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Gambia Report

Gambia 2011  

We were very lucky to embark on a ‘once in a lifetime trip’ to the Gambia.

The trip was a prize for winning the Most Outstanding School at the Giving Nation Social Action Awards in October. Giving Nation is a project of the Citizenship Foundation that aims to build engaged and active youth by building social action projects that benefit their local community.

Giving Nation promotes and encourages thousands of secondary school students across the UK to get involved in charity work, including campaigning, social enterprise, volunteering and community activities.

We raised an £27,000 for many charities and good causes during the last school year.

Moira Pain said: “We feel so proud and so privileged to have won such a nationally acclaimed award. It’s great to gain recognition for all our work. It was only through keeping a diary that we could appreciate how much effort teams and individuals put into helping the community. I think we surprised ourselves on how much we actually do!”

We joined the charity Concern Universal to work in partnership with local communities. Concern Universal works to fight poverty and inequality by supporting practical solutions to improve livelihoods while amplifying the voices of people they work with.

We spent a week as investigative journalists reporting on how global changes are affecting people at a grass root level in the Gambia.

The key themes were climate change and tourism. It was a unique opportunity for us to understand why our own actions have a positive or negative effect on people living in poverty.

We have put together a report on our trip and it is woven around the diaries, personal reflections and memories of the group. We all hope you enjoy reading an account of our life changing adventure.  

Team members

Students

Tom Anderson                  15

Rebecca Beavis                 16

Lauren Blayney                 15

Rachael Harrop                 15

Aareez Khan                      15

Moira Pain                          15

Staff

Jenny Holland – Concern Universal

Karen Harvey –   Concern Universal

Sulafa Silim –       Giving Nation

Lesley Sleight –  Queen Elizabeth II High School

Gunjur Project Lodge

Jo

Butch

Alagi

Wed 16th February

Travel to Gambia

‘We are on our way and I am feeling tired, excited and a little nervous. I really don’t know what to expect I have never been to Africa before. I can’t wait to arrive and see everything.’

‘I think we are going to meet a lot of interesting people with very interesting lives. I get the feeling that this is going to be one of those trips that change the way you view things for the rest of your life.’

‘I wasn’t expecting the plane to be this busy. There are a few hundred people on board, far more tourists than I expected. I expect we will see a big difference between the tourist and rural areas of Gambia.’

‘Stepping out of the plane the heat was overpowering. Leaving the airport I was on high alert. We had been warned not to let anybody carry our bags but hands were soon plucking at our luggage. People were very friendly but I was not sure of their intentions. A boy in a wheelchair came over to the jeep his legs had been amputated and he was hoping we would give him money.’

Thursday 17th June

Gunjur Environmental Protection and Development Group (GEPADG)

On our very first morning we visited GEPADG. We were met by a small group of volunteers acting as our guides, who explained that GEPADG’s aim is “to enhance the livelihoods of the local people.” We set off on our tour of GEPADG’s protected area of conservation, near the lodge. On the way, we met a man wheeling his bike along with a large pile of wood strapped to it. Our guides started shouting at the man in Mandinka, and someone explained that the man had illegally chopped the wood in GEPADG’s conservation area, and as a result could face up to six months in prison, or a huge fine. However, our guides (who are also wardens of the area) decide to let the man go, in order to avoid building “animosity” with the local people. This was the first challenge we’d faced in Gambia – should the man be allowed to chop firewood to cook on, or should the area be preserved?

We carried on further into the area, and were struck by the beauty and diversity of the plant life all around us. The Gambia, in common with much of Africa, has issues regarding deforestation; too many trees are being cut down, primarily for cooking with, and the lack of vegetation is leading to other, more long-term problems such as soil erosion and loss of wildlife. GEPADG is trying to promote conservation of the local habitat, and their reserve in Gunjur is a rare example of Gambia this remarkable habitat, at just 320 hectares. We saw fabulously exotic plants such as the Locus Bean (traditionally used to ward off malaria), cashew trees, Winter Throne trees (they drop their leaves just before the rains come, helping farmers time their harvests, and are also used as a toothache remedy), breadfruit trees, mango trees, palm trees (used for palm oil and making palm wine), and grape plums, which come from the baobab tree and make baobab juice. There are also the West African Laburnums, and our guides assured us that “the African man marries two women because of this tree”, in recognition of its use as a herbal Viagra!

We reached a lake filled with flocks of wild birds. The Gambia has lost much of its wildlife due to hunting (the last leopard was shot in the 1980s), but it’s still famous for its birdlife. We saw an African Spoonbill walking along a sandbank with a tall stork, and a heron (we’re so used to seeing them at home; it was oddly incongruent against the backdrop of mangroves). We walked along the bank of the lake and came across a small inlet with a hole at the back of it, and learned that it’s a crocodile burrow. Despite our curiosity, no-one was brave enough to have a closer look! We also spotted a crocodile in the water on the other side of the lake…from a distance…mostly submerged…but still very exciting!

GEPADG are currently trying to raise funds to build an office where the wardens can sit and monitor people going in and out of the reserve, and hopefully limit illegal logging and hunting there. However, their official funding has recently been cut so therefore their only source of income comes from their own fundraising, which has to cover renting an office, wages, and general running costs. You can visit GEPADG’s website on http://www.genvironment.co.uk/.

