This is the time when I usually let you know how I got on in The Gambia, but as things developed with the Coronavirus, it was soon clear that I would not be able to go this March.
This will be a short update as Gambia has no tourists and people are told not to have gatherings. It is very difficult to know how many people have the virus there.
Sarjo isn't going out as much as usual but he still has plenty of calls for our help. The government cars are not available and there are not so many bush taxis on the roads if needed. Nevertheless he continues to make urgent visits.
I have included four of his earlier emails written before the CV-19 crisis. They give an interesting insight into his work for us and I hope you enjoy reading them.
Thank you all again for your support.
Wednesday, 15 January 2020. Trek
I spoke to the lady from Karol while she was at Bwiam market looking for left-over okra and egg plant for their dryer. I told her what we discussed yesterday. They have to send the money now in order to book the chicks - if they book late, then they won't get them until March. This will leave the hen house empty and they don't like that.
Good news – the exchange rate went up from D65 to D67 so I made 2 more dalasis per pound – in total D3,400 extra.
On Friday am, I going to Jakoi village in the Foni Cansala to give 3 groups okra, tomatoes, cabbage, pepper and bitter tomato seeds.
On Tuesday if possible, am off to Kabamb at their invitation for me to see how wonderful they dry sweet potatoes. The same day, I will visit Jomokunda to see how they are getting with their drying. Many Women’s cafos are doing lots of drying to keep for the rains because last season, some families were very very hungry. Many fear that rice is becoming very expensive and that's why they are very lucky to get the dryers and making good use of them.
During my last trek we visited Sofora Women’s Group and they have 120 pkts of dry cassava. With the sweet potatoes I learn that you can make cherreh which is one of our common foods. Knowing this, lots of communities will grow more sweet potatoes and we will need more dryers – especially if with climate change, we continue to have less rains.
Tuesday, 28 January 2020. Trek
It was a very difficult day yesterday here in The Gambia with demonstrations against the government.
The handing over and training on processing on Friday and Saturday went very well and both groups were busy cooking and drying.
We had to do the handing over early on Sunday at 10 am because we had to return home before noon with the government car.
Part of Westfield was on fire - I watched it again on the BBC news and they show some but not all of it. Many people are still in the hospital and some in the prison. One of Awa's friends was involved and was put in prison - her family went to see her there today. At the moment everything is normal but they are arresting anyone they suspect was involved - so it's a bit quiet.
Wednesday, 19 February 2020. Trek
It's a hot day today with little breeze. Hope the weather there is good. It was a very successful visit to Kajamo Women’s kafo. This kafo live in a very remote area and have no idea that there are charities who can help them when needed.
Sometime ago, we gave this Women’s Group 2 sewing machines, and on that day they were very very pleased and promised to make the machines benefit them.
They have made a profit of D17,000!
They remember the Kabafita Fund who gave them the machines and invited me to go and see how successful they have been since have had the sewing machines.
During the rains, they will buy bags of rice for the community or each family. It is a very small village and they live happily together especially now they will have food to feed themselves during the hard time.
Once more again I say thank you so much for your support to the Gambian women, children and of course men.
Wish you all the best
Friday, 6 March 2020. Visit
Am back home from the visit to Kasofor women kafo. There are 97 women in the kafo and last year was the first time they have ever seen a dryer. Nevertheless they have worked very very hard and dried 511 bags of cassava which helped the whole village from hunger during last August and September. The men turn out in numbers to say how happy and helpful the dryer is to them during the rainy season.
In August and September every evening they cook a big meal of cassava porage and eat it at the village centre in a group so even if someone is hungry in the morning and afternoon but he can expect a full tummy in the evening.
So they all pray for the Kabafita Fund and sing a song meaning the Kabafita Fund are here to save our lives.
I return back home not long ago and am so happy that I have to send the news to you before I have my shower.
Will write to you again on Sunday.
On Tuesday November 12th I arrived in Gambia on Titan Airways after a very good flight that was on time and fantastic food. The downside was it was double the fare of Thomas Cook.
We took the boxes of machines to Redcoats in Surry two months before I was going. They should have arrived in plenty of time before I was to come but they arrived on the day I got there. There is only one docking area now in Banjul.
It was good to see Sarjo and the three children waiting for me at the airport. When we got to the house we opened the boxes and found one of the machines had been dropped in the ports which meant one of the villages would only get one machine.
The next day was sorting out the money and taking it to the bank and the following day we set off in our friend’s taxi to look at some of our projects to see how they were getting on. We delivered some pencils and chalks to a school and carried on to the next village where the women wanted us to see how well they were doing with their tie and dye (see last Trek Report) They are doing very well in deed.
