Ten students from West Cheshire College, along with tutors, Julie Jones and Martin Stacey, travelled to Gambia last month to undertake a range of activities as volunteers of The Gunjur Project, supporting young people and the wider community.
The students included Level 3 Hair students Gaynor Moore, Agrita Daksa and Grace Blyth; Level 2 Hair students Amy Cresswell, Linda Graham, Kayley Daniells and Sophie Jackson; Ameena Kader and Katie Astle from Health and Social Care and Phoebe Collins from Medical Science. All the students volunteered at a school throughout their trip, helping with refurbishment work at the clinic and providing activities for the children.
Julie Jones, Tutor at West Cheshire College said: “We were all nervously excited prior to the trip but we hoped to have the most amazing week helping the community and experiencing a life so very different to ours. However, it turned out to be even more than we had hoped, it was immensely life-changing and we have some wonderful memories to share from the trip.
“We managed to raise over £11,000, fundraising amongst ourselves, gaining donations from the college and students and through various activities to make the trip possible. We’re very proud to have raised so much and thank everyone for their support.”
The students took games and delivered furniture to Kulukochi School in Gunjur, who had just gained a new classroom thanks to the project. They also took part in evening activities such as making loom bands, colouring and blowing up balloons with the children.
A special opportunity arose towards the end of the trip for one of the students, Phoebe, who is completing a Medical Science course at West Cheshire College. Whilst delivering supplies to the maternity ward at the clinic, a mother was in the late stages of labour with her seventh child, and Phoebe was allowed to assist the midwife, Hawa, who was on a 48-hour shift, to deliver the baby.
Phoebe Collins, 17, from Ellesmere Port, said of the experience: “It was a truly life-changing experience and I was delighted to be asked to assist. Before the trip, I didn’t expect for a minute to see a baby being born at the clinic, let alone foresee that I’d be helping to deliver her. It was a very special moment, especially as the mother then named her newly born baby girl after me. I was super chuffed.”
Julie commented: “It was a lovely moment for Phoebe and we were all very excited for her, and extremely proud. Katie and Sophie also helped to assist at the clinic, which was great.”
Sophie Jackson, 19, from Ellesmere Port said of the experience: “Before we went, I was quite nervous due to never having left my son before and not knowing what to expect but I was equally very excited and looking forward to a new experience.
“We were in Gambia for seven days. There was a good mix of activities such as visiting the local community, celebrating Eid, playing with children and helping to set up a local clinic that had been closed for a long time.
“The life changing part for me however was watching and being involved in the birth of a baby girl. I am currently studying Health and Social Care at West Cheshire College and wasn’t sure what I wanted to go on to do at university. I had thought about midwifery prior to the trip, but having had the experience in Gambia and being involved first hand, I am now certain that I am going to apply for a midwifery course!
“I would like to thank West Cheshire College for allowing this trip and a huge thank you to Martin and Julie for making it happen.”
The Gunjur Project Association was formed in 2011, and the demand for volunteering opportunities, as well as cultural experiences has continued to grow ever since. Education isn’t free in Gunjur, Gambia, so the project provides free education to those who cannot afford to pay.
Together with Gunjur Project Lodge guests, The Gunjur Project has built schools, sponsored students, distributed educational equipment, worked with community organisations and achieved development across a wide range of areas.
As part of their fundraising activities for the trip, Martin Stacey, Enrichment Officer at West Cheshire College, as well as coordinator of the volunteering trip, let students convince him to wax his chest in a bid to raise money.
Martin commented: “I really wasn’t sure if it was a good idea but given that it was all in the name of charity, it proved valuable to our fundraising, as well as a little painful!”
Julie also went on to say: “At the end of the trip, as a parting gift, we decided as a group that we would love to see the Kajabang clinic up and running. We were informed that it would cost £120 to renovate and have the clinic fit for purpose, equating to £10 for each of us, so it wasn’t hard for us to decide that we would make this contribution. For us, it was nothing but for the community, it was everything. The nurse and the clinic will help to save lives in a community where they have little else.
“It’s been a remarkable journey and we have loved every minute of this rewarding experience, plus we’re delighted to have been able to contribute to The Gunjur Project and share their amazing work”
For more information on full-time courses available at West Cheshire College, call the college hotline on 01244 656555 or visit www.west-cheshire.ac.uk.