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pre-school and primary school support in The Gambia (CDS)

Location: Gambia
Project type: child development support
Price from: £1,219 - details below

Volunteer to share your pre-school and creative learning skills in nursery schools in The Gambia. Work with local teachers to support them in giving the children the best possible start to their education.

Skills required

We work closely with the local people who manage this project, and they have identified their primary volunteer needs.
The principals in this programme would welcome the following skills and volunteer input

  • ECD professionals
  • nursery and pre school teaching assistants
  • TEFL experts
  • creative play development
  • child counsellors
  • arts and crafts teachers
  • gardeners
  • classroom management
  • child nutritionists 
  • sharing ideas with local teachers about maximising available free resources and low cost items would be invaluable.
  • education administrators

Main project details

Nursery schooling in The Gambia covers a higher age range than in the UK as children don't start school until they are seven or nearly eight years old, and Gambian pre-schools therefore care for children between the ages of 2 to 7, after which children move on to lower basic schools. 
Nurseries and pre-schools may be private schools, community schools or annexes to government Lower Basic (primary) schools (a recent innovation).  Other than the annexes (which are free) they are not government funded and many parents struggle to pay the fees.  There is precious little to spend on equipment, and where there are resources there is often little knowledge as to how to use them creatively - children have so little opportunity for learning through play.  Facilities vary greatly - from good to barely non-existent.  Some schools have links or sponsors from overseas who provide equipment and maybe send visitors to provide occasional training.   Many others have as many as 60 to a class with only one member of staff, and when he or she is absent they just have to double up with another class as there is no supply teaching facility available. There is little or nothing in the way of equipment apart from a few pencils and chalk. Most of the learning is by rote and some classroom walls are completely bare.  Nursery teachers who have completed the only ECD course at Gambia College still earn less then those holding primary teaching certificates. 
The Gambian government has identified ECD as a priority and is committed to providing pre-school places to all Gambian children. A meaningful and accredited ECD programme has been developed, however Early Childhood Development professionals are practically non-existent in The Gambia and this project seeks to strengthen this initiative with skilled volunteers.
Futures Training Foundation (FTF) was founded by Lisong Bah, a Gambian educator trained in Sweden and the United States and recognised as a leading ECD practitioner in The Gambia.  The aim of the Foundation is to work alongside the government to run training courses and provide resources to help raise the standards of ECD teaching.
FTF's premises include a model nursery school which opened in January 2014 - Mary's Little Lambs (MLL) Daycare, Nursery and Preparatory School.  The school has the capacity to take 50 children between the ages of 2 and 6, in three classes in the nursery and about 100 children aged 6 to 9 in three calsses in the prep school, with plans to expand this further in future years.  Most of the children come from poor backgrounds in the local neighbourhood.  Nine teachers, three teaching assistants and two nannies are employed at the school, and it is likely that volunteers would spend most of their time here, working alongside these teachers to share good practice. 
It is also possible that volunteers might spend some time in various other local nursery schools supporting the teachers there, or helping with teacher-training sessions run by FTF.
Because the volunteer programme is working with The Department of Education on the teacher training programme, whilst you are working with the children and teachers of MLL or other local schools, you will also be contributing to the development of a sustainable education programme for The Gambia's youngest and most vulnerable children.
"I'm realising that Lisong is right when she says the important thing is to train new teachers and raise the quality of the children's experiences in the classroom, and that you don't need expensive resources to do that.  I've seen a few classrooms now with the odd thing obviously donated by well-meaning visitors from abroad - the odd reading book or coloured poster, and they always look at though they are just put on one side or sellotaped to the wall and never looked at, for example alphabet friezes with half the sections missing.  I'm coming to realise that donating things is a waste of money, the important thing is to raise the quality of teachers." Volunteer Dianne 
Read more about how the volunteer programme supports Early Childhood Development in The Gambia here.


The Gambia is one of the smallest and poorest  countries in the world. It is also one of the friendliest - perhaps the most attractive "real"  Africa to visit. Gambians demonstrate a genuine warmth and tolerance for other cultures. This may be the perfect place for first time travellers to Africa.
Most of the population survives on subsistence agriculture, mainly livestock rearing and groundnut cultivation.  Groundnut is the main cash crop but efforts to diversify have brought in sesame growing, which is predominantly grown by women.  Rice is the staple food but the country has not yet reached self-sufficiency in rice production thus leading to huge imports of this commodity.  In addition to agriculture, tourism is an important source of foreign exchange as well as of employment.

