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

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Day 12- final reflections by Jack, Neil and Jules

On Sunday, the students and Neil opted for a slower start and some downtime, while Jules and I accompanied Musa - a brass teacher at BAM and our driver for the week - to his local church service. We were in search of a more 'Salonian' church experience than we had managed the week before, and we were not disappointed. The service was predominantly sung, with songs in Krio, Mende and English replacing large sections of the liturgy. Unfortunately there was no song sheet - the congregation was clearly familiar with the words - so Jules and I joined in as best we could, approximating melodies and harmonies and ad libbing lyrics. 

After lunch back at the guesthouse, our long journey home began. It passed without incident, and there isn't much to say about 8 or so hours on a plane, but watching Freetown fade into the distance as our boat transfer sped across the bay towards Lungi is firmly fixed in my mind. 

Looking back on the trip, I feel very proud of our students for their enthusiasm, their hard work, and especially for the inclusive and cohesive unit they became. Spontaneous renditions of 'Woko, yu kol mi Woko' and 'Africa' bubbled up at every opportunity - even as we waited for our coach in the car park at Heathrow. We made some tweaks to the music program this year, and I especially enjoyed our outreach sessions at local schools, giving students their first mini lesson on a pTrumpet or pBone. Eight of these instruments have now been donated to BAM, and I wish to thank all my friends, family and colleagues whose generous sponsorship made this possible. There are plans to create bursaries, so that the most dedicated of these children can continue to learn the instrument regularly at BAM. 

Finally, an enormous "Thank You" is due to Jules, for the extraordinary amount of work she puts in behind the scenes to make this trip possible. It is such a unique opportunity for our students and staff alike, and memories of the inspiring people I have met in Salone will keep me warm - at least for another year! Jack Coward

As thirteen tired students and three tired members of staff arrived back in Wells after a twenty-four journey, another epic trip to Sierra Leone was coming to an end. And what a great experience it had been for all of us. A particular highlight, for me, was our visit to the Don Bosco orphanage. Here rescued street boys and young girls forced into prostitution were being rehabilitated, shown the value of education and pride in oneself, with the aim of re-integrating them into society. After a short concert, it wasn’t long before our students were chatting enthusiastically with these abused children, playing football with them, dancing, swapping stories, laughing with them, having fun. ‘Attention,’ according to the French thinker Simone Veil, ‘is the rarest and purest form of generosity’. It is to our students' great credit that they attended to these children, interacting with real warmth and kindness, each group making a lasting impression on the other.

Another highlight was our visit to the Milton Margai school for the Blind. After our musicians had performed their regular set and all of us had sung our team song, ‘Africa’, with various degrees of competence and tunefulness, we were treated to a few songs by the blind school’s famous choir. Rarely have I witnessed singers live so fully the songs they were singing. And these were vibrant, life-affirming songs, packed full of sunny optimism. Looking around at the basic surroundings and living conditions, we felt both humbled and inspired by such exuberant expressions of hope, praise and joy. We like to think we know the value of music here at Wells, but at the Blind School in Freetown they know it just as well, and just as deeply.

Spontaneous, and sometimes planned, outbursts of singing and dancing featured regularly during the trip, and this year we felt that the whole group worked especially harmoniously together. Certainly the team of six who worked at the JTR school did an absolutely tremendous job. Having observed all of them teach, I’d happily offer a few of them jobs in the English department, if we had space, of course. Regularly mobbed whenever they went in the playground, our students were incredibly popular with the Sierra Leonian school children. During one break time, I watched as each of them was surrounded by huddles of excited children, plaiting their hair, playing games, high-fiving or just chatting. As it had been at the orphanage, it was striking how warm and friendly our students were, how easily they interacted with the children and how much they everyone was enjoying their experience.

