the pupils learnt phrases in Mandinka (the local language). They also learnt the national anthem and were tested on their political and historical knowledge of The Gambia by their guide. The pupils loved the food, citing that it is some of the best food they have ever had.
Katie said: “Overall this trip was an eye-opening experience which left us in awe of the hard work and dedication evident in the numerous projects we visited. Supporting Mama Tamba Nursery is such a rewarding experience and the memories we made with the children, and each other, will remain with us forever. Although at times we were a bit out of our comfort zone, this trip has allowed us to see another way of life and has challenged our outlook and made us think about the countless things that we often take for granted like running water and even rubbish collections.”
This was Withington’s 16th annual expedition to The Gambia following a three-year hiatus. Our work with the Mama Tamba Nursery over the past two decades wouldn’t have been possible without our Withington community who each year get behind the fundraising initiatives and help to support the remarkable work of our friends in The Gambia.
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