LIAM ROBINSON - FEBRUARY & MARCH 2020
Our supporter Liam Robinson, gives us a fascinating insight into his stay in the Gambia and Gambian life in general:-
I’d had some small exposure to the work GST had been doing through my mother whilst growing up and occasionally helping move supplies and pack boxes. It wasn’t until this year that I had the opportunity to go visit myself, committing two months to whatever Hilary and Steve had in store for me!
After a few days adjusting to the change in climate I was shipped up-country into the bush where I would stay for a month to help build a new classroom and library at Kumbija Lower Basic School that GST were funding.
I spent a month living with a local family, without any WiFi, phone reception, distractions - a daunting thought; but an ultimately unforgettable experience.
My day-to-day tasks varied, whether it be to carry materials, build makeshift scaffolding, mix cement, painting, you name it – I did it! Factor in the heat and you can be sure it was hard work!
It was an incredible experience seeing first hand the life many Gambians live. Gambian culture is really something different. They are very sociable people and will be quick to invite you into a conversation or to eat (usually Benachin or Domada, both very tasty!) or to drink attaya tea. Believe me when I say that if you spend a month up in the villages you will come back a pro at brewing attaya!
Life in the village tended to revolve around the school with new and old faces coming and going throughout the day between work. After a few days you really do feel part of the community. Wherever I went I was greeted by my “Gambian” name as Mr Bah put it: Algasum, and before I knew it I was speaking Wolof, Fula and a little Mandinka!
The remaining weeks were spent helping provide supplies to local schools in the area and odd jobs (Kebba and I went to fix a broken window one day).
At times I was well out of my depth, but knowing that these buildings will facilitate a learning environment for generations to come is a very rewarding feeling; and I couldn’t recommend dedicating your time to GST enough.
Overall, I had an incredible time volunteering with GST and I would implore anyone and everyone to get involved. It is a great cause doing real work in a country that really needs it, what are you waiting for?
ROGER & HARRY BLANCHARD - FEBRUARY 2020
The father & son team of Roger & Harry Blanchard spent a week with us in The Gambia in February 2020, here they provide us with their impressions of their first visit to "The Smiling Coast of Africa". You can see a selection of photographs from their visit in our Gallery.
The Blanchard and Neimantas families have been friends for some 20 years after Harry and Liam met at Infant School. More recently we became aware of Paul’s involvement with the Gambian Schools Trust. Whenever we’ve met Paul he's talked so enthusiastically and passionately about GST and always ends with “why don’t you come over to Gambia and visit - I know you’ll like it”.
We are now writing this as we fly home from The Gambia!
We spent a week in February 2020 with GST trustees Steve and Hilary Lowther and Paul. Previous to “taking the plunge”, we’ve assisted GST locally in the UK by helping to lift and shift redundant school furniture and equipment ready for their yearly container over to The Gambia. I (Roger) would especially like to thank my employer Pennine Pneumatic Services of Brighouse, West Yorkshire as they’ve kindly let me use their vehicles for this purpose.
Well what can we say about the week?!
A truly memorable experience which will last long into the future - as we’re sure GST will too. We arrived late Monday afternoon and “hit the ground running”. We had an early start Tuesday morning to travel up country into the bush and to the Kumbija Lower Basic school. GST have recently funded and managed the building of an additional classroom and library here. The journey itself was an experience alone, taking several hours and comprising 3 taxis and a ferry! It just confirmed how challenging and time consuming getting things done in The Gambia can be.
We should have been painting the newly built classroom and library, but on arrival sadly it wasn’t ready to be painted. However, this didn’t stop Steve, Hilary and Paul! They had volunteers to put to work so Plan B quickly swung into action! With the agreement of George, the Headteacher, we cleared one of the existing classrooms of equipment and then, together with Paul and another volunteer Liam, set-to painting it inside. Baatchi, the school caretaker was always on hand to help us and his wife kindly prepared great traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner meals during our stay. Baatchi took us on a tour of the village, very proudly showing us his family compound. To see their living conditions, with no electricity or running water (the norm for this area, including the school), is very humbling and made us think how much we take things for granted at home.
