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

Friday, 3 November 2017

Day 12: Reflections by Mr Bowen... tomorrow Mr Coward's and my final words!

An epic journey

All good things must come to an end and our visit to Sierra Leone ended on Weds. after ten incredible days in West Africa. Following a morning spent haggling for bargains at Freetown's bustling and colourful 'big market', fortified by our tasty lunch, we set off from our accommodation - a handsome ex-colonial house set in grounds designed by an ardent conservationist in which various large birds of prey nested - at around 3 pm.

A typically bumpy journey aboard our tour van on Freetown's frequently patched-up roads ended  at the ferry terminal, where bags, pupils and teachers were counted and re-counted and counted again to ensure we all arrived safely at the other side of the crossing. Another bus ride and we were deposited at Freetown's compact airport with plenty of time to spare. Only four flights left Lungi Airport per day, so it was imperative we didn't miss our flight.

Almost four hours later and 45 mins. after boarding, we touched down in Monrovia, capital of Liberia, where we waited on the runway for new passengers to join us. Then a 6 hr. Flight, trying to sleep, half-watching films and reading the novels we'd optimistically packed and had had little time to read.

Amsterdam airport is much larger and more sophisticated than Sierra Leone's, but even its variety of attractions struggled to keep our weary band of travellers occupied during our 5 hr. Stopover. Eventually a short hop from Holland and we were coming into land at Bristol, noticing, as if with new eyes, the lovely rolling West Country landscape and all the neatness and orderliness and prosperity of England.

Finally, after 24 hrs. in transit and another van ride, we arrived at Wells at around 3 pm, tired but also exhilarated by our extraordinary visit. Thanks at Wells often come in big sizes and this really was an occasion for huge thanks - to Julie for her excellent, indefatigable leadership, to Jack for his unflappable leading of the musicians, to Elizabeth for her plucky stint as our fourth musketeer, for the incredible warmth and hospitality of our Sierra Leonian hosts and to our amazing students who threw themselves into this experience with such energy, enthusiasm and empathy. And so our epic journey ended, leaving us all with a patchwork of vibrant, brightly-coloured and unforgettable memories to cherish.


Thursday, 2 November 2017

Day 11: safe and sound

After a very long journey which started at 3.30 pm yesterday, we finally made it back to Wells exactly 24 hours later, all safe and sound, and amazingly with all our luggage intact!

Final reflection from the 3 members of staff tomorrow as tonight we all need to go to bed early!

We shall also think of Eli, Dulcie and Patch who have to sit an exam tomorrow morning....

Over and out for now - JDA
Murraydeen Primary School Friday 27th Oct 2017 with one the principals
Aunty Lettie Harding. 

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Day 10: leaving Salone...

Today was our last day... leisurely late breakfast before hitting Big market to buy all our Salonean' s souvenirs....last lunch of homemade margarita pizza and sweet potato fries... then long hours of waiting in different places: hotel foyer, ferry terminal and finally airport lounge!
About to.board so tomorrow will be our very last reflective post-

Over and out for now! JDA

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Day 9: we love the people

Today started off too early for the two of us as we had to make our rescheduled AYV News live TV appearance at 8am. We arrived 15mins early but as per African timings, we were then asked to wait a further half hour until we were invited into the studio. Both hosts were very welcoming and asked us questions about our activity and links here, and really enjoyed a Bach recital (and an impromptu rendition of Swing Low) from Chloe. 

We then made our way to JTR to meet the other for what would be our last performance- after telling the hosts that the concert would be tomorrow!- and had 
possibly the best concert so far. It started and finished with all the pre-prep students 

dancing on stage with us to Musa’s music and featured both our own programme and 
some songs that we’d taught them throughout the past week. After a very long and upsetting goodbye, we left JTR for the last time with lots of hugs and good wishes home. 

We then made our final way back to Ballanta for lunch and a small presentation of our instruments to them, some local gifts for us and then a group song and jamming session. Our day out ended at the Cultural Village; a compound, funded by the government, in which families are raised and trained in local traditions and dances. They performed local routines for us with rapid drumming and some astounding moves and, as seemed to be a trend today, invited us on stage for some more dancing.

Overall it was a very long and sweaty day but was very much enjoyed by all as the realisation of returning home suddenly hit us and we all embraced the culture for the last time.

Eli and Chloe
Watch Eli and Chloe on WakeUp Sierra Leone on You tube. 
Search for AYV Wakeup Sierra Laone, 31st October, 2017... they are after about 20 minutes! 

