I had the chance to visit The Gambia with 'The Seedling for Christ' Charity on the March 2011 trip and I am really pleased that I made the decision to go. It truly is an experience that I will never forget and one that I will hopefully get to repeat again several times. I would reccomend that anyone who gets the opportunity to go should grab it with both hands, as it is a real privilege and a life changing experience. The Gambia is such a welcoming country and the people are some of the happiest, friendliest, kindest people you could ever wish to meet. Although they are so poor, they always have smiles on their faces and are more than happy to share the little that they have with you.
Each morning we would leave the hotel and either walk or catch a 'bush taxi'. This is a mini bus that would never pass an English MOT, crammed to the brim with people and mostly held together with string and gaffa tape. Most of our days were spent at the Seedlings School with the children, who love to sit and hold your hand, cuddle you or simply touch your skin. They also love braiding your hair and singing for you. These children are so happy and I only heard 1 child cry during my whole stay. We gave out pens, pencils hair bands, jewellery and skipping ropes that we had brough from home and they were so delighted with their gifts they would run off to show their friends what they had. These children really do have 'nothing' and such a small gesture from us really does mean so much to them.
I also visited compounds in 'Kotu' near to the school which were built on and around a rubbish dump. It's hard to believe that people actually live there, side by side with roaming dogs and pigs and spend their time walking barefoot through the rubbish (including broken glass and rotting food) to try and find anything of value that they can then sell to survive. It truly makes you think how lucky we are living in England, yet we still complain far more than any of these people!
The builders in our group spent their days working very hard at Serrekunda Clinic, which although is not the main hospital still serves over 179,000 people. There was little sanitation or supplies, needles discarded on the floor in cardboard boxes, walls that were peeling and needed painting, toilets overflowing, a gable end that needed blocking up and lines and lines of people waiting to be seen. Here I met a 2day old baby, sat with her mother waiting to be seen in the boiling heat and a set of twins that were seriously ill lying limply in their mothers arms at just 18 months old, It was truly upsetting! But with all the hard work put in by the group, it was a slightly nicer place by the end of our time. The gable end has now been blocked up to stop the rain coming in during the wet season, a kitchen that has been especially built with 3 cookers so that meals can be made for the people attending the clinic and the walls have been cleaned and painted too.
Serrekunda market was a real eye-opener, with all the noises and smells. We had a local guy showing us around, as it is such a huge place with so much to see.Taxi's are everywhere beeping their horns, woman carrying their shopping on their heads, shopkeepers trying to sell you their goods, children running next to you shouting 'toubob' and everyone talking to you asking you where you are from. The smells of food cooking, workmen hammering/digging, the noise of people going about their daily lives, people selling local produce and fish and all the flies! (I don't think that Gambians worry about sell by dates and it is enough to put you off eating fresh fish for a while!) but it really is a true Gambian experience with all the hustle and bustle.
The trip has really changed my life and I saw some truly amazing things. It makes me appreciate what I have here in the U.K. Gambians are such loving, happy people yet they own very little. Yet here we moan and complain about trivial things and feel we must own the latest material possesions. Gambia brought it home to me that these things really are not important! What is important is family and friendship, and I made some life long friendships during my trip. It has made me look at my life in a different way and change my opinions on a lot of things.
I want to thank Ruthy and Seedlings from the bottom of my heart for all the amazing hard work and dedication that she puts in and for allowing me to experience such a wonderful trip. I am hoping to continue fundraising to help both the school and the people of Gambia and I really can not wait to return again in the close future.