During our stay we slept in the new library on air beds, under mosquito nets for two nights and during the day painted the classroom. We also almost completed painting the outside of the full existing teaching block. We left Kumbija on Thursday morning when the Gele-Gele bus finally arrived...GMT(Gambian Maybe Time!) for our return trip back to our hotel. Again this was an experience......you wouldn't normally travel with 2 live goats tethered to the roof rack! This time, to cross the river, we didn’t use the ferry, but instead one of the many small boats operating alongside it. Once Paul had 'negotiated' the cost, we were all shoulder lifted from the beach by 'attendants' who waded through the water to the waiting boat, just so we didn’t get wet!
For the majority of the rest of our stay we accompanied Steve, Hilary and Paul to various other schools associated with GST and witnessed the tremendous achievements and progress they and their fellow trustees have made, and continue to make, for Gambian schools and education. Many thanks Steve, Hilary & Paul for looking after us during our stay, it was really appreciated.
We would like to take this opportunity to salute and applaud the GST for supporting the school children of The Gambia in the way you do. It’s clearly not easy sometimes, but you’ve made such an amazing difference over the years and we know you will continue to do so in the future. Keep up the good work!!
Finally, to those reading this who’ve not volunteered or supported GST before, either in the UK or The Gambia, give it a go - you won’t regret it.
OLIVIA SHEPHERD - NOVEMBER 2019
One of our supporters, Olivia Shepherd, spent November 2019 with us in The Gambia. Here she gives us an insight into her time both in the Kombos and "up country":-
What an incredible experience this was. It was so amazing I even struggle to put it into words, but I have a need to so that other people may be inspired and want to help and get involved too. This charity does such amazing work and Hilary and Steve are such wonderful hosts.
I spent a month working with the charity, 2 weeks doing general work, unloading the container of donations and delivering to schools etc. I think the men that were unloading the container with us were surprised at how much I could lift as I am deceptively strong for my appearance! The other 2 week I spent working in the school in Loumen, a village up country.
Working in the school was so eye opening to how people who don’t have access to education really value it. I primarily taught Grade 3 with Mrs Jawo, we usually split the day up and shared the lessons out with me teaching English, PE, art and occasionally maths. As someone who has experience working with children but not teaching them this was daunting but all of the teachers and the students all welcomed me and made me feel so comfortable.
Teaching the students their first art lesson was so rewarding as they were so proud of what they had created especially when we stuck them on the wall. I had taken some supplies with me; paint, pencils and crayons but I had also taken some pipe cleaners too. Grade 3 had never seen pipe cleaners before so explaining how to stick them down and bend them lead to some really good pictures. Their aim for that lesson was to create something that makes them happy and they all made a picture of their school which we then pasted onto the wall. I also managed to incorporate crafts into the other subjects, in maths and English we made snakes and ladders boards.
When it came to PE lessons the student usually just played a game of football but I was asked if I knew any games so I taught them some games that I used to played in primary school! I taught them how to play hopscotch and time bomb, the kids seemed to love it even if they did get a bit too competitive.
The time really flew by and I would go back in a heartbeat, as I said earlier Steve and Hilary were such amazing hosts and it was nice to see Gambia from a different view and not that of a tourist. This charity does some really incredible and inspiring work and if you have the opportunity to get involved with them I really urge you to do it!
So, until next time… Liv!
THE ROTARY CLUB OF BRADFORD BRONTE
The Rotary Club of Bradford Bronte have supported the Gambian School Trust in a number of ways over the last few years. We are confident that all the money raised goes to where it is supposed to and we are all impressed by the dedication and energy of the Gambian School Trust Team. This year (2018/19) we decided to try and fund a solar well for the school in Jamwelly, which is “up country” and pretty remote. Hilary (Lawther) came to the club to talk and we managed to grasp the real difference a solar well would make over the traditional hand pump they already had. Of course to actually see what it would mean is different again and a few of us set out for The Gambia in February 2019. All but two had never been to the Gambia before and had no idea what to expect. Here are some of the impressions the trip made on the group.
Gambia is a popular winter sun destination. It's only a six hour flight, with no time difference; it's hot, it's cheap and it's safe, and the people are fabulously welcoming and friendly. Most visitors who stay at tourist destinations like Kololi will enjoy a beach holiday with cultural and wildlife extras: drumming, crocodiles, monkeys, exotic birds. The contrast between this and the world of Up Country is, frankly, indescribable. You really do have to see it to believe it. I'm not suggesting that the non-tourist world of Gambia is dreadful - it is what it is, and has its own logic. But it is fundamentally different from the world we know. A culture shock and, for me, a life changing experience of another reality, which will make me think differently about many issues. It was a real privilege to be able to visit the villages and schools that benefit from our support of GST, to meet the teachers and to be welcomed by the children, to see what has been built and what will be built with our modest contributions and the immediate practical difference it will make to them. By replacing hours of hand pumping, our solar well will give pupils and staff at Jamwelly hours of time to spend on better, more enjoyable things and will make their garden grow. Money and time well spent.
