This was quite a special trip this year – I had decided to make it my final volunteer as I had a significant big 0 Birthday in March. Then I had the idea of asking my Grand Daughter Ellie to volunteer with me.
Our flight was uneventful till we landed in Banjul – my luggage was there but not Ellie’s! There was unorganised chaos in the baggage reclaim area as 3 flights came in at the same time and loads of luggage was missing. It took ages to fill in the claim form and we left the terminal and could not see any one to meet us, then Adama arrived he thought we must have missed the plane. I was amazed at Ellie she did not panic or moan. Eventually we arrived at our apartment and had fun unpacking my luggage and finding things like spare toothbrush etc. for Ellie. She travelled very light, fortunately I take everything bar the kitchen sink.
The next day was free so we did a little shop and explore, it was like when I took the grandchildren away on holiday on my own we were a law unto ourselves. On Monday we went to school, Ellie wearing some of my clothes, even though she is taller and much thinner she has always raided my wardrobe for retro outfits. When I went to school wearing some of these clothes the older children wanted to know why I was wearing Ellie’s things.
Ellie mainly worked with the Little Lambs but she also helped with sport. They were preparing for their sports day and this she was very good at. She also did some craft work with year 3 (8/9 year olds) – this was a real combined effort we spent all evening in the apartment preparing material I had taken out and making up “Here’s one I did earlier”, it was a cross between Blue Peter and School practice and never a cross word. She also did some music with them – she learnt local songs and drumming and they were the teachers. Her high point was taking over the IT lessons – they have a small bank of computers enough for the whole class to at least have one between two. However the staff although computer literate were not trained to teach the subject. Ellie gave them the lessons as she had learnt at her own school.
We went out to eat a lot trawling the tourist area for good places. We were soon recognised by the restaurant callers and the small supermarkets, market stall holders and the taxi drivers. After she had returned Sue a fellow volunteer joined me in her place – everywhere we went to eat or shop we were called out to “where is Ellie?” The taxi drivers hailed us “where is Ellie?”
It was a great experience for me I just hope she enjoyed it as much. If you try it yourself just choose your Granddaughter CAREFULLY!
I had the luxury of going to the Gambia with my Nana who has volunteered through ‘people and places’ on a number of occasions so her own experience and insight was particularly helpful and helped massively before my departure.
Although it was assumed that I would spend most of my time in the Nursery at MLL, in reality I spent much more time in the school with the slightly older children – and I was really happy with this. I felt this suited me better as I was able to make more of a long-lasting impact on the children and school by helping them learn new skills such as I.T. and allowing them to be more creative through subjects like Art. I enjoyed these two subjects in particular as I was able to lead the teaching rather than just assisting in the classroom and I enjoyed being able to deliver a lesson myself, which is something I did not know if I would be fully comfortable with at first. It was great to see the children so pleased with their final pieces of work and explore different ways of using art that goes beyond drawing and colouring.
It was also encouraging to see the children so engaged with the I.T class and they picked up on things really fast! It was great to see them helping one another and be proud of what they had learnt in such a short space of time.
Music and P.E were also two other lessons that I enjoyed helping with. I introduced one new game in P.E. to the teachers/children and the feedback for this was very positive. I think introducing games (which involves physical exercise) is a really fun way to warm up the body for sports and is more engaging for the children.
My overall experience was incredible and I loved every second of it. The highlight for me was getting the opportunity to meet and connect with new inspiring people (particularly Lisong, Adama, Abdourahman, Elsie and Jo) who I learnt a great deal from and enjoyed sharing many stories, insights and hopes for the future with. It was amazing to see all the hard work that the teachers put into MLL’s daily – they are incredibly passionate about the wellbeing and education of the children and there is a very positive and uplifting energy which I felt there. A volunteering placement should not only be about the time you spend in the classroom, but also the ideas and conversations that are exchanged which help shape ways of thinking about life, learning and love. It was very obvious to me that there was a real hunger to learn and expand amongst both teachers and students and to achieve the very best school possible. I had a very special two weeks in the Gambia.
LISONG at Mary’s Little Lambs tells us that a visitor to the school was so inspired by seeing Ellie and Yvonne volunteering together that she is now in the process of convincing her own granddaughter to go volunteering with her! So – are there are more of you who would like our help in planning inter-generational volunteer placements? – we would love to hear from you!
If you feel you could offer remote support to this project while the school is closed during the coronavirus pandemic please email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to learn more about volunteering at Mary’s Little Lambs please read here https://travel-peopleandplaces.co.uk/projects/230/nursery-and-primary-school-support-in-The-Gambia-(ED)