The rest were cooking our lunch
Every women’s group has a garden but many of them need fencing. The animals push down the wires and eat whatever they can find. They wanted us to help them. Unfortunately fencing is very expensive and we had to say no.
In their garden
We decided to go to Soma for the night as it is the best place to get a good sleep.
Our next village was Tintiba. We came off the main road on to a narrow winding track. Six miles later we reached our destination. All went well with the handing over and we had some very nice food. It was a small poor village and we asked about the children’s schooling. Just then they all came into the compound after walking the six miles from school. Amazing!
On the way home we took a few bags of rice to Karror and looked to see how the poultry was getting on. We started them with broilers but now they have egg layers. They sell their eggs to the villages roundabout.
When we got back to the house there was an oldish lady waiting for us. She had come from a very long way on a bush taxi to see us. Their village had clubbed together to ask for three solar driers. It was a large village but most of them were starving. We couldn’t say no after coming all that way. She stayed with us until late afternoon having had a lovely dinner and good news for the village.
Two days later we went to Banjul to catch the ferry to the North Bank. Our plan was to give some onion, aubergine and okra seeds to a Women’s Group we visited a few years ago. When we got there , there were no women - so we went back. A nice gentle day. (Kayaborr got them instead)
Coming back from the North Bank
Next day we went to Gunjur on our way to the river to see how the fishing was going. First of all we stopped in the women’s garden to see how the sewing machines and solar driers were getting on. They were doing very well and they were happy to see us.
When we got to the beach it was packed with boats and fish. Unfortunately they were all bonga fish with lots of bones in. The Chinese had got all the best ones with their factory ship out at sea.
Salting the fish
On our last day we went again to the school where the tie and dye were having their final lesson. It was very impressive. The colours were unusual and looked very good. They were very pleased.
I have always said that Karror is one of the poorest villages in The Gambia. The couscous failed again this year due to no rain then too much of it. The water table is very low so they can’t have a women’s garden. My idea was that a drying frame might be useful. On the main road there is a market every day. Lots of vegetables that don’t get sold during the day can be bought very cheaply. The ladies can then buy them up at a reduced price and dry them. Also when the mangos are in season they can sell the dried fruits and sell them later. We brought along some okra to show them how to dry them and we left them all having a go on the frame. We also gave them chicken, rice and vegetables so the village could have a celebration that evening.
We are the only charity in the Gambia giving solar driers for free and we are known all over the country for it. They cost £70 to make because they are made from mahogany and solar plastic. I have given Sarjo enough to pay for 16 frames for the next four months.
A drying frame
As it was my last day we celebrated on the patio with a lovely meal with Abie, Sarjo, the three children and the four sponsored children who live in the compound. It was a nice end to my stay.
I came home the next day. It was one of the most productive visits ever.
Thank you for reading this and all the support that you give to the Kabafita Fund. I would also like to say a BIG THANK YOU for all the work my daughter has done to create a new website and another BIG THANK YOU to Rodger Swaine who has looked after it for ages. I hope you enjoy it.
This year is a special year for the Kabafita Fund, as we are celebrating our 20th Birthday!!
In the final year of the decade, as everyone was facing the uncertainty of the next millennium, this charity was launched. Who could have imagined how a decision to go on holiday to The Gambia would have such far reaching effects on so many people.
These news pages tell of many stories. The struggles, the hardships, the failed harvests, the losses, but also the joys, the laughter and plenty of dancing and drumming. Roads travelled and meals shared. Throughout them all are the connections that have been made and the differences these have created in people's lives up and down The Gambia. Our ethos is to empower women, to help give them skills and opportunities, to create positive changes for the benefit of the whole community. This is what we set out to do, this is what we have done and this is what we continue to do.
If you are new to our charity - WELCOME.
If you are well known to us and been a supported for years - THANK YOU.
This is our new look website and we are very excited about it.
Please feel free to spread the word about us and help us to continue our wonderful and invaluable work.
Peter came this time so there was lots of bird watching along with the charity work. We arrived at Banjul airport early evening. Thomas Cooke changed the flights to land early evening rather than early afternoon. There had been a near-miss with a circling vulture.
When I was there last I visited Bantanjang Lower School near Mayork. We had given them a sewing machine so we took a look to see how things were going. They were making uniforms for the children and doing very well teaching adults to sew. The women asked us if would give them soap making and a tie-and-dye business. These things are very costly so they had to decide one or the other. There was heated discussion but in the end they chose tie-and-dye. (Three weeks later Sarjo arranged for people to come from Banjul with all the material and dyes. The teaching went extremely well and they are now making money). On our way out the headmaster asked us to plant a tree in commemoration of our help.
