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By Julie Sutterby, School Nurse

Blog published 16th May 2019 | Category: New College Worcester

Myself and NCW’s Sports Therapist, Peter Boyle, recently took a trip to Gambia during Easter Half Term. We had the wonderful opportunity to visit GOVI – The Gambia Organisation for Visually Impaired in Banjul, and meet with a number of teachers and pupils.

GOVI is a charity funded school for children with vision impairment who can attend from pre-school up to the age of 12, which is when they are then integrated back into mainstream school to complete their education.

Meeting students and staff at GOVI

With anticipation we were picked up and taken to GOVI by a man named Lamin, who works for a charity supporting the school. Upon our arrival, we were delighted to be welcomed with a traditional Gambian song, followed by a very moving song about how the pupils are vision impaired but really very happy and enjoying life. I definitely got through a tissue or two!

It was very humbling to meet and talk to a number of pupils at the school, and although it was quite a kafuffle getting through Customs on arrival, we were able to take some audio CDs, magnifying glasses and fidget spinners to the school. They were all so incredibly grateful.

Talking to GOVI students

During a tour, both Peter and I learnt much more about the school and how it operates on a daily basis. There are a total of 55 students who all travel in by bus each day - for some it can take up to an hour! GOVI has 25 teachers, most of who have a form of vision impairment or are blind.

From walking around and exploring the building, it was clear to see that resources are very limited; classrooms are pretty bare and there is almost no such thing as technology! I did spot that the Head Teacher had a computer, but it was very large and ancient looking.

All of the lessons are presented in Braille, and all children are introduced to Braille reading and writing upon admission to GOVI. As with NCW, students at GOVI are also taught Orientation and Mobility (O&M) to become familiar with the school environment. However, as all children are day students, they are also taught about moving independently at home.

Much like our Independent Living Skills (ILS), GOVI teaches Activities of Daily Living Skills (ADLS) which educates pupils in taking care of themselves at home. These activities include personal hygiene, dressing, make-up and cooking.

Children are also taught crafting skills, such as basket weaving and rug making, helping to equip them for life beyond school as a way to earn a living. They all seemed very skilled at doing this!

GOVI share our love for the inclusive 3-aside team sport – Goalball! The school had their own Goalball pitch outside, but unfortunately it hadn’t been maintained in a while so wasn’t being used at the time of our visit.

The children also had their own playground outside, which they all loved to use.

GOVI's Goalball pitch and outside playground

One thing that really surprised me when speaking to some of GOVI’s Teachers was their lack of knowledge about mental health amongst pupils. As something which is becoming less of a taboo subject, and with the continuous rise of social media being a contributor to mental health, staff were shocked that this even existed. They do not experience any mental health issues with their students.

Gambia in its entirety is a completely different way of life – there is no social media, and they believe strongly in fitness and physical wellbeing.

I think going back to basics at a school such as GOVI is so interesting, and although the resources are limited, we did learn that a few former students have gone on to gain very well respected jobs such as a Barrister and Members of Gambian Parliament.

Our visit to GOVI was unforgettable and inspiring, and it was fascinating to see the similarities as well as the big differences between them and our school.

Going forward, it would be incredible to build more links between GOVI and NCW. We are thinking about possibly introducing a pen pal type system between students, and also in the longer term arrange some exchange visits which I’m certain would be beneficial to both NCW and GOVI!

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