“Welcome to Banjul”, was heard through the speakers of the plane, and so our three-week adventure in The Gambia really started. When we were waiting for our suitcases at the airport, I had no idea what impression Gambia would leave on me during these three weeks and how much this experience would change my life and my future.
As usual in a rainy season, we landed in the worst storm possible, and we soon found out that muddy shoes and clothes were our three-week future. But no matter what, we were already thrilled!
Once we settled in our hotel and arranged all the necessary things, our journey was just getting started. “You are never completely alone”, says a famous Slovenian song, and it really is like that in The Gambia! There is always someone by your side who will give you a hand, who will help you, who will make you smile and make you happy.
From day one, we realized how different people in The Gambia are. By that, I don’t mean their skin colour and their clothes, but above all, their mindset and what’s inside people. Their kindness, care for a fellow human beings, eternal optimism and positivity go beyond anything I knew up to that point.
At every step we took in The Gambia, someone offered us help, even though it was just carrying water from the store. There was always someone offering us company and conversation when we needed it. The guys who we named The Beach Boys, who lived on the beach near our house, took us into their community.
The second evening, when we walked along the beach to a nearby town, which was an hour walk away, they went with us, even though it meant an hour's walk. At first, this was weird to us, but in the end, we found out that they just wanted us to feel safe and that they don’t want anything in return. People in Slovenia always ask me if I have ever felt that I’m not safe, and I always say that I have never felt as safe as I did in The Gambia. And they proved it again every day.
Mornings spent at Kids are the world were amazing and indescribable. Happiness, curiosity, playfulness, and “loudness” are just some words that describe more than 150 children learning new things every day of the week that will help them grow into future teachers, doctors, pilots or whatever they want to be. I love their care for each other, how they always make sure no one is left alone, and everyone comes back to school safely the next day, When they accept you into their family, when they tell you a thousand times a day that they love you, every smile, touch, and joy when they eat tapalapa with chocolate. These things let me know that I belong there.
Before I went to The Gambia, I knew that I wanted to become a sponsor to one of the children and give him a better future. That’s how I met a boy named Omar.
I can say that it was really love at first sight. Although, at the age of five, he doesn't understand what sponsor means, it seemed to me that he understood my love and that he was infinitely grateful to me. From the moment we met, we became inseparable!
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know his family and the environment in which he lives as well. I would never have thought that I could attach myself so quickly to a child I had never known before, and those little things like a soccer ball can bring the most beautiful child’s smile to his face.
The last day of school was very emotional. Saying goodbye to the kids who used to call me “auntie Lea” for so long and take me into their family was the hardest part. I didn't show my emotions and tears for a while, but when more than 100 kids came to hug me and ask me if I’m coming back on Monday, I just broke down. I already knew then that this goodbye was not forever. In the afternoons, we explored The Gambia, its culture, politics, history, and languages. Everything I heard I absorbed into myself, and everything made me more excited and brought the Gambia even closer to me.
Amet and Sulayman played a big role in answering our questions and always ensuring that each of our moments in The Gambia was memorable, safe, happy, and inspiring. All these people in The Gambia, from children to adults, can teach you a lot. From the fact that poverty and hard-to-reach education are not barriers to education and learning to the fact that material things do not define and determine who you are and what you can become in the future. That family and friends count the most in life and that you never have so little that you couldn't share it. The whole colourful, smiling, caring Gambia lets you know that in the world, you are not just a number but that you can be the one to change the world!
I will never forget when, on the day when we left, an employee at the airport said to me, "You know, we appreciate you very much, because if you only help one of us, it means you help all of us" and that's when I decided that my mission in The Gambia didn't end yet and that I would be back soon and help change the world.