Today was a day full of emotions, starting with the pride of seeing 2 of our students eloquently speaking live on national television about their experiences at JTR, Ballanta and their opinion of Salone. We then had 2 very different goodbyes, from from JTR with a football match- won by us for the first time! - followed by a concert, of a mixture of performances from our students, then some of the senior school French class paid homage to me by reciting a poem that they had invented in French, featuring the ink of success! Students were presented with handmade tailored skirts and shirts and were swarmed by all the students, who each wanted a piece of them! The farewell at the Ballanta was more subdued and we were introduced to 5 of the first 10 recipients of our bursaries, making this new programme all the more real! I look forward to their progress and to their performance next year! The cultural village performance was something else and so joyful... it makes our leaving this country that little bit harder. After the second time I thought things would be easier, but this country and its people, they really grow on you and once you are hooked, I defy anybody not to be touched by this kindness and warmth. Tomorrow is a day of reflection, market and packing...

Over and out for now- JDA
PS: I shall update the photos on each side of the blog once back in the UK, so please do come back on Thursday night to read the final message for this year! 

Monday, 30 October 2017

Day 8: Goodnight, it’s (nearly) time to go

Back to our normal routine... so today our groups went to JTR  and we all taught JSS 1,2 and 3- the equivalent of Y7 to roughly Y9,  and Prep 3 ( 6 or 7 year’s old) and Prep 6, our Y6. They all did great at solving Sudoku, Countdown and other word games. At around 11.30, after having had our daily ice cold pop, we left and went to Ballanta for lunch. 
After lunch, we went to the American international school (AISF) where our musicians were doing an outreach concert. The only reason why we went there was to allow me to see my old school, from before my time at Wells, when I still lived in Freetown. It felt good being back at what had been my school for three years and to see how much it had changed. The headteacher made a big fuss of me and used me as a potential inspiration for other students in her school. From there we went to the British High Commissioner’s house, Mr G Warrington and his wife, Karen and had 'high tea' with various guests from ISATS, the BC and other British organisations in Freetown, and the musicians performed their second concert of the day. It was a relaxed occasion and a good evening.

Alex- JTR

Day 8 at the BAM, and after a relaxing week-end of visiting monkeys and going to church, it was back to normal for the music team. The team arrived at Ballanta early in the morning to find a lot of the students already hard at work, practising the pieces we had given to them the previous week.
One of the first students through the door of the Library (Piano) room was Moses who had made a lot of progress on his piece. The teaching session was enjoyable and ended with him playing it both hands together from beginning to end. The morning continued in much the same vein with lots of hard but enjoyable piano work.
The Music Team all had a morning filled with musical exchange and it was rounded off with Chloe, Annie, Katie and Connie dancing with Musa (the man who can do it all) and Will on the djembe, showing off their new African hip dance moves in the process.
Following a quick lunch, the team headed off to the American International School to perform the Outreach programme. The AISF proved a great audience and enjoyed the Music Team’s Performance, especially ‘Misty’ sung by Katie and accompanied by Will and myself.
The evening was similarly enjoyable with a visit to the High Commission of Sierra Leone where we provided background music before performing our usual programme to the gathering there, who were enjoying a tea party.
The day was rounded off with the team playing a shortened version of the programme for the staff at the LACS VILLA, where we have stayed for the past week. It was only a little payback for the incredible stay we have had at the villa but we hoped that they enjoyed it.

Xavier - BAM 

Today felt like an incredibly long day as it was very hot... it was a good mixture of audiences for our musicians, and an awful lot of teaching going on in both schools. Our students are truly inspirational and once again today, have really made me proud to be their teacher! There was a lot of praise for their commitment and dedication, as well as the very positive way they spoke about their experience here. Tomorrow is our farewell day, as we shall say goodbye to both schools, students and staff.... there will be tears! 

Over and out for now! JDA

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Day 7: churched out.... but moved. Amen!

The day of “rest”... and so it was supposed to be! More like the day of religion. Going back to an early start we began the day with a strangely familiar style church service at St Charles church -  “The Canterbury of West Africa”... the only twist in the service was the performances of Annie on her cello, Katie on the harp and then a randiton of Blackbird by all the musicians. 

