As kind-hearted and chirpy as his nickname namesake - the cartoon character Noddy - Nick’s voice bounds down the phone on a bitingly bright winter weekend.
“I’ve just finished putting furniture together at the cricket ground, getting it all ready for the start of the new season.”
In typical humble fashion, he doesn’t mention that he is not groundskeeper, but First team captain. When we question to confirm this, he chuckles, modestly keen to move on to why we were talking in the first place.
“My work in The Gambia started when I was studying at the University. Winchester supported Kaira Konko (a scout lodge in Soma) and I was lucky enough to visit for three weeks in my third year with lecturers Miriam Walker and Naomi Flynn. The scout centre works closely with children from nearby schools and delivers a range of initiatives and projects from building new classrooms to improving adult literacy, all of which are to support the local community.
“It really was an eye opener in terms of the extent of the poverty and the things they don’t have. We have iPads galore and TVs – if they want to watch TV they have to go to ‘video club’ where they all squeeze into one space. I remember watching the Champions League out there with 300 Gambians all in this one room.”
“When I was out there, I made a promise to myself to do what I can to make a difference.”
“The individuals I met out there are just the kindest, most interesting people, who really want to take the time to get to know you. Off the back of that trip, I started the Give to Gambia project in 2017, raising just under £4,000 so far.”
For this, Nick called upon his passion for sport and embarked on the European marathon circuit. He completed the Dublin and Rome marathons in 2017, followed by the Paris marathon in 2018.
“It’s a real challenge of endurance doing marathons, but I liked the idea that it would be so,” he reflects. “I want to keep going; I want to get to 10 and then maybe I can retire!”
Nick credits his love of sport for giving him not only the fitness to run marathons, but also personal qualities like perseverance and resilience.
“I think it is about exiting your comfort zone. Your comfort zone is obviously comfortable, and what you know, but I think amazing stuff happens when you escape it.”
Going beyond the boundaries of comfort paid off. In 2018, Nick returned to the same place in The Gambia, two years after graduating as a teacher. The money he raised meant a water well could be repaired at Sittahuma School, crucial given the next well was a significant distance away. The fund also enabled all school children in the area (over 2,000 pupils) to receive a pencil and an exercise book. Additionally, Nick provided boxes of chalk to each class as well as coloured paper for projects and he was able to supply a set of matching football jerseys for a local school team.
On top of all this, Nick turned out to be in the right place at the right time to have even more of an impact.
“There is a local organisation that normally provides school dinners, which is amazing because it really incentivises kids to go to school. But during the time I was out there the organisation couldn’t get the food to the schools.”
Nick used the funds from his project and the manpower provided by Kairo Konko to supply 500 children in three schools with school dinners for two months. Luckily, the original organisation were subsequently able to resume providing these meals.
Fast forward a year, and Nick is about to head back to The Gambia now. “The school we supported for the water-well, has lots of other problems, including damage to the classroom roofs – the wet and windy season took lots of tiles off which can’t be repaired.” . Again, he’s tackling fundraising head on – quite literally.
“It’s a statement I guess, and the kids I teach are really looking forward to seeing me bald!” he laughs, when we ask why he chose a sponsored head shave. This time, his fundraising has also taken on another element – the involvement of the students he teaches at Ashdown Primary School.
“Fundraising for repairing the classroom roofs, as well as hopefully renovating the school’s toilet block with the leftover funds is what my kids want to do, so this has been our charity project in Year 6. The kids and the School have been amazing, really pushing for our target.” Through activities like a Year 6 sponsored swim, Nick clearly wants his class to be proud of the difference they are making to the lives of fellow schoolchildren, thousands of miles away.
“My class are an integral part of the process the whole way – I show them pictures, talk about my previous trips and give the kids complete ownership of what we want to put the money they raise towards. I’ve talked to them about the different projects we could fund and they are the decision-makers.
“The kids also write letters so they have a pen pal exchange with the children at the original school I went to with the University - I hand carry the Gambian reply letters back to my class with me. When my pupils progress into the secondary school, there is a fieldtrip to Africa, so it gives them a real infectious enthusiasm to try and get there in the future..”
Nick started at his current school as a Newly Qualified Teacher in Year 3. The following September he was moved up to Year 6; a significant move that was not lost on him. “It is quite an important year since that is when the school is judged with SATs. It’s really not too regular to have that kind of jump so early on in your career, but it’s flattering that they thought I could do it.”
This year is going to be his last teaching in the UK, at least for the next two years, as he heads out to Dubai to continue to stick with the profession.
“Teaching is hard work,” he states openly. “But I do enjoy hard work, and that’s life in general, I wouldn’t expect life to be easy and you’ve got to put into life what you’d like to get out of it. After Dubai, I want to go and teach across Asia too, probably for another two years, before basing myself back in the UK.”
Just like teaching, he also sees himself continuing to make a difference in The Gambia, and empowering his pupils to play their part in his work.
“Schools can really help in the drive to fundraise decent amounts of money. In every school I work in I want to see where there may be opportunities to further support the work in The Gambia.”
With such a global life now, Winchester could have faded in to the mists of time for a less grounded alumnus. Yet when we ask about his experience at the University, Nick became even more animated and buoyant, clearly aware that Winchester helped set him on his path with teaching and his work with The Gambia.
“I was looking for a fresh start, which Winchester really gave me. Ultimately, I am so grateful for this and I just felt so welcomed by the University community, including the hockey and cricket teams and my course as well.”
“It was a journey because it took five years [Nick changed to teaching after a year on Sports Studies], but it was a journey I had to go on. Apart from being in the Library until quite late sometimes, I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Throughout our conversation, it’s clear to see that Nick continues to live the mission of his alma mater: to educate, to advance knowledge, and to serve the common good. His dedication to making a difference is impressive and as is his commitment to a goal..
“I know is it cheesy, but I love a good quote,” he quips. “A quote I always have in my mind is ‘leave the world a better place than you found it’.”
This article originally appeared in the spring 2019 issue of Venta, our alumni magazine.Back to alumni