The next Saturday we had the Government car and off we went to a village near Soma to take the machines. We handed over one electric and one manual. What we didn’t know was that there were three women’s groups and we had given them to the wrong group! To make things better I promised to give the other two a drying frame each and they were very happy.
On the way home we delivered two more machines and visited Karror to discuss chickens. They had been doing well with the broilers but we asked them if they would like to try layers instead. The women were very enthusiastic. As I am writing this the chicks are there and doing well. In the last few years Karror have lost their couscous due to lack of rain so I took 18 packets of sunflowers to see if that would do better.
Sarjo is working harder than he has ever been. Every day he has at least ten calls from women who want frames or machines. Unfortunately there are now no tele-centres near him so that he can’t send me his trek reports. We are looking into providing him with a tablet and installing WiFi in the house. This will make communication much easier. Nearly every week he goes on bush taxis to visit villages who invite him to come and see how well they are doing. A few weeks ago six villages got together to show off how well they were doing and how much money they had made. They invited him to come and adjudicate. He was amazed as to how well they are managing their businesses and they were all so good that he was unable to choose a winner. He said they were ALL amazing.
There has been hardly any rain so far this year. People are very worried. Those who have frames are drying as much as they can. Let’s hope it comes soon. The Gambian Chief Imam has just asked everyone to pray for rain and to plant trees to replace those being cut down by the Chinese.
Claire, my daughter, has taken over as secretary and has built a new website. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Roger Swaine for all his help over the past years and maintaining the older one.
Thank you all for your continuing support,
Thursday the first of November saw me and my daughter, Claire, off to The Gambia. It was the first flight of the season with Thomas Cook airlines and it was packed. When we arrived in Banjul airport there was drumming and dancing to welcome us. Then later we found out it was for Prince Charles and not for us.
I had taken five sewing machines to Redcoat on 12th September to make sure they would be on time for us to deliver them to the villages but on that first Thursday, November first, we had heard nothing. We went to the ports on Friday to see what had happened and there they were – they had forgotten to phone us. It was too late by that time to get a government car and to let the villages know we were coming.
As we had a weekend to fill we decided to go to the monkey village. It was great fun with lots of good shots of us and monkeys. We also met the boss of ‘Green up Gambia’ who are a group of young people who are planting trees as well as trying to do something about the amazing amount of rubbish all over the place. (look them up on Facebook}
As it was our day off, we decided to go to Sanyang beach to get some fish and paddle in the sea. We saw six boats come in with only a handful of fish between them. The Chinese are trawling with their factory ships and taking all the catch. Fish is now much more expensive than it was.
Our ex-fisherman is now a taxi driver so on the Tuesday we hired him to take us to two villages past Soma to deliver the sewing machines. He had never been so far up country and found the gears a bit of the problem as it was a bit hilly there. We were staying the night in Soma so we dropped off our luggage and then carried on to Jappineh where the group were waiting for us. They saw us two years ago when we were delivering machines somewhere else and they have been patiently waiting since then. We handed over one shuttle and one electric. Then they sang a long song about the current state of affairs – lack of rain and the government that they feel has let them down.
When we come to these villages there are always women who come to ask for our help. Three came from different villages (one on a donkey cart) to tell us about their crops that were ready to harvest. All of them wanted dryers. We have so many people asking for these we try to be fair but when you hear their amazing problems it’s hard to say no.
The next morning we had time on our hands so we went to see a group near Soma where we went to four years ago. On our arrival we found them having their Wednesday meeting. They were so pleased to see us and told us all the things they have been doing with their machines – bed sheets, curtains and uniforms. They have a lady tailor who is teaching other young women to sew and they are bulk buying. Their next projects are tie & dye and buying chairs to rent out. This was a very good start to our day.
On our way to Jabisa Village near the river we took a detour to see the bridge that is being built over the Gambia River linking it to the North Bank. The many stalls selling goods will go when it opens, as the Ferry will probably go with it.
The road to this village was a nightmare. It was a single sand track with holes for four miles. When we arrived there were lots of children waiting to welcome us with songs and speeches. The place looked new but the children’s uniforms were in a poor state. I’m afraid to say that it wasn’t a very good handing over. The men tried to take over. A child was told to talk about wanting computers, laptops, table and chairs etc. We had to stop all this and confine our talk to the women, explaining that we were here to focus on them so they could develop their own business and help themselves.
The road to the village
Our greeting and the hand over.
