Stourbridge News:

I’VE worked with a lot of charities as part of my role working for the new online fundraising platform

However, Project Gambia holds a particularly special place in my heart as one of the first charities to partner with us to help raise more online and in different ways, as well as being a charity located around the corner from where I live!

When I was invited to travel as a volunteer with the 10th anniversary trip to The Gambia to gain a deeper understanding of the work the charity does, I jumped at the chance and couldn't wait to get stuck in.

Three days into my trip to The Gambia, I could never have predicted the peaks and troughs of emotion I have experienced already.

I’ve been faced by the people raising families, building communities and finding ways to cope in the hardest of environments (both economic and from a climate point of view).

I’ve never felt like I have in those moments: in one moment close to tears, desperate to take suffering or hardship away, but then also inspired by displays of imagination, happiness and love.

Between excursions to visit different projects, having time on the bus and at the hotel to properly reflect is leading me to identify and hold on to an overwhelming sense of gratitude, along with a resolution to make a difference whenever I can.

Whether it's holding hands with a shoeless 18-month old wandering a rubbish tip, high-fiving every last kid at a school or taking the time to find out more from local parents, teachers or traders about the lives they lead and the wishes they have for their country, community, home and family, every single little act of kindness matters.

Today, I witnessed a moment that will stay with me forever.

During this morning's craft session at the school in Half Dye, a small boy wandered in to the classroom I was in.

The kids invited in today are not normally able to access education due to lack of funding, so you kind of expect them to struggle a little, in terms of understanding how to act in this type of setting.

However, this boy seemed more distant than the others, somewhat disconnected from his surroundings. He slumped into his chair at the craft table, loosely gripping his felt tip pen and piece of paper. He then rested his chin on the table, a blank stare on his face.

I moved over to his table and squatted next to him, picking up a different colour pen and did my best to help him get started with some colouring in. It was a struggle to pull him into the moment, but he at least started to use the pen to make light contact with the paper.

It was at this moment that one of the students stood up from the other side of the table and made her way over to the boy, sitting herself next to him.

I then moved over to the other side of the room to work with other kids arriving and being let in to begin their own craft sessions.

Over the course of the next twenty minutes, the student gently coaxed the little boy in to the activity, presenting different coloured pens, quietly talking to him, offering encouragement.

It was subtle at first, but there was a distinct moment when the little boy looked into the eyes of the student and began to find himself. A sky blue pen seemed to bring the boy out of whatever place he was in and in to the room.

A smile appeared (in both the boy's face, as well as the student's) and it was magical.

I've always believed that what most people call bucket-list experiences are best shared with others. I have to say that the students from Ridgewood High School have been at the heart of the most inspirational moments I have witnessed and I'm grateful to have been here to see those moments.

Teenagers are quite often given a "bad press" by us elders, but despite the tensions that come with growing up, this group have not hesitated to offer the imagination, happiness and love needed in the situations where it calls for it most.

Incidentally, I'm using GivePenny to raise money and I'm being sponsored for every day I'm here!

Here's the link:

Lee Clarke, Founder of Give Penny