On the 4th February 2014, 14 students and 4 teachers of Portlaoise College departed for the long Journey to Gambia via Manchester.
It had been a conclusion of many months hard work. The school raised nearly €20,000 by staging various events such as holding an indoor soccer tournament, a bake sale, Xmas market, Carol singing, a raffle, an auction, individual student fundraising, coin trail and a table quiz.
The support we have received from the local community has been nothing short of terrific. Parents, Local Businesses, Staff members, Students and School suppliers have supported us through sponsorship, donations and giving up time to help out with fundraising.
Over the course of the week we visited a health centre and hospital, donated items to a nursery and secondary school, painted classrooms in the nursery and secondary school, partook in a Gambian sports day, taught lessons to students in the nursery school, showed Gambian students how to play hurling and donated a container of items the schools and hospitals. This is a student account of our activities in the Gambia.
Visit to Health Centre and Hospital
“We went to a health centre, only people who have an infection go there and they do not stay there overnight. The doctor gives them medicine and after a couple of hours they have to leave. Then we gave out some of the things that we brought over with us such as plasters, bandages, vitamins, disposable gloves etc… Then we went to visit the Brikama hospital, it looked very different to the hospitals that I’ve seen before. There were about 20 women sitting outside with their kids, waiting for the doctors and nurses to help them. Then we went to the children’s ward. The babies were crying and their mothers were sitting on the bed beside them. It was sad looking at the little kids being sick. Then we went to a room where people donate blood, but we didn’t go inside. The doctor said that not many people donate blood, so after that I think I’ll start to do it when I’m 18, because it might save a life. Then we went to the Labour Ward. There were about 10 beds and each section was divided by a curtain. The doctor said that approximately 25 babies are born each day. When we were done looking around, we left all the things that we brought over, such as plasters, bandages, blood pressure machines and disposable gloves”
Visit to Nursery School
“On the second day of the trip we visited Jamisa Yiriwa Nursery. We were greeted by an encore of Gambian school children singing – all dressed in immaculate uniform. Getting to know the children on a more personal level proved to be very emotional.
After this the students of Jamisa Yiriwa Nursery demonstrated some of their games for us, next it was our turn where we showed the children of this Gambian school some of our games.
Following this, we sampled first-hand, home-cooked traditional rice dishes of the Gambia. Finally the considerable amounts of donations that we were given to the College by local businesses in Portlaoise were distributed to the overwhelmed but extremely happy Gambian children and teachers”
Visit to Secondary School
“To reach the secondary that Portlaoise College is twinned with we had to take the ferry from Banjul to Barra, and it was hectic. People crammed into this tiny boat, trucks and Lorries on the ground floor made the area very tight to move around. As we began to sail, it dawned on me that, these people are oblivious to the way we live our lives and that what we believe that everything is replaceable, it is like treasure to them.
After the journey to the school, we finally made it, and were greeted by kids singing “welcome”. It was astonishing. It was like someone told them these people are famous. They greeted us with waves and hugs and before they gave us a tour of the school, they gave us a welcome speech and dance. The mothers of some of the kids prepared us food and we began work on painting the classroom. As the kids stood outside in amazement, we were proud to stand back and watch as some of the kids painted with us”
Painting the Nursery School
“Before we started painting I taught the classrooms were very dull, just grey concrete walls, if the there was a hole in the wall it was filled with lumps of red clay and the posters on the wall were ripped and torn. It was very dirty and just not a nice place to learn in.
Before we started painting we brainstormed to see what would be the best items to paint in each classroom. We gave each classroom an undercoat of cream first; we then painted numbers, key words and shapes days of the week, months, alphabet, numbers and shapes.
Outside the classrooms we painted the doors, the toilets and 2 hopscotch areas at the side of the school. We also painted an Irish mural on the front of the school; it included some Irish symbols like a leprechaun, a rainbow, fields, shamrocks, mountains and a pot of gold.
This was probably the most rewarding day as we felt we accomplished something that would stand the test of time”
“Before we left Gambia, there was one thing we wanted to do. We wanted to go back to the primary school and see what the children thought of their freshly painted school.
We broke up into teams and decided to teach a class. Each of the groups had to come up with a nursery rhyme where all the children would learn it and sing it for us at the end.
We taught them about the weather, different animals, numbers, shapes and days of the week. We used the paintings on the wall to help in our teaching. We also taught each class a different nursery rhythm and it was great to see that we had left some of our knowledge behind in the Gambia”
“As part of the items we decided to bring out to the Gambia were some hurls and sliotars, we taught it would be a good idea to teach them about Irish culture. We couldn’t believe how quick the Gambian students picked up the skills of our beloved game. After a few minutes students were able to catch and strike the ball like they have been playing for years. When we return again we hope to bring out enough hurls so we could play a real game with them”
“We also sent out a container from Portlaoise College of books, toys, sporting equipment, teaching resources, clothes and second hand bikes. These were all donated by parents, staff members and the local community. The items in the container were donated to the Jamisa Yiriwa Nursery, Munyagen Basic Secondary School and Brikama Hospital”
Student comments on the overall Gambia Experience
“This has been a real life changing experience, I realised that the less you have, the more you value the things that are actually important like family and friends” Lauma Stale
“This trip has changed my view on life, it made me realise that the materialistic things in life will never make you truly happy” – Leah Murphy