On the way back we called in to the school at Jamakunda where Alan, one of our sponsors, gave money for tables and chairs. We were able to see them and to give needed supplies. Across the road we tried to see the Lady President to ask how the solar dryer was working. She was out but the women were able to tell us that it is working well. They are growing okra, tomatoes, sweet potatoes to dry and they have dried lots of mangos when they were in season.
We had two days rest before we were off again. In those two days we went to a naming ceremony, a wedding and a Jolla ladies evening.
This time, instead of giving dryers and machines, we thought it would be good to see as many villages as we could, to see how the projects were going. Our government driver arrived at 8.45 in the morning and we were away by 9.30. We stopped by in Bwiam to book our accommodation and to give the people of Karror (Sarjo’s sister’s village) two boxes of chicken legs, a sack of rice and copious vegetables for our feast that evening. We were to be celebrating Claire’s almost birthday in the evening. En-route we had a call from Setee saying he had a funeral to go to and couldn’t come. We then discovered he had arranged to have two villages meet us to discuss their needs without telling us. The first village had been waiting on the road since 10 o’clock and it was now 1pm. We were able to promise them a sewing machine, onion seeds, look into tie & dye and put them on the list for a dryer. They showed us their garden which needed fencing but we couldn’t do anything about that.
By now it was late in the afternoon and we were rushing to get back to Karorr for the evening. As we were speeding along the road we saw a group of people waving at us so we stopped and found that these were the other people Sette had arranged for us that morning. They wanted a drier, tie & dye and seeds.
Finally we got to Karorr just as it was getting dark. It was not how it was supposed to be as we couldn’t go round the village to see what was going on. What we DID see was rotting couscous, the same as last year and the year before. There wasn’t enough rain and the time it did rain there was so much of it it blew the plants down. I suggested they try sunflowers next year. The poultry business is doing well. They were waiting for the next batch which will be broilers and layers.
After dinner some of the sponsored children came and we had fun taking photographs. There was no dancing after all as there was a funeral that day.
The next day before we started on our way back we visited a shack along the road for coffee (three cups of coffee with condensed milk for 50p all together!) With that and a huge watermelon we’d been given we started for home.
Our task was to visit four more villages on the way. Three of them told us how the driers had helped them. The lady president of Kassang told us the dried mangos were amazing and that they grew okra, chillies, cassavas and tomatoes. They used the profit for fencing their garden.
The Lady President, who was sleeping out and guarding their recently harvested rice.
In Kataka they said they dried everything they could and now have enough money to make a tie & dye business.
We then headed for home, a lovely shower and a G&T.
Six of our sponsored children have finished their education now. Three of them have done well but the others did not pass. One of the reasons for failing was that the teachers have not been paid for some time now, so have not been there to teach. It is said that out of the 3000 pupils who took the Exam only 800 passed but I can’t verify that. We have decided not to carry on sponsoring children after this. When the present group leaves school, that will be the last.
Things in The Gambia are not in very good shape. Since there are no clean-up days anymore the place is filthy.
Rubbish Near Our House
The beach outside our house is packed with rubbish which floats in the water when the tide comes in. Fish for the poor people is in short supply. The mahogany trees are being shipped off to other countries. In our area crime is on the increase. Sarjo has had his chickens and goats stolen in the night more than once.
The good news is that Sarjo, Abie and their three amazing children are all well and happy. Sarjo works very hard for the charity sometimes receiving up to ten calls a day with women wanting dryers or machines. He puts them all on the list in turn but they often have to wait for up to a year. I have given Sarjo enough money for 14 dryers to be distributed in the next 4 months. Each one costs approximately £80 including the mahogany, solar plastic, the carpenter’s fee and the fuel to get there.
Thank you for reading this report and thank you also for all your support. We couldn’t do this without you.
PS Claire is taking over the website soon so it will be a bit different. Keep in touch.
PPS Just thought - If you can’t think of what to buy someone for Christmas a drying frame might be a good idea!!
I am off tomorrow to Santanba village where they are planting their cassava farm. They have dried more sweet potatoes and mangoes this time than before. They had to work very hard to water them during the dry season and now they are harvested and beautiful dried. Now they want to plant the cassava sticks which they have found themselves and have invited me to go and make the planting program important. I am looking forward to it but will be coming back the same day.
The handing over of the dryer to Nyodema women went very well. They were worried that we might not go but when they heard that we are coming the whole group was very very pleased. On the day, we had a very big goat as our meal and there was a lot of drumming - almost half the day - because more and more people from the nearby villages keep coming.
In Kambeng Kafo too many want to use the dryer and there was a big argument. They listened to what I told them and they agreed that each group should have it for a week but I have since heard that there is a big push and pull again.