Gunjur Market

‘We visited the fish smoking sheds. Very, very different from the kipper factory on the Isle of Man. The processing was very basic with very little machinery. On the beach women were wading out to the boats to collect the fish. The sea was above their wastes and the heavy loaded baskets were carried balanced on their heads. After cleaning the fish the women with babies strapped to their backs carried the heavy laden baskets up to the village. It looked very tiring. I was humbled by the way the women were working so hard.’

‘What I have learned today that women do much of the practical work. The men catch the fish and smoke it but the women do everything else. They clean and gut the fish and haul it around often with babies on their backs; it is incredibly impressive.’

Collecting Fish

TARUD (Trust Agency for Rural Development – partner of Concern Universal)

TARUD was first created by a man called Willy Brown who called a meeting in 1981 in Germany with the dream of creating a global village. 10 ambassadors from rich and poor countries attended, many of them ex prime ministers. The meeting was televised in England but only one High Commissioner in Gambia responded positively to the idea.

Mr. Brown wanted to link The Gambia with the UK and Gunjur was the town that fitted the criteria for linking so was twinned with Marlborough, England in 1982. A constitution was written and a committee set up and an assessment was carried out to assess Gunjur’s needs. After this a five year plan was created from 1990 to 1995.

In this time period a savings scheme was set up by a Pakistani man who felt sympathy for Gambian women who were working mothers so set up a scheme so the women and men could save their money. It was a loan system for women to start small businesses which they would eventually pay back. He started business education training which had to be attended before loans or credit was issued. 

Other projects were set up such as health education and numeracy and literacy as over 95% of Gambian women were illiterate.

TARUD planted trees which are bearing fruit, a pre-school was also started in Gunjur for 235, 3 to 7 year olds and it is now the best in the Gambia educating children and their parents. With their children at school it meant mums could be free to work in the rice fields and gardens.

However funding is becoming more difficult for TARUD. More and more links are being set up between the Gambia and there are more volunteers, gap year students teachers coming over from the UK which helps with the education. 

TARUD is also the founder of the SMILE-B projects (SMallhallholder Irrigation for Livelihood Enhancement –Business).SMILE-B uses a collection of appropriate, low-cost irrigation technologies and practices. They remove the burden of pulling water by hand and allow smallholders to produce bigger and better harvests. They are looking for a 3 to 4 year extension of the project as it is such a success.

Gunjur had no access to clean drinking water and dysentery and diarrhea caused many deaths. With drilling machines more wells have been dug.  Hand pumps and treadle pumps have been bought to help women collect the water. Coverings have also been put on wells to help keep water clean. SMILE-B have also funded the raising of well walls and put running water taps around villages to get rid of the risks of falling down wells.  We were told that only a few weeks early a girl of six died falling down a well. She was helping her sick mother to collect water but unfortunately when throwing down the bucket she overbalanced and fell in herself. Such a tragic story but a story that we were to find out later was very common.

‘We were told that we are all the same the only difference is the colour of our skin. I thought how true this was.’

Bucket and Rope

 Friday 18th February

SMILE Gardens (Smallholder Irrigation for Livelihood Enhancement)

The SMILE Project is a cost efficient way for households and farms to have access to a supply of water that won’t run out. The project tries to introduce water irrigation technologies into the lives of many Gambian people, especially women. The systems could improve quantity and quality of produce for farms; they could extend the land you can farm due to quicker irrigation. They could also increase the growing season and therefore make a larger profit. The project is trying to replace the wells commonly found around the Gambia where you pull up water in a bucket or other container attached to a rope. This process is time consuming and tiring and can mean walking many miles for water. The SMILE Project’s systems vary from rope pumps to drip irrigation kits and even venture as far as a mechanical tube well drill.

While our group was visiting the Gambia, we had the privilege of visiting a SMILE garden and seeing the benefits of having a pump in such a dry country. At the garden they were growing aubergines, chillies, cabbages and tomatoes for home consumption and to sell. It has to be one of the most amazing and entertaining experiences of our trip because of how welcoming the women were and their joyful dancing.

SMILE Garden

‘We went to the SMILE gardens where we danced with the women to beats of a stick against a water container. I felt so overwhelmed by their hospitality.’

 

‘For the first time I could dance without feeling self conscious or knowing any of the moves.’

 

We toured their garden and saw their crops, wells and irrigation system.

‘If only they had a simple wheelbarrow they would then be able to transport their vegetables without having to carry the heavy loads on their heads.’

‘Working a small plot of land can really change a woman’s life in Gambia It can help them support their families and neighbors and give them independence. It also strikes me that although they have land and opportunity, they still have so little and yet they are happy which is so infectious.’

‘The women farmers have taught me that through hard work and commitment you really can change your life and community. Their dedication and hard work really inspired me’.

Sandele Bay Eco Retreat

We visited Gamspirit’s Sandele Eco Retreat. Dedicated to responsible tourist development, Sandele works in conjunction with the local village of Kartong to ensure that the project is beneficial for both the management and the local people. It is a key belief of the proprietors, Geri Mitchell and Maurice Phillips, that the local people, their knowledge and culture has to be introduced into tourism before sustainability can be achieved. At Sandele visitors are given the opportunity to break through the barrier of traditional tourism and participate in activities taught and mentored by the local people of Kartong.

This form of tourism brings a greater understanding between the cultures and promotes more sustainable tourism in the future. As well as 70% of Gamspirit’s employees coming from Kartong, Sandele is also situated on land owned by the people of Kartong. At the end of 25 years the land and anything that is built on it is to be reverted back to the village. In addition a proportion of Gamspirit’s profits are used to support the village’s development. For every guest per night 100 dalasi are donated towards this worthy cause.

