I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve gone to Gambia now – I’m thinking it’s either 6 or 7 maybe? What surprises me each time is how I come away with a different perspective on my own life and how we live in the UK. Sometimes, when people visit a developing country, it’s easy to compare what little they have with how much we have – and it’s true that we are blessed with much more materially. However, there are some ways in which they are much richer than we are.
They truly understand what the word ‘community’ really means. Here are my few observations…
Village life: In the close knit compounds that the families live in, you’ll walk through and see clusters of women sat talking whilst cooking the food. Others will be washing clothes with whilst the children wander off and play together. It genuinely feels like you’ve gone back 60 years in the UK where everybody knows the people in their neighbourhood. Girls were fetching water from the well, the older children were bathing the younger ones in large tubs, and everyone was looking out for each other.
School Lunch: I sat with a whole heap of New Life school children one lunch time. The little 3 yr olds had their over-sized rucksacks and the older children were helping them to pull out their lunch and open crisp packets. One small child with a bad cough pulled out some tablets and another older child ran to the tap to fill his bottle up so he could swallow them easily. There are women who come into the school and sell large filled baguettes to the kids who have money, and the children were pulling their baguettes into two and sharing it with other children who didn’t have food.
Hospitality: I got to meet my friend again last week! I met this lady last year in Kotu Silo, one of the poorer communities situated right on a rubbish dump site. We became friends and she was over the moon when she received one of the new mattresses we were giving out. She showed me her home, the one room measuring 3 Sq metres where her and her 5 children lived. Just before I left last year, she said she had a gift for me. It was a turtle in a bucket! She said that it had crawled into her bucket from the well. She said that this was incredible good luck and would love for me to take it home. She could have sold it for enough Dalasis to feed her and her children for a month but she was insisting I keep it. I had to find a good home for it as I guessed Thomas Cook wouldn’t allow it in my hand luggage! She asked me this time how the turtle was doing…Erm…I said I’m sure it’s alive and doing well!
In the western world, we always view poverty in terms of a lack of material goods. I believe poverty exists in many forms. One major form of poverty is our lack of relationships with others – our lack of community. We have become so individualistic and independent from other people in our neighbourhood and in our families, it’s no wonder that we suffer a number of mental health issues that often stem from isolation. So maybe we are not as ‘developed’ a country as we like to think.
I love the fact that we can make such a difference to people’s lives through NLCC. Education is one of the most important tools for a country to dig their way out of material poverty. I also love the fact that we can learn SO much from a people who have not lost the art of doing life with others. I’ve promised my little girl that she can come with me next year when she’s 7 years old – you’re never too young to learn valuable lessons like that.
Sian Wade – Leader at Bridge Church Lincoln, Trustee of New Life Children’s Centres