Young Citizen Award offers opportunity to improve lives of Gambian Community

Kingsmead Parish Council was pleased to be contacted by the recipient of the 2018 Young Citizens Award, Georgia Smith. Georgia has provided a fascinating report on her trip to the Gambia which can be read below.

Girls Take Action In The Gambia

Our teaching goals:
• Anaemia
• First aid
• Self esteem
• Science is fun
• Women’s hygiene

Before we set out to The Gambia we knew we had work to do. Some of the Guiding Leaders had visited The Gambia before and some hadn’t. Some Leaders were familiar to us-others were not. There were Girl Guides form across Cheshire some of whom we had never met before. We attended several sessions over the 12 months before departure for team building purposes and to get to grips with the tasks we were being set. These were chosen as our teaching goals. Anaemia, first aid, self-esteem, science is fun and women’s hygiene. Alagi flew out to meet with us a few months before departure. Excitement and anticipation began to grow.

The purpose of the Anaemia topic was to explain the condition, its symptoms, causes and prevention. The session began with the use of a model using Orbeez (balls that expand in water) to show the women and children what anaemia was. The symptoms were highlighted in a play that we had produced and performed, and then we reiterated the symptoms, along with the causes of anaemia, in a picture presentation. The session concluded with a discussion around ways to prevent anaemia. The format was adapted to suit the age of the groups we were teaching- so some we made more interactive, by using a snakes and ladders board game to identify the causes, symptoms and prevention methods.

First Aid
The first aid sessions were taught with the use of fake wounds placed on members of the session leaders. We explained how each wound could occur, and we made it relevant to their lives. A burn from a domestic fire for example.
We demonstrated how the wound could be sterilised and dressed with the resources available to them at home. We discussed when it might be important to seek hospital or clinic attention, although some would struggle to access these services. The Gambians were delighted to receive our mini first aid kits with important essentials such as bandages, plasters and it was lovely to see all the children bringing the first aid kits back strapped to their bags to the session the following day. The locals were all given the opportunity to watch the demonstrations and then take a turn in dressing a wound with a bandage.

Self esteem
The self esteem session was presented to the Women’s Development Group members of which are women aged 18 and above. We began by establishing what they considered to be “the ideal woman”. We discussed image myths of the “ideal girl” and wrote down the cost to the woman of attempting to achieve those characteristic. We discussed the lengths women might go to in order to look like the ”ideal woman”, such as by dieting excessively. We talked about how this impacts on a woman’s self-esteem. The women were then encouraged to shout out to the group who they perceived to be their role models. It was nice to hear that most of the women considered their parents to be their role models, and a few even said their teachers. We went on to list which jobs they perceived as being more or less important, and we concluded this session by saying that all jobs are important in different ways, and all job roles should be valued. We ended the session by asking the group to share one thing they liked about their appearance, then their personality and finally one thing they liked about someone else in the group. We wanted the girls to encourage themselves and others to embrace and share the positive things about themselves.

Science is fun
For the “science is fun sessions” both Anne-Marie and I were on the Physics sessions, but there were also biochemistry, biology and chemistry demonstrations. For the physics sessions, we each went onto our own tables and performed the more complex demonstrations , including electrolysis, electrics using an electrics board, and the solar system. One of our guide leaders demonstrated the simpler concepts, which entertained the younger girls. They were fascinated with our sound waves model. We put a speaker into a box, tightly fitted some baking paper over the top, sealed it and blasted out Queen and Whitney Houston, showing the sound waves by watching sand grains move on top of the baking paper.

Women’s hygiene
The women’s hygiene session was one of the more difficult sessions to present. We had to change the session content to make it age appropriate and this was especially so at the Guide camp.
For the menstrual health session, we began by listing conversation topics that the women might feel open to talking about, topics they felt they could only talk about in private and topics they would prefer not to talk about at all.
We then talked about the type of symptoms girls might face whilst menstruating, emphasising the fact every girl might have a different experience each time. We talked about the physical body changes a girl experiences during puberty. We talked about why girls have periods, what a period means, how regularly they might occur, what to expect to see coming away including blood clots. The main message was not to fear periods, as every woman experiences them. We passed around a plastic cup and then a bucket of water. The activity was designed for the women to guess how much blood they lose during a period. Everyone was surprised to see how little they lose. The women were given timetables to monitor their periods. We had to take into consideration that some of the girls may be malnourished which could affect their cycle. We then spoke about sanitary provisions, and considered what resources they might have available back at home.
We handed out packets of reusable sanitary towels, three day time towels and two night time ones with an explanation of how to use them, and how to clean them. We played a true or false game to enable learning around pain and side effects of periods.We highlighted the importance of personal hygiene, and how to make sure it is efficiently done and explained how to do it.
The session ended with a Q&A which turned out to be a myth busting exercise. The perception seemed to be that everything had to stop for the duration of their period. Hopefully now women will feel enabled to carry on with their daily activities, despite being on their periods.

The group of Guides we travelled with further enhanced our Gambian experience. We all connected and got on really well. We have made friends for life. Anne-Marie and I recently shared a shift at the Guide stall at the Cheshire Show with Esther and it was great to catch up with her and share memories of The Gambia. I would like for every teenager to be given the opportunity to go and experience the adventure. The people of The Gambia learned a lot from us, but we learned a lot about humanity and humility too.We cannot thank you enough for your financial support in getting us there, and hopefully now you can see what your support has meant to the people we met who are -as we speak changing their everyday lives for the better. Because of you.

Future Prospects

The Gunjur Youths for Health used the diabetes testing kits along with the blood pressure monitors we took to the Gambia on the local people. On the 22nd of April, they had already completed their third round of blood pressure and sugar monitoring. Close to 100 people had had their blood pressure and sugar tested, and as a result some people were actually referred to see their doctor.

The Youth Development Group was so inspired by all the sessions we did, that they have started their own community peer education project, to become, in their own words “strong women in our communities” .

They hope to promote the message that women “don’t have to rely on men for everything”.

They have challenged themselves to train 1000 people within their own communities in the next year, and eventually hope to travel to wider settings.

On the 15th June 2019,  they presented their first peer education sessions to the local women.

We were sent videos on our Gambia Group Chat, and with lots of planning, their sessions were well organised and the women presenting were super confident.

Georgia also wrote in her letter ” I would like to again thank you for the Young Citizens Award awarded in June 2018. The trip commenced in the April 2019, [and] the [report above] shows what we did out in The Gambia, and shows how much your money contributed to the trip helping improve the lives of the Gambian community, with lots of future prospects continually increasing. Depending on my university course and term times, I am looking to be able to travel back to The Gambia in 2021, and meet not only new people, but also meet the old friends we made out there. I can only thank you again for allowing me to venture out there, I left feeling a sense of accomplishment at what we achieved and how many people out there are spreading our message”