A Gambian School Visit
Jo Wedeman returns to The Gambia after a break of four years
during which time she has had two children and finds a school visit
Jo Wedeman has worked
for Serenity Holidays in our
marketing department for
over 10 years and edits this
magazine. In this issue you
can read her emotional visit to
a Gambian school.
I’ve been to The Gambia around fifteen times and thought I’d experienced all the emotions associated with visiting a developing country – but how I was wrong. Last year I escorted a press trip on a four-day tour of the coastal region; one morning I accompanied journalist Bridget Blair as she covered a story for BBC Radio Leicester about a British woman, Sharon Jervis, who supported a school.
The headmaster collected us from our hotel and drove us to Joyce International School. As we turned off the tarmac and started to navigate the potholed sandy tracks between the houses, I knew we were approaching the village and then I became aware of a distant sound. As we continued the sound got louder until it became apparent that the noise was because of us; for us. Teachers, parents, children had come to the edge of the village to welcome us, chanting “welcome, welcome”, waving branches and banging drums. The noise was overwhelming and the sight of the children surrounding the car, with their huge smiles and gorgeous eyes, was a sight I will never forget. As we followed the procession to the school I had to keep my sobbing to a minimum for fear of spoiling the radio piece.
On arrival at the school the singing continued and we received the biggest welcome from everyone we met. These children were so appreciative of the basic school buildings and equipment, proud of their new toilets and the new kitchen with its bare floors and simple cooking facilities, which meant they all got at least one hot meal a day.
One girl stood out because she was the only one not smiling, the only one not rushing to hold our hands, the only one who didn’t seem excited. She was clinging to her teacher. Apparently it was the first time she’d seen a white person. I smiled, tried to be as friendly as possible but moved away.
As I was waiting for Bridget to finish her interviews I wandered around the schoolyard and started to get the feeling of déjà vu; then it occurred to me, I had been here before about seven years ago. The buildings had been in a much worse state, and then the appreciation of how much had changed for these children and for the villagers really hit me. I realised how much one person can do to help and suddenly I felt very humble.
For more information on school visits and group visits to the Gambia, please visit our dedicated Groups section.