So thank you to our students for being such a brilliant, fun and industrious bunch – you did us and the school proud. And thanks too to Jack and Jules, for their excellent company, good humour and various suggestions for how to improve Wells and the wider world. An especial thanks to Jules. Though she can go on a bit at times, or so Jack tells me, she really does embody all that’s best about this demanding, but also highly rewarding trip. Jules throws herself into each experience with tremendous enthusiasm, always engaging warmly with other people, remembering everyone’s names, always forming excellent relationships. And also reminding us to take our malaria tablets each morning, even this morning after the trip had finally ended. I expect there may be another reminder tomorrow morning too… Thanks so much to you all and to our friends in Sierra Leone for putting up with us. Neil Bowen

Another year, another trip. Has it been successful? In two words: absolutely yes! The team this year has been great, full of energy, enthusiasm, and truly working as one. The musicians have really impressed me with their professionalism and their resilience in adapting to new situations, miles away - in every sense of the term- from what they had ever experienced before. It is hard to accept that the audience is not going to be quiet whilst listening to you, hard to I imagine that the hours it has taken you to get to that level are not going to be acknowledged, but the enjoyment of the audiences has been obvious- even if they had never ever seen nor heard a flute, a ‘cello or a clarinet. Ultimately, we do not go out there to change things or to impose our styles- we go out there to find out about another culture, to embrace our differences and to share our experiences with them. So it is vital that we do not expect a certain type of behaviour... and our musicians certainly did not! They were nervous to start with, but once they got into their stride, they just got on with the flow and took on everything that was thrown at them in good grace and good humour. This year, Jack, Eliza and James went out to a primary school to teach trumpet and trombone, using our P-instruments, instead of having lessons at Ballanta- and it was a great way to spread their love of music and to try to get more students to pick up an instrument. Watching our musicians, I have observed a huge change in them in one week- from shy but highly skilled musicians, to confident teachers.

But this trip is no longer just about music, and the JTR team, as the non-musicians are known, is just as important. They bring something completely different to the students in the school. For a few days, they allow their creativity to run wild, they teach them different set of values through the medium of songs, mythical stories they have never heard before, Sudokus and poems. They bring this new energy and enthusiasm into the classroom. They are totally loved and idealised by students at JTR, who welcome them with arms open wide and smiles to match. From every corner of the school, I could hear singing, chanting, laughing and applauding. They worked hard to plan their activities, and in true teachers’ style, they adapted at a moment’s notice. It is not easy being dropped in a class with 40 students you have never met, a piece of chalk and a blackboard... but they made it work. And as Neil said, I would quite happily employ them! Watching them all week, I have seen them become confident, reflexive and oh, yes, very sweaty but happy! JTR's proprietress Mrs Pearl Reffell also announced that their brand new library would be named Wells Cathedral School Library, which is a real honour and shows how deep our bond has grown since we started this partnership. We look forward to taking some books next year!

Finally, this trip could not be the success it is without Neil’s and Jack’s support and hard work there, supervising and teaching at the same time! Both adapting to circumstances and being very flexible and supporting the students without fail. It is vital to have this support, teachers prepared to tuck in and muck in -quite literally- but in exchange, I reward them with a little bit of quiet time to relax and reflect... so not all bad even if I go on a bit!

 So until next year, thank you to all students and parents for making this truly an experience of a lifetime. Over and out until October 2019! Jules Desmarchelier-Arpino

Monday, 29 October 2018

Day 11 - home safe and sound

After 24 hours on the go, 14 of us got home safe and sound... Talullah still had a bit longer to go to get home to Jersey, but the Gold medal goes onto Becca who had to catch a flight to Hong Kong!
Tomorrow, reflections from Mr B and Mr C and my final words for this year....


Sunday, 28 October 2018

Day 10- so this is goodbye

Greetings from the land afar,
where we never leave the door ajar,
Not only for the risk of rain,
But the mozzies are a bloody pain,

The morn was early, the sun was bright,
The early birds had just taken flight,
we'd finished breakfast, cleared our plate,
and for once Musa wasn't late!

Towards Balanta was our ride,
Where we met our morning guide,
With a warming smile, and a friendly face,
He took us to the market place.

Shirts and bracelets, drums and masks,
Necklaces and wooden flasks,
All the prices had to barter,
They were smart but we were smarter.

Dragging us to see their stall,
I'm sure I almost saw them all,
Trying to find the smallest cost,
It's a miracle nobody here was lost

Eventually we made our ways,
through the endless selling maze,
Emerged onto the busy street,
Moaning from our aching feet.

