Mary’s Little Lambs is a nursery and lower basic school in The Gambia. The Principal, Lisong Bah, also works at national level in The Gambia to run training courses and provide training materials for parents and teachers of pre-school-age children. people and places volunteers have worked with Lisong for many years – this is how our volunteers have supported Lisong and MLL in the last few months.
Working together face-to-face through the wonders of the Internet
Volunteer Mary tells us: I first learned of people and places through a friend who had volunteered with the organisation and spoke very highly of the opportunity for both travel and experience of partnership work with an overseas organisation. In fact, it was the same friend who shared with me the opportunity to work on a project in The Gambia. I was not in a position to travel overseas, nor would I have been able to given the travel restrictions 2020-21, but the opportunity to become an e-volunteer had immediate appeal as I consider myself a global citizen with so much to learn about people and places in other parts of the world. I have worked in early childhood education – as a practitioner, lecturer, consultant – for my whole career and this was opportunity to share practice with a fellow educator in another cultural setting.
Having little idea what to expect as an e-volunteer, I was delighted how quickly Lisong and I established rapport at our weekly Zoom meetings and were able to clarify the work entailed in our project. Lisong owns and runs a nursery /pre-school and lower basic school in Kiloli but also works with the Government Education Department of The Gambia. Her current work at national level is to prepare a training programme for parents of children from birth to three years. The aim is to run the programme across the country in order to help parents understand the key role they have in supporting their young child’s learning and development. The programme has three phases/levels and Lisong had already completed and submitted the first two phases of the training programme: children from birth to 12 months; and children from 12-24 months. It was the third phase: supporting children from 24-26 months for which Lisong had requested support. We worked on three cycles to the programme: Cycle 1: Child Health and Well-being; Cycle 2: Supporting Children’s Physical, Social and Emotional Development; and Cycle 3: Supporting Early Learning and Preparing for Pre-School. Our regular weekly work involved agreeing the content and shape of the 12 sessions covering each cycle (36 sessions in all). I responded to Lisong’s requests for background notes on some of the topics. Lisong would then prepare the session plans and, in turn, I then provided feedback. There was much diligence here from both sides!
The highlight of my e-volunteering experience was establishing strong rapport very quickly with Lisong. I always looked forward to seeing the session plans from Lisong after she had digested my background notes. She was able to contextualise the material so well for the parents who are the target group for this programme, and, in turn, I learned SO much about family life and early learning in The Gambia. As the sessions progressed, Lisong and I engaged in deep shared reflections on matters relating to early childhood in our respective cultures. I found this extremely stimulating, and – again – I learned so much. I would recommend e-volunteering to other people as it provides wonderful first-hand experience of cultural enrichment.’
Preparing training materials using Powerpoint
Volunteer Joanne has previously done an in-country placement with Mary’s Little Lambs and an e-volunteer placement working with Lisong to write a training course for the Gambia early years’ curriculum. This year she produced 10 individual training sessions on various aspects of teaching young children and learning through play. Each session involved some points of learning and then an activity which enabled teachers to practise an activity they could do with their class or to produce a learning resource for their classroom. Joanne worked on these training materials in her own time – this placement didn’t require a weekly link-up with Lisong and is an example of how a volunteer can work from home, preparing useful materials to support our projects without having to make a regular time commitment. The training sessions took place at Mary’s Little Lambs on Friday afternoons during the summer term. The teachers loved them and found them really helpful. Elsie (one of the MLL teachers) told us: ‘This is really, really good, it is really helpful because we do have some materials, we have a lot of materials but if you do not have the skill and you do not have the knowledge of how to do what, that’s also very important so that’s the problem. So we do have materials but sometimes we’re just used to one routine of doing it, the same way, the old way, but these things that we are learning, ideas from Joanne’s sessions, this is really really helpful because it’s opening our eyes to so many more ways that we can use the materials that we have. So thank you so much, we are grateful.’
Live links to the classroom
Another previous volunteer made a financial donation which has enabled our partner in The Gambia to buy a laptop specifically for MLL teachers to use for online work. This opens up many exciting possibilities for the future, including direct links to classes. We are currently working with volunteer Yvonne on a story-reading idea – a weekly link-up to one of the classes, facilitated by their teacher, to read a story, talk about what they have read and set up an activity based on the story. We hope this could lead to other online link-ups – maybe to do art and craft work? – if volunteers willing to lead such activities come forward.
We are delighted to have found such a variety of ways to continue working with Lisong and the teachers at MLL even while we were unable to travel – thank you to all our volunteers! We are excited to see what else we can do in the future!
If you are interested in arranging a volunteer placement with Mary’s Little Lambs email email@example.com