Even if you are most likely to go on a vacation with a suitcase full of books and you dream about careless resting on a white-sandy beach, under the coconut palm trees, by the loud rustling of the Atlantic Ocean, the concept of travelling under “Travel as a volunteer” can still be just right for you. Besides all the activities there was still plenty of time to enjoy on the most beautiful beach in the world, reading books and swimming in the ocean. The water is just warm enough and big waves are just inviting to have a party.
To travel under the organization Charity Pearl The Gambia was very helpful for me as I am still a beginner in travelling and it was a great relief that Ursa Faal patiently answered to my endless questions about the journey. She provided us with links and all the information about visa and other documentation, we connected with other volunteers and bought the flight ticket together, at the airport I avoided all the stress of not knowing how, where, what, which way… since some of the volunteers already had quite some experience with travelling. One Gambian was always with us, named Musa Faal, founder and coordinator, who of course knows the country to perfection and he advised us and helped with all the details, trips, questions… If you are a travelling beginner, a journey under an organization like this is more than welcome.
What brought me to Africa is especially a completely different culture. I went there without any expectations, but I knew that I would leave Africa full of new knowledge, experience, feelings.
And it truly was the case.
It is hard to put in words so many different experience. I would not even know where to start and where to end. Every day we saw something new and everything is so different than in our country.
Gambia is a peaceful state with the kindest and the happiest people who immediately jump to help you and do not know selfishness or egoism, who are poor but happy, do not complicate, are relaxed, simple and modest. I was in awe the most by their religion, connection with Allah, pride of being a Muslim, inclination to good deeds, prayers for themselves and their loved ones. If they earn some money, they do not keep it for themselves but give it to relatives and friends. They always share everything with other people. Even though they are hungry they will never have the bread just for themselves. Moreover, they have an immense respect to their parents and family.
The streets are full of kids who play together. The kids are the heart of Gambia. They are boisterous, lively, simple, playful and not at all spoiled. First time we arrived at the school they all came running towards us and started to climb on us.Of course, we grew fond of them immediately. We enjoyed when they pulled our hair and knitted braids, we enjoyed playing together, singing, dancing, hugging.
It was interesting to see how school lessons take place in their country.
Namely, they do not have textbooks, workbooks, smartboard, projector, computers, radio, copying machine, worksheets, colouring pencils, gym facilities, etc. They only have a blackboard, a few chalks, and one notebook, and one pencil per scholar. Thus, it is not so surprising that scholars are learning everything by heart as they repeat one hour the subject of a lesson after the teacher. The tasks are the same every day. Of course, the frontal learning format and verbal method of teaching are the prevailing ones.Constructivism, Bloom’s taxonomy and research learning have not yet reached Gambia. Didacticians from Europe would be horrified, if they saw schooling lessons in Gambia. Changing the school system would have to be addressed in its entirety, gradually and with a high degree of tolerance. Africa is another world, people have different mind-set and are used to different rhythm, and as such we have to accept them.
Nonetheless, kids were delighted when the volunteers brought watercolours, collage paper and prepared their own activities.
Teaching was a true challenge. Kids have very different skills. Some of them have not even started with the voice recognition, while others can already write small and capital block letters.Thus, the differentiation and individualization were inevitable. Some kids finished their tasks in a matter of minutes, others needed a whole hour. Moreover, they do not have workbooks so that the faster ones could get additional exercises. We also have to examine and correct the scholars’ tasks whilst calming down the ones that already finished and motivate the ones that hate mathematics… In short, school lessons were diverse and full of new knowledge for me as well as for the children.
Kids in Gambia are really poor, but are immensely grateful for every small thing and say thank you a thousand times over. They eat everything you offer them, down to the last crumb. They do not have toys, not even a ball. If you can, I kindly ask you to help and become sponsor to one of the children in Africa as a few Euros mean the world to them, while we barely even notice.
In the afternoons and weekends we had a lot of free time which we used for exploring the country. In Gambia time passes slowly. There is no hurry. People sit on the streets and hang out. They do not have any obligations or plans. Nobody sticks to time arrangements and it feels really good once in a while to step into a world without any haste and stress. My favourite was drinking fresh juice from Baobab which grows in Gambia and they prepared it for me with a great deal of love. Musa climbed the tree and brought us fresh and juicy mango. Or coconut. We saw enormous trees. Colourful lizards kept us company every day. Teacher Ana prepared a traditional African lunch for us. We fondled crocodiles. We ate dinner with an African family on the floor, we danced and played with kids. When we went cycling we discovered by coincident a school for drumming and learned how to play the drums. All African food is very spicy and tasty and everybody eats on the floor from one bowl with their hands. On a walk through the streets we came across a traditional dance of African masks. We took part in a concert of the best Gambian musicians.
I met Kebo, Ousman,Ida, Jimmi – natives who presented Gambia to me first-hand and it was the greatest joy to talk and hang out with them and getting to know their customs, how they think, their values and in addition practising English. We went to Makasutupark and enjoyed a ride with a boat. We saw monkeys, hugged the Mahogany tree for longevity, saw the dwelling of termites, visited witch doctor who foretold us our future, climbed on a Baobab and tore its leaf so I could always have good luck with me (so they say), gathered a bag full of shells. Also the morning or evening run on the beach of the Atlantic Ocean is priceless. I received a genuine African dress, made to my measures, unforgettable was also the kids’ joyfulness when we brought them on excursion, and the singing in the van. Visiting the market is also a special experience for all human senses, as well as the visit of a Christian church: people dance, sing, shout and laugh while at a mass… unbelievable. When it rains, kids are rambunctiously jumping under the rain. They were doing African braids for me one whole day. I met my protégé Yaya and his family, we spent a whole day together where we were creative, we played, went to the beach… Many Gambians sing well or rap and I enjoyed it when they presented to me their songs. When you go in the morning to the beach you have to pave your way between monkeys who jump on the path. In Gambia it is impossible to feel lonely as the natives, willing or unwilling, always come to keep you company. There is so such more I could tell…
Gambia reached deep into my heart. Natives have happy souls and I miss their warm greetings, hugs and honest smiles.
– Maša Rus