Maurice and Geri’s vision – to create a centre of excellence in terms of responsible tourism, sustainability; luxury and peace; where quality, first-rate service and superior cuisine is offered in a manner that maximises benefit to the local community. 

 Not only is Sandele beneficial to the local village of Kartong, it has also been built in a way that minimalise the environmental impact of the building process and of running the retreat. Maurice and Geri’s construction principles are: minimum cement, glass, metal and wood. To reduce the use of cement they used compressed stabilized earth blocks instead of normal bricks. The ingenious blocks, made mainly of lime, are incredibly solid and only use a fraction of the cement of a normal brick. They also reduce emissions and only emit a small amount of CO? in creation which over a long period of time they amazingly reabsorb. They also have their own furniture workshop where they use sustainable resources. The eco lodge runs on wind and solar power where possible but a generator is necessary to power the furniture workshop and electricity demand of many guests.

 This fantastic project is an inspiration for tourism in the future and will no doubt continue to explore sustainable tourism as it develops.

Reptile Farm

Moira and Snake

‘I loved the feel of the snake slithering over my arm and the smell of the reptile farm. Except I didn’t care for the lizards they reeked.’

 

‘Snakes and reptiles are important to keep the pests off farmer’s lands. The owner of the reptile farm tries to educate people about the role of reptiles. Many Gambians are superstitious and really fearful of snakes. They will try to kill them contributing to their endangered status.’

‘I learnt that a lot of the reptiles are harmless and you can’t judge by what they look like or how big or small they are.’

Music in the Gambia

Drumming Workshop

As I am a keen drummer I have been interested in African drumming for a few years and have occasionally played a Djembe of my drum teacher’s on the Isle of Man and the moment this ‘once in a lifetime’ experience reached my ears I knew there would be the great sound of drums involved.

 I went out to The Gambia and my expectations of African drumming were met within 2 days of being there. On the second day we travelled down to a project called SMILE where women go and work on a community farmed plot of land. The second we walked through the gates into the garden the women all started congregating around the building near the entrance and after a few hellos an elderly woman started beating on a water container with a little stick. In less than 5 minutes all of us were dancing in the most random ways I have ever seen and done, I felt kind of awkward at first because I had no idea of what I was supposed to do but with that aside it had to be one of the best moments of the trip. The joy was so pronounced with all the women we met at the garden.

 It became quite a common scene to see whilst we were in The Gambia, local communities dancing to the beat of a few drums. I got the idea that drumming is a huge part of social life as there would be drums at weddings, naming ceremonies, funerals and in many other situations. Drumming is also traditionally a form of communication between tribes and villages, you could play a certain rhythm and the other village would answer with another. There are different rhythms for different occasions and we got the chance to learn some of these from Butch at the lodge who is a brilliant Djembe player and teacher. Mainly Djembe and Dun Dun Bas made up the community music that we experienced in villages close to the lodge but the varieties of African drum are never-ending.

All Gambian instruments are made from locally grown wood and other materials found nearby. They are all crafted with huge skill and some are decorated with animal carvings and African scenes, making the instrument extremely special. Drumming isn’t the only form of music in The Gambia; a harp style instrument called the Kora originates in The Gambia and is played commonly all over West Africa. Griots are also well known for their music, they are historians who pass down stories in the form of poems and praise singing.

I was so inspired by African drums that I brought a Djembe back with me, as did three others in the group. I am hopefully going to form or join an African drum group and learn some more rhythms to add to my collection. The music is the one thing I could never forget about The Gambia.

Drumming Workshop

‘Butch was a fantastic teacher and we all learned so much. I didn’t want the lesson to stop.’

‘Butch inspired us all, what a great teacher.’

Sat 19th February

Kombo Beach Hotel – Seeing the impacts of Tourism

On the fourth day we went to the tourist hotspot region of The Gambia, Senegambia near Banjul. Senegambia gets its mixed name because it’s ‘a mixture of Gambia and Senegal’ as it used to have a lot of influence with Senegal and its people. It was not like the Gambia we had seen but a concentrated area resembling Spain. Despite the fact that The Gambia is predominantly a Muslim country, it is filled with bars and nightclubs. Some of the nightclubs are huge and some believe they cause more harm than good. The streets were lined with restaurants with an array of multicultural cuisine. These are indubitably the outcome of Tourism.

The hotel we visited was called Kombo Beach hotel. They welcomed us in warmly and after some confusion, we finalised and progressed to a meeting with Adamah Bia and his college Mr. Gambia, the assistant General Manager of the Kombo Beach Hotel. They were both extremely realistic and truthful with their remarks, never hiding anything and admitting to bad points. They both told us facts without any hesitation and acknowledged that tourism can be bad.

Tourism in the Gambia has grown massively since it was first introduced to The Gambia by a Swiss man named Berlile in 1965. Now there are at least 150,000 or more tourists every year and this figure rises by the year, but many aren’t sure if this is a good thing. The main positive impact of tourism is the money it brings to the country. A massive slice of government income in The Gambia is from tourism and tourism has overtaken the peanut export and trade in bringing in money to The Gambia. Money is a massive bonus that tourism brings to The Gambia and money is the predominant reason why Gambia hasn’t closed down on tourism either through restrictions or limits.

