Global citizenship in action in the Gambia

Published

CoPE Level 3 students from Belle Vue Boys' School in Bradford broadened their horizons recently when they took part in a volunteering project in the Gambia, as their tutor Rebecca Fox reports.

To complete the Active Citizenship and Global Awareness modules of CoPE Level, we arranged for our students to do some voluntary work in a developing country. One of the biggest challenges, where to go and what to do, was solved when we discovered the Gambian Schools Trust: a charity that helps build, maintain and develop schools in the Gambia. With their support, we decided we would fundraise for a new school library at a school in Kaur, a village about 4 hours from the Gambian capital, Banjul, then spend a week in the Gambia, putting the final touches and formally opening the library.

This was the first time our school had ever attempted something like this and it quickly turned into a whole-school affair. The CoPE students arranged a number of fundraising days and gave assemblies to talk about the project and why building a school library was so important. During the autumn half term, the students helped pack a container full of donations to be shipped to the Gambia, which gave them their first insight into how basic things to us are so valuable in developing countries. As our departure date approached, the students became more aware of the realities of life in a remote African village as they had to buy supplies and have their immunisations.

Despite all our preparations, when we arrived in the Gambia, the students were shocked by the heat, the dust and the poverty. During our long drive inland, we passed a large number of development projects: some with international support; some entirely Gambian. This helped the students appreciate just how much a country like the Gambia needs to develop. We were welcomed to the village with a deafening cheer from the school children: an indication of how grateful they were.

We spent the next few days sleeping on airbeds, under mosquito nets, in a school classroom and working on the library. With no running water, no electricity and only rice and vegetables to eat, the students started to recognise what life is really like for a large number of people in this world; they all said the experience changed their outlook.

Back at school, the students shared their new perspective with students and staff through assemblies and classes, reinforcing the feeling that this was a whole-school endeavour. All the money the students raised went to pay for the new library.