Suzanne, from our Product Department, takes her children (aged 9 and 11) on a memorable family holiday to The Gambia.
The excitement started when I announced we were going to travel to Africa for our family holiday this year, rather than our usual package holiday to the Med. We'd get to experience not only a relaxing beach holiday in the sun, but also the chance to visit a school and see how the locals live. We were travelling with fellow Gambia Experience colleague Kerry, and her family.
At school, my daughter had done various topics over the years and touched on several aspects of African life, so she couldn’t wait to tell her teacher. Her school got straight on board and wanted to get all the children involved, making a booklet on core values, taking photos of the playground, classrooms and library. Her class all had a rummage at home and brought in their old pens and stationary. We also made some banners with flags of the world and wipe boards; our suitcases were full to the brim.
Visiting a school in The Gambia
After spending a few days at our hotel enjoying the chilled atmosphere and cooling pool, we decided to head away from the coast and go on our trip to visit Jamjanbelly Lower Basic School. The journey was a good adventure in the back of a 4x4, passing through the bustling market of Serrekunda and bumping down the dusty off-road tracks. When we arrived at the school, we were greeted by lots of overly excited children and a few goats strolling through the playground. The headmaster came to meet our truck and took us into his office. He was very proud of his school and couldn’t wait to show us around.
The classrooms were basic with bare walls, with desks, chairs and a blackboard at the front. My daughter looked around comparing to all the mod cons she has in her classroom. I could see her taking it all in and how this was going to make a huge impression making her realise how fortunate she is to have such a prosperous school in comparison. She started to unpack all the creative things she had made, and we could feel the excitement building in the room. The wipe boards we made - simply a piece of laminated paper - were out being used and the banners were unfolded and being pinned to the walls before we even finished unpacking the rest.
With over a thousand children in the school, the day was spilt between younger children in the morning and older in the afternoon. The classes were large with 50 pupils all willing to learn. English is the official language taught in school and I was impressed with their knowledge. The library had more books than I imagined, however they were very dusty and could do with some TLC. So as not to interrupt their day for too long, we said our goodbyes and climbed back in our truck. Upon leaving, we had a sense of satisfaction that we had made a difference, even though it was a relatively small token.
Visiting a family compound in The Gambia
Our next visit was to a compound, to meet a local family and see how they all share the chores and live day to day. There were several tin-roof houses, one for each family (or wife) and a real sense of community. We walked around and saw the vegetable patch where they grow their own food and a very deep well.
The kids had great fun pulling up the tatty plastic bucket full of water by rope. Our parting gifts were a few old toys and sweets we’d sneaked in our bag for all the smiling children.
A simple gift, a big impact
We returned to our hotel that evening, and reflecting over dinner, my son asked if the next day he could give some of his clothes away as he doesn’t need them all. He couldn’t wait to get back to our room and start looking through his case.
In the morning after breakfast, we went for a walk along the beach and found a similar aged boy working hard trying to sell peanuts to the passing trade. He was overjoyed with his new wardrobe, placing his tray on the floor, and putting on a football shirt straight away. He even stayed to play frisbee, with his new friend. That evening as we left for dinner he was outside the hotel dressed in his smart new clothes waving and wishing us a good evening. My son was so excited to be recognised and felt a real sense of reward.
Creating memories and a lasting impression
Our family holiday created magical memories for a lifetime. On the flight home both my children begged me to book again. They absolutely loved it, as did the parents too.
“I was nervous when I first went to speak to the headmaster, but when I saw him smiling as he picked up the banner – it made me smile inside” Poppy, age 9
“When I gave Mohamed my shirt he looked so happy, like I’d given him £100!” Mason, age 11
Read more about what to expect on a family holiday in The Gambia or check out our family friendly hotels in The Gambia.
Our Gambia experience - the Sinclair family Read more
Our Gambia Experience - the wildlife and friendly locals Read more