The Wuruwa Women’s Group were similar to the Nyodema Group but have more okra and mango trees then them.
I visited four very important villages but they way they are living is very sad. They have local gardens, with mangoes and they can grow more things but they are very remote and hardly anyone visits. They told me all their stories and they are very sad. I didn’t commit to anything until we have discussed it.
We cannot do all four because of the fuel and other costs but if we can help 3 out of the four it will be very good. They are sending some women to Sibanor and I will meet with them on Sunday the 15th while I am at Killy garden for their tree planting. I will invite the tree man in Fajikundatro come along as well.
I am not watching any more football because England are out. We were all disappointed .
We have another very very good handing over. The mangoes are ready up country and it is a very busy time for the women groups on drying. The whole handing over started with lots and lots of drying - buckets full of mangoes ready to put in the dryer.
In Nyodema Kafo they have 210 women but they are very well organised and all willing to dry together and keep them as a group product. Come August, they can decide what to do, if they are very hungry they will not sell any but will share it among the houses but am very worried if they can do as they say without problems because it is a very large group.
In Kaira Kafo the group is very small with only 45 members including men. The men are very good during the meeting and explain how they will arrange there to be enough dry mangoes for all the compounds. This makes me feel very happy and I will be even happier if they do as they say!
Things are going very well with men and women working together during the drying process and happy to keep the dried fruit for the rains.
We will not be doing another trek until on the 19th, when we will be doing food training in Foni.
Whilst getting ready to finish, I had a call about a funeral in a village near Kayabor of the man who was very actively involved in the village’s honey scheme. A great shame, for his wife and four children.
Its nice to get my old email address back. Am on Westfield (Serrekunda) internet which I think is the only internet using Hotmail,
We are back from trek yesterday and we have a very wonderful handing of dryers and food training. We only took 2 dryers because neither the carpenter nor Setti came with us but it is among the best treks we have done.
It is very very far but it is worth going as those villages look like Karror (i.e.very poor) - the only different is that they have land for crops and vegetables. They have more cassavas then anywhere I have been in the last 5yrs, but they are not happy eating the cassava the same way for years. When we teach them about the cassava porridge and cassava fufu they almost come to tears. They cannot believe it. believe it.
In Njiayen and Sereh Jella we did the dryers - they had no idea what they were for - and after the training they were so much happy. The village has 30 compounds and they have a lot of individual farms of cassava. But they have no idea of a group farm an I pray for them not to fight as they started arguing before we left.
In In Sedeba, Tenkoli,and Madina Samako all have training and they are very very pleased and you can see they way they ate all the jam that they processed. It was a big fun to watch them eat the jam. They have a very good mobile network and the signals are good but it is very remote from Basse.
Karror are preparing to buy their chickens soon, I told them that if they buy them, we will help them with the transport , feeds and catchers.
I am so pleased that now I can send emails and see our website again.
Time to finish and I have to sign out before all my typing disappears.
March 9th saw me in The Gambia again and it seemed as if I’d hardly been away. Unfortunately things have got worse since I was there in November. We only had electricity 40% of the time, the teachers and doctors have been striking as they haven’t been paid and there is more looting going on. Sarjo has had his goats, sheep and chickens stolen in three different raids at night. No currency has been minted for ages and the notes are falling to pieces as well as smelling. I’m sorry to start with bad news but from now on things will be positive. My time there was very productive and everything went well.
I had two weekends. On the first one I decided to concentrate on our sponsored children. I don’t often talk about them as it is a side line to our working with women, which is our main priority. We have five children about to graduate this year and nineteen others in middle and upper school. Twelve of these come from Kayabor and Karror where there is a lot of poverty. Their staple crops of peanuts, maize and couscous all failed when the rains stopped a month early. Most of the children there don’t go to school. The problem we had was letting them know we were coming as nobody there has a mobile phone. We had good feedback as to how the children are doing and we managed to see two thirds of them.
Election time is coming up soon and on the Tuesday the nominations for councillors happened. The rally was very noisy with cheering, dancing and generally having a good time. Many people want the old president back.
After lots of frantic dancing we had a very nice handing over of the machines. These are going to make a big difference for their economy. There are two tailors in the village who will teach some of the women to sew. We made sure that the women will be in charge!
That evening we went back to Soma where we were going to sleep. It is a large, scruffy town and all the stalls along the road seem to sell the same things. It’s rather a dirty place and huge lorries pass by all the time. Sarjo is a keen fan of Liverpool and luck would have it there was a video shack which was showing the Liverpool and Watford game. It seemed surreal to be seeing the game live with the players covered in snow while were sweating in 35 degrees heat.