Next our stop was down the road,
So In the Musamobile we rode,
A valiant beast of baby blue steel,
with a broken door and a dodgy wheel.

At Basha’s Bakery we stopped for food,
 and left us in a better mood,
Before our final destination,
and endless bored procrastination

The cultural village was our final stop,
So out of the Musamobile we hopped,
The drums had all of us in a trance,
As we were mesmerised by a traditional dance.

We listened intently, and watched in awe,
And they left us always wanting more,
Unfortunately it was the end of the show,
And alas we finally had to go.

Before we headed back to Lac's,
We went for a drink at Roy's to relax,
No more excitable children to teach,
Just a last chance to enjoy the beach.

Just before the night was through,
We announced there was a surprise for you,
For after tea a meeting was called,
But everyone was surely fooled.

To a classic African groove,
Room 31 boys busted some moves,
A well rehearsed and polished routine,
But splitting our trousers at the seam.

This brings us to our last goodbye,
Despite a dark and cloudy sky,
Our memories will be living on,
For final time from Salone, Shallom!

Toby and James Moore

Friday, 26 October 2018

Day 9- last days in schools

Us JTR students arrived for our final classes this morning with four of us taking a last minute prep 3 class teaching them to sing 'here comes the sun'. Then, following from a small photo shoot on the staircase, everyone began walking down to highly anticipated football match between the Wells team and the JTR football team. The whole school were gathered in this yard, the players putting all their effort into this riveting match with a score which really reflects the skill, ambition and dedication our pupils put into sport and representing the school: nil all.

As well, for me, it was an amazing way to spend my 18th birthday- my students coming up to me with hugs and candy bracelets and even waves of children being sent up by others on the team to sing happy birthday. And then, to end the day with a cake at LACS and all of the Wells team singing happy birthday for me truly made this a day I'll never forget.


Today was yet again delayed by Musa and traffic in Freetown! The musicians arrived in the living room at 8.55 prepared for the familiar rev of the Musa mobile at 9 to leave for the Ballanta Academy of Music, however this didn't happen until 10! Despite this we got to BAM at 10.15 so some people used this 45 minutes to teach some of their students. Eliza, Jack and James went off to a school to do a workshop on the P Brass. We also managed to get some photos with our students! Some of us got presents from them, one of Maddie's students made her a book, I got a personalised necklace in the shape of Sierra Leone from one of my students, it even says my name on it!

Later on in the afternoon we had our last outreach concert at the International Secondary school. When we arrived it looked like a really nice school! When we got into the concert hall and everyone had sat down we realised that these children were not used to being quiet. The quieter instruments were very hard to hear, but when we started singing 'Africa' by Toto and when we started clapping and moving in the last chorus, they loved it and started clapping with us!


Day 8- British Council concert

Day 4 of teaching and I think we're starting to get the hang of it. Lessons today consisted of lots of singing. Ain't No Mountain High Enough and Dont Stop Believing echoed throughout the whole school. Games like splat were also introduced in the lessons, creating jokes that lasted the whole day. 

Another hectic break time awaited us after our second lesson. Unfortunately, the prior practice didn't do us much help. Regardless, we still spent the whole time interacting and playing with as many kids as we possibly could. 

Today we (Eliza, the two James and Mr Coward) went to a nearby school and did two lots of workshops with a total of 4 trombones and 12 trumpets! They were all quite distracted, but we were outside and it was very hot with a high of 30 degrees! After we did this workshop we returned to BAM and taught for another hour and a quarter. I taught my first individual lesson today with Gibril, one of our Bursary recipients, (all the others have been 4 or more people) which was very nice, on top of this we were inside which was much cooler. 

Eliza T 

After an early meal, we headed over to the British Council for a concert. We were shown up by all the other acts, including traditional dances, music and even skits. Our favourites included the Bono dancing (topless cultural dancing ) and the Five Star Brass Ensemble playing Disco Lives, where we all joined in singing and dancing (but not very well). 

Later on, we got back to LACS and had some delicious kababs and traditional street food from the concert. We're all excited but at the same time upset about our last day of teaching tomorrow, but everyone's looking forward to the infamous football match.

Becca and Eliza

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Day 7 - power to the girls!

