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.