Tourism in The Gambia also provides many jobs for people through direct ways, like employing gardeners or chefs, or through indirect ways. For example, a farm may feel it needs more workers in order to meet the demand of the hotel it supplies so there are more indirect jobs that tourism brings. This means produce also increases with tourism. It is believed that about a whopping 50,000 jobs are provided by tourism, overtaking the government for employment/jobs. Although this is an extremely high figure of jobs, arguably, it is said that 60% of the workers are not Gambian – which could mean that only 20,000 are potential jobs for the Gambians; if only 40% of the 50,000 jobs are not used by the Gambians. The tourist industry is also doing extremely well with Gambia having the highest percentage of lipid guests in the whole of the African continent, 35%. But this huge number for its population exaggerates the bad points of tourism in the Gambia.

Most of the time, the tourists do not respect the culture and dignity of The Gambia with most men and women dressing in very revealing clothes which is rude and offensive to some of the Gambians and Gambia’s reputation. It is also bad for Gambia’s reputation because it is now looking like a sort of sex tourism.  The government is trying to clamp down on this but because of tourism growth rate; the government can only reach so far. Often older women from Europe come and ‘take’ a young Gambian man home; in fact we witnessed this on our flight. Once the young man reaches European soil, he will run and start a new life. The tourists are so open about love that it is beginning to affect the Gambians. More and more local men walk around with their girlfriends and girlfriends aren’t intended in Islam. More and more bars and nightclubs open and it makes Senegambia look vulgar. Tourism is not all that good. Some think that it is great for Gambia’s agricultural industry but about 80% of the hotels food produce is sourced across the global market. Often young people leave a ‘proper’ job to go tourist hunting, and yet again give Gambia a bad name.

Overall, the impacts of Gambia can be seen as good or bad, depending on opinion. My own belief is that without enough control, tourism could infect the Gambia, and The Gambia could go belly up. But others think otherwise, like Mr. Gambia. He believes that tourism is 90% good but it does have its cons.

‘I enjoyed talking to Mr Gambia he talked equally about the pros and cons of tourism. I also felt that tourists are oblivious about the non-tourist side of Gambia.’

‘I really enjoyed interviewing the hotel management. It was good because the two men we met answered our questions honestly. Tourism in Gambia is generally positive; it brings in a lot of money and leads to a lot of job opportunities in the tourist season. I feel that the tourists don’t get the true feeling of the country. I truly believe that they have not visited the real Gambia. The visitors are missing out on fantastic experiences.’

‘Tourists clash with the local culture and there are fears that with the nightclubs and revealing clothes, the tourists are gradually ‘Westernising the Gambia.’

‘I didn’t really enjoy the tourist Gambia very much. I could have been in any resort around the world; there was no sign of all the distinctive and wonderful things I had come to love about the Gambia.’

I found that young Gambian men seek relationships with elderly women tourists for money, marriage and the chance to escape their country. Also children drop out of school to hassle tourists believing that they can make money. We were told that the Manager of the hotel would be imprisoned if a minor was found in the room of a tourist. Many NGO’s go into schools to teach students about the dangers of sex tourism.’

Sun 20th February

Travel – up country

 During the week Concern Universal took us on a two day trip up country to see some of their projects first hand. On the way up we discovered just how difficult it was to travel from one side of the river to the other. After getting up at five in the morning to ensure we were near the front of the mass of cars and trucks that seemed to be the Gambians ‘organisation,’ we had to wait for 7 hours before we got across to the north bank. This was a result of a backlog of traffic due to no ferry crossings the previous day and one of the ferries breaking down. When it finally arrived to the south bank we were all horrified to watch an ambulance with sirens blaring drive off it.

The main roads as we travelled in the jeeps up country deteriorated the further we travelled. Leaving the tarmac roads behind we journeyed along dirt track roads with many holes. It was a bumpy ride, often struggling not to hit our heads on the roof of the vehicle as well as trying not to spill water all over each other every time we hit a pothole. This part of the journey took about 4 hours. In the U.K. the same distance would normally take around an hour to travel.

Without roads and the ferry ports being improved the infrastructure of the country cannot develop.

‘I realised how difficult it would be for a farmer to get his produce into Banjul along these terrible roads. The lack of infrastructure shocked me.’

‘We were stuck on the ramp up to the boat, there was not enough room. Foot passengers then started boarding. Hundreds of them swarmed past us, some carrying items of furniture and even goats. It was unbelievable; a huge health and safety issue. It took us three attempts to get on the ferry. I feel awful that people have to do that every day and I now can see why the Gambians cannot transport their produce quickly.’

Museum of Slavery – Albreda

We visited the museum which gave us a good insight into the history of slavery. Albreda was a trading Post for slaves. Alex Haley’s novel ‘Roots’ was based on the slavery site. The local village was the home of Kunte Kinte, the slave the novel was based on

‘Once we finally got to the North Bank, we stopped off at the Slavery Museum and learnt about slaving history. It was so very interesting. It is a subject we have done in History and to see a trading post and all the artefacts was amazing. ’

 One of the plaques it said ‘then we marked the slaves we had bought in the breast or the shoulder with a hot iron, having the letter of the ship’s name on it.’ It then went on to say that it caused little pain and would heal in four or five days. It really saddened me.’

‘I couldn’t believe the sheer numbers of slaves captured from 1501 -1867 there were 754,877 slave departures from Senegambia.’

Njawara Agricultural Training Centre (N.A.T.C.)