We left LACS Villa at 8:30 excited for another day interacting and teaching the students at JTR. We all had a really busy day packed with three lessons in the morning to various year groups, doing activities ranging from maths puzzles to song rounds. We continue to be amazed by their enthusiasm and eagerness to learn, making lessons highly rewarding. Each day we continue to improve our lessons and form connections with the students. 

We spent the afternoon performing an outreach concert for the students of Freetown Secondary School for Girls. 

Once again the musicians played extremely well regardless of the challenging conditions that the outdoor concert posed. We were fortunate to have the students of FSSG perform their school song and a play which aims to empower the girls to strive to reach their full potential, despite the problems posed by the patriarchal society they live in.


When we arrived at Ballanta around 9 am, we had 30 mins to prepare before we went into lessons. Once again we were all amazed by the students enthusiasm and drive to learn as much as possible. I had 5 students in the morning and all of them had progressed well.

 After lunch we went on to do an outreach concert at Freetown secondary school for Girls, where we all performed. However this time the conditions were slightly trickier as we were playing outdoors so it was hard to project the sound. After the concert we headed to LACS for a quick break before the evening rehearsal at Ballanta.

At the evening rehearsal we got taught an African song by Charlie, an ex teacher of Ballanta. It was really interesting as it was nothing like we do in England and it consisted of lots of fun dances as well as funny lyrics in Krio. Once we had finished our 1 hour rehearsal we headed back to LACS absolutely exhausted after our long yet exiting day.


Whilst students continue their lessons, Neil and I taught English and French to more senior students... despite the poor conditions, I love the students enthusiasm and skills! Who needs a classroom when you can be in the corridor, with one desk and a blackboard? 

Another great day in Salone and some very tired students...and teachers. 


Day 6 - students turn TV stars...

In order to allow Jack, Eliza and James Moore to go ahead of us to Murraydeen primary school to teach some brass there, I came to Ballanta from the TV interview. I arrived amongst a cacophony of musicians coming from every available space: nooks and crannies spring to mind. Nate downstairs teaching cello at beginners level, on the first floor, Quentin teaches piano in the library, Maddie, fresh from her interview dived straight in teaching voice techniques to 4 pupils, then upstairs, Lula teaches the flute to a beginner and Pip soldiers on despite the heat and no break teaching clarinet! It is inspiring to see our young minds inspiring others- all eager to be taught by them, waiting sometimes for 2 hours to get a chance! 

I shall now let the heroes of the day, Molly and Maddie give their accounts! Over and out from me! 


After a hot night of freetown-wide power cuts, we woke up to a tropical downpour. Everyone got ready to leave at the normal time while Maddie and Molly, your resident TV stars, had a bit of extra beauty sleep. The two of us went to the AYV (African Young Voices) TV studio for the interview on 'Wake up Sierra Leone'. We spent a few nervous minutes sitting in the waiting room with Auntie Kitty and Ms D, briefing us about how to promote the programme. We were led into the studio and sat getting miked-up while overhearing the intense political row on air before us. After they stormed off, we took our seats. Surprisingly, it went well, with Maddie performing a 'Mary Poppins' style rendition of Danny Boy, and Molly making all her answers up on the spot. In all seriousness, it was a great experience and the presenters were friendly and great at making it feel like a conversation. With our local mango juice, we braced ourselves for the cheering crowds to come. Apparently they got lost on their way, so we got a pat on the back from our cheering crowd of two. Only then did we get informed it was one of the most popular shows in Sierra Leone - thanks Ms D. 

Auntie Kitty drove Molly first to JTR to run to her second lesson with Prep 6, meeting a very sweaty (but very happy) Indi there. Mr Bowen informed me that she had done amazingly on her own, and the kids seemed very happy with their activities. In the headteachers office, we foolishly decided it would be a good idea to brave the playground. We skipped down with a squeaky ball in hand, and were immediately swamped. With 10 kids per leg, and too many kids being trampled to get to the ball, we tried to get to know the students. Our crowd control skills would now be good enough to calm a riot, and we can report that no one got injured. After our last lesson, we got in the car to go to Ballanta, telling all our stories on the journey there. It was a great day and everyone said they really enjoyed it and felt they had relaxed into the teaching and had therefore delivered better lessons. 

