Sunday, 27 October 2019

Day 9 and 10 final reflections

So yesterday was our last day in Freetown... a leisurely morning, watching England destroy New Zealand in rugby seemed to have put every body (who cares about rugby that is) in a very good mood. We finally departed for Big Market around 10:30 and as usual, students were slightly taken aback by the array of stalls and the amount of people who wanted them to be their “friends”, leading them to their stall and trying hard to sell them their first product of the day...a good first deal promises a good business day in Big Market. Some of our students seem to have got the bartering off to an absolute tee, and Hattie even managed to get herself a skirt made to measure there and then! With our hands filled with local items, clothes and even musical instruments, and our wallets considerably lighter, we headed back to LACS for the last time. Pizzas for all and finally, at 3 pm we left for the ferry at Aberdeen wharf. After a lot of counting the luggage, then recounting them, issuing tickets, then counting them, then informing me 3 times that our luggage had been loaded on the boat, and then had gone to the airport, we finally left Freetown... it was clear for all to see that there was a lot of sadness in our students’ eyes. Now waiting in Paris for our final flight, I think it is fair to say that it has been a very successful trip. 

We have established new links, and have already sussed out new opportunities for outreach concerts and work for next year, and everywhere we went, students were congratulated on their performances and enthusiasm. 
Each will have had a very different experience I am sure, but I am absolutely certain that the memories will last forever. There were some lows, when a few students fell victim to the heat and humidity combined, or the spices in the food, but they were few and far between in comparison to the highs: our visit to Don Bosco, a sobering first experience of Sierra Leone, the voices of the angels from the Milton Margai school, and the cultural village. Not only did our students enjoy the performances there, but they were able to give their own little performance of the dance learnt at the orphanage, which really surprised and pleased the locals. 


For me, my overriding memory will be of how our students took to teaching at JTR- yes the first day was hard, but once they got the hang of it, they were brilliant. Of course, I am slightly biased here, but Hugo and Lottie teaching French to Y7 with me as support, and reading and exploring The Hungry Caterpillar in French to Year 5 was great to see, and I hope they will cherish this for years to come. Equally, watching Tom and Ben trying to get year 6 students’ heads around Countdown, with Ben explaining step by step to one student, was a great way to discover new facettes of our students. Finally, Ellie and Hector, just about surviving trying to teach 68 excited Year 2 students in the sweltering heat of the hall...and then on Thursday, trying to teach a bit of PE to 2 classes of Year 6. They have all acknowledged that being a teacher is demanding, exhausting but such a rewarding job...although, I fear I may have put them off that profession as a result! I am tonight, after a few hours back on home soil, a very proud teacher indeed- humbled by our students’ ability to adapt and to engage in such a way. 

Finally, a big thank you to Mrs Lipman, who jumped in as the third member of staff literally at the last minute..and who tested for us the brand new Visa on arrival for tourists. They let her in, so clearly it worked. Although completely new to the venture, she has totally embraced it and without her, this trip would not have been possible- she nursed our poorly students at the hotel, and was really thrown at the deep end on her visit to JTR, where she chose to teach an English lessons
 To Senior students and then ended up teaching them some more, when their normal teacher did not seem to appear. She even tried a bit of roman history, but had to divert from it! She has been a real asset in this trip and the team was all the better for her calming and relaxed influence.

As I close this chapter, I am already excitedly look forward to the next. Until then, it is over and out from JDA for this year. Merci! 

Over to Mr Coward...
It was another good week at the Ballanta Academy of Music, with record numbers of keen pupils coming for lessons each day. We were surprised to learn from Leslie, who is now in charge of the day-to-day running of the Academy, that he had only advertised our visit to pupils and friends of BAM the week before we arrived: had he given more notice, he said that we would have had far more pupils turn up than we could possibly teach! As it was, the balance was about right, with some pupils deciding to try their hand at several different instruments, while others dedicated themselves to just one. 

A particular highlight for me this year was working with three trumpeters from the Police band, who had come along with their enthusiastic director. It was great to work with some more experienced players, and to know that the skills they are developing will be of direct use to them in their profession. Our pupils, many of whom taught their first ever lessons this week, did themselves proud, and will doubtless have learnt a lot about the tricky task of explaining a skill which may be second nature to them but is a brand new experience for their pupil. They certainly managed to convey their love of music and have come home with many happy memories of teaching and performing in Sierra Leone.


 Thank you to the entire team! Jack Coward

Friday, 25 October 2019

Day 8 THAT football match [health warning: a lot about football!]

