Off to Gambia, with 100 pairs of shoes that keep growing – Stevenage squad gets set for Easter adventure

Last year's Gambia team

Last year's Gambia team - Credit: Archant

A team of enterprising volunteers from Stevenage are hoping they can give Gambian children happy feet when they travel to the West African country next week.

Children in The Gambia

Children in The Gambia - Credit: Archant

The team from Marriotts School and its sports centre will carry 100 pairs of specially designed ‘shoes that grow’ when they travel to the villages of Mandinari and Marakissa.

The shoes – made by theshoethatgrows.org – have adjustable fastenings which means they can ‘grow’ with the child’s feet, and their solid soles makes them ideal for the hard sun-baked ground.

The trip will be led by Marriotts Sports Centre personal trainer Andy Power, centre manager and Project Gambia trustee Jamie Drackford, head of sixth form Adam Illingworth and sports centre assistant Jordan Wilson, who will be joined by a dozen sixth form students and 14 volunteers.

This trek follows a pioneering visit last year when the core team of four visited schools in Mandinari, armed with 500 pencil cases.

Children in The Gambia

Children in The Gambia - Credit: Archant


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Andy says: “There’s a lot of poverty in places, they don’t have a lot of things we take for granted.

“We saw kids playing football in bare feet and flip flops. They don’t have books in their classrooms.

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“In the school library when it rains the roof leaks so the books get soaked.

“We wanted to take the shoes so that we can help provide the children with one of the most basic things they need. Hopefully by taking these out there the idea will spread.”

This time around the team will paint classrooms, assemble furniture, teach some lessons in English and install solar panels for power and light.

They will also take two full football kits donated by Knebworth FC.

“It’s a very different way of life out there. They are so laid back – instead of Greenwich Mean Time we call it Gambia Maybe Time,” Andy says.

“Everyone smiles and everyone seems happy. They’ve got a huge sense of community and a huge sense of family which we’ve lost a bit over here.”

Andy tells a touching story of the extent of generosity shown by the team’s driver – who invited them to his house for chicken and rice, but which meant his own family would have to go without.

The funding for the equipment has come from a wide range of local businesses and team members have funded their flights and accommodation from sponsorship.

The project was started by Jamie who used to visit The Gambia on holiday and decided it was time to take action.

On this visit the team will be looking for a school to partner with on a more permanent basis to help it build better classrooms.

The Gambia Project is now a charitable trust and more information can be found online at www.gambiaproject.co.uk.

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