The chair of BACE, Tracy Barnett, has been reflecting on the charity’s latest volunteer trip to The Gambia.
In this guest blog she shares her thoughts:
Having returned home from another amazing week with a group of 21 fantastic individuals who all played a part in making this volunteer trip the success it was, it’s only now I find the time to read the letters and emails of appreciation and really understand just how much this week once again has meant to so many people, both in the UK and the Gambia.
When we arrived with the group at the hotel they quickly realised that yes, it may look like paradise on the outside, but once in their room it was very basic compared to what they would normally be used to. Most keys fitted all rooms, the doors did not shut very well and often there was no water to shower and frequent power cuts, but as always the staff were very friendly, supportive and happy to see the BACE charity students back with them for a week. It always makes me smile when they call our group “the students” as the majority of us in this volunteer group were over the age of 40!
A student still to me is a young person in education but I suppose in reflection we are students because we are constantly learning every day about The Gambia, the people, the culture and their way of life.
The Gambia is a hodgepodge of different people, different religions and tribes, yet they all seem to get along! So the challenge for us during the week, as always with every trip, was to work together as one team, support and watch out for each other, be patient and tolerant, smile and have fun. It makes me feel so proud when so many individuals from all different walks of life, education, social class and religion join together to embrace the Gambian experience and the Gambian way of life with open minds, all working to achieve the same goal.
It does not matter how many times I explain during the week that everyone at some point will experience what we call a “Gambian Moment” when the heat, the pride, the people and the simple way of life in West Africa compared with our own catches up on them. For me, it starts when I land in the Gambia, then when I see our Gambian friends, the first day on site and then every day when I see some of our amazing volunteers way out of their comfort zone picking up a paint brush, digging, mixing cement, playing with the children or just sitting and speaking to the local community and embracing the way of life..
In fact my worst Gambian moment is when I get home and can relax my brain just a little for a few days and really reflect on the week and what once again has been achieved by so many people. I have learnt now never to go anywhere without a tissue, as often talking about the charity and the achievements made by so many in such a short period of time bring the tears to my eyes. I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of the BACE trustees and our team in The Gambia to thank you all for an amazing week and we all look forward to seeing you back with us very soon.
By Tracy Barnett, chair of BACE, who is pictured at the beginning of this post with Ebou Bah, from the Medical Research Centre in The Gambia, outside the new BACE health clinic in the village of Bonsa.