The next morning we headed off to Karantaba, the next village. Again the women gave us a lovely welcome. They told us that nobody had ever helped them even though things had been promised. There was lots of dancing and drumming to start with but the meeting was very good. Everybody listened well and we talked about the many things they could do when they started to make their profit from the machines. Buying soap, oil and rice in bulk will help their economy. This is a big village and there are three tailors there but none of them have a machine. This time I took an electric one as well as a hand machine because the village had electricity. It is getting harder to find the old ones now so I will be looking for good electric ones as well in future.
Very often women from other villages nearby come along asking for help with their village. This time four ladies from two villages walked about five miles on foot in the sweltering sun. They had heard about our solar driers and were desperate to have one. These people don’t have enough money to buy fencing for their women’s garden so there is only a limited amount they can grow. This last season they grew okra, cassava and sweet potatoes. Much of the okra spoiled. Their staples, like Karror, went rotten so it has been a very lean time for them and they were desperate. We have promised to give the two villages a drier each although there are about 20 villages waiting on the list. Sarjo has delivered eighteen driers since I left in November. One drier costs approximately £90 each when you include the fuel. (We go all over the country)
When I last visited The Gambia I went to the school that sang so beautifully for me when we were giving a drier to their local village in Foni. Looking round the school we saw that they had hardly any decent furniture. Last year a very kind doner gave £200 for new tables and chairs so on the way back we dropped in to the school to see if they were there. It was a Sunday so we looked into the rooms to see if the furniture was there and it wasn’t. Suddenly we were surrounded with teachers and the new headmistress who explained what was happening. The carpenter has nearly finished them and we saw a photo on the teacher’s phone showing they were almost ready to go. (Things go slowly in The Gambia) All was well.
We always go to see Ensa, the man in the Agriculture who gives us our transport, to let him know what we are doing. This time he asked us to visit a friend of his in Brikama who is running a school for orphaned children. We arrived on a Thursday when they had no pupils but it was good because we had time to hear about what they are doing. As well as educating children they are helping single mothers to read. When they heard that we teach food preservation they asked if Sarjo and the trainers could come and show them how to preserve their produce, especially their mangos. This will be happening when they are ready.
Thank you for reading this report and thank you so much for all you do to keep this charity going. If you have any friends who would like to support us I would be very grateful.
We are back on Sunday from Southern Senegal.
Going through the border was very difficult - much document checking and lots of questions about we whether we had informed the government of Senegal. After a few hours we were allowed to enter.
Wonderful welcoming with hundreds of people from 9 different villages. 5 big cooking pots and 3 rams presented before us. No government official was invited because we are not registered to work in Senegal and their government would not be pleased if someone were to help without their knowledge.
They made us go round the village with drums. I was afraid in case the rebels found out about the celebrations and came around - but thank God at the end I was focussed on the program and joined those dancing in the circle. I danced and danced and my friend also danced because nobody knew us there.
The next day, Sunday, they brought 7 baskets of cassava ready for drying. It rained very heavily at the end of the program but we still very happy.
The sad time was when it was 4pm, and we were ready to go back to the border and then home. Lots of people were crying next to our car, they cry and cry and we cry too because we have a lovely time together and they are very very happy with their dryers and they know how important they are for them. The Senegal government never visit them - this is the first time anyone has visited and given them help. Saying goodbye to us was very sad because they don't know whether I can consider them again, not to mention the other 7 villages. I didn't say anything at that time because I was sad to leave them too.
Thank you once more - my time is finish on the net. I also have a cold because I Got wet
Wonderful trek as all the meetings were very very quick as most people are fasting. All the food will be available in the evening and that makes things easy for the villagers as there are fewer people coming from the next villages to attend.
Mangoes are in season at the moment in the villages and every village with a dryer is very busy on drying as we don’t know what the rains will be like.
In Sanden, across the bridge, they have someone in Brikama who will supply them with lots of plastic bags for dried mangoes. They first thought that they will give all their dried mangoes to this man to sell for them in Brikama, but now they change their mind and will keep everything they dry for the rains. No-one is sure of the rains this year.
We also visited Masembe in Kiang to see how their dryer and jam are going. It was fantastic - they assign 6 women to be responsible for all the drying and all the dried mangoes will be kept in the Lady President’s house until the rains. Then they will have a meeting with the men and see how to share it into compounds. They have dried more than a thousand plastic bags of mangoes and I was so happy and hope they will help to save them from hunger come August and September. It was a job well done by the Kabafita fund as most of the people who have our dryer are very busy drying. I have a lot of demands from villages without but I will first finish the ones on the list and then will decide where the next batch will go.
