Students make ‘life-changing’ trip to The Gambia


Thirteen students and two staff spent a week working voluntarily at Sir Dembo’s Nursery and Primary School in the Wellingara area. The academy has been supporting the school through its Every Last Drop charity since 2009 and has agreed to raise £2,500 a year to rent the land that the school building stands on. While in The Gambia, students ran arts and crafts activities in the school and played games with the students.

They also handed over educational and sports equipment, first aid supplies and clothing that they had collected. Elisha Morley, 18, of Ilkeston, said the trip was an extremely rewarding experience and all of the students enjoyed interacting with the youngsters in school. She said: “We tried to make the things that we did with the students very different to their normal school day. We did arts and crafts and interactive activities, they often learn by chanting and by rote so this was a different experience for them.

“They enjoyed showing us what they knew, they played one game where they would be told what the country was and they would shout out the capital city, it was amazing how much they knew.” Charlotte Purnell, 17, of Ilkeston, said that communicating with the children got easier the longer they were there. She said: “It was difficult to communicate sometimes because of the language barrier, especially with the younger ones. We would have to use simple words and actions. At first the children were quiet and didn’t seem very confident but as time passed they got used to us and they wanted us to pick them up and play with them which was great. If we had glasses on they would try to take them and put them on and take photos of themselves. They enjoyed that.”


Charlotte and Elisha said that some parts of the trip were quite hard. Charlotte said: “The children who couldn’t afford to go to the school used to hang around the gates, they would be staring in at us and if they tried to come in we were told we had to shoo them away.  If they got in and tried to join in a game of catch that we were playing we would have to tell them to go back outside. It was sad but we had to learn that it wasn’t possible to help everyone and if you did try to do that, often you would end up helping no-one.”

As well as spending time at Sir Dembo’s, students also experienced local culture and went on a boat trip to learn about the oyster farming industry in Gambia. They also took part in a march around the village, which was held in their honour to thank them for coming. Charlotte and Elisha both said that they found leaving at the end of their trip quite hard.

Elisha said: “It was emotional and a lot of us cried. It was hard to say goodbye to the children but it was good to see where they money that we raise goes and it has encouraged us to keep fund-raising. I think on the whole it has taught us all to be more appreciative of what we have here. It was an amazing experience.”

Denise Peck, a teaching assistant who went on the trip and helped to set up links with the school in Gambia, said the students found the experience extremely rewarding. She said: “The students interacted with the local children and saw how happy they were, even though they had relatively little and I think that at the end of their experience it made them realise that you don’t really need all the material things that we have here.”