Meanwhile in the Ballanta Academy of Music, Maddie was hard at work teaching singing alongside various other musicians. With 6 singers waiting, it was difficult to figure out how to manage everyone. We try to give one on one lessons but sometimes the keenness of the students is overpowering so it turns into a sort of masterclass. Being right on the street, it does become a battle of 'who can play the loudest'. With James on drums, Eliza on trumpets and Quentin on piano, teaching singing isn't ideal but the passion the students show makes up for it. Nevertheless, from 930 until 1230, the time races by as we try to squeeze in as many lessons as possible. It's fair to say that whilst all of us are pretty high standards in our respective instruments, we have all learnt so much from all of our students, whether beginners or amateurs. So, after yet another successful day at the office, we all hopped on the 'Mussa Mobile' to the location of our next outreach concert.

The musicians played another short recital for the chattering children, which was received with cheering. After we all got up (even the tone-deaf non-musicians) and sang our token song Africa, the children performed a traditional dance with hula skirts and rhythmic drums. It showed us the routine that rice farmers when preparing rice. But basically, it was boys in hula skirts showing their 'derrières'. Still, very entertaining and very much appreciated by all of us. It didn't stop them from swarming us afterwards with little hands begging for our autographs. Feeling like the celebrities we all are, we obviously only charged them 1000 Leones each. We wished them luck and went on our merry way back to LACS for dinner, SHOWER then bed. Nighty night, don't let the bed bugs bite!

Eloquently scribed by Maddie & the Ranga (Molly)

Monday, 22 October 2018

Day 5- into the deep!

We started the day by heading to the JTR, it was our first day and therefore we were all surprised by the kids and how they swarmed us. We taught the JSS (Junior Secondary School) classes which were sorted into ability and therefore the ages ranged from around 9-16. At lunch we headed to Balenta and were treated to a vegetable pastie which filled all but Toby's stomach. Finally we headed to the Blind School to perform an outreach concert which was well received, they then sang to us with some very impressive singing this surprised us all and touched our hearts. 

James Manning 

The first day at the Ballanta Music Academy was one full of uncertainty for us musicians; having never seen the place before we were bound to be surprised. However, what surprised us more were the students! Their abilities ranged from complete beginners to intermediate players, and thankfully we found success in teaching them all. 

After a quick lunch of vegetable pasties we headed off to the "Milton Margai School for the Blind" to perform an outreach concert. Maddie's rendition of Danny Boy was a hit with the crowd, in much contrast to the ensemble performance of Toto's Africa, for which we are thankful for the presence of a deaf school next door. 

The school choir blew us away, their musicality and trust in the music shining through as they blasted a few oldies like "Tiptoe by the Window" as well as a traditional African song. It was an extremely moving experience that we will remember forever. 

Some of us musicians went back to Ballanta for a rehearsal which included a funky Disco medley and a choir rehearsal for a Sierra Leone song titled "Woko u lol woko", and it was about a man who complains about someone who took his money and criticises him. 

Today was full of unforgettable moments, and we are looking forward to the next few days. 

Nate :)

Sent from my iPhone

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Day 4- Did you say day of rest?

We woke up to a bright and clear sky. It was warm as always but it didn't feel as heavy as normal. The calm after the rain storm. 

Early morning, the team went to a church service at Buxton memorial Methodist church. The journey, as always was chaotic, reflecting a lively Sunday.
I saw people dressed up in strikingly colourful outfits from head to toe. Dressed very formally in dresses with hats and suits. 

Though I did lose concentration here and there, the seemingly never ending church service portrayed Sierra Leone in a nutshell. Confident, expressive and open. They had a female choir singing.
Nate performed a Bach piece on the cello and Maddie sang 'Danny Boy'. Though this was very different to their usual church music the audience seemed to enjoy it very much. 

We then prepared for a relaxing afternoon at the beach, in Lakka, on the peninsula, at a friend's of Kitty's private home. We spent the majority of the sunny afternoon swimming, playing cards, reading and eating a delicious buffet (chicken, fish, rice, pasta and watermelon). 

