Matt's employer, The Allegis Group published an article in its Summer 2017 company magazine that focused on his relationship with The Gambia, Banni Village and Banni School.
Matt Thompson, a Support Analyst in our IS department is part of an ongoing commitment to improve the standard of life for the residents of a small village in The Gambia, West Africa. Matt and his family have been volunteering nearly every year for six years to help expand the school and provide other basic necessities to the Gambians.
Matt's association with The Gambia originates from his Grandma who worked with a school in Nigeria. The amazing work his Grandma carried out inspired his mother, and she started working with a school in a small village called Banni in the sub Saharan north bank of The Gambia. In 2009, Matt's Grandma sadly passed away and at the funeral the family asked for donations instead of flowers. They then used this money to set-up a charity in her memory. As Matt's mother had already established a bond with the school in Banni, the Thompson family decided to continue this. Matt feels proud of the charity work he does and thanks to his Grandma being such an inspiration, the family together will leave a lasting legacy.
Matt provides all sorts of support to the village. One of the first projects they undertook was building a wall around the school's orchard. Without the wall, the fruit off the trees could have been legally picked by anyone. Considering the fact that the school tended to the trees and relied upon the fruit, Matt and his family decided to build a wall to protect the fruits and allow the children at the school to take advantage of the trees. This will help the school be a lot more self-sufficient. They fundraised for this project by asking for donations, and for every donation they received, the person contributing received their name on a brick. This helped involve as many people as possible.
Matt works alongside villagers, landowners, charities and government. 'I feel blessed to have a really great relationship with the villagers in Banni. Most of what we do is designed to bridge the gap between the school, church, local community and foreign aid. In truth, we try and muck in and help in any way we can. I also do some teaching while I'm out there".
Achieving change is tough in a country where infrastructure is patchy, the climate can be fierce and the politics are complicated by tribal divisions. Matt spends time planning his project in the UK, and then flying out to provide on the ground support. Last year's (2016) project was to fundraise to build a new classroom so the school could offer more places to children at 1 1 years old. This means that their secondary education can continue in the village and they don't have to travel long distances to the nearest secondary school.
He already has big plans for his next project: "I want to kit out the school with new equipment. The school was founded over 20 years ago and the desks and chairs haven't been replaced since. You can imagine the state they are in! I want to source some furniture locally and then help install it in each of the classrooms. However, the task of supporting the villagers is getting increasingly tough. It's not uncommon for a family to have 13 or 14 kids, and this growing population is putting even more stress on an already overcrowded school"
Inevitably, Matt and his family have built some really strong bonds with the villagers. Upon arrival, the local residents will swarm out of their homes and welcome them.
Matt explains: "The connection we have with the villagers of Banni is powerful, and this is thanks partly to my Grandma, who we call 'Smallma' (she was under 5 feet...). I feel privileged to be able to have a relationship with the villagers and provide as much help as I can. The only year I've missed in the last five was the year Ebola broke out and under doctors' orders we stayed in the UK!" To help support Matt's volunteering efforts you can donate via his justgiving page below: