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I'm Ivana, and this is my Gambia

My Magazine 2024/06
5 min
IMPACT
Hello, I'm Ivana, and this is my Gambia. I've always had a deep love for people, and this year, Africa called me to help these wonderful individuals. In turn, they ended up helping me – to start anew, to smile, to appreciate what I have at home, and to embrace the beauty of this world.


In 2021, I came across a Facebook post about Volunteer Trails, an organization encouraging volunteers to come to The Gambia and help in various fields. Although I couldn’t embark on the journey then, I felt a persistent inner urge that this path I needed to follow would enrich me more than my previous travels around the world. And I was right.

In January 2024, I decided to grow in a new way and brighten someone's life, so I applied to work in a kindergarten in The Gambia. I've always wanted to work with children because I believe they are the purest beings on this planet. I remember the feeling when I applied – excitement mixed with tears as I thought about the purpose of this new journey into the unknown. I was overjoyed that I had finally listened to my heart and gathered the courage to do something that would bring me inner peace. I bought a plane ticket and couldn’t wait to begin my Gambian adventure.

Upon arrival in The Gambia, Ahmet, a warm young man, guided us around to get acquainted with the place. Local stalls selling tropical fruits and vegetables, the Craft Market with its vibrant colours of fabrics and jewellery, the local beach, a few monkeys, and some pleasant locals along the way. In Senegambia, I had the best natural mango juice ever – I can't describe how amazing it was! The people here are incredible – always smiling, their greetings warming your heart. It's easy to smile back at these genuinely friendly people.

The beach seemed to stretch into infinity, and a stroll along it was so therapeutic. I felt a tremendous sense of freedom, and in those first moments in The Gambia, I knew I had made the right decision. My companions and I went kayaking and bird watching. We were greeted by Elias, who was very friendly, provided an excellent tour, and introduced us to the local ecosystem. My first sunset in The Gambia was pure ecstasy – a form of catharsis.

The girls in the house where we stayed welcomed us warmly, and the local children greeted us with hugs that touched our hearts. The family girls spoiled us with delicious lunches ready when we returned from work, each of us from a different area. "Home cooking is always the best" perfectly describes the local lunches.

I worked at the local kindergarten, where the modus operandi was completely new to me. Fortunately, one of the girls who had previously worked there showed me how to navigate the chaos. We travelled by local transport, a slightly larger version of a minivan crammed with as many people as possible. I took pictures of all the landmarks so I could navigate independently in the following days.

My arrival at the kindergarten was wonderful – the children welcomed me with songs that brought tears to my eyes. My role was to assist the teacher with tasks, but we also sang a lot since I brought a ukulele to The Gambia. I even taught the children a Slovenian song. It's amazing how they absorb knowledge like sponges and quickly learn the lyrics. The children loved being carried on my back around the mango tree during snack time. Hopscotch drawn in the sand was a favourite, they had trampolines made from car tires, and a swing made from a single rope. It didn’t take much to bring joy to these little children. I loved it when the kids hugged me – their genuine smiles and hugs made my day. Leaving the kindergarten every afternoon was difficult – it’s a great feeling when someone is so happy to see you every day. If the kids weren’t singing or playing during snack time, they were dancing. It’s evident how the African rhythm flows in their veins from an early age. It was beautiful to watch little feet naturally mastering the rhythm of life.

Every day at the kindergarten was special for me. I’ve never woken up so satisfied as I did in The Gambia – I looked forward to seeing them every morning, spending time with them, helping them with tasks, and above all, spreading music. I feel this journey's purpose was to replenish my heart and focus on helping others in life.

Saying goodbye to these innocent faces who were so happy to see me every day was extremely difficult. I’ll never forget their collective farewell hug and the songs they dedicated to me on my departure. I was overwhelmed by their sincere love, and my feelings were indescribable. I miss the little kids, and each time I think of them, it brings tears to my eyes.

We also visited the Fathala Wildlife Reserve in Senegal. I had never seen a rhinoceros and giraffe in their natural habitat, especially up close, and for me, these are the most elegant animals on this planet. The pattern of zebras, gracefully galloping past, is so unique. Senegal was totally wild, from the chaotic border to their means of transportation, most of which involved donkeys.

Amidst all this chaos, the 40-degree heat didn’t bother me at all because I was so busy absorbing the new experiences. But what left the biggest impression on me was the village I visited with the other volunteers for three days. We received a warm welcome, and they made music using pots and other homemade instruments. They can turn a huge pestle into a drum and create rhythms that compel you to dance.

The feelings I had were incredibly powerful and wild – I felt I belonged there, and these lovely people accepted us with open arms. It wasn’t long before we were dancing to the music and having a great time. The Gambian people love singing, dancing, and smiling! And they are always happy! Simply amazing. It is very inspiring. The whole world can learn from the beautiful Gambian people how to be happy with very little.

I've tried to encapsulate all my Gambian experiences in this article, but it's difficult to condense all the feelings, events, and moments into coherent content. There are no words for this journey. There is only a heavenly feeling of gratitude and warmth given to me by the people there. The girls I travelled with were simply awesome. It’s easy to travel with like-minded people, and these golden girls, whom I already call my friends, truly enriched my journey.

I would like to thank everyone who met me on this amazing journey, shared a word or two with me, or even just a smile. Thank you for allowing me to enjoy everything that filled my heart and enriched my soul, making it possible for me to return home even more grateful and enthusiastic about life, which offers us something every day to make us smile. And that ultimately is all that matters.

I would also like to thank the organizers and everyone who accompanied us through this life-changing journey and made all of this possible for us. It was beyond amazing.

Forever grateful,
Ivana


 

SUMMER CAMP LOADING...

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