Overnight we stayed at a Njawara Agricultural Training Centre. The N.A.T.C was established in 1990 with the intention to train young people and adult farmers and help to improve their villages farming techniques. Their goals include contributing to food self-sufficiency, enhancing the livelihoods of rural communities in The Gambia and helping to empower farmers. By training four farmers from every village and introducing seeds to the villages that take less time to grow and produce more yields, is just one of the ways the N.A.T.C plan to reach these goals. The training at the centre includes practical and theory work as well as being given business schooling, unfortunately the demand for this training is greater than the supply the centre can give. The N.A.T.C also runs and manages many of the projects we had seen around The Gambia during the week including SMILE and GGIGS these help with such things as providing wells with covers to help decrease mortality rates and easing the amount of walking the farmers must do.

‘We were able to see one of the wells sponsored by the Isle of Man Government. It made me feel proud that our country was trying to help.’

Environmentally Friendly Stove

Stove fueled on peanut shelves

The stove was being introduced to the villagers in order for them to cut down on the use of firewood. It was also a much healthier means of cooking. When it rained women had to go in to tiny shelters to cook their food on open fires. Constantly bent over smoke and fumes meant high rates of lung cancers were occurring. When women had a young baby on their back the babies were also in the smoke. Young children were contracting asthma and all sorts of other health problems which were effecting their lives long term. 

The stove was first created In the Philippines 15 years ago and it was a great success and now the newest version has been being produced for three years. The stove is very efficient and it only takes 7 minutes to boil 800g of rice in 1 liter of water. The stove uses rice husks and peanut shells as fuel and this is very cheap and better for the environment than burning wood because it is a food byproduct and it creates considerably less carbon dioxide and other harmful gasses. 

The ashes from the fire are 100% carbon and can be used as fertilizer. The stove also never has to be cleaned you just top up with the fuel. The stove is made in Senegal and is sold to the people of the Gambia for the subsidized price of 1500 dalasi. The stoves actually cost 3500 dalasi to make but this is too much for most Gambians to pay. Unfortunately the demand for the stoves is outstripping the supply.

Monday 21st February

Njawara

 ‘It used to be a thriving village. The rice fields have been affected from desert sand and industry has dried up. Now the villagers live in extreme poverty. It is an unusual village as it has a female village chief. The Gambia is closing the gender gap woman by woman.’

‘Njawara is the only town where a woman is chief. We went to visit her and she made us very welcome. She is highly respected and was also commended by the President for all her work.

We visited a clinic and I thought it was really poignant how they had no electricity and somebody had donated a solar panel to ‘solve’ the problem but it was broken and there was nobody to fix it. For me this was an example that highlighted the crucial difference between development and aid.’

‘We popped in on the medical centre. There is no electricity as the invertors broke on the solar panels and nobody knows how to fix it. We also noticed that the birthing bed was also broken. During our visit a child was being tested for malaria.’

‘The doctor who showed us around said he wasn’t really a doctor he was trained as a nurse.’

 ‘We visited the primary school the children were so welcoming and happy to see us.’

‘On the wall of the heads office were all the timetables, assessment, attendance policies and assessment results spanning several years. They were handwritten with hand drawn bar charts. This is so different from the mass of computer and policy documents at my school. Our head would certainly not be able to stick all her policies on her wall.’

‘The children must have had a reading lesson as on the board was the title ‘Reading’ followed 8 lines of writing for the children to read. There were no books in the classroom. It made me think how lucky we are to have a good education system.’

St. Josephs Family Farm Centre (SJFF)

The farm was founded in 1988 in response to the increased influx of young adults migrating to urban areas in search of employment. The Centre provides skill training on farming techniques and provides loans to help students become self –employed. 3000 women vegetable gardeners received training and they were able to share their skills with women in their own villagers.

The farm also runs a Disaster Risk Reduction Project, helping communities to prepare for, prevent, plan and respond to emergencies. Training is also given in conflict mediation skills. The Centre is involved in relief aid and has helped many families whose houses have been damaged by rain. It also has provided emergency sanitation and wells for areas where refugees from Senegal have swamped small villages. Rice seeds have also been provided to help the refugees to farm.

The Centre also runs literacy programmes to increase functional skills. Many women have benefitted from the programme; an example given was a woman who could now do simple bookkeeping in her small business.

Bwiam Community Radio

Run from SFFF is Bwiam Community Radio Station. The station has a frequency covering the Western Region, Lower River Region and the North Bank Region, making it one of the best community radio stations in The Gambia. Many people have expressed their happiness over the establishment of the community radio in Bwiam.

The station has equipment similar to our radio station but the sound proofing was just cloth on the wall. I enjoyed the radio interview and how important it is in Gambian society. It is the key form of entertainment and communication.

‘I was rather shocked when I found out that our radio interview had been live. The radio is important in helping children with their English. Books are given as prizes to the children participating in the radio education programme.’

‘I was really excited to be on the radio and as usual I was pleasantly surprised by our warm reception at St. Josephs. Everyone was so busy but they found time to chat and eat with us. We were made to feel very welcome, it was very humbling.’

‘Being on the radio felt like a chance to thank the Gambian people for their hospitality. I loved it.’

Tuesday 22nd February

Marina International School

‘This morning we visited Marina International School, ‘the premier fee paying school in Gambia’ and interviewed students about their lives and education.’

‘We went to share our school experiences with the 6th formers and hear about their school life.

They follow a British syllabus, our education systems are not that much different. Their school is fee paying and their class sizes are smaller. The students were fascinated about the Isle of Man and it surprised us that our boring lives are exotic and interesting to others.’

