A report on Glynn Jones' trip to The Gambia July to October 2008
Shine – Africa (Sharing In Nursery Education)
Registered Charity Number 1103463
I have now returned from The Gambia after a stay of 9 weeks. I was there as a volunteer teacher at Gambia college, teaching the trainee nursery teachers who give up their holidays to attend the college, (8 weeks in August/September, 3 weeks at Christmas and 3 weeks at Easter. The college course lasts for 3 years.
The Gambia is certainly not easy – the temperature at this time of the year was very high…29/30 degrees being the lowest at night going up to 46 degrees in the daytime. The humidity level was extremely high. This year was the hottest I have experienced and the same with the rainfall…there was certainly a lot of it. At times the rain was unbelievably heavy and the thunderstorms were spectacular to watch.
This is the time of the year many people have much damage to their compounds due to the heaviness and relentless onslaught of the rains. One of the teachers and the caretaker of Mandinari Nursery school were both victims of this hardship as part of their compounds had collapsed. This causes more difficulties to their lives as there is never any surplus money to help with repairs and rebuilding.
Life is hard in The Gambia – especially in the rainy season but, (I am of course talking in general terms as there is always good and bad in all societies), these people are inspirational. They just accept and enjoy what they have no matter what life throws at them. They accept everyone as they are and will give as much support as they can and will share what little they have with others. They give of the most valuable thing that a person can give and that is their time. The reliance on others is a constant. Each and every person is a strand that is woven into the fabric of this wonderful society. I can honestly say that I have learned so much from these people.
There are no miserable faces or any complaining – they just accept the situation and get on with things. You see only smiling faces and “I’m fine, no problem”. No-one sees the pain within and the worry.
The teacher at Mandinari, not only had part of her house collapse but she had also lost her 4 year old son to malaria – he was due to start the nursery school this September. Life is certainly hard.
It is a very humbling experience to have been in The Gambia at this most difficult time, (and I was concerned because the roof of my compound was leaking), it certainly puts situations into perspective.
One of my students at the college was sadly a victim of a gas explosion at one of his local shops. I went to visit him at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Banjul. His face was hardly recognisable – he had severe burns on both his arms and hands, much of the black skin was gone, just areas of pink – his legs and feet were the same. He was sitting on the floor of the hospital ward and as I approached he struggled to his feet to greet me. He extended his hand and I managed to grip part of one of his fingers that was not burnt. He must have been in tremendous pain but did not show it. He just told me he was much better.
Eventually I found out that the hospital did not have the supplies of medicine he needed like strong pain killers and special creams for the burns and yet no complaints ever came from his burnt lips. I went round many of the pharmacies to get his much needed medication. The cost of it came to more than he earned in a month. The harsh reality was that he would not have been able to afford his treatment anyway.
The schools were only just starting back after their long break. We have 6 teachers from our three schools attending the college. This means that we are paying out £120.00 per teacher per year. To enable the schools to have better education for the children, it is important that the teachers are fully qualified. That is why we sponsor our teachers.
We have paid for school uniforms for the new intakes. For many of the children this is the first new article of clothing they have had.
All the new children are being supplied with a life saving mosquito net – it really does make a difference. At this time of the year malaria is rife, although the risk is all year round.
The cost of living in The Gambia is rising and people are finding it more and more difficult. The majority of the children attending our schools start the day with no breakfast. This is causing us concern as realistically children cannot learn if they are hungry.
To put it in perspective a bag of rice lasting an average family for a month now costs D800 to D900. The average wage is D1000 to D1500 per month (approx £25 per month).
From our fundraising we also pay for the wages of the teachers and staff. Educational equipment like exercise books and pencils all come from the funds.
We are just finishing a toilet block at our Serrekunda School, besides some necessary repairs to the outdoor corridor of the school.
The wall (fence) around Mandinari School has now been completed and the gates are in place so everywhere is secure and safe. The children are safe from the nearby road……and the goats cannot spoil the small banana plantation that has been planted. The school has harvested their first crop of bananas this year. Plans are being made for a vegetable garden.
The school at Saaba has now been equipped with furniture for the teachers, such as tables, chairs and cupboards both in the classrooms and the headmaster’s office.
I just wanted to share some of my experiences with you to let you know what is going on in The Gambia and to let you know how the money you donate is being spent.
Without you we would not be able to help as much as we do. It is very much appreciated by us and the people of The Gambia. We are making a difference to their lives and giving the children a chance of good education.
Please if you have any questions or need further information please get in touch and I would be more than happy to answer any questions or queries you may have.
Written in the first week of October 2008
Glynn Jones Shine-Africa
Telephone 01606 851724
Our daughter with our sponsored Gambian girl Ida in January 2008