We woke up today with ambition in our hearts, ready for the last working day and the big football game against the adept pupils of JTR. 

The non-musicians hurried through their final lessons, the big game being the only thing on everyone’s minds. After the second period had finished, the handsome players of the Wells football team jogged down to the backyard of the fire station, where the football game was to be held. Behind them followed an adoring sea of appreciation, in the form of the JTR students.
The stadium left much to be desired and extra challenges to be overcome by our noble squad of six littered the pitch. The ground was a coarse sheet of pebbles, causing those lacking in concentration to slip and stumble, partnered also with occasional boulders and strips of concrete which split the earth, creating a dangerous path for any unprepared player. But this was no match for the perilously attractive Wells Cathedral Team. 

The lineup consisted of the top six players Wells could offer, who between them have spent many a happy and laborious hour in the gym pumping iron, back home in England. Our captain was brilliant and brave Benjamin Brookes, who stands at 6 foot 3 and uses his sheer manliness to control the play from his standpoint at the epicentre of the pitch. 
Sitting, but not resting, just behind Ben were our dogged defenders, the cement of our team. But don’t get me wrong, these boys are far flung from the immobility and viscosity of cement but actually play a far more paramount as the eye candy of the team. Heroic Hector and terrific Tom worked as brothers in arms controlling, with superfluous ease the back of the pitch.
However, standing not far behind and forming border between the goal-line and no-man’s land was the head man of Wells Cathedral School, jacked Jayj. Who, with the reflexes of a cheetah, could occasionally stop balls shot at him and was ready to make some acrobatic and gravity defying saves.
The real high rollers of the unit, however, stood proudly at the head of our team, our front two; huge Hugo and fearless Freddie, standing at an average height of 5 foot 6, ready to strike, like coiled vipers, sometimes if they were lucky sending shots into the back of the net (always top bins.)

The heat sweltered the cracked concrete but the well hydrated Wells unit strolled nonchalantly onto the pitch. They stood defiantly in front of the scared opposition ready to show of the incredibly high level of sporting prowess Wells has to offer. The game started and within 3 minutes we were two nil down to a team half of our age. The embarrassment continued as Hector fell foul and stumbled after being Maradona turned and completely deluded by a boy of eight. A neat rainbow flick, a complex skill first performed by Neil Page in the 1956 World Cup, flew over the head of Freddie, adding insult to injury. Our harrowed boys clung to the seconds, until the liberating whistle of half time allowed some respite. The half time talk was met with serious complexions and we came back on to the pitch ready to fight. Almost instantaneously the play became better with precise through balls and stunning distribution. After a lofted pass from Freddie flitted through the gap between defenders, Hugo, with his weak foot, plunged the ball deep into the back of the net. This was just the beginning. High intensity play from both sides continued to span the field, but the score still stood at 2-1 to JTR. The clock ticked further towards full time and gameplay became more frantic, rising to a fever pitch in the 19th minute. Suddenly after a missed tackle by one of the JTR defenders Hugo strafed through to face the keeper, 1 on 1. This was the moment. Quickly evaluating the situation and considering all possible alternatives Hugo decided on a complicated flare shot as his chosen manoeuvre. After fainting the goalie to one side he pulled the ball back and flicked it with his back-heel, past the baffled keeper into the back of the net. The crowd went manic, storming the pitch and the final whistle blew, calling a 2-2 draw between Wells and JTR. 

In the morning before the big game, the musicians were shown around the JTR school and admired the stunning views of the city from the balcony of the main school building. During this tour we passed a class which didn’t have a teacher present. We took it upon ourselves to teach these students to sing ‘London’s burning’. The students seemed very happy with this and were very enthusiastic when listening to us all sing Billy Joel’s ‘Longest time,’ which in the words of the non-musicians is a ‘top class banger’. After busting out some tunes it was time to prepare for the huge game. Litres of water was consumed and Factor 50 suncream was slapped on, meaning our football players were glowing even more than usual, if that is even physically possible.

After the big game we said our sad, but final goodbyes to JTR. Many of us received homemade gifts from the students we each had formed personal bonds with. The staff wished us thanks and farewell and generously gave all of us a polo shirt and other gifts to remember them by. Leaving the school proved to be a challenge as we had swarms small children clinging on to us trying to makes us stay. The footballers handled the situation well, used to dealing with large numbers of adoring fans. With great sadness and reluctance we hopped into the Musa-mobile and headed to the Ballanta Academy of Music. The ‘director’Leslie expressed his gratitude to us and kindly gave us all Sierra Leone wristbands to remember our stay. Some voice students from Ballanta performed a fantastic vocal piece for us, which was a brilliant send off. 