Life expectancy is just 61 and approximately 38% of the polulation is under 14.  The social fabric of The Gambia is based on family networks often stretching into neighbouring countries where the extended family takes responsibility for the well-being and maintenance of the family.  According to the 1998 Participatory Poverty Assessments, 69% of the 1.8 million population live in poverty and 30% live in extreme poverty.  Women and youths are classified the poorest of the poor.

In spite of its multi-ethnic and multi-lingual characteristics occasioned by the existence of five main ethnic groups (Mandinka, Fula, Wolof, Jola and Serahule) and a similar number of minority groups there is 'unity in diversity' because of similar structures in the communal lifestyles.  Islam is the predominant religion with 95% of the polulation being Muslim; Christians account for the remainder and a few practise traditional religions.  One common strand among ethnic groups is patriarchy where male dominance is common.
"Gambian hospitality is overwhelming - I spent 3 months there, volunteering, a few years ago. (It's where we conceived people and places - read more) - what little people had they wanted to share with me. I'm so excited to be working with ASSERT, I was in the Gambia shortly after its launch. The founding team are inspirational -  it does important work and I know that volunteers can, with skills share, help local people generate enough wealth to care for themselves and their family . . . and in the Gambia the family is all. " Sallie Grayson people and places programme director 

Volunteer opportunities in a nursery and preparatory school - whether you are a professional teacher or classroom assistant, retired or in work and looking for a career break, you can share your skills and experience with local teaching staff in this education development project. Other skills and experience will be welcome too - take a look at the list of needs, as identified by the project, near the top of this page. You can play your part in responsible volunteer work overseas.

Minimum duration

4 weeks minimum

Living Conditions

You have the choice of living in an apartment or a homestay.

Apartments are in secure apartment blocks and range in size from studio apartments for one person to two-bedroom flats.  The apartments all have small kitchenettes enabling you to cater for yourself - there are supermarkets on site or nearby.  All have TV and wifi and the option of air conditioning; some have a pool.

Or you may choose to stay in the comfortable home stay of renowned Gambian cook Ida. You will have your own room with a fan - there is an inside bathroom with a shower and hot and cold water.  Breakfast is included - you can arrange to eat at home for an additional £3.50 - or eat out at one of the many eateries.

Project costs

£1,219 for 4 weeks
Read about our costs and pricing policy here 

Watch an explanatory interview with programme director Sallie Grayson
Returning volunteers will receive a 25% reduction in project management and matching fees 
Additional weeks are costed at a sliding reducing rate - please ask for details 
Please note these costs are correct to the best of our knowledge but can only be confirmed at time of booking due to changes in transport and taxes outside our control.
Included: self catering apartment, airport transfers, full local orientation, city tour, social event, local SIM card, project & placement liaison.
Your project contribution will be used for the purchase of essential equipment to facilitate your work in the project.
How your money is spent based on 4 weeks:
£ 479- direct costs in The Gambia (airport transfers, Home Stay B and B, orientation, information packs)
£280 - project management, liaison & supervision in The Gambia
£200 - project contribution in The Gambia
£260 - recruitment, matching & project development in UK
Not included: flights, insurance, visa costs, daily travel if needed, personal expenses such as phone calls, medical expenses, etc.. 
Meals: An allowance of £5 to £10 per day will be sufficient.

If you or your friends wish to make further donations to this project CLICK HERE

Recommended reading

Check out slideshare | youtube | our blog | facebook for volunteer interviews & project news
2011 UN report - Youth in Africa
Rough Guide to The Gambia
The Good Tourist in The Gambia - a guide book for the conscientious tourist
The Bradt Travel Guide Book - The Gambia

A report from Lisong, project director of Futures Centre

 video interview with volunteer Yvonne

Registered volunteers can learn about the local team for this project - LOG ON to learn more about this project and the local team we work with. Not registered yet? It's easy and free HERE!

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