‘It was nice meeting them, they were very friendly and welcoming and from an unexpectedly mixed background. I expected them to be mostly ex-pats, but I was wrong, there were many Gambian students.’

Concern Universal Gambia is Good Headquarters

‘We met the co-ordinators of the Gambia is Good project and learnt its mission aims and ethos. To run a charity project as a viable commercial business was a very exciting idea that had never occurred to me before.’

‘It is here where local produce is brought after collection from the farms. It is sold on to locals, tourists, hotels and restaurants.’

Mama Africa

Mama Africa

Near the end of the trip to the Gambia we visited mama Africa, which we were told before arriving is a garden designed to inspire the women of the Gambia.

Mama Africa was indeed an inspirational place. Isha Fofana, the artist and owner of the compound, explained to us how in the Gambia it is uncommon to have females become artists and how her aim was to show women they could be who they want to be. Mama Africa is also a place to learn, as Isha shows her heritage in her art, along with encouraging the children to visit to stay at school for as long as they can. This helps women and children alike to be educated as well as become inspired by the things that are around them every day. Her idea is to be able to help women gain power and respect in the Gambia, the art gives people something to view; to give women a chance to be seen in a different light.

However, not everyone sees Mama Africa as a good thing but Isha says that she understands this, “I like to have critics because critics let you go further.” She uses the negativity towards her art to help her gain more inspiration and lets it strengthen her.

Many Visitors have been around the garden and gallery and art work has been sold to places all over the world. “This has been a truly moving experience and bless your efforts on inspiring the creative spirit,” was just one of many of the positive comments written in the visitor’s book. Isha also informed me that Gambians have started to bring their children to view the gallery and she has had plenty of young girls say as they leave that they want to become artists.

‘I loved Mama Africa; it was so peaceful and inspiring. I thought Isha’s work with depressed women was wonderful, and is a real success story for the value of finding artistic ways to express emotions.’

Wed 23rd February

Visit to Gambia is good (GIG) Community Farm

Concern Universal is helping local communities to grow fresh produce that can be sold to hotels, restaurants and supermarkets. Over 1000 women have been trained by the GIG project. The women are selected from their communities and training is carried out on the farms. When they return home they are supported and visited by their trainers on a regular basis.

The women learn about crop planning; what is needed in months ahead and what the market demands. They learn about crop rotation and its importance to control pests and disease as well as maintain soil structure.

At the farm they were experimenting with breeding ducks. The meat is in demand by the local hotels. The ducks were being fed on couscous, herbs and fruit. Their manure was being used for fertiliser.  A manure tea is made using droppings from cows, goats, sheep and poultry. The manure is put into a cloth bag in a barrel of water and after 3 days the organic fertiliser is ready to use when mixed with added water.

Aubergines, cauliflower, broccoli and courgettes were also being grown for the hoteliers. The courgettes were proving the most difficult to produce because of fruit fly infestation. They were being sprayed every three days with a liquid made from soaking leaves from the Neem tree which acts as an insect repellent.

In 2006, 500,000 dalasi was being paid to local producers. This has increased to 2.9 million dalasi in 2010. Approximately 65% of hotel produce is supplied by local farmers.

At the farm we watched cakes being cooked in a solar oven. There was also a parabolic solar cooker. Wood has become a scarce commodity and in some areas it has become illegal to crop. Most cooking is on open fires with pans on three supporting rocks. The cooking fires are sited in small huts that quickly fill with smoke. This is an ongoing health problem especially for babies who are carried on their mother’s backs and whose faces are directly in the smoke when their mothers are bending over to cook.

The Concern Universal project is helping many women in rural areas, who previously had virtually no income to now earn up to £150 a month. The GIG Farm visit was a great ending to the trip.

Gunjur Project Lodge

The aim of Gunjur Project is to provide an educational experience for young people from the developed world by providing them with an opportunity to come together with youth in Gambia.

Butch and Jo who run the project are absolutely amazing people. They are so kind, so passionate and have a true sense of community spirit. The time, energy and love they bring to the local children is awe inspiring.

‘I really enjoyed playing games with the Kajabang 8.’

‘Gabriel gave me such an insight into the life of a Gambian youth. He was so kind and so welcoming.

Today I really enjoyed the goodbye drum workshop and disco with the kajabang 8. I will really miss all the people I have met here and I will never forget the experiences I have. It was lovely to have one final laugh with all the friends I have made.’

‘The evening party with the Kajabang 8 made me realise how sad I’ll be to see them go. I wondered as I said goodbye where they will be in 20 years and what their country will be like. I hope it will be positive for them, and I hope to return one day and see how the Gambia has progressed.’

‘We met a girl who to our surprise was only 15. She was walking around the compound with a child of a one year old child on her back who she informed us was her son. She explained to us how she was a wife to a man who was fighting in Senegal and who she expected was dead. This shocked us all as we couldn’t envisage being married so young and having a child. It was even more shocking that she should be a widow after only one year of marriage.’

‘It was great to go into Alaje’s compound and meet his dad and look around to see how he and his family lived.’

‘I loved playing football with the Kajaban 8. It is easy how quickly you can make friends when you find games you all enjoy.’

‘Amelia aged 14 loves her life here and is happy to show people who are almost  complete strangers  new games and talk to them about her life. She is a most interesting and friendly girl who’s English is amazing even though she has never been outside the country.’

