I have recently returned from a wonderful week in The Gambia with my fellow Nyodema trustee, Shelagh and our friend, Andrea. I have been to The Gambia a number of times but this visit was particularly special and I wanted to share it with you. 

Andrea Encinas, originally from Trinidad, came to England as a nurse. She is now, an experienced vocal coach, the director of British Gospel Arts, books choirs for The South Bank Centre, sings with the London Community Gospel Choir (you may have seen her singing at the FA Cup Final at Wembley in May!) and is studying for an MBA in Arts Management.

Andrea at Jeddah Progress Nursery School

Well I’m pleased to say Andrea has fallen in love with The Gambia and I’m sure this will be the first of many visits.

We had a very hectic week. Singing (and dancing) at Jeddah Progress Nursery School, Brikama was definitely one of the highlights. Andrea taught everyone some traditional Afro-Caribbean songs and the school choir from Farrato sang a mixture of English and African songs for us. Andrea’s enthusiastic approach was contagious as children, teachers and parents joined in this cultural exchange.

The recently formed drama group performed a couple of delightful short plays including one about learning English the ‘Jolly Phonics’ way and another about malaria prevention. It’s hard to explain how it felt to see two little girls playing the parts of myself and Shelagh handing out mosquito nets; it was a very touching moment.

These two days were an excellent way to strengthen the bond between Nyodema and the local community. There are two videos from this day on YouTube Singing and Dancing at Jeddah and the Malaria Prevention Play.

School play about using mosquito nets

Another Nyodema sponsored, teacher training course in ‘phonics’, took place over the next two days. This is a method of teaching English widely used throughout the UK and is proving to be a great success in The Gambia. During the week we also managed to fit in a radio interview on Unique FM, a singing workshop at a Gospel church in Bakau and a visit to Serrakunda market. Andrea also took part in a couple of informal yet inspirational performances with local musicians.

As Andrea had never been to the Gambia before we took a day out to explore the area, looking at different housing conditions etc. Andrea was shocked at the extent of the poverty in The Gambia (and since being back has already started raising money for Nyodema).

I mustn’t forget to mention the children’s clothes and toys that we distributed throughout the week, in particular, 14 cuddly toys donated by Elsie, the three year old daughter of another Gambia Experience staff member. After looking at some photographs of Gambian children, Elsie decided that she did not need all her toys. On Boxing Day last year she sorted out all the ones she didn’t play with anymore and asked her Mum to give them to children in Africa. This was entirely her idea. Well done, Elsie! Elsie was delighted to see the photos of her toys in Africa.

One of Elsie’s teddies finds a new friend

Andrea and me

Our last night was spent dancing until the early hours to an excellent reggae/salsa band in a bar on the Senegambia strip. The following day Andrea and I said our goodbyes to the wonderful staff at our hotel (Sunset Beach in Kotu) who had made us feel so welcome and headed off to the airport.

Shelagh stayed on to organise the distribution of more mosquito nets and to meet the medical students from Florida who ran the first-aid teacher training course for us at Jeddah Progress Nursery School last year. This visit they ran a dental hygiene course for the teachers and supplied toothbrushes etc for the children.

Each time I visit The Gambia I learn so much, make numerous new friends and return home with many happy memories. A huge thank you to everyone who contributed to this wonderful week. I’m very lucky to be part of ‘Nyodema’.

For more photos please visit Nyodema Flickr


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