After a short but sweet pit stop at the hotel where we changed out of our formal clothes, we then headed to Basha’s Bakery and had a delicious lunch, including pizza, sandwiches and a sea of Coke. This was an opportunity for some to tuck into some meat with gusto and even to have ice cream for pudding! A treat indeed! 

The Don Bosco orphanage was our next stop for an incredibly memorable and moving experience. This orphanage is playing host at the moment for around 150 students, all of whom have been left orphaned or momentarily without their injured parents, by the recent mudslides. The orphanage provide them with a presence, a strong sense of community and a lot care. Our offer of gifts and food, as well as a donation made by Ms DA were all very well received. The musicians gave an enthusiastic performance of cheerful tunes including the world premiere of “The Grooooove”, composed by our very own Will and Chloe, a saxophone duet in its infancy. We finished the concert with all of us singing ‘Goodbye it’s time to go’, although we were nowhere near ready to go! We all then had the chance to meet and chat with the kids and of course the boys started a sweaty football match. This trip ended with Will not being allowed to leave, being held back by his new best friends.

Our final stop for the day was Evensong at the St George’s Cathedral- apparently the best all boys choir in town. They were singing ‘Hymn of Praise’ by Mendelssohn. Having arrived 15 minutes early for the service we had the chance to look at the plaques around the building and cool off by the fans. Alex’s Great Great Grandfather (God bless his soul) was Canon of this Cathedral. Sadly we had to leave after a brisk hour and a half so Pip and Chloe finished it for us with a hymn in the bus. Luckily we were blessed from God with a hearty plate of vegetable curry and a bed for the night.  

Leila and Will  

The highlights today? The resilience of young people in the face of adversity, seeing the smiles of some of the small children when Will demonstrated the sounds made a saxophone, a young boy asking Mr Coward to teach him to sing Blackbird and of course the football match! A sport which transcends cultural barriers and let people of different backgrounds come together and be alive...and very sweaty! 
Another great day, full or praise for the team! 

Over and out for now- JDA

Day 6: stop monkeying around and relax!

Today was a good day to relax, as heat exhaustion combined with dehydration caused members of our expedition to start dropping like flies. 

The first step to breaking our structured routine was a late breakfast, allowing us to snooze in an extra fifteen minutes! After, the usual group of slightly drowsy bodies slugged their way down to the mini bus we set off to the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. 

When we arrived we were faced with some absolutely obvious, however completely overlooked news: The jungle, in which the Sanctuary was based, is also filled with other creatures and strange sorts of creepy crawlies. This was extremely distressing for many members and af through the area of Regent. 
ter observing a fairly large corpse of an unknown creature on Xavier’s head, a group of us were ready to head home! Mrs Desmarchelier however very firmly kept repeating to us “it’s too late to turn back now”, so we had to go on. 

The chimpanzees seemed to impress us all, as we all ooh-ed and ahh-ed while watching them swing from ropes and affectionately communicate with each other. It was also a huge relief that we didn’t have many unpleasant encounters with large insects, apart from the occasional oversized spider. However, the trails of aggressive ants caused quite the stir. Eli was one of the first to be swarmed over - he announced this to the group by shrieking and running away. Our guide explained to us how the sanctuary rescues orphaned chimps, often taken form their parents at a young age to 
be used as pets and then rejected. The sanctuary cares for them and rehabilitate them before releasing them into the wild when they are ready. Once our tour was over, we set off to return to the mini bus, this time trotting to avoid getting attacked.

After the visit, we crossed what seemed like half of Sierra Leone before arriving at Kitty’s (Ballanta’s principal) beach house. We were met by Sierra Leone’s delicious take on a barbecue, including chicken and fish, salads and past! and completed with pineapple and watermelon. When we’d finished, some of us took a swim off Kitty’s private beach, whilst others played cards or went for a walk. 
All in all, it was a very relaxed and appreciated afternoon after our busy week of teaching.

Annie and Patch

A very relaxing day indeed, but also a day when we were reminded of the tragedy that the recent mudslides caused as we drove through the area of Regent and spotted the huge area of mountain missing and the red earth so characteristic of Salone staring at us in the face. Very humbling indeed and sobering. A well deserved rest for us all. 