Visiting the school was a very humbling experience, so much love and sacrifice goes into the school and the children's education. Walking into the nearby Jamwelly village to meet the village Elder was a rare opportunity to see a glimpse of real African life. Travelling with such a wonderful (and fun) group of human beings (mostly Rotarians) made the trip very special. Overall, it was hot and tiring, but very rewarding and definitely unmissable.
For myself I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to The Gambia, both the Tourist area and up country. Our trip to the villages was the highlight for me, I found it both educational and rewarding thanks to the excellent guiding and planning by Hilary. The differences between the coastal “tourist” area and the villages were huge, indeed some of the Gambians at the coast had never visited the villages and had little knowledge of how the poorer part of their country lived. Our visits to the schools themselves were marked by the enthusiasm and warmth of welcome by children and staff. I was left with the feeling that our efforts to raise funds were appreciated and well utilised with very few resources wasted.
A great example of the difference a small charity can make.
ANNE & STEVE WORSMAN
Wow, to visit The Gambia is living another life completely. The sights, the sounds, the smells and the atmosphere are all a shock to the system (in a good way may I add!)
I first visited Gambia 7 years ago after being invited by one of the trustees of the Gambian Schools Trust. Since then I have returned at least once a year with my husband and sometimes other volunteers who are now firm friends.
The thrill of arriving there never changes when we are met by Hilary and Steve eagerly waiting for us, and we quickly settle in again as we revisit familiar people and places. We have travelled to all the schools funded by The Gambian Schools Trust, playing with the children in their breaktime, painting schools and libraries, stocking libraries and even helping the ladies of the village draw water from the well (all accompanied by braying donkeys in the background). To travel up country using the ferry for part of the journey is another experience in itself as the children are always so excited and happy to see all the volunteers, each one having something different offer. We arrive in Steve's truck usually piled high with maintenance equipment and donations ready to be unloaded and used time and time again.
Also each year, along with our family, friends, and other volunteers we hold a fundraising garden party at our home where we help to raise the much needed funds to help towards the continuation of The Gambian Schools Trust. A few hours of cake (most important), tombola, raffle, goods for sale, fun and usually sun!
I would recommend anyone to contact one of the trustees if you are interested in the fantastic voluntary work which is done by a few people who are willing to donate their time and skills for others in such a rewarding way.
Gloria sent us a lovely letter describing some of her experiences on her most recent visit to The Gambia in February 2018, here are a few extracts from that letter:-
I went to Nemasu school for a week or so, for the morning only, to do craft work with the children. I took a lot of resources along, paints, coloured card, pencils etc and Play Dough and cutters amongst other activities. I explained what the resources were to each of the 5 or 6 tables in the classroom, for the children to experiment with after I'd shown them what to do. The children were able to move from one table to another and experience the different activities. This went very well and they all kept busy. Building blocks caused a bit of a problem to some of the children at first but they got there in the end and the toy cars I took went down well with the boys!
The results of anything the children made I displayed around the classroom , which they quite enjoyed, being able to admire their own work.
The Head Teacher was asked by the staff to request that I go in one Saturday morning to do a "teacher training day" which I did even though it was a bit out of my comfort zone. It was good though to see the teachers are just as keen as the students to learn! I explained everything to the teachers as basically as I had done with the children. All the equipment was set out & I explained what to do etc and left them to it. The next couple of hours there wasn't a peep out of any of them as they were experimenting with all kinds of equipment. They were absolutely fascinated with the Play Dough along with the cutting and sticking and Lego building. The teachers found working with strips of coloured card woven onto black sugar paper quite tricky at first as they did with the cutting of straws and making a picture but they all persevered and got there in the end.
I also took several sets of laminated number and colour cards to a number of the (Trusts) schools which they all seemed delighted with.
I will be going to The Gambia again in February (2019), this will be my third visit. Each time I've been in February/March for a 5 or 6 week stay with Steve & Hilary (Lawther). I would definitely recommend anyone to go, it is so interesting and rewarding to see the children's smiles after they've achieved something new.