‘I enjoyed the walk with the Kajabang 8 around their village and compounds and then down to the Holy Rocks where Muslims will go to pray for hours. Walking along the beach and messing around in the sea during sunset was beautiful. Having a communal tea was really funny and a good experience. We all shared one big plate of food together.’

Youth Brain-Drain

Throughout our life-changing trip to the Gambia, we heard many stories from the people we talked to about an issue that everyone was aware of, the country’s youth brain-drain. 

Brain drain is also known as “the human capital flight”. It can be simply defined as the mass emigration of technically skilled people from one country to another country. But Gambia is facing this problem with a twist; the people who are leaving are the next generation.  Brain-drain can be caused by many reasons, for example-political instability of a nation, lack of opportunities, health risks, personal conflicts etc. The Gambia is predominantly an area of political stability but this could soon change for this topical reason. Brain-drain can also be named as “human capital flight” because it resembles the case of capital flight, in which mass migration of financial capital is involved.

In the Gambia, Tom and I had found opportunities to interview some local Gambian’s on different occasions about this issue and the reasons given were expressed in all the interviews.  The fundamental causes that I understand are the lack of opportunities, low quality of life, country wide poverty and the ‘frustration’ that the individual has not accomplished much in his/her life- the need to fulfil the potential of the persons acquired skill. This problem is does not only involve male youths but I found when asking some of the Kajabang 8 that some women also leave The Gambia (although they pointed out that it is a tiny amount of the economical migrants).

Alaaji, our guide, told me many tales of the migrants. Many of them risk their lives in reckless attempts so get to the ‘glowing Europe’ through different ways. Alaaji knew some people who went by scaling to North West Africa to then put their life in the hands of a boat or ship that cannot withstand some of the waves the Atlantic Ocean or the Mediterranean Sea throws at it. They go through this illegal means out of desperation and lack of money to afford a flight out of Gambia. He said that the majority of people who attempt the sea voyage to smuggle themselves out of Gambia often end up getting kidnapped or even death by sea or crew occurs.  Those who choose to leave by the safe transport of flight have to trek all the way to Morocco or Egypt so they can get a more guaranteed visa through legal actions although the majority of the time it is not granted; another reason why the sea is chosen.

In The Gambia, countries like America, Spain and the UK are seen as countries with employment waiting for everyone. This image has been created by tourists who have a very Western impact regardless of the Gambian culture, which causes some ‘copying’ in The Gambians. They see the tourist from Europe and America spends like money is no object to them. The tourist are so naive of their impacts, they treat Gambia as a cheap Spain in terms of tourist appeal (climate and nightclubs ECT have been introduced). The more tourists come, the more this image is exaggerated. This concept of endless employment opportunities is not the case at all; with many of the UK residents living off the ‘dole’ which they are permitted. But a newcomer to the country will not always get this luxury.  

People leave Gambia in hope of becoming a doctor, a lawyer an accountant but the competition is so high among the residents of that country that only the top percentile with the best education achieve their goal. Schooling in The Gambia is a poor area that needs developing. The Kajabang boys were older than me, they were 16, 17 18 even 19 but in school grade of eight maximum which is what a 13 year old is at in the UK.

Omar, a friend of mine in the Kajabang eight, was talking about how he wanted to be a doctor in England but I could only hope things work out for him. He was 17 years old and he was only in grade eight. There is only a slim chance that he can get into medical school and pass before he is too old. I do hope he fulfils his ambition to become a doctor. All of the boys in the Kajabang 8 wanted to leave because there weren’t any decent job opportunities available. They wanted to make a lot of money abroad and then return home. Pamood, another friend I made, has a father in Spain. He managed to save sufficient funds to fly to Spain but he has been there six years and they haven’t heard from him. He was supposed to return after three years, Pamood thinks this is just a delay. It is common for Gambians to venture to Europe for a job and find that they cannot afford to return back home.

This youth brain-drain is hitting the Gambia hard with a miss in generation as they have travelled to Europe. That means that The Gambia has to suffer, without youths-there will be no adults in the future and there will be a gap in the employment for Gambia. If this brain-drain issue is not sorted out by providing opportunities with development, Gambia can only pray that their economy can survive.

Food in Gambia

We’re all back from The Gambia now, and contrary to our expectations, we’ve managed to put on weight during our trip! This is mostly due to the attentions of our hosts at the Gunjur Project Lodge, who plied us with a wonderful selection of amazing food. Even Becky, the fussy eater of the group, was completely won over by the freshly-prepared local cuisine. We had several different chefs catering for us at Gunjur Lodge. I interviewed the only male chef, Mahmadou, to try and get an insight into the workings of a Gambian kitchen. Here is a selection of his favourite recipes (there are no quantities specified as much is down to personal preference. I’m assured they’re pretty foolproof, so have fun experimenting!)

Remember that in Gambia, it’s customary to serve all the food in one large dish and eat it with your hands. While this might not be to everyone’s taste, it’s definitely worth a go for the authentic cultural experience!

Wonjo Juice

This is a delightfully sweet juice we tried, with a vivid purple colour. Serve warm in the cold British winter! Dried hibiscus flowers are available online or in specialist health/foreign food shops. 

Put fresh or dried hibiscus flowers to a pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer this until it becomes thick syrup, and strain it through a sieve. Add cold water (or hot, if preferred) and sugar to taste. 

Baobab Juice

This is a lovely thick juice, which we were served in a local compound as a celebration drink. The berries grow high on baobab trees, and when the wind blows them down children collect them and sell them in the market for some pocket money. 