Very interesting I will be meeting 3 Lady Presidents, one from the former President’s village because we helped his mother's village. They will meet me tomorrow and on Thursday it is the Lady President from the north bank of Bunyadu. I think they all coming to make a case for a dryer because everything is not going well here and people want to keep some thing in the village in case come August they have something to manage in their stomachs.
In Kanikun Jara we didn’t stay long but they have a very big garden of cassava and before we arrived they pulled 6 bags of cassava ready for the process. Now they have their dryer, they started drying straight after the handing over.
We came back straight from the meeting with no food because we needed to get home before it was too late.
It was a busy trek with lots of things done and visited. I thank my friend (who provides the transport) for all his time away with us. He never complains wherever I ask him to go, he has really contributed very very well with our charity.
We returned home on Saturday night and I was very tired and had a rest on Sunday and Monday. Tuesday I was growing some flowers in the garden.
It was a very wonderful handing of dryers and food training to Jeren, Keneba2 and Kerr Amadou In Kerr Amadou there was very large turnout and it was very difficult for them to hear. But they have a lot of mangoes and they are going to dry as a group not as each individual house. We also train them on mango jam so that they can both dry and process.
After handing over of the dryer in Keneba 2 we went to to help them harvest their tomatoes and okra. They had a very good harvest and we both enjoyed harvesting with them.
After the end of the handing over and training we were invited to the village near the river where we went with you and Claire last year. They attended the handing over and from there we went to see how their sewing machines are doing, They are fantastic people and have done a very wonderful job with their machines which are in a very good condition. Almost each house has a new bed sheet made with that machine and they are very happy that the machines have put off most of their worries when festivals come. They think the machines will change their living conditions because no one bothers to visit them because they are far away at the river side and with the rains, no car can get to their village because you cannot cross at the crossing point.
We also visited Jamakunda where the village has dried more than 300 packets of okra ready for the market and they still have some in the garden and mangoes as well. They are also very happy and they thank the Kabafita fund very much and they want me to see and comment. We also visited Funtang to see their drying progress - this also went well. They are working very hard drying mangoes because their mangoes are very ripe. They also process the jam and pepper sauce and have made more than 120 bottles. Their jam is wonderful and I thank them for making good use of what we gave them.
Next trek is on the 10th and 24th June which will be our 5th and 6th trek.
Best wishes to you Peter and all the children
Thank you so much for helping the Gambian women
The beginning of the year was a difficult time in The Gambia with the problem of the last President refusing to stand down. Sarjo and his family were frightened enough to leave our house and find a safer place up country with his sister. For me it was also difficult because I couldn’t get a flight. In March I usually take all the money needed for the next seven months for the Charity’s projects. At the last minute Thomas Cook put on an extra flight, as things were back to normal by then. Peter, my husband, was coming with me this time as he is a keen birdwatcher. Usually I book a flight so as to have two weekends to deliver the sewing machines and solar dryers but this flight was for ten days from Tuesday to Thursday so we only had one.
The machines were due to arrive in Banjul ten days before we arrived but when we got there they hadn’t come. We were told they would be docking on Wednesday. That would have been fine as we were to start our trek early on Friday morning but when we phoned to find out what was happening we were told the ship was in but there wasn’t room for it to dock. It took two days before the six machines were out. We arrived at the docks on the Friday morning at ten o’clock (even though they said the boxes were not there) and there they were. We were so glad to see them. It then took until three in the afternoon before they were released. Customs took almost two hours to sign twenty signatures before we could take the goods.
We raced back home, undid the boxes and set off at 4.30. It was dark by the time we reached Soma, nearly half way up The Gambia. When I was there last delivering a solar dryer, I promised the lady president I would give her two electric sewing machines as they had electricity there. It was too late to have a proper handing over so we chatted to all the people who had come to see us. We were then escorted to the house where we were to spend the night. It was a huge mansion with “doric columns” all over the place. The rooms were enormous. The lady who lived there had a husband working in America. Unfortunately there was no electricity, the toilet was broken and there was no running water – we were given a bucket! Not a good night’s sleep.
The next morning we officially handed over the machines and were given some lovely clothes. It was quite difficult to get away but we did go to look at the women’s garden. It was full of vegetables and as before there were many people, old and young, watering the crops. Their problem was the fencing that has started to break in places. We are thinking of helping them with this.
Our next handing over was a village not too far away from this one. They had been expecting us much earlier but it was a very nice welcome. As you know we mainly work with women’s groups but on these occasions the men usually come too. They like to give advice to the ladies as to how to run their business. This group were completely different. There were no men at all, no prayers and hardly any children. Everybody listened well and promised to make a good business from the machines. They laughed a lot and danced a lot and were very grateful.
