For children in The Gambia who are experiencing significant poverty, Christmas can bring a small but welcome relief to the difficulties they face in their every day lives.
Christians make up a small minority of the population in The Gambia, and so Christmas is not celebrated as widely as it might be in other countries. But for children and families with a Christian faith, the Christmas period is a time of great importance, allowing them to connect more closely with God and with each other.
2018 was the first year that the entire Child Aid Gambia team was able to spend Christmas together, and we wanted to make sure that it would be extra special for the children we are supporting. In the days leading up to Christmas, we visited hundreds of children across our project areas, sharing their celebrations and providing donations of food and gifts.
Opportunities to enjoy special occasions is incredibly limited for children living in poverty. We wanted to provide the children in our care with some new and memorable experiences at Christmas, and we learned a great deal about how the Christmas festival is celebrated in The Gambia.
The Grace Foundation Christmas Party
On the last day of term before the Christmas holidays, the Child Aid Gambia team visited the Wisdom Nursery School in Serekunda, one of the three schools receiving support from our associate project The Grace Foundation. The school was having a Christmas party for almost 100 pupils, with parents and members of staff cooking a hot meal for the children who attended. The children enjoyed dancing and playing classic party games such as musical chairs, and were given sweets as prizes. The children also had a very special visit from Gambian Father Christmas, who gave them each a balloon to take home with them.
Wisdom Nursery School is located in a very busy and crowded part of Serekunda, and so many of the children come from poor families who cannot afford adequate housing. They are fed at school during term time, and in the holidays whenever possible, as their parents and caregivers struggle to provide them with filling and nutritious food each day.
The Grace Foundation is a lifeline for the children who receive meals through this feeding programme. You can read more about how we work to improve child nutrition and support projects such as The Grace Foundation on our Feeding Programmes page.
Christmas with Ndangan
Since 2012, we have been supporting the community of Ndangan, a shanty town outside the capital city of Banjul. Ndangan was the recipient of our 2014 Ndangan Water Project, where we were able to provide clean and safe drinking water for the people who live there. Ndangan is a minority Christian community, with the children who live there attending one of the churches in Banjul. We have previously supported Ndangan in their faith with Bible teaching resources and audio-book Bibles in their native languages, and for Christmas we wanted to join their celebrations and give them something special.
With the help of our Gambian case workers and community coordinators, we visited the markets in Banjul and Serekunda to collect everything we needed to provide the children with food and toys on Christmas Day. The women in Ndangan very graciously offered to cook for everyone, and so we gathered the ingredients and brought them back to the village to be prepared.
We joined the community on Christmas Eve, travelling into Banjul for a carol service in the open air. The road outside the cathedral was closed both ways to allow for the celebration, and the street was decorated with Christmas lights and trees. Local choir groups from churches and schools performed a mixture of traditional hymns and Gambian Christmas songs. The children were fascinated by a model of the Nativity that was set up by the cathedral doors, as many of them had never seen a depiction of the birth of Christ up close.
We provided the children with transport in and out of Banjul, as well as food and drinks to have in the interlude of the service. Despite the noticeable lack of mince pies, there were plenty of traditional Gambian cakes and pastries for them to enjoy!
Father Christmas Gambian style
On Christmas Day, we accompanied the children and their families to a morning service at their church. Attending church and participating in hymns and prayers is hugely important to the people of Ndangan, as their faith in God enables them to stay hopeful and positive during times of hardship. Being able to share in the community’s faith by singing and praying with them was a great privilege. The priest of the church in Banjul, Father Bruno, handed out small pens to the children as a Christmas gift, and thanked us for our ongoing support of the community.
From church, we transported the children to the beach at Cape Point, where we had arranged everything for a Christmas party. The children of Ndangan live their lives inside the shanty town, rarely getting the opportunity to venture far outside of it due to the costs of transport, and so we were delighted to be able to hire enough transport to bring all the children in the village to the beach.
It was the first time that many of them had been this close to the ocean, and so they instinctively ran to paddle and swim together. We provided beach balls, arm bands and flotation toys for them to play with, and they revelled in the opportunity to splash around amongst the waves. One young boy even borrowed our video camera, asking how to use it so he could capture his friends and siblings on film!
The children were able to have a picnic on the beach, consisting of the food we had provided, cooked by the adults in Ndangan and brought along with us. We made sure to get plenty of chocolate and biscuits too, as the children rarely get the opportunity to have special treats. The children dressed up in Christmas hats and took great delight in pulling some Christmas crackers to find the little toys inside. We then played games and ran around on the sand, and the children showed us a few of their favourite games to play together.
We were also lucky enough to come across a man offering pony rides to people on the beach – and pretty much every child wanted a turn! None of them had ever ridden a horse before, so it was certainly a novel experience for them.
Spending Christmas Day on the beach was an incredibly uplifting experience, both for the children of Ndangan and for the whole Child Aid Gambia team. Despite the lack of full stockings, Christmas trees and presents in their village, the children were so happy to spend the day celebrating on the beach with their families and friends. Life in the Ndangan community is difficult and often marred by the impact of poverty, and so being able to provide the children with a Christmas full of fun and excitement was something we will never forget.
We would love to provide more children in The Gambia with special experiences, both at Christmas time and throughout the year. Children living in poverty deserve to have fun, play and be happy, as well as having their basic needs met, and Child Aid Gambia aims to be as holistic as possible in providing for the children we support.
Visit the How To Help page to find out what you can do to help us in giving children in The Gambia the security and happiness they deserve.