From the Ballanta Academy of Music we drove rapidly, in the back of Francis’ van, to Leone prep school for our last concert of the trip. When we arrived the students of the school were particularly intrigued by the French Horn and seemed to enjoy Freddie and Amelia’s rendition of drunken sailor. One noticeable piece to be highly commended was Harriet’s performance of her original song, with June Rippon singing alongside; the audience enthusiastically clapped out of time throughout the performance adding an intriguingly alternative aspect to the original piece. Once again we sang Longest Time and despite a slight voice crack from JJ, the concert overall was a fantastic performance providing a perfect denouement to the final day- and the adulation of the audience for our performance in Krio of Akpo Uman, a traditional folk song. 
Freddie and Tom

Day 7 British Council Concert

Day four of our teaching.
After our usual breakfast, the JTR school team departed for our first lesson at 9am. For me and Ellie it was quantitative aptitude with an extremely excitable prep six class. After managing to get their heads around sequences and trying their best to stop us leaving, we were presented with the task of getting 50 enthusiastic boys into a team of 5 for PE. The best players were clearly marked by their Man City and Barcelona shirts that were worn over their uniform, clearly stating they were not to be subbed. Next, Ellie and I taught one of the infamous year three classes, which was definitely challenging but enjoyable anyway. The JTR team then got a more personal experience of the streets of Freetown when we walked to Ballanta. The hectic traffic and the liveliness of the street salesmen made the journey very eye-opening and a really different experience to the standard drive. After our lunch and a quick visit to the supermarket, we relaxed a bit in the afternoon before going out to the British Council for the evening concert. 

Today was another successful day for the Students teaching at Ballanta. We taught our final music lessons and prepared for the concert at the British Council in the evening. After lunch we were given the chance to go to the local supermarket to stock up on snacks (the highlight of the day!).
This was followed by the concert at the British council which had many people come to hear the music of both the musicians from Wells cathedral school, and students from Ballanta. It was an evening of great fun and a brilliant penultimate concert!


[The postponed TV interview took place today, but in the end, as it was on a different programme, they only wanted one student- which is a shame as JTReffel did not get as much exposure, because Jacob went on air! They like having a performer and the whole project started because of Ballanta! Here is what Jacob had to say: It was an amazing experience to go on live tv today, it let us promote BAM and tell everyone about the concert at the British Council today. The interview lasted longer than we thought stretching over an hour but it was very much enjoyable especially singing part of fly me to the moon at the end. JJ- added by JDA]

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Day 6 SLNRM and Freetown Cheshire Home

After a day of rest yesterday I was feeling much better and excited to teach at JTR again. Me and Hector taught mostly maths this morning with activities such as 21 and a competitive multiplication game. We also introduced them to a game of fizz buzz which they found quite tricky to understand at first but then quickly got the hang of it! As well as this we taught Prep 4 an English lesson, they were much quieter than the other classes but still seemed to enjoy the activities.

We then met at Ballanta for lunch and had a visit to the national railway museum where we learned that Sierra Leone was the first country to completely close down their railway stations. We also got to have a look inside the trains which was really informative and interesting.

Later we returned to Ballanta where we learned a traditional folk song called the akpa uman. This was really fun to learn and it was interesting to sing a traditional African song. Everyone really enjoyed this and we should be performing this at school once we return home.


The musicians returned to Ballanta for another day of teaching. The building was once again filled with voices and loud brass! By this time, we were all getting used to the rooms we were teaching in and were becoming more comfortable with leading lessons. However, we have all discovered that individual lessons are much easier than group lessons! Although, it was amazing making two beginner horn players play titanic in harmony. As the brass group were playing YMCA, the JTR people pulled up outside with our lunch. 


We ate our ‘daily dose of pasties’ and drove to the National Railway Museum.

We arrived at the Freetown Cheshire home after a very short drive from the NRM. This is a home for disabled children, some of whom have been orphaned and some have simply been abandoned. 11 live there permanently, but during the day, other non- disabled children form the area come to school there as well. The musicians played their usual concert to the children of cheshire who all seemed to enjoy the range of instrument, from the drum kit to the guitar. The headmistress then kindly showed us around their working facilities. This was a very eye-opening experience as the rooms are very different to back home. After a quick photo, we made our way back to Ballanta.