Over and out for today. JDA 

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Day 5: WCS makes the local news

After a tired start and a late bus, today's day at JTR was overall incredibly successful with people braving both the noisy little ones of 3-7 and the slightly older (a daunting task I promise you). In the morning all three groups worked with the little ones, taking two half hours each. We all worked mainly on animals, each of the groups doing slightly different activities like acting out the sounds and actions, and rhyming games. After a short lunch all the groups went to the older years teaching between the ages of 12 and 14, and despite what we all thought it turned out to be really fun and easy once we'd got the classes engaged with an activity. After a lesson that consisted of metaphors and Sudoku, Leila and I got the privilege to get their hair braided by 20 expert girls, Eli also got his magnificent greasy locks braided when he came looking for us. The other lessons all turned out to be much easier than we expected, and easier then the little ones, as the older kids were able to contribute more and it was easier to have conversations with them. Eli, Dulcie and Alex finally managed to get a class to come up with a story (something that we'd all attempted with younger years). Overall it was a really successful day, despite a few soldiers falling to heatstroke and exhaustion. 

Pip- JTR

Day 5 at the BAM, and the team (composed of Chloe, Will, Katie, Annie, Connie and myself) is starting to settle into a nice rhythm teaching the students. The schedule was more organised than previous days but the number of students per lesson is occasionally getting in the way of progress. The students seem to be enjoying our musical tips however and we are certainly enjoying sharing our musical experience with them.
In the Library (piano) Room, some familiar faces were returning for another piano lesson including Maxwell and Michael who had both progressed significantly on their new piece. Although many of the piano students have already acquired many of the core basics of piano playing, they are yet to be challenged in terms of repertoire performance, and through these pieces this is something we have been able to work on in depth. There were also beginners such as Anthony, who went away with a range of technical exercises on which to work in preparation for the next lesson on Monday. All in all teaching piano one-to-one with the Ballanta students has been a very rewarding experience, and I know that my fellow musicians feel very much the same! Following a morning of teaching at the Ballanta, the JTR and the ‘music team’ headed out in the early afternoon to the Murraydeen school to perform another Outreach Concert. We were welcomed extremely well by the staff and pupils and performed our programme to them, being rewarded with a wonderful dance performance given by their students. The evening was much more relaxed, allowing us to recover from an already memory-packed first 5 days in Freetown.

Xav- BAM

Today was yet again an incredibly successful day for both teams, with a lot to be said 
about their teaching skills and their ability to get young people engaged! It was a revelation for me to see the JTR students plan their activities last night and then deliver them this morning... although they have all firmly decided never to become teachers themselves (does this mean that we have acquired a newly found respect from them?). Our visit at Murraydeen School this afternoon was a great opportunity for students to try out a couple of new pieces- a success in my eyes- and to be treated to some dancing and performances by the school pupils in traditional costumes. Some amazing cakes and snacks were devoured by us all at the end of the performance, and many of your students were touched once again by the kindness and warmth of the children and people of Salone. I finished the day with a little bit of networking with Elizabeth at the British Council Director’s house, and had a long chat with the journalist who interviewed me and Will after the concert on Wednesday at the BC and who has subsequently written a lovely piece in the local paper- copies of which will be available on our return! Another day of brilliant memories! 

Over and out for now! JDA

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Day 4: Beautiful faces, beautiful voices

On the first morning when it wasn't belting down with rain, we arrived at Ballanta Academy to find eager students ready to be taught along with one of our own sprawled across on the chairs like a fallen soldier (don't worry we won't say it was you, Chloe). We proceeded to teach the students 20 minute lessons each, we expected one on one lessons although due to our undeniable popularity our rooms became flooded with new and old students.
Meanwhile, after a slow start to the day due to Mrs Cairncross' prominent social media presence, the JTR group began another day of lessons on the hottest day so far. We decided to teach some of the children 'Here comes the sun' by the Beatles, which they performed with great enthusiasm. The Ugly Duckling and the realisation of just how morbid the story really is, went down swimmingly with the children. Eli relived  his days of year10 drama performing 'Little Red Riding Hood' and 'The Three Little Pigs' with Dulcie, meanwhile Pip, Hannah and Leila were being given the creative nicknames of 'Pipe, Annie and Linen' by the overly affectionate year 5. 
After these long and exhausting 3 hours of teaching we had our delicious, if ever so slightly cardboard tasting, Nutella wraps, which of course brightened our day tremendously! We then took a quick excursion to the Sierra Leone national museum where we learnt of the interesting history and culture of Sierra Leone (and seeing a native statue with feather dusters for hands). So far we've had one confession of love, half a marriage proposal and countless questions about our marital status from the students. 