We then came back to LACS to have dinner and spent the rest of the evening planning lessons for the busy week ahead of us.
The hard work really starts tomorrow, but after a long term, it was nice to have a few days of rest. 


Sent from my iPad

Day 3- Monkeying around on the beach

Today, we had a simple and quite relaxing program... or so we thought! However, Africa came in between and its famous African time... usually on a time zone of its own!
In the morning, we all managed to leave on time or just about to get to Tacugama, the Chimpanzee sanctuary in Sierra Leone...on our way, we were reminded of the fragility of the world we live in, with the still very obvious remains of the landslide from last August in the area of Regent, when hundreds lost their lives in seconds, God bless their souls. We arrived at feeding time, and some of the behaviour observed were not dissimilar to some of the behaviour that can be observed at break time in our own boarding houses- stealing food from each other, hitting each other to get to the food first and then running away with more than your least according to the boarders on the trip!!!! Yes they were cute as buttons...until they decided to throw stones at you, as Molly and Toby discovered! The display of dominance in the social pen, and the teasing of the younger ones was also reminiscent of some of the things seen around the 'cage' and LG building in school... so in short, yes, Chimp share around 96% of their DNA with humans, and it shows!

Then, after a quick but very nice sandwich lunch at the accommodation, we waited, and waited...and waited some more for the buses to come and take us to Kitty's beach cottage in the village of BawBaw, on the Peninsula along the Atlantic Ocean, and below the Sierra Leone... the mountain Lion, which gave its name to the country.
We eventually arrived there around 3pm, and our students wasted no time in diving in the ocean. Of course, we played football - well, I watched our students play the Ballanta teachers/ students team, to break the ice... and then, never wasting an opportunity to practise- such commitment is to be applauded - our first team Cricket captain, Toby, led the way to a cricket encounter like no others. Musa, one of the BAM teachers, is a keen cricket player and had brought some plastic bats and other bits and pieces. Molly joined in as well! It was great to watch!

And after 3 hours or so, we made our way back to LACS, for a well deserved aubergine and rice stew, a bit of rehearsal for Sunday's concert at the church...and our first full on rain storm!
Another long and fulfilling day! Tomorrow, students will start taking turns in writing the blog... so over and out for now!

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Day 2 - From the Wells family to the Fambul Don Bosco

For our first proper day in Freetown, we treated the team to ou first visit to the supermarket to get water, all 96 bottles which will last us 3 days maximum, change money (who needs a Bureau de Change when you can go to the till at the supermarket?) and get a few supplies to complement our food. Amazement at the variety of things that could be found- and they only looked at the ground floor!

Then, we had our first - and only- African buffet this lunchtime: a real treat for us all, with a selection of local food prepared in the accommodation's kitchens, and therefore totally safe! Fufu, a strange ball made of the fruit of the Cassava bush, fried plantain, beans and rice balls, black eye beans, potato and cassava (aka manioc, staple food in Africa) in oil, a variety of sauces, from mildly spiced to burning mouth hot, and of course rice! Some local deserts as well to finish off, made with sesame seeds, coconut shavings and nuts. Everything was absolutely delicious!

We then went across town once again, melting in the heat and the traffic, to go to the Don Bosco family orphanage, known as Fambul (the Krio word for family) Don Bosco. The orphanage is run by Father Jorge Crisafulli, originally from Argentina, who has spent nearly 30 years working in Africa. Last year, they rescued and re-homed numerous children left without homes after the Regent mudslide. This year, they are working with boys off the street (chucked by their families, runaways due to abuse etc...), girls from abusive backgrounds, and girls who were working as prostitutes, some as young as 9 years of age. A truly humbling experience to meet such children and the people who work with them, day in, day out. 4 of our musicians performed for them, Nate on the cello, Pip on the clarinet, Lula on the flute and Eliza on the trumpet, and allowed the children to have a go on the trumpet mouthpiece, or the cello... connections were established through music. Music IS truly a universal language. The children sang for us and talked of unity...and then we played the universal game of football of course. Football in Sierra Leone is what the Hakka is for the All Blacks- compulsory, intimidating and expected. Did they beat us- well, the boys drew 1-1 and the girls lost 1-0... but the score tells you nothing. It does not tell you about the energy everybody put into the game, the competition, the friendship, the heat, the sweat, the joy and the pride- the pride of a teacher who watches her students become ambassadors for international peace and friendship. They were great... and totally engaged with the young orphans, some their age, some a lot younger, but all with one thing in common: they all looked happy and they all great you with "I want to be your friend" and then hug you.

