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Nyodema - Fighting poverty with music
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AITO Award Interview

Kathryn Burrington, one of The Gambia Experience’s employees and co-founder of Nyodema, has recently won AITO’s (The Association of Independent Tour Operators) prestigious Achievement in Sustainable Tourism Award for 2008.

The Gambia Experience enjoys AITO's coveted 5-Star Sustainable Tourism (RT) accreditation, in recognition of the company's long-standing commitment to Sustainable Tourism.  This year AITO asked its members to nominate individuals who have achieved something outstanding through their own efforts and made a real difference to a local community or the environment.

Kathryn has demonstrated what a difference one person can make by using tourism as a mechanism for supporting projects in destinations. She founded a charity called 'Nyodema' which means 'Helping Each Other' in Mandinka (a Gambian tribal language). To raise money, Kathy organised a 'World Music & Arts Festival' that proved a great success and now looks set to become an annual event. A number of charitable evening 'gigs' also mean that Nyodema continues to operate throughout the remainder of the year, as well as promoting multi-cultural awareness.

Kathryn received her award in February at ATIO’s ‘Meet the Media’ event in London.


Congratulations on the award Kathryn – how did you feel when they announced your name?

Surprised and very pleased for everyone involved with Nyodema!

It’s a great recognition for the dedication and hard work you’ve put into Nyodema – how did it all start and what was your inspiration?

When I joined The Gambia Experience I started sponsoring a little girl through an existing charity. A few months later I went to The Gambia for the first time and while there I visited a number of schools, including hers. All the schools have very little in the way of resources and many of the buildings were in very poor condition.

It was on my second visit to The Gambia with a friend, Shelagh Hamilton, that we put our heads together to see how we could raise some money to help.

Tell us about the schools you have been involved with – what are they like?

The school my little girl went to, Jeddah Progress Nursery School (for 4 to 7 year olds – equivalent to UK infant schools) on the far side of Brikama, appeared to be the poorest out of all the schools I had seen. The teachers, however, really impressed us with their dedication and enthusiasm. As an infant school it does not get funding from the government and has to rely on the support of the local community. Many of the parents struggle to afford the fees (let alone the cost of uniforms etc). This means that the school struggles to pay the teachers. Some schools get donations from tourists but unlike schools nearer the coast, this school gets very few visitors.

The children usually grow up speaking one of several local languages but as English is the official language of The Gambia and is used throughout the education system and in commerce, it is essential that the children get to grips with English before going on to state run schools at the age of seven. Synthetic phonics is a system of teaching English widely used throughout the UK that has proved to be very successful. Nyodema has financed phonics training for the teachers at the infant school and at the junior school next door. We also provided basic equipment to support this. The junior school is so pleased with the children’s progress from “our” infant school, that they have asked us to train the teachers from all the other infant schools in the area that feed it.

This is a project particularly close to my heart having had a lot of problems with reading and writing at primary school myself. I can remember coming top in a maths test the same week as getting zero in a spelling test! Using phonics enables children of all abilities to learn.

You’ve helped set up a number of projects to date – are there any that particularly stand out?

Distributing the mosquito nets to the children was wonderful. We watched each child receive a net so we knew that the nets had gone to the people that they were intended for. The folded up nets were bigger than some of the children and back in the classrooms children started disappearing under a sea of netting. When the children went home, a stream of nets, held above the children’s heads, flowed out of the school grounds into the streets. We’ve heard that incidences of malaria have reduced since the nets have been distributed which is fantastic.

The fundraising events you organise sound like great fun – who’s involved?

There is a strong music tradition in our home-town of Bognor Regis with everything from some excellent local bands playing pub gigs to world class classical recitals, however, there were no “world” music events.

Shelagh and I roped in another friend, Phyl Keane to help and although we’d never been involved with anything like it before, we went full steam ahead and organised our first world music and arts festival.

We only had a small budget but with many artists giving their time for free we booked a steel band, a Gambian drum and dance troupe, a reggae/funk band from Hackney plus a few local bands. We also had craft stalls, djembe (African drum) and Gospel singing workshops, poetry and a photographic exhibition. It took a lot of hard work to organise.

On the day, we nervously waited for all the bands, the volunteers and, not forgetting, the audience to turn up!

Much to our relief it was a great success. It was wonderful to see how much everyone enjoyed it, including the musicians, and at the end of the day people were asking us if we were going to do it all again next year.

We have already started planning our third festival so what started as a one off looks set to become an annual event. We now also organise occasional evening gigs.

Since we started in 2007 our events have included musicians from countries throughout Africa and Europe, as well as the Caribbean and South America. Through Nyodema, I have meet some wonderful people, in the UK as well as in The Gambia, and gained many friends. Our sound engineer, Benny, is fantastic and copes with anything we throw at him and there are many other volunteers who we couldn’t do without.

People from work have also got involved including David Williams who ran the Great South Run, raising over £400, Jason Dicks whose alter ego as a magician entertained the crowds at the festival last year and a number of others have donated raffle prizes as well as children’s clothes, shoes and toys for us to distribute. We’re also grateful to The Gambia Experience for sponsoring both our festivals to date plus one of the evening gigs.

Any events coming up and what projects have you got planned next out in The Gambia?

This year’s festival will be at The Regis Centre in Bognor on Sunday 23rd August.

Before then however, we have a “Gospel Sing” organised with the help of British Gospel Arts and a local music school. A full day’s gospel singing workshop will be followed by a performance on Saturday 16th May at The Regis School of Music.

Africa has a rich choral tradition and in June Andrea Encinas (director of British Gospel Arts with many years experience in choral work) will be spending a week in The Gambia with us to work with a number of community choirs. www.britishgospelarts.com

We will be buying mosquito nets for the new entrants at the infant school in Jeddah, Brikama in June and as well as upgrading facilities and equipment there. 

Further training courses in synthetic phonics for more infant school teachers, from a number of different schools in the area, have also been arranged.

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