Later on in the afternoon we all went to The Milton Margai School for the Blinds where we performed a heartfelt and very emotional concert to the children. We were astonished by the realisation of how incredible their sense of sound, smell and touch was; when we entered the school I heard a child say "I can smell the visitors' spray". The happiness on  all of the kids 
faces made every one of us smile with joy and really touched a soft spot in people's hearts (some say even Mr Bowen was spotted shearing a tear with one of the children bouncing on his lap). We decided to sing a nursery rhyme all together making the crowd jump up with excitement as we sang along beside them holding their hands to make it clear that we were there to sing with them not just to them. After we performed our music they returned the favour and sang some amazingly beautiful and touching songs with their own choir, and also their incredible pianist, Ali, who is also blind and played astonishingly well and fast. All in all today was full of emotion and opened our eyes to see things that we have never experienced before. 

Dulcie & Hannah - JTR
Katie - BAM

On another swelteringly hot day, all students really delivered! Some amazing teaching in both schools, and as the girls said, a lot of emotions at the MMSB- beautiful faces with beautiful voices.
Over and out for now.

Day 3: in full swing

Today was the coolest day (in terms of temperature) we have experienced so far, making our second day teaching at JTR easier. It was also made simpler by the fact that we were now aware of what worked and what didn’t. Again we taught a mixture of arts and craft and English, using children’s books such as, ‘The Smartest Giant in Town’, ‘ Elmer the Elephant’ and ‘The Bear and the Piano’, and getting them to do drawings and rhyming games. On arrival in every class we were met by a chorus of “Good morning Aunties and Uncles”, making it very difficult for Mme Desmarchelier or Mr Bowen to sneak in and see what we were doing as one of the kids would notice them out of the corner of their eye and start the whole class off. We also found ourselves swamped by excited pupils, wanting to get as close to us as possible, which takes a bit of getting used to but is very sweet. When teaching Prep 4-6 we found that the pupils were very enthusiastic when it came to reading aloud in front of the class and even answering some questions. They particularly loved games such as, ‘Simon Says’, especially when it was their turn to give the orders: hands high in the air, standing up in their seats and clamouring to be picked; until we said " Simon says be quiet and sit down"! As well as teaching Prep 4-6 Dulcie, Eli and Xavier braved prep 2, 4 years old, where they were regaled with an endless repertoire of nursery rhymes. I am looking forward to more days like this, honing my skills, teaching the kids and having fun.


Today, we started teaching lessons at the Ballanta Academy. We had an insightful 3 hours filled with the sweet tones of beginner saxophonists' interpretations of twinkle twinkle little star echoing through the streets of Freetown. After lunch we headed back to the villa and had a relaxing afternoon sleeping before going to the British Council for a gig. The concert started with a class of 11 year-old singing various songs and transitioned into a mix of incredibly loud brass bands, unaccompanied Bach, and the grooviest version of Take Five I've ever heard. The band - 'Groovy Colours' set was full of huge synth solos, funky bass riffs and our driver and student at the BAM, Musa teaching Xav, Chloe, Katie and I how to dance back stage! 

Will- BAM

It was another great day for all, with Mr Bowen being used as cover teacher for a class of secondary students whose teacher had not appeared, and with me playing nurse to a young student who had collapsed and fainted in JTR! Whoever said teaching was a boring job! The concert was great tonight and beautifully ended with our musicians leading the singing of the Salonian national anthem. Proud does not start to express how I feel being with our group! 

Over and out for today, another day beckons. 


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Day 2: and they are off...

After a night of torrential rain we arrived at J.T Reffel school for our first day of teaching today. The second we left the bus we were treated like celebrities, being mobbed by the younger children who fought over who could walk the closest to us! They all love to shake and hold our hands, frequently introducing themselves and asking our names. As well as their teachers, we are referred to as 'Aunty' and 'Uncle' by the students, which takes a while to get used to. The older students and pre-prep are less enthusiastic to see us, but I don't exactly blame them, having unqualified teenagers from half way around the world teaching in their school! We split into 3 teaching groups - Leila, Pip & Hannah took on Arts and Crafts, Dulcie, Eli and Alex did French lessons and Patch, Georgia and I did some English. The books and pens we took from home came in handy, the children were enlightened by literary classics such as The Tiger who came to Tea, Elmer the Elephant and The Hungry Caterpillar. They loved the crayons and coloured pens, using them in their books and drawing pictures. The students are unused to answering questions individually in such large classes, so engagement in class started off quite slowly but the lessons became easier throughout the day as we all got used to each other and became more confident in our teaching. However they are super obedient, we never needed to tell anyone to listen or be quiet. During break we all played games in the courtyard, with literally hundreds of kids wanted to join in and play. We split into groups and played Hokey pokey, duck duck goose and catching the ball which was rather daunting but fun. At the  end of the school day, as we were leaving lots of the kids ripped out pieces of paper and asked for our names, perhaps not thinking they would see us again. Some also wrote on their drawing paper and work things like 'I love you all' and 'God bless you'. They are all really sweet and wonderful children who seem genuinely excited to be in school and in class. Looking forward to lots more days with them! 