Father George and his team work hard to get those kids off the street and back in their family home, or with some family members and to provide them all with an education. He said today that he wants the girls especially to understand that the future is, and I quote, "not between their legs but in their education". They were thankful for our time and our donation of clothes, toys, games and money. We were just thankful to have been part of their lives for a few hours.

The buzz on the buses on our way back was electric... so here's to your children, who today, made you and me very proud.

Thank you for the music and for football ( for a rugby fan, this is a hard pill to swallow).

Over and out for tonight!

Friday, 19 October 2018

Day 1- a lot of travelling and waiting around

After nearly 24 hours on the go, last night I went to sleep safe in the knowledge that we had all made it safe and sound. A lot of waiting around at airports, but a happy team landing last night at Lungi, Freetown International airport, and was immediately hit by the reality of Sierra Leone: the heat was oppressing and mosquitoes were buzzing.

So first mission at the airport was spraying Jungle force mosquito repellent, then finding Lamin our contact for the ferry, and 'hitting' the road to the ferry. If you think we have a problem with pothole in the UK, you have seen nothing! 

After 45 minutes or so of bus and ferry, we got to Government Wharf where we were welcomed by a whole group of people- mainly Aunty Kitty ( as in Sierra Leone every body is either Aunty or Uncle/Mr), the aprincipal at BAM, Aunty Pearl and Aunty Daisy, the proprietresses of JTR, Mussa, a student, teacher from BAM and our main mini bus driver and a few others. It was heartwarming to see those people again and felt like a 'coming home' for me... 

We got to LACS by around 9:30 UK time, and after a few last words, we all went to our rooms for a well deserved rest and sleep! 

Today, a gentle easing into Salonean life! 

Until later.... JDA

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Day 13: Reflections by Mr Coward and tying loose ends by Jules DA

A musical journey at the Ballanta Academy of Music

On our first or second morning teaching at the BAM, I took a break from my third beginner trumpet lesson of the morning to go and see how our students were getting on with their own lessons. After assuring a couple of potential trumpeters waiting in the corridor that I would be back soon, I headed downstairs to the open air courtyard; a space which had been appropriated for Saxophone lessons. Will was surrounded by students - there must have been at least 8 - and with only two instruments to pass around this must have been a challenging lesson to teach. Upstairs in the Academy's largest room (a space more compact than most classrooms at WCS), Katie and Connie were team-teaching voice lessons in more of a masterclass style. Ten or more students sat around the edges of the room watching and waiting patiently until it was their turn to perform and to receive some feedback and advice. Next door, in a small practice room which doubles as a music library, Xavier was thoroughly engrossed in an individual piano lesson and didn't pause from instructing his student as I moved around them to take a few pictures. Back up on the second floor, in small, sweltering rooms with wooden shutters for windows, Chloe was making use of the blackboard to write down a melody for a couple of violinists, while across the hallway Annie was patiently encouraging 'Twinkle Twinkle' out of a beginner cellist for the seventh or eight time that day.

A similar pattern played out on each of the five days that we taught at the Ballanta, as more and more students came through the doors to have a go, with many returning for second
lessons or to try another instrument. I really hope that some of them will be able to access
 regular music tuition in the future. Thanks to the money that each WCS student raised towards bursaries, we know that at least ten will be able to this year. I could not have been more proud of our students, or impressed with the way that they adapted to whatever they encountered. 

One specific success story: on one of our outreach concerts at Murraydeen School we met their young music teacher. He had come through the Ballanta as a trumpet student - one of their star pupils - and now had a good job as a result. We were treated to a lovely performance by a recorder ensemble that he coached at the school. It is my hope that, with some future fundraising, we could equip him with a set of brass instruments so that he could start a brass ensemble there. And so it grows...

My personal thanks to Jules for all your work in organising the trip. It really must have been an incredible effort, and you made it so easy and fun to be on. I had a super time and it was clear to me that students did too. 

