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Friday, 18 April 2014

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Out of Africa

MAKING a difference to a Gambian community and experiencing a different culture has been the aim of a recent trip by a group of young people from Copeland and Allerdale.

The team spent two weeks volunteering in the Gunjur region, working with children in schools, painting a newly-built health clinic and sampling some of the local traditions.

Organiser Denise Barna tells The Whitehaven News about the exciting activities the young people were involved in.

She says: “The visit was a huge success. The young people made many new friends and were able to make a positive difference to the lives of a local Gambian community during the short time they were there.

“This type of experience is invaluable to young people; in addition to opening their minds to a totally different culture, they are involved in activities and opportunities that make a real difference to disadvantaged communities in the developing world.

“Not only are they able to experience global citizenship in action, they see how young Gambian people value their education and respect their family. Their experience is often the catalyst for self-reflection, and can have a life-changing impact on the way our young people think and decide to behave in the future.”

The visit involved a group of young people, aged between 18 and 22, who raised their own travel and accommodation costs as well as funds to buy much-needed resources to take out with them.

When they arrived in The Gambia, the group delivered emergency first aid training to 17 adults, including teachers, community volunteers, community health workers and Gunjur Project staff. They also taught 81 young people which included youths from the Gunjur Scout Group, Gunjur Upper Basic School and Sifoe Secondary School.

Omar, teacher at Gunjur Upper Basic School, said: “Now that we have been trained about what we should do in the event of an accident, we will be able to pass on our knowledge and skills to our families and others who we work with.”

Following the training, the young people presented each of the groups with a first aid kit and manual.

They also joined in with a number of local projects, including painting a newly constructed health clinic for the villagers in Kajabang to use. They also helped to clear the land surrounding the building and presented the Village Development Committee with lots of first aid supplies, posters and information leaflets.

Denise said: “The whole village turned out on our last day and while the Gambian woman organised impromptu music and dance, we played football with the older youths and games with local children.”

Visits to a number of schools also took place, including Kajabang Nursery School, Mariama May Nursery School, Kassa Kunda Primary School and Gunjur Lower Basic School where the team organised arts and crafts activities and circle games with groups of children.

Denise says: “The Gambian children don’t have the resources to do arts and crafts activities so they were delighted when we helped them to make sock puppets, flags and masks they could take home.”

She said thanks to the generosity of people in Cumbria, the group was able to leave each school with an selection of pens, pencils, books and football kits.

Members worked alongside a group of 10 teenagers from the village to learn more about the Gambian culture and to share experiences and aspirations. They visited the homes of young people, met their families and were given an insight into their everyday lives.

Denise says group members also spent a day living the Gambian way which included drawing water from a well, walking to the market to buy fish, vegetables and rice needed to cook a meal, cooking a meal on an open fire and eating without plates, knives or forks. “It was an awesome experience that many of our young people will never ever forget,” she said.

During the trip, the young people met a group of local women who had collectively rented a plot of land, measuring 100 metres by 100 metres. Their aim is to grow fruit and vegetables for the village.

Denise said the group bought tomato and onion seeds for the women and helped to plant the seeds.

She says: “On a few occasions we spent the afternoon helping them to water their crops. Two buckets of water is needed for every square metre and it had to be drawn from a single well in the centre of the plot so this task was no mean feat! At dusk when our work on the plot was finished we joined the women and the rest of the villagers in song and dance around the mango tree that stood at the heart of the village.

“Women kept the beat on empty plastic containers with branches from trees and everyone took their turn at dancing in the middle of the circle – this is definitely not something teenagers would normally experience in Cumbria!”

The group was invited by a local community group, AFNOW, to get involved in an awareness raising march to celebrate World Orphans Day.

Denise said: “We made flags, posters and banners to support the cause and joined young orphans and members of the Gunjur community on a 4km walk through the village.

“The local scouts played drums and recorders as we marched through the sandy lanes surrounded by Gambian children, none of whom wore shoes and many of whom wore dirty and torn clothes. It was not only a humbling experience but it helped AFNOW to raise 2,600 dalasi (£57) which is the most the organisation has ever managed to raise.”

Before the group returned home, members presented AFNOW with 10 suitcases full of children’s clothes and shoes that members had taken with them.

Denise says this was possible thanks to the generosity of the group’s families and friends as well as Thomas Cook Airlines who gave the group an additional baggage allowance free of charge.

She added that plans are already underway for Project Gambia 2012.

“We have even bigger plans for next year. We plan to ship out a 40 foot container full of school furniture, educational resources, cycles, garden tools, and children’s clothing and footwear, in addition to raising funds to re-roof, replaster, redecorate and furnish six classrooms at Gunjur Lower Basic School,” says Denise.

Young people from Cumbria will be in Gambia to unload the container and ensure that the resources reach those organisations and families that are in greatest need.

If you are between 18 and 21 years old and would like information about how you can get involved, contact Denise on 07885274646 or email projectgambia2012 @sky.com. Organisers would also like to hear from any community groups, businesses or individuals that may be able to help by donating resources for the container or through sponsorship.

THOMAS Johnson gives a volunteer’s perspective about the trip:

THE first time I went to The Gambia was in 2008 with my secondary school. While we were waiting at Manchester Airport I felt very nervous and excited that I was going to Africa.

When I landed, the excitement to see what an African country was like was overwhelming. As the plane door opened I saw a very expensive and suave-looking airport terminal that was surrounded by poverty. Seeing all the poverty and how people lived in appalling conditions really hit me hard.

However, while over there it became part of daily life and towards the end of the week I was used to seeing it.

In 2010, a youth organisation took me and 13 other young people to The Gambia to do lifestyle choices workshops with the young people in the schools. The three workshops that we did were bullying, cannabis and mental health and dental hygiene. This was a fantastic experience and I loved working with the young Gambians and teaching them about how cannabis affects mental health.

In November I went as a solo volunteer to work in The Gambia, alongside 13 others. Teaching first aid was a fantastic experience, which I really enjoyed.

I think after two weeks in The Gambia I have changed. I will no longer take things for granted and I am going to start appreciating what I have in life instead of always asking for the next best games console or mobile phone. Also I will respect my family (especially my parents) more as I have been shown that even though I may not think that they are right, they usually are and only do the things they do because they care.

Going to The Gambia has helped me gain a better appreciation for who I am and what I have – I am lucky to have what I do as many people in the world are not as fortunate as me.

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