Fergus- JTR 

After a rough night of waking up to the sound of torrential rain hitting our roofs, we enjoyed another hearty breakfast (this morning, featuring pancakes!). Afterwards, we set off to the Ballanta Academy of Mus to find a surprise. No students... The staff explained to us, that although we had expected to start our busy timetable of lessons today, the students were not quite ready for our appearance, therefore they would be arriving tomorrow (Wednesday). 

Due to this unexpected turn of events, we spent the rest of the morning practising in our little (unbreathable) rooms, preparing for the upcoming concert at the British Council. 

We were joined for lunch by a very tired looking and dripping JTR gang! We sat around, drenched in sweat, overwhelmed by the mixture of tastes from a dry wrap with chocolate spread mixed with the musk of sweaty teenagers, which carried itself throughout the room. 

However, this was not enough to put us off, so we gathered in a small mini bus and trundled to our next destination - The Vine Memorial secondary school for girls, where we gave our very first Outreach concert. 

After unpacking our instruments, we were welcomed by a short program of singing and dancing, performed by a few of the girls from the school. It surely was a sneak peak into the culture, and boosted us with some positive energy. After that we played our half of the program. The concert came out well in the end, however, dare I say, the style  of music we played was somewhat different to what the students had expected!

We returned to the hotel to have the mandatory shower, a quick game of cards, followed by a delicious plate of spaghetti. Recharged, we headed off to the British Council for rehearsals. A busy, however successful day is now behind us.

Connie and Annie - BAM

Over and out for today- a very happy team leader, delighted to be surrounded by such talented and enthusiastic students. They are making you, our Wells community and the project proud... JDA 

Monday, 23 October 2017

Day 1: in the lions’ den

This is it... all students have now met their students, colleagues and place of work for the next few days. The musicians got stuck in almost immediately at the Ballanta Academy of Music, meeting Moussa first, then James, Michael, David and Leslie, as well as Mr Faux... some of the talented teachers at the BAM. They have tweaked their playlist for our first big concert at the British Council on Wednesday evening- they have practised and tomorrow we shall have our first outreach concert at the Vine Memorial school in the afternoon, when they will be playing together for the first time as a group! The JT Reffell students will of course be there to support the group and galvanise enthusiasm from the audience!

Meanwhile, I took the JTR students for the 15 minute-walk between both schools around 10.30 this morning and we all got very hot indeed... but nowhere near as hot as the welcome we got at the school, with signs dotted along the buildings, and everybody welcoming us with open arms in their classrooms. Our students were an instant hit and a few got very quickly little people shadowing them everywhere! We were greeted with songs, claps and excitement, and students have spend a fair bit of time this afternoon planning their lessons and which classes they wanted to work with.

We ended the day with our first meal dubbed the rice challenge- literally an upside down bowl of rice with some lovely vegetables on the side. Mr Coward won, closely followed by Fergus! Clearly still growing lads! The BAM board of governors together with the whole staff and Mr Simon Ingram-Hill, director of the British Council, also turned up for an evening of thanks to Mrs Cairncross for her work in making this link between Wells and Freetown be possible.

So excitement all around indeed... and now time for some shut eye!

Earlier start tomorrow for both teams... and first blog by students!

Over and out for now!

Day 0: travelling....

Finally, we have made it to Freetown! The 2 KLM flights were without any issues, and we arrived a little bit ahead of the expected 7.30 pm local time. Our ferry company was not quite there but after a few hairy minutes, and a very determined me that we would not pay any extras, we finally got on the coach to transfer us to the ferry and then across to Aberdeen wharf. We were welcomed by Dr Kitty Fadlu Deen and Ms Daisy Reffell, the principal and assistant principal at the Ballanta and JTR respectively. We eventually got to the accommodation and now after a nice shower and some sorting, it is time for your first night here!
Tomorrow the hard work starts!