Day 5 Cultural village

Day 2 of teaching today.
Our TV interview having been postponed to Thursday afternoon, we made our ways to our respective schools at the normal time in the morning for our second day. Both groups, JTR and Ballanta, found the experience a lot smoother for yesterday’s practice, which allowed us to make some real progress. After only the second day, the Ballanta ‘teachers’ found previously inexperienced students able to understand the core concepts of music in a much improved way. At JTR as well, the Year 2s Hugo spent a session with were (almost) under control! It is a great feeling as well to be recognised and greeted by many students at both schools who clearly regarded us as friends as well as teachers. [ At JTR , Hugo and Lottie supported me teaching French to a Y8/9 class- sweaty but oh so rewarding! Pierre, the teacher really enjoyed himself watching us and taking part!]

After lunch we made our way to Murraydeen School, where the musicians played for a packed hall of enraptured children, who just 5 minutes in were already dancing along in their seats. Those of us in the audience were amazed by the additions to the set - Simon with a solo on the drums, and Freddie and Amelia on French horns. Our host school’s choir performed for us, and then we were swarmed by children looking for autographs and hugs. Amongst them was Old Wellensian Alex Warburton’s cousin! 

The afternoon was spent at Freetown Cultural Village, where the children of dancers from the city performed Sierra Leonian cultural dances for us, before we were taught to dance and to drum in the local styles. We were amazed by the talent and enthusiasm of the kids, who danced barefoot on a gravelly and dirty floor. They seemed very eager to impress, which they managed, both with us and the crowd of onlookers who gathered around.

For us two, the evening consisted of a drinks party at the British High Commissioner’s residency. We chatted with members of a local school exchange, as well as having a lengthy talk with the High Commissioner himself, including predictions for Saturday’s rugby!

The stormy weather on the drive home certainly wasn’t a reflection of how great the day was, and we are looking forward to the days ahead!
Hugo and JJ

Monday, 21 October 2019

Day 4 Thrown at the deep end...

Today we split up into musicians and non-musicians and went to JTR and Ballanta Academy for the first time. The staff and students at JTR were very welcoming and friendly. The students loved playing games like maths bingo and 21, and often got a little overexcited!! But I suppose, this is to be expected when you teach a class of anywhere between 32 to 68 students ( Prep 2, which Elie and Hector we’re supporting rather than teach on the own).

After some very chaotic lessons, we went to meet the musicians at Ballanta before going to the Milton Margai School for the Blind. The musicians performed an outreach concert there for the students, before we listened to the Milton Margai school choir sing some songs, including ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ and a traditional Sierra Leone folk song. We spent some time talking with the children before returning to LACS for tea (black bean stew and rice). It was a very tiring but amazing day!
~ Lottie

Today we taught our first lessons at the Ballenta Academy, teaching groups of up to eight people including men and women, between the ages of 18-45 and ranging in ability. Whilst this was very challenging it was also rewarding to see how passionate the students were about music. After teaching from 9 am both groups met up and had lunch at 1 pm, this consisted of chicken pies. Unfortunately a few people within the group have been suffering from tiredness and over exposure to the heat. Both of which will hopefully be cured by a long nights sleep, so early nights all around tonight!!

This afternoon’s visit to the school for the blind was a very emotional visit but it was also lovely to see the children enjoying the music that we performed so much. It was also amazing to hear their choir perform some traditional African folk songs and see how much the music meant to them.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Day 3 St Edward’s church and Baw Baw

We started off the day with a visit to Musa's church, St. Edward's Parish Church. We were all dressed up in smart clothes as we were told that the locals would be in their best gear (and, indeed, they were). We were all quite excited to see how their services compared to our cathedral services back at school. We were all pleasantly surprised with the music they had for the service because I think we are all used to having our choristers sing for us. Their service was a lot more inclusive and happy-clappy but it was so much fun! We were given a service sheet with the running order and, I'm not going to lie, it was a bit confusing and hard to follow at first, but we got there in the end. There were around 20 items to go through during the service and the homily itself lasted around 40 minutes so we were sat in the church for a total of 3 hours! We were quite impressed with the attention span of the locals because our group couldn't help zoning out! It was a lovely experience, though, and we had the opportunity to perform 3 group pieces for the congregation at the end of the service.

After the 3 hour service (making the school services seem like nothing) we all headed to Basha’s Bakery where we were served delicious cultural food...... pizza and chips and we can’t forget Hugo’s hummus and meat. 