Until next year.... Jack Coward

Tying Loose Ends 

Well, this is truly it now. We have been back for nearly 48 hours and my body is re-acclimatising with the weather and much cooler temperatures in the UK- the only constant
being the ritual swallowing of my malaria tablet in the morning. 
It has been a long 10 months of preparation and organisation for this trip, cajoling our students to be ever more creative in their ways of raising founds- something we were asked about at the Ballanta and which impressed all the students and teachers there as it seems fundraising is an alien concept over there. 10 months of constant emails with Dr Kitty Fadlu-Deen and her predecessor at the helm of the Ballanta and Mrs Pearl Reffell, one of the proprietresses of the JT Reffell French Memorial Primary and Secondary school to organise our trip. Months of negotiating, planning and ensuring that students and staff are safe in Sierra Leone and doing something -worthwhile. Was this a success? Absolutely and categorically YES! This trip was never intended as a self-gratifying trip: students have to work hard to be on this trip and they work for others as well as for themselves- they give themselves to the students in both schools and they delight often bemused audiences with their music, their voices and their vitality and energy. Our students are always impressed by the music and the energy in it in West Africa, not realising that the musicians and audiences there feel exactly the same way towards their music and enthusiasm.

At the Ballanta, our musicians have been somewhat surprised not to be teaching young students- this is one of the things that the Ballanta does when we are not around- outreach in schools during the day and some teaching later on in the day to school students. During the day, they teach more mature students and all are encouraged by Auntie Kitty (as the principal is known) to try out several instruments and to experiment with various genres. So our young musicians have ended up teaching several people much older than them! Did it matter? Definitely not! It is all about the exchange of knowledge and the understanding. I am
very proud, as was Mr Coward, with how our musicians coped with this new challenge and I hope that this will help them in the future, with their own auditions and interviews.

At JTR, there was a definite moment when all our students realised- and admitted- that teaching was not all plain sailing and hard work, with not everybody listening or wanting to do the activity they had planned, with some understanding immediately, and some needing more explanation... all of which sounded so familiar! But did they embrace this challenge? They more than did! One of my best memory was a session of over one hour of planning lessons, my mind boggled with the fantastic ideas our students were coming up with, including back up plans in case it did not work... and then, it was truly magical to watch them teach those lessons, adapt as they went along and reap the rewards of their hard work: total
idolisation by all JTR students, which was clearly visible on the last day just before our concert started- over 200 students from pre-prep to JSS3 joining in the hall in a mad, sweaty but heart-warming dance session with our students! I wish I had a picture, but I was so engrossed, I could not take any at the time!

But a trip is only ever as successful as the people who make it: our group this year was amazing and thanks to their fundraising effort, we now have 10 bursaries to sponsor our first 10 students: pictured below are 5 of them- from left to right- Winifred Taylor (trumpet), John Sesay (drums), Joselyn Kobba (piano), Maxwell Apka (piano) and Preston Williams (singing)

the 5 others are: Nancy Squire (singing), Rebecca Taylor, Alim Maddy, Patrick Bundu (voice) and Ismael Kabia (keyboard). All these will benefit from full bursaries for one year at least and will take grades 1 and 2 exams at the end of the year.

Thank you to our amazing students for their good humour, their music, their friendship, their hard-work and their determination:


Thank you to Elizabeth for chipping in at JTR and being such a good sport- I am glad that after her 5th or 6th visits, I have been able to give her a chance to finally visit the Chimp Sanctuary... as a result of which, we have decided that the project will adopt a chimp, so that we can come and visit every year until its release in the wild!

But mostly, thank you to Neil and Jack my 2 right arms, or maybe left- without whom not only  would I have been 'armless', but also less supported and much more stressed! I have been impressed by their resilience and their desire to contribute to the teaching and to learn from this new environment. Thank you both!


This trip is about finding who we really are and what we are indeed capable of doing to help other people in the world to accomplish their dreams and to be able to experience something new and different, might it be musically or academically...and God willing , we shall be back next year for another installment. 

The BAM say it best in this song: Tell him I am thankful. 

Over and out for one year now- JDA