An Understanding of Human Rights by Lilli Loveday

As I close from work at an international development consultancy and head to meet my Gunjurian husband - currently on holiday in the UK – for a coffee, it is easy to identify the very profound and direct impacts of my time spent in The Gambia both on my professional and personal life. Opportunities to travel to The Gambia through the Marlborough Brandt Group both as a group member from St John's School, a group leader and to conduct research for my Masters, have led to opportunities which have set me firmly on a path of working in the international development sector.

As a direct result of conducting research on the impact of external organisations in Gunjur on the process of change, explicitly surrounding gender, I came to work in The Gambia with Tostan, a women's health and women's rights organisation. Since my return to the UK, I have continued to be very involved in work promoting women's rights and women's health, conducting research on the practice of female genital cutting in The Gambia.

Had I not gone to Gunjur, I would never have gone on to be doing what I am now. And I would never have met my husband!

I travelled to Gunjur for the first time in 2003 aged 17. I left the UK intrigued and eager to understand difference – different people, a different culture and a different way of living. During my time in Gunjur spent living and working with Gambians – with friends – I was struck, however, not by the differences which undoubtedly do exist between Marlborough and Gunjur and more broadly between the West and the developing world but by the immense similarities.

I remember distinctly feeling overwhelmed by the shared humanity which I experienced, the shared wants, the shared desires, the shared hopes of my Gambian counterparts; the common thread of being human – of needing food and water, of being part of a family, looking after children, enjoying time with friends, of struggling with life's ups and downs, of learning and sharing – the thread that links us all whether from Africa, Asia, Europe or the Americas.

For me, it seemed that differences lay primarily in terms of opportunity and in terms of material wealth, rather than in any fundamental difference between individuals. At the time, I was unable to articulate what shift had occurred in my way of thinking about the world, other than to state that something within me had changed. It is now that I am able to understand that this was my first experience of being human, of identifying with the 'other' and feeling connected, and of understanding what human rights are as well as what it means to enjoy them.

Not only was this an incredibly powerful experience in itself, but also something that now filters into everything I do – again, both professionally and personally. After my first month in Gunjur, I wanted not only to challenge injustice and inequality but also to challenge my own way of being and bring something of the life I'd experienced 'over there' into my day-to-day. Through living in another family's home, sharing moments, reaching decisions jointly, sitting quietly, talking loudly, observing and explaining, my eyes were opened to the Gambian people's incredibly rich humanity.

Appreciating humanness and advocating for human rights has formed a central component of my small contribution to (hopefully) making the world a better place. Whilst my outlook on life cannot be measured or, indeed, causally linked to that first experience in The Gambia, I certainly feel that the biggest impact of the link for me has been on those things at the core of my being - on the things I value and the things I don't as well as on my interactions with people and the world around me.

Those impacts have enriched my life in ways innumerable and will continue to do so going forward.

Ramsbury: A Single Egg by Susan Ballard

I spent three months in the Gambia on a Commonwealth Relations Trust Travel Bursary in the mid 1990s and thanks to the Marlborough Brandt Group I was able to base myself in Gunjur, billeted with a family who have had an important place in my life ever since. The trip was something which as a journalist, I had elected to do but as the time for leaving England drew nearer, I began to dread the whole undertaking.

I became obsessed with taking long hot soapy baths and devouring my favourite foods, as if to shore myself up against the loss of creature comforts. In retrospect I can see this behaviour as displacement activity. In reality what I feared unconsciously was the challenge to my materialistic value system and sense of self that "total immersion" in a very different culture and lifestyle might bring.

Read more: Ramsbury: A Single Egg by Susan Ballard

It got into my DNA

by Nicola Spiller

My "gap year" – as I believe it would be called today - as a teacher in Gunjur has become a blur of images, sounds and smells over the last 25 years. It seems a lifetime ago with my memories of my time there now something akin to a poor quality cine film and yet they are ever present.

As I cast my mind back I can "see" the compound where I stayed, its corrugated iron roof, the well surrounded by woman and children with chickens pecking at the ground and grubby children playing barefoot. The next image that floats into my mind is of me standing under a classroom made of palm leaves nervously casting my eye upwards every now and again in case of snakes and looking at a sea of black expectant faces waiting for me to start teaching them!

Me – teach?!!! I was only fresh out of school myself and a very shy 18 year old at that. But somehow I did – teach that is!!! And, no ... not English (as most people assume) but Science and Mathematics. And I will never forget the walk along the sandy road from my compound to the market, the compounds with their peeling paint, my attempts at Mandinka as I passed familiar faces and then sitting outside a shop drinking a warm – and very occasionally if the fridge had been working a less warm – Fanta!

I am sure I am guilty of rose tinted spectacles when I think back. However, that said, I haven't forgotten the more difficult times including trying to resuscitate someone who it was believed might have been struck by lightning and being admitted to hospital with suspected malaria. But despite it all, I truly loved my time in Gunjur and have remained friends with the family I stayed with. In fact, since my father died, the head of the compound has considered himself my honorary father.

He even took me to one side on a recent visit to ask me about my singleness!!! In Gambian terms, I am far too old not to be married!!!
My time in Gunjur most definitely left an imprint. It's hard to explain exactly how, but it changed me. It gave me a confidence I never knew I had and a much deeper open mindedness. But perhaps, the most tangible way in which it has had an impact is the fact I recently adopted a little boy with Gambian heritage who is the light of my life. Gambia and my connections there played a significant role in my adoption journey.

Indeed, it was my time in Gunjur, my links and friendships there and my love for The Gambia that led social services to match me with my son. I have always said that Gambia somehow got into my DNA!!! Now it will always be a part of my life.