We later spent a further 40 mins driving to Aunty Kitty’s house with her own private section of the beach. Everyone was having a lot of fun, with an impromptu game of cricket with Musa, frisbee, and some of our students mingling with the locals whilst playing a ball game in the sea. 

When done, we all shoved our sandy bodies into the Musa Mobile and JTR Jeep(not a Jeep), and went back to the comfort of LACS to prepare for the upcoming lessons.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Day 2 Tacugama Chimp Sanctuary

Today started with a Fish Stew and sweet potatoes for Breakfast at Lacs’ villa. We were then picked up by Musa in the Musamobile- a van the project donated to the Ballanta- who took us to the Sierra Leone Chimp Sanctuary, at Tacugama. [En route we passed the still very opened landscape left by the dramatic mudslides of 2017 in Regent- like a red scar on the landscape].

First we were shown the five stages of the operations of the Sanctuary: they rescue chimpanzees from bad starts in life, neglect and lack of love. [Some of the chimps were really angry and stressed today, and one of them kept throwing stones at us, but thankfully, some were a bit calmer].

For lunch we had a pumpkin stew with rice, chicken and peanut sauce, followed by fruits for dessert- papaya, plantain and apple. 
Then went for a hike in the wild jungle. We hiked for an hour, from the Sanctuary, pass Congo Dam, until we reached the viewing lookout, on Mount Benet. Looking down over the vast landscape behind the hills surrounding Freetown, looking at various natural features- rivers, meanders and hills. 

We encountered a few creatures along the way and decided that our accommodation was definitely better than Termite hotel [inhabited by a python, rats and of course termites!]

We were then brought back to our accommodation, where we had a bit of time to relax before a dinner of rice and aubergine stew. [Tired and riced out!]

Ben and Simon [edited by JDA]

Friday, 18 October 2019

Day 1 Meet the Don Bosco Family

So, we are finally here after a game of “will they fly? Won’t they? Are we staying in Paris? Are we not” yesterday morning... the explanation to the initial cancellation was crew safety and availability, but thankfully they sorted that out and we managed to get here last night, albeit super late by the time the last person on the flight had gone through passport control- and as luck would have it, it was one of us!!! A long wait for the ferry crossing, but finally around midnight GMT we made it in one very tired piece.
Today was always going to be about introducing our pupils to the amazing kids and teenagers of Don Bosco. Father George, originally from South America, founded this home for the homeless, orphanage and shelter a few years ago now... and the projet is still expanding. So after having spent the morning rehearsing for the musicians and chilling for the others, whilst Mr Coward and I went to get 240 bottles of water- that should see us through to Thursday, and some delicious Cornish type pasties- they got the approval of our very own Hattie so high praise indeed- we made our way through bustling, chaotic, loud, enchanting and mostly hot Freetown. Once at Don Bosco, we had to wait for Father George to come back from his visit to the main prison where he works with prisoners to try to help with reinsertion, Jacob introduced the group and what followed was quite surreal.
Our beautiful voices- I mean our singers, not mine!- raising in the humid air of Freetown and captivating the audience. A quartet of James, Freddie, June and Hattie gave a lovely rendition of “Somewhere over the rainbow”, then Harriet performed a Taylor Swift song- and started to warm up the crowd...but they got really excited when she sang one of her own songs. Then another quartet led by Jacob performed one of Ed Sheeran’s songs, and finally, they all sang Billy Joel together, with Simon drumming on the guitar... for a very first set, less than 24 hours after our arrival, it was great!

But what followed was unexpected! No songs this time, but performances from the street boys- not another Irish pop band, but the boys who have been found on the streets of Freetown, because they have run away from home or have been put there by their families. They danced, and danced some more, and then performed juggling tricks, and then they danced a little bit more. There was a fantastic atmosphere!

Then, before playing a very tense and high stake football game, our students joined these young people and started impromptu conversations. we drew 1 all in the boys game, but lost 0-1 in the girls versus boys game.
This camaraderie led to our pupils asking to be taught some dance moves!
It was heartwarming to see our pupils embracing this new experience, and it was clear for all to see, how sad they were to have to leave after 2 and a half hours... they had been touched, as I have been every time I have stepped into Don Bosco, by those young lives already damaged, but with hope on their horizon. We left behind tons of sweets and made a donation to support the work Father George does with “his family (Fambul)” in and around Freetown. Tonight, I think we shall all sleep well, full of the memories of the day, and it seems quite tired by the heat!
Tomorrow, another day beckons...
Jules DA