The painting and decorating skills of the students from Portlaoise College were put to the test on their recent trip to Gambia.
Fourteen students and four teachers departed Ireland for the Africa on February 4, where they spent one week helping out and donating supplies to local schools and hospitals.
A large container full of books, toys, sporting equipment, teaching resources, clothes and bikes was sent to Gambia by Portlaoise College just days before they left, and it arrived on the same day as the students and staff.
The items in the container, which were donated by the students, staff and local businesses, were distributed to the Jamisa Yiriwa Nursery, Munyagen Basic Secondary School and Brikama Hospital.
Student Leah Murphy spoke about their visit to the nursery school, and the time they spent getting to know the children.
“We were greeted by the children singing. They then showed us some of their games, and vice versa.
“We sampled home-cooked traditional rice dishes of Gambia, and then we distributed some of the items from the container to the overwhelmed but extremely happy children and teachers,” she said.
The grey concrete walls of the classrooms in the nursery were very dull, and so the group decided to add a splash of colour.
“We gave each classroom an undercoat of cream. Then we painted the alphabet, numbers, shapes, days of the week and the months on the walls.
“After this we painted the doors, the toilets and two hopscotch areas outside. We also painted an Irish mural on the front of the school with a leprechaun, a rainbow, fields, shamrocks, mountains and a pot of gold,” said student Danielle McDonald.
They group also visited Munyagen Basic Secondary School, the school that Portlaoise College is twinned with. To reach the school they had to get a ferry from Banjul to Barra.
“It was hectic. All these people were crammed into this tiny boat, and there was trucks and lorries on the ground floor which made the area very tight. It dawned on me when we began to sail that these people are oblivious to the way we live our lives,” said student Jack Hanley.
When they finally reached the school, they received a wonderful welcome by the children and their teachers.
“They greeted us with waves and hugs, and before they gave us a tour of the school, they gave us a welcome speech and dance.
“The mothers of some of the kids prepared us food, and we then began work on painting the classrooms here too,” said Jack.
This trip has been a life-changing experience for both the students and staff of Portlaoise College.
“The less you have, the more you value the things that are actually important in life, like family and friends,” said student Lauma Stale.