Over and out for now
Jules Desmarchelier-Arpino

Friday, 20 October 2017

Here we nearly go 2017

Less than 48 hours before we go... everybody is excited! See you bright eyed and bushy tailed in school on Sunday morning at 5.50 am!

Don't forget your Malaria tablets!


Thursday, 10 November 2016

Post Trip Postmortem

How successful was this trip?  It's an important question that must be answered at the end of every trip but it  is particularly pertinent for this trip, our first trip post-Ebola.  Additionally, it was my fifth and final trip so considerations of success, collective and personal, are vital.  After so many trips I have a wealth of comparative information to consider this question confidently.  I think...

Was it a success?  Given the inevitable anxieties about the aftermath of Ebola it has been an unequivocal success.  By simply daring to travel and returning safely and without incident we have achieved confidence and reassurance of our safety in Sierra Leone.  Furthermore, we have sent a clear message to our friends in Sierra Leone that our strong links will not be weakened by hysteria.  Furthermore, in a symbolic way it means that we stand with them/by them through thick and thin.  Caught in traffic, which became an undesirable characteristic of this trip, my eye caught a wall emblazoned with "Wi go "was" Ebola!"  Ebola is most definitely in the past and Sierra Leone wants to move on.  It was curious how it was not mentioned unless asked about and even then personal accounts lacked the apocalyptic hysteria of our media presentations.  At JT Reffell there wasn't a single case but we know about people at Ballanta personally affected.  That said the 2 million people of Freetown realistically had very little practical experience of the virus, which only nationally rose to just over 10,000 cases.  Only...

Back to success.  Did I provide the opportunities for success?  More than any trip to date I have managed to provide more opportunities to the travelling students.  See below for evidence of a packed itinerary.

Not only have we visited chimp sanctuaries and markets but we have also visited women's clinics, blind schools and orphanages.  This latter grouping brought a much needed dose of reality and awareness of hardship that our team needed.  There is something potentially troubling about luxuriating in an air-coniditioned hotel compound but it's a necessity for safety.  Hence, visiting clinics and orphanages is vital to ensure that our students [and staff] have the most three dimensional view possible of West African life.  The orphanage was a find - literally!  Bumping into a Sierra Leonean man with an American accent made me curious and my curiosity got me an invite.  As with all things in Freetown, it was inevitably an invite that wasn't as straightforward as I thought [see separate blog entry about our 2 hour+ bus breakdown stew].  When we did eventually get there it was a wonderfully spontaneous happening - the most torrential rain hammered down upon those of us ensconced in the safety of a small hall where our students bonded, connected, illuminated the lives of kids whose lives they simply could not imagine.  Sometimes serendipity actually does work outside films!

Visionary success? My vision [and that of the lovely wife I left behind this time] has always been one based on cultural sharing and fusion rather than one of us delivering cultural instruction.  I have never wanted Ballanta to be WCS in Africa - I have always wanted it to be an African WCS, which is a huge difference.  To dismantle old colonial attitudes involves us recognising that we don't know the best way - we just know our way.  The journey of the musicians on this trip was quite intense.  We travelled with an unusually small group of musicians.  It was a risky gamble but what a gamble.  Chance had brought a group of jazz musicians together and after a shaky start flourished in the fertile musical garden provided by Ballanta.  Their ability to let go of the classical sheet music constraints and embrace the freedom of African jamming and adventurous mistake making was wonderful to see.  Our last concert at the British Council epitomised the musical fusion I have always strived for.  We played classical; we played jazz; we listened to jazz; we attempted to African dance; we played alone; we played together; we combined and collaborated and collectively succeeded.  It was epitomised visually in Hafren's duet with Francesta at the concert's end.  Not something unusual for this trip [it has happened before on other trips] but something symbolically powerful to remind both stakeholders in the project how important our link is.  Our brave troubadours have learned something fundamental about music and musicianship from the joyous, insanely multi-instrumental Ballanta musicians.

