08 September 2016 | Grads Corner | Guest Author
In June 2016, a group of students from De Montfort University embarked on a life-changing experience to help the people of The Gambia, which is located in the West of Africa.
The Gambia is one of the smallest and poorest nations of Africa, ranked 168th out of 187 countries in the United Nations Development Programme’s 2011 Human Development Index. In the rural areas, poverty is widespread and roughly three quarters of the rural population is classified as poor by the Rural Poverty Portal.
This journey was not an ordinary holiday, it had a vision and a purpose and its participants shared a common goal which was to build the second biggest library in the village of Manduar. As the days passed the University students liaised with the Gambian locals to work together in building the foundations of this very educational building. From physically laying bricks and cleaning the interior to manually cleaning the outdoor spaces in the dreadful hot weather and staying up late nights to organise the library’s bookshelves. Overall, the library opening was a phenomenal achievement with over 1200 books and over 20 different computers with the aim to teach the local and national community “how to fish, instead of giving them the fish.”
Apart from building the astonishing library, students also got an opportunity to engage and learn more about the Gambian culture, for this they were given an opportunity to spend 24 hours in the life of a Gambian family. Reflections by the students on this activity were very positive from actually learning to live without any electricity at night to joining the Gambian family’s dinner functions. This activity really helped the students shift any existing paradigms about what it is to live in a village where poverty prevails, where sanitary conditions are not the same as those found in the UK and where despite all the challenges faced by the locals, there is still so much optimism and overwhelming welcomeness. Overall, there was a common theme emerging from the students’ feedback which revolved around the act of giving even though they have so little in their own lives, it was felt that their hearts always win the battles against all the challenges.
Throughout the week, the students also visited an organisation called the GAMCOTRAP, which helped them to understand about issues surrounding Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – this served as a powerful tool to see how joining hands and unifying voices can have such a powerful impact to the nation’s beliefs. FGM is now legally banned from The Gambia and this is as a result of the collective effort of the powerful local and national women and men who fought to get this Act enacted.
Moreover, the students were also given a chance to visit the historical Kunta Kinteh Island, formerly known as James Island. This was an important historical site in the West African slave trade, and it is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, together with related sites including Albreda, Juffureh and Fort Bullen.
As part of the trip, the students were also given an opportunity to do a two-days placement at their desired organisations. Some of the students visited The Faji Kunda Community Hospital, in Serrakunda. This was described by one of the students as a truly eye opener, as despite the littlest resources that the people of Africa have available, they always strive to do their best. Others described it as: “It’s really hard to believe that we still have such huge differences in the healthcare, welfare and education between developed and underdeveloped countries.”
On the other hand, other students chose to design and create a Science teaching programme for year 11 students at the local Penyem Upper Basic School. This experience, was described by the students as “Words cannot put into perspective how it felt to be standing in front of all these absolutely bright and inspirational children, who had so much passion and enthusiasm for learning.” and “The Principal of the School, Councillor of Manduar and the teachers were all very welcoming and this experience was really the beginning of my enlightenment into how many of the African Schools make the most of the very basic resources that they have and how we can all contribute to help them.”
Apart from all the hard work mentioned above, the students were also given free time to visit the sacred Katchikally Crocodile Pool in Bakau and the Sandele Eco-Retreat and Learning Centre nestled in the African forest at the edge of miles of beautiful deserted beach within the comforts of the smiling coast of Africa. In some of the afternoons, students were also given a chance to visit the local Brikama market to appreciate the traditional food and crafts marketplaces. There was also time for a lot of friendship bonding experiences for everyone, and the most noticeable of these were the late night camp fires alongside beautiful songs and mangoes as desserts!
Last but not least, the Global Hands Library Project was a huge success and there is still so much more expansion coming ahead for the future. Nelson Mandela summarises the moment felt by everyone perfectly as: “I have walked that long road to freedom (…) But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance that I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not to linger, for my long walk is not ended.”
Finally, it is widely known that Education is surely one of the strongest tools that can be used to enhance lives, and eventually serve as a catalyst in collectively changing the nation’s mindset towards further improving their own healthcare, welfare and education system. This project would not have been possible without the help of various organisations such as De Montfort University, Global Hands Gambia and the families and friends of all the participants. To end, below is a poem created by Global Hands June 2016 participants:
“Today is the day our visions came true,
Lives have changed and lives will change,
Education is the key to success,
The pen is mightier than the sword,
And each one can teach one,
We will not be bystanders,
Our journey has just began,
We will build The Gambia with out own sweat!”
Baguiasri Mandane, graduated with a 1st class honours degree (MPharm) from De Montfort University in 2014. She then went onto complete her pre-registration training at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust and stayed on to do her succeeding current junior residency training. Baguiasri is also an Ambassador for the Pharmacist Support Charity, a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland Steering group, a Hospital Employee PDA Representative for the West and Wales Region, a Clinical Tutor for the PreRegRoom, a School Representative Co-Ordinator for the Leicester School of Pharmacy and an Employability Tutor at De Montfort University.