There are lots of things to do in The Gambia and visiting a school is just one of them. It’s great fun to interact with the schoolchildren and you’ll get to learn something about the school system in this small African country. Here’s what you should do:
How to arrange a visit?
During our visit to The Gambia, visiting a school was actually not on our list of things to do. It was our driver and guide who suggested it to us and to be honest, we weren’t really that enthusiastic. We were already driving for hours on dusty roads in a very small, very crappy car, wondering how the hell it was possible to drive so long in a country as small as The Gambia. We had been from Bakau to Serrekunda, Banjul and Janjabureh (Georgetown) with a few stops in between, we were really tired and eager to go back to the comfort of our hotel. On the other hand: we knew we would regret not visiting a school, so maybe a short stop? And was our guide sure we would not disturb the students and teachers? No worries. Almost immediately as we stopped we were surrounded by enthusiastic schoolchildren, all laughing, playing, shouting…and they all wanted their picture taken.
Our visit was unplanned and unannounced, but it is easy to arrange a visit:
A lot of local tour agencies have school visits on their program, but you can also ask around in your hotel of ask the taxi driver.
It may be a good idea to visit a more remote school. These don’t get that much visits from tourist and are in extra need of school supplies and help.
How to give something back?
The principal gave us a tour of his school and the students were proud to show off the things they were learning. Turned out this unexpected visit was one of the highlight of our Gambia road trip. We didn’t want to leave without returning the warm welcome with a small gift but since we brought nothing with us, we donated a small amount of money.
Visiting schools in The Gambia is popular among tourist, and when asked what people should bring (or not), these are the tips the principle gave us:
“Notebooks, pencils, sharpers and erasers are always welcome. We prefer pencils over pens because writings in pencil can be erased and the paper can be used again.”
“Don’t bring any candy or toys, there are too many children and there will always be children who will feel left out.”
“Some parents don’t have the money to buy the school-uniform: if you want to donate uniforms, just ask the head of the school or the teachers and they will be happy to direct you to the shop where you can buy them.”
“Whatever you bring, give it to the head of the school or the staff. They will give it to the children who need it the most. Like I said, there are a lot of children, it’s difficult to give something to everyone.”
The Republic of the Gambia is a country in West Africa, entirely surrounded by its neighbor Senegal and a short strip of coastline. It is the smallest country of Africa (on the mainland).