Did I mention non-musical success?  The JT Reffell team went to Sierra Leone with big ideas and small resources.  They quickly got to grips with the reality of implementing big ideas in a completely alien educational environment i.e. they swiftly worked out what was going to work and what wouldn't.  I could have told them that, and did, but sometimes experience is the only true form of education.  The adulation that greeted them every break time, with Lydia and Olivia virtually being stretched limb by limb, was testament to the great job and excitement they brought to these children's lives.  This group has also been responsible for overseeing the greatest amount of glitter ever glued to the faces of African children ever - M. Bolan and D, Bowie [both now RIP - not from glitter ODs, mind] would have been proud.  In a way I feel sorry for the JTR Collective as just as they were hitting their stride they were hitting the floor of the water taxi home.  The timings of this particular trip did not allow our usual momentum and it is certainly a consideration for the next trip.  Again, a vital lesson has been reconfirmed: we shouldn't be playing football on a stony clay pitch - not that the egos of Angus, Freddie and Rhodri would miss out on the chaotic celebrations on every goal scored.

Complete Success?  Each team has its own short shelf life and sometimes the shelf life continues well after the trip.  The best teams prioritise cultural education over all else; personal enjoyment and personal problems have to take a backseat.  The odd thing is that when teams take it seriously like this the enjoyment comes easily: they end up learning profound life lessons and are rewarded with fun and friendship.  Other teams prioritise the fun and, unsurprisingly, get fun.  But very little learning takes place.  It's all about prioritising the right things and setting expectations high.  Of late phones have become an irritating problem.  With better internet access more recent teams have been able to access Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube etc and to the detriment of their overall experience.  Looking down the bus many times, I saw a few faces looking outwards but the majority of faces looked inwards riveted to their phones or discussing some social media related trivialities, which is a wasted opportunity.  Luckily, such indulgence can only be a small part of each day.  

I have not been able to measure the individual successes of this team because I have spent so little time with them, which seems like an odd thing to say.  I have been a busy boy, possibly too busy, in Freetown and taken all types of opportunities I normally wouldn't: visiting film schools working with street kids, designing new logos [see bottom], terrorising national TV, blagging my way into the Irish embassy etc.  The lack of a central meeting space in our HQ this trip has certainly not helped this process and it is something to think about seriously for the next trip.  So much happens every day that a team debrief becomes almost essential.  I know that the enjoyment and bonding levels were very high but I have yet to discover how much learning happened.   I have resorted to post-trip discussions and what I have so far found out has been intriguing.  Watch this space...  Despite what has been learned the most difficult aspect of such learning is to retain it, to not let it be washed away by the chaos of life back home, to be able to contextualise our own lives through an awareness of other lives.  It takes strength to not succumb to our familiar coping mechanisms of whinging over trivialities and feeling sorry for ourselves when in a wider sense we have no right to do so.  Only those with a strong moral core can do this well.  To assimilate such temporary cultural learning into a more permanent worldview is akin to wisdom.  Difficult to measure now; maybe best to test 10 years into the future!  They look more enlightened below...or is it just exhaustion?

Solo success?  All down to me?  Not likely!  Firstly, I must thank Johanna Harrison for agreeing to return to Freetown - and thereby making the dastardly transition from student in 2010 to staff member in 2016.  What a calm and mature hand to guide our musicians!  Johanna was a great support to both students and staff and her presence was key in creating a successful trip.  Secondly, I must also thank Jules Desmarchelier for firstly, assisting me in the trip but also more fundamentally in taking on the work I have spent the past six years doing.  I look forward to seeing how Jules continues the good work of the project into the future and I am confident that the project lies in safe hands.  It is odd to hear how long I have been at the helm of the project and I have mixed feelings about letting it go.   It was supposed to be only two years but ultimately, I know that my time is up and my energies spent.  The project needs fresh eyes, energy and ideas to keep the momentum rolling.  Each trip and each team has brought unforgettable memories, challenges, disappointments, failures...but mostly successes.  The highlights reel would be very long indeed!  

Personally, I have no idea how successful I have been and in what ways I have been successful.  I am happy with some things, unhappy with others but ultimately all that I can say is that I have done my best.  In doing my best I have been aided by some brilliant people over the years.  Thank you to all of them but, most especially, thank you to Sarah.  I spent my spare moments this trip looking to my left and finding not stories about her day but hot, humid space.  I would be a liar if I said I didn't taste loneliness among one of the friendliest peoples on the planet.  But those sharp shards of loneliness have prodded me homewards.  Sierra Leone has challenged us to marry, to embrace parenthood, to essentially become better people.  If nothing else I can only thank them for teasing us into action and accelerating our journey into joint happiness.

Success? Yes.