FERNEY LEE PRIMARY SCHOOL, TODMORDEN - SUMMER 2018
We have received this lovely update from Emily Blanchard about how her school, Ferney Lee Primary School in Todmorden, got involved with the Trust and made such a valuable donation of school resources that would otherwise have been scrapped:-
In Summer 2018, Ferney Lee were lucky enough to move into a long awaited new school building. This was a move that was not celebrated by the whole community due to the old building holding a lot of sentimental and historical value, having previously been the Todmorden Grammar School for over 100 years. The new school building was eventually agreed due to the fact it would be cheaper to make a whole new build than to renovate the old one, which was never built as a primary school.
After weeks of packing for the ‘big move’ we soon realised due to the size comparison of old and new, we wouldn’t possibly be able to take everything with us. The old building had such a long history, which meant it contained resources which had gathered over several years, many of which hadn’t been used for a very long time but were in great condition. We had a huge library full of books and individual libraries in each classroom, along with a long resource room full of science and maths equipment and a kitchen full of big pots and pans – all of which would no longer be needed.
Unfortunately, due to the deteriorating condition of the old building and the regulations in which green spaces need to be replaced, it was decided that the old building was to be knocked down, which meant anything we left in the building would go to waste. This is where The Gambian Schools Trust came in. Paul (Neimantas) is a family friend so I knew of his fabulous work with the charity and it seemed like the perfect opportunity for both parties. Towards the end of the school year, once everything we were taking had been packed away, Paul came to look round and see what could be of use to the Trust. The answer was pretty simple and fantastic to hear – almost everything! Over the last few weeks of school, all staff were busy filling 100 banana boxes with anything we wouldn’t be needing or taking: toys, games, posters, exercise books, reading books, rulers, pencils, maths resources, science resources, water bottles, kitchen equipment, even an old sewing machine! Then in the summer holidays, Paul returned to collect 150 tables and 200 stacking chairs as we were lucky enough to be getting new furniture in the new build too.
As a school, especially as there were lots of mixed emotions about the old building being knocked down, it was amazing knowing everything wasn’t going to be wasted. To think that so many other children would also be benefiting from our new building made the move even more exciting and meaningful. We shared photos and updates with children and parents every step of the journey – from the packing up, the collecting, the storage container, the shipping, to the arrival of all our resources and furniture in The Gambia.
I speak on behalf of the whole school when I say we are happy, proud and extremely grateful for being given the opportunity to help such a worthy cause, and hopefully bring happiness to other children and staff working hard to educate, support and nurture children across The Gambia.
STEVEN NEIMANTAS - FEBRUARY 2018
Although I've done a fair amount of travelling I had never been to Africa and so decided to join my brother on one of his trips out to The Gambia in February 2018. I spent a memorable week with two of the other GST Trustees, Steve & Hilary Lawther, who showed me round all the Trusts schools and then let me loose on one of their projects. I never thought that I would have THE best "holiday" of my life painting and helping to finish off the new library at Loumen School but that's exactly what happened. It was genuinely a pleasure to add real value to the great work that the Trust do and contribute in such a direct, hands on way. The Trust do such marvellous work out in The Gambia, there's nothing overly fancy or clever about what they do - they raise money, they collect unwanted school resources in the UK and they build & support schools in The Gambia with those resources & funds, as simple as that. Nothing is wasted, no money is used up in admin and I thoroughly enjoyed helping in my own small way.
I learnt such a lot about life in West Africa, it was both humbling and rewarding to spend time with people that really do appreciate the effort & work that is being put in by the Trust and its supporters ........ so much so that I'm planning on doing it all over again in February 2019!
I would fully recommend that if you've got the time (and a decent paint brush!!) that you get yourself out to Banjul to have the time of your life.
As a footnote, Steven did indeed go out to the Gambia again the following year to repeat his experience. He's clearly got the bug!
LAURA NEIMANTAS - DECEMBER 2018
I visited the Gambia in December 2018 at the invitation of Gambian Schools Trust. I visited all their schools including the ones up country and then I helped out with the re-painting of the school walls at Kunkajang school. This experience was something else. By doing something so relatively small made a massive difference to the school and the appreciation you received was unbelievable. I met many different people and it was really good to hear their stories. Definitely makes you put things into perspective and it changed my mind set on certain things for sure.
If you want to do something different, maybe out of your comfort zone and make a difference then I would recommend you get in touch with The Gambian Schools Trust. A very well organised charity that is making a huge change for children in The Gambia. I’ll definitely be back !