Freya Scobie in The Gambia

Young Explorers' Trust

With the support of the YET awards, I took part in a 3-week expedition to The Gambia in Africa. This was organised by Hampshire scouts who have long running connections to Kaira Konko scouts, having done many expeditions to them in the past. Due to covid, this was the first expedition that had been able to run in quite a few years, meaning everyone there was extremely excited at our arrival.

We were set straight to work, being split up to complete as many projects as possible in the time we had there. A large project that was taken on was fixing discarded bikes from a local upper school. For many of the students, walking to school took hours. This had to be done in heat and in storms causing many to choose not to attend or to be late and unable to focus from exhaustion. These bikes are now helping to give access and improve the quality of education for so many students. The majority of the bikes went to girls who attended the school as the travel could be more dangerous for them and they no longer had to be put in danger just trying to get an education.

We were shocked to see how many bikes were put out of use from such simple issues like a puncture or having issues with the brakes. Because of this, we decided it would be best to educate them on how to fix them themselves. We provided puncture repair kits and tire pumps as a large issue was the lack of resources, they had to fix these issues.

Another school that we visited was Toniataba lower basic school. We focused both on the condition of the library and the classrooms, making them a more welcoming place to learn.
The library was first found in unusable conditions, meaning the many books that should have been accessible to the children had not been touched in a long time. The process of emptying out the room, cleaning, painting, organising and putting all the books back was a long one. Though in the end, seemed absolutely worth it. The library now feels like a calming space to sit and read and will help these kids learn to read.

Classrooms were found to be dull and not an ideal place to be learning. This is why these amazing designs were painted on the walls by a group of our most creative explorers. These three classrooms now feel comfortable and fun for the children to be sat in.

The last project done at this school was to give the teachers hut a fresh paint and a new roof. Assisted by some of the explorers, a local roofer was paid to start the roof whilst we were there and completed after we had gone.

Seeing how dedicated and caring the teachers were, made this project so important as we felt that they deserved a comfortable space to relax, plan lessons and get away from the stresses of the classroom. Another school that we visited was Soma lower. Here we were shown the out of use classrooms that were packed dangerously full of desks. These desks were all broken and unusable to the students. We were told by the head teacher that they did not have enough desks for all of the students meaning many of them had to sit on the floor making it hard for them to learn. By the end we had completed around 100 desks which would be spread between different classrooms.

The outside of the classrooms got a fresh coat of paint and any holes in the walls or floors were filled to make the classroom as safe as possible. At both of these schools, we offered the children lessons on their teeth. Here we taught them what would happen if they did not clean their teeth and how to do it properly. Some of the explorers made posters and others took them to show the children whilst teaching.

Whist teaching these lessons we gave out toothbrushes and toothpaste to all the children and teachers so that they could use their new skills at home. Many people also asked us for extras to give to their family. Lots of donations were given out during the time we were there including toothbrushes, school supplies and women’s underwear. We had a large supply of bras that we offered out to the women in the village, we set up in the scout hall and let women come and take what they needed for themselves as well as their families. They were all very thankful and we could tell that what we were doing meant a lot to them.

In our time in The Gambia, we met a lot of people and visited a lot of different places.

However, the person who made the biggest impact on us was a women named Sirah. She had visited the scout hut a few weeks before we arrived asking for a cup of rice, she explained that she did not have enough money to feed her children and needed help. They then provided her with a bag of rice, so she did not have to worry about food for a while. We took a visit to her house and saw the terrible conditions she was living in. The roof had holes and could not handle the rainy season. Her walls were made of mud and were slowly washing away in the rain, this meant in a few years it was likely she would not have a house to live in. There were not enough bedrooms for the number of children living there, leaving them to squeeze into a small bed that was not giving them a good enough quality of sleep. Her husband had grown old and ill so could no longer provide as much for them. This meant their living conditions were only going to worsen over time.

We decided that we were going to raise the money to build her a new house. It was posted on facebook, and money was very quickly sent in. it took barely anytime at all for the money to be raised and since we have left the building has been started. We also didn’t want to leave her, knowing her and her kids were barely able to afford food. The first thing we gave her was 1000 Dalasi (Gambian currency). We then also found spare mattresses around the scout hut and bought a few more so that everyone could have a better sleep. Near the end of the trip, we decided to leave our mark on the village by raising money to build a borehole. This will provide not only Sirah but also the whole village with water that they now either need to pay or walk miles for.

I am extremely grateful that I had the chance to go on such a life-changing trip and am so thankful for the people who have made it happen. Now it’s over I hope that the experience will stick with me for the rest of my life.