Tyrone McCarthy: Volunteering in Gambia with GIVEE
Hello to everyone back at the Wolves
Here is a little summary of what we have done over the last few days.
We left the Manchester rain early Wednesday morning (21st November) on our journey to Gambia. When we arrived we hit our first obstacle at customs. They stopped me and Jay over our luggage; the items they were questioning were the life support machines, donated by Kellogg's, for the local hospital near our base at the Gunjur project. We paid our taxes with pens, paper and sweets, which gave us our first insight into how little the people of the country have.
We were met outside the airport by Alargi, a partner of the Gunjur project where we then travelled to. We met all the workers and owners of the project and they gave us a brief background of what the week would entail. Before dinner we were greeted by the sports council of the area and they explained how grateful they are that we are trying to introduce Rugby League there.
Up and out early for coaching down at the school. We met four of the volunteers from the Gambia who'd be watching us coach all week and hopefully continue the work once we leave. We presented them with new trainers and polo tops to use when coaching. The session was based on the basic components of the game, such as passing backwards and running with the ball in two hands.
After dinner we visited a compound. This is what they call houses but they are only small buildings which can have up to 30 people living in them with no electricity or running water. We looked at how we could improve the compound to make it safer and more comfortable for the families to live in. None of the compound buildings have mosquito screens, so we decided that would be our focus and to also fix the major structural problems to the buildings.
At 3 o'clock we went down to the community playing field for another session with the boys from the area who may not be able to afford to go to school (it only costs £120 a year). The same session was used as in the morning, however the volunteers were heavily involved in explaining what we were trying to achieve which was great to see.
We went back at the community field for the morning session, reinforcing how and when to pass using some decision making games. We also tried to introduce basic defending rules which they boys picked up quickly.
After dinner we headed for the compound to start the work which needed to be done. We managed to paint two of the outside walls, and also make and attach a screened door and window replacing the existing scrap metal ones.
The coaching team (the boys) then headed down to the school field to do another session whilst the girls visited the local nursery. Again the schoolboys seemed to enjoy our game and picked up the skills really quickly, with the Gambian volunteers getting involved too. We finished the session with a small-sided game of tick and pass, it was amazing to see how much they had learned just with in two sessions.
There were no rugby sessions as there was a religious festival in the morning. All the families stay together to pray, so we visited a local family factory which makes jewellery, carvings and patterned material using natural colourings using traditional methods to create designs. The also let us try to do it.
In the afternoon there was the Gunjur football final which we were invited to. The game was played on the community field where we have been coaching. However, it was transformed into a carnival atmosphere with about 1500 people attending. The game ended 0-0, however there was a missed penalty which the crowd went wild over. The game will be replayed nearer to Christmas. After the game the head of the sports council explained to me that he wanted to create a similar event and atmosphere for future Rugby League finals, starting with a game between the school team and the community side.
There's not much more to say at the moment other than how welcoming and appreciative everyone is here considering how little they have. They always greet you with a smile. Hopefully I will be able to keep you all posted on the development of the compound and the rugby result on Wednesday!
See you soon
After a fairly quiet Saturday we were up early to make our way to the community field to do our first coaching session of the day. It started a little later as the after party from the football game had not finished until 4 that morning so a few of the boys were feeling a little jaded.
During the session we introduced the tag belt for the boys to get used to and the concept of defending as a unit. I was really shocked at how good they were at grabbing them, they were far superior than our coaching team.
After training we headed to the compound to get back to work on the mosquito screening. It was a really productive day as we managed to make and fit a new door and screen door at the back of the building. We also inserted another screened window to the front of the building, repainted the two walls previously done, the front of the building and the blue bands around the window and doors.
After a refuel we headed back out to the school to do some training while the rest of the group went to see the medical centre which they described as very basic, with no official nurse or doctor present.
The first session of they day started at the school and we focused on getting them to understand the game ahead of their competitive match the next day. We started with some passing before moving into small tag rugby games. Some of the boys were still struggling to get to grips with the passing rules and not being offside, so we tried to underline the importance. When we left we still weren't too sure if they had understood.
Again we then headed to the compound to start finishing off the work there. We managed to paint the final wall, and fit mosquito nets above the beds in the house. We then started work on the boys living quarters making a more secure door.
The coaching team also headed out to the community field for the last session before the 'finals day' as the remaining members of the group visited another local nursery in need of some support. We asked the volunteer coaches to lead the session so we could give them feedback on what was good and offer tips that may help them. We were very impressed with how they managed the session and watching the small game that concluded the session it was clear to see the community team had picked up the game.
We ended the day with an interview at 9pm on the local radio station talking about the game we were trying to introduce into the local community, talking about our club and promoting the finals day.
I woke up excited about how the games were going to go in the afternoon, although I was also sad knowing it would be our last full day in The Gambia.
After breakfast we went back to Mai's compound to fix up everything around the building. We gave the final wall another coat of paint and fixed a new door and frame to another of the boys rooms which were covered in names of there favourite teams and sports stars written in chalk. As usual lots of children came around to watch us '2bobs' work, so I tried to entertain them. However, they started playing football with a unripe orange.
The work was finally done and it was rewarding to know that our team had worked hard to potentially save lives from malaria. We had a group photo taken with everyone around and presented Mai with a Wolves' sock monkey for good luck.
The afternoon was filled by the tag rugby festival which was played between teams from the community and school. It was a very successful event and we could not have asked for it to go any better as everyone seemed to enjoy it.
In the evening the Gunjur Project put on a party with a local band playing to celebrate the work we had done over the past week.
I don't think I've ever been so sad to be heading home. We were welcomed by the Gambian people with open arms and I am grateful to the Gunjur Project for allowing me to have the experience. The past seven or so days have been some of the best in my life and there are many people and things that will stay with me forever.
Please visit http://www.thegunjurprojectgambia.com/ to see how you can get involved.