Boil the baobab berries until they’ve absorbed a reasonable amount of water. Remove the stones and mash the white flesh. Strain the juice and add water. Add millet powder and sugar to the juice. If desired, mashed banana, pineapple or coconut could be added to the juice. 

Chicken Chou

Tomato is a key ingredient in Gambian cuisine, and this recipe is no exception. It’s an incredibly versatile dish, as it’s very simple so it’s easy to exchange ingredients to cater for individual palettes. 

Ingredients: meat or fish, carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, tomato purée. 

Fry garlic and vegetables, and add lots of tomato purée. Add raw chicken and simmer until the chicken is cooked. If using fish instead of chicken, fry the fish first and add to the tomato sauce very late, or the fish won’t hold its shape. Serve with rice.

Chicken Yassa

Our chef confessed that Yassa was his favourite meal! As you’ll see, it’s a really easy dish, but absolutely delicious and very impressive – perfect for dinner parties! In fact, we chose it for our farewell meal on our last night. Again, the chicken can be exchanged for beef or fish, but remember not to add the fish too early as it will disintegrate. 

Ingredients: chicken, chopped onion, chopped peppers, herbs, lemon, chicken stock.

Fry the chicken with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add all other ingredients and simmer until the juice has reduced. Serve with rice. 

Domoda

A type of tomato and peanut soup. Tomatoes and peanuts are widely produced in The Gambia, so this is a very popular dish. Great as a starter or a meal in its own right!

Ingredients: smooth peanut butter, tomato puree, vegetables (e.g. green beans, bell peppers, potatoes, carrots), onion, garlic.

Mix peanut butter into boiling water. When this is smooth, add tomato paste. Add onions, crushed garlic and other vegetables. Leave to simmer for a while. When the peanut oil comes to the top of the soup, it’s ready! Serve hot with rice and a slice of lemon.

Domada-Peanut/groundnut stew

1kg beef (stewing beef) or a chicken

4 med Onions (quartered)

Garlic (half a bulb)

Tin of plum tomatoes

Good squeeze of tomato puree (couple of table spoons)

Squirt of lemon juice (two good tablespoons)

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

½ jar of smooth peanut butter (mug size) (try to get one without sugar and organic is best)

Scotch bonnet chilli if you can get it and if you like hot pepper, any chilli will do if you can’t and it is lovely without.

Maggi or Jumbo cube (stock cube)

Water

Cooking Method

Cube the beef and fry in a little oil until browned on all sides. Remove from oil.  Adjust oil amount as you need just enough to stop the onion/tomato mixture from sticking.

In a blender added the onions, tomatoes, tomato  puree, garlic, black pepper, stock cube , chilli (if you like it hot) and whizz up.

When the oil is hot add the mixture from the blender and cook until it has darkened just a bit…usually 5-10 minutes. Now add the meat, two or three tomato cans of water and put the lid on to boil for half an hour to an hour, it depends on how tough the meat is.

When the meat is almost tender then scoop out half/three quarters of  a jar of peanut butter (add whole chilli here if you like it not so hot) and add to the boiling meat and cook until it starts to thicken,  so have the lid on the pan but allow steam to escape so that the sauce reduces. When it has started to thicken then add the lemon juice and salt.

Once the sauce is ready oil will start to appear on the surface. This can happen quickly or take some time…don’t be in a hurry this is African cooking. Adjust salt and eat with basmati rice….

‘When I lived in the UK we sometimes added halved button mushrooms just 30 minutes before serving. In The Gambia some families add chopped potato 20 minutes before the end of cooking and some add carrots…but in the villages it tends to be served alone or with bitter tomatoes.

This stew tastes better on day 2 and keeps well in the fridge. It also freezes really well so for those of you from small families this amount will do a few meals. Enjoy…..’

Reflections

‘I now understand that more than aid is needed to benefit someone else. They need education and guidance in how to help them improve their livelihoods and develop their country.

I learnt that aid is important but offering the training for citizens to contribute to and run the development in their own country is a lot more sustainable and probably more successful in the long run.’

‘I often confuse development and aid. Before this trip I thought you could just give people things to solve the problems in their lives. I now realise how wrong this was. I now believe that EDUCATION is the most important instrument for social change. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for life. How true that is.

‘It had never occurred to me before but if you build a school or clinic it doesn’t mean they are going to be used. You need to have nurses, doctors, teachers trained before the buildings can be used and they need to be sited in the right place. It begs the question whether all charities are doing the right thing to help the people. It is up to the people themselves to say what they need not be told by others who think they know what they need.’

‘This visit has shown me that Concern Universal doesn’t just help people by throwing money at projects, but instead they offer education and support to help people run their own development projects and progress using their own work, courage and motivation. This means at the end of the day it is their achievement, what they want and a sustainable form of development begins.’

‘I feel increasingly sad as the trip nears its end but I also feel as a group we have not wasted one moment and we have all learnt so much. This has been a once in a lifetime trip!’

Acknowledgements

We would like to express our thanks to the Citizenship Foundation G-Nation team and Concern Universal for giving us the opportunity to go on such a life changing experience.

We would like to thank the team at Gunjur Project Lodge and the Kajabang 8 for your help, support and kindness.

Thank you to the staff at the many projects we visited who made us so very welcome and looked after us so well.

We really appreciate the work that all of you do and it has been a real privilege to work with you.

 You have given us all a greater understanding of issues in the Gambia.

A big thank you from all at Queen Elizabeth II High School

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