On my way to the Gambia

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On Tuesday I will be heading out with a group of my students to the Gambia in Western Africa- we have been too long away.

For twenty-five years or so, teachers and pupils from my school have been visiting villages in the unexplored middle of this tiny country. We take aid and learn about their lifestyles, difficulties and resilience.

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You can read much more about the trip and see more pictures here. You can even find out there how to donate to support the people you see in the pictures.

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We normally visit in the middle of our winter, but this year we had to delay our trip because of Ebola or rather the fear of it. If I am honest, I am ashamed of this- Ebola has never got close to the country and for a group visiting, but not planning to do medical work, would actually have posed no risk. We believed, however, that we would not be able to persuade the parents of our students of this and so we postponed for six months.

The tragedy for the Gambia, a country with virtually no natural resources that relies on tourism, is that we were not alone- this year, the hotels and planes have been empty and I have some nervousness about how we will find our Gambian friends when we get there. The future does not look good either, as the travel companies are continuing to scale back their operations and we have been told that this December we will only be able to take half as many students because of smaller planes.

However, it feels odd to write a gloomy piece about the Gambia- my profoundest impressions from previous trips have always been joyful- there is nothing so humbling as walking through a village where the people essentially have no income and encountering so much fun.

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Also, a visit at a different time of year will give my students a chance to see other sides to the country- we may experience the start of the rainy season- something that I am strangely looking forward to and we are also visiting in the midst of Ramadan. One of the things that I love about taking young people to the Gambia is how their TV informed prejudices about the Muslim world are washed away as they encounter the Gambians’ peaceful and welcoming version of Islam.

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I will blog again on my return, but for now here are some more of my favourite images from the last four years:

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