We spent the night in a lodge nearby. It looked good from the outside but things were not so good on the inside. There was a bathroom but no running water – another bucket! It could have been worse. The next morning we needed to get off early and amazingly an old lady arrived at 8.30 with bread and boiled eggs. That was a good start to the day.
We set off early as we were going to Kayabor, Sarjo’s village, the school in Foni Bondali where we visited last time and Karorr, his sister’s village. It has been a long time since I have been to Kayabor where six of our sponsored children live.
When we got there we found the men and boys digging a trench across the village. Apparently a man had come and offered to give them a borehole and running water for each compound in exchange for five large mahogany trees. It was sad to see these beautiful trees lying there but I hope that having running water will help to alleviate the health problems they have been having. We were able to talk to all our sponsored children – two of them will be graduating next year.
The school was our next stop. We should have been there on the Friday instead of being at the ports, so we weren’t expecting any children as it was a Sunday. It was an absolute surprise when we found them waiting for us with speeches and a choir singing a special song of welcome (in two parts). We had promised them educational posters, pens etc. and they were very happy with these. The children were the best behaved ones I have ever met. I hope to help them more in the future.
Our last visit was to Karorr, where we have five sponsored children and a poultry project. We were pleased to see the chicks were getting fatter and everything was going well. Since our visit ninety five out of the hundred survived and half of them were sold locally at a good price. They turned out to be very large and heavy. Sarjo’s sister came to him with the rest and they sold them at a higher price on our local market. This project has brought the whole village together. After this they will be on their own (with a bit of Sarjo’s help.) They are going to start again with another hundred chicks and then possibly go into egg production as well. I hope this will be a turning point for this village. It deserves it.
On the following Tuesday were went to the North Bank for a day to deliver two more sewing machines. We can’t get government cars during the week so Sette’s son took us in his. (Sette always comes with us as he was an outreach worker before retiring and knows most of the Gambia) We were due to take off early but the clutch on the car was playing up. Two hours later than planned they arrived at our house to pick us up. We missed the earlier ferry and didn’t get to Bali until 2pm.
The road to Bali
The village was close to the Senegal border and a very long way from the main road. We were met with singing and dancing as we arrived into the village and immediately given “breakfast”, as it had been prepared. The speeches were good as was the drumming and dancing. Then we had lunch and it was time to go. Before we went we talked with a man who wanted to show us their amazing vegetable garden. He told us that people from the village had to keep watch day and night to keep the animals from eating the crops. The fences were not fit for purpose. We promised to help if possible.
On the way back the clutch in the car got worse and worse and by the time we had nearly reached the ferry the driver was having to start the car in gear. He realised that manoeuvring a car in that condition on and off a ferry was not realistic and found a garage a mile or so from the terminal. Not your average sort of garage in a building with lots of equipment – this was in the open with a jack and a limited number of spanners. But the mechanic knew what he was doing, identified the fault (a new hydraulic piston washer needed). Amazingly, a spare-part shop was nearby (although it was well disguised), a new washer bought and fitted and an hour or so later we were back on the road.
It was dark by the time we reached the ferry. As we waited for the boat we were near three shepherds from North Senegal and about fifty sheep and goats. One of the rams was enormous, the size of a small calf.. The men were taking the animals to Abouko to sell. Everyone was amazed at the size of this ram and a passenger on the ferry bought it for £600. When we docked we saw him walking off with it on a piece of string.
The huge ram
The next day we went to visit Ensa in his office and told him about the problem with the garden at Bali. He immediately contacted the nearest outreach worker to that village and told him to give them a form to fill in stating their needs. Ensa is in charge of a European Charity similar to DIFID which helps women’s groups with wells, bore-holes and fencing etc. Let’s hope they will get their fencing. It can’t be very nice wandering around every night chasing animals away.
Our solar dryers are still in great demand. I left money for fourteen of them.
This is all the Charity news. Between treks we managed quite a bit of bird watching. Sarjo has now got a pair of binoculars. He is very good at spotting birds and identifying them. The family are doing well. Ousman is very intelligent and doing well at school and Dawda will be going soon. Sarah had her first birthday while we were there. She is lovely – always singing, running around, falling over and trying to talk.
Thank you all for reading this report.
Thursday November 17th found me back in The Gambia again with four sewing machines and two solar dryers to deliver. It was very close to the elections and I thought this might affect my visit but as it turned out everything went smoothly – well almost! As I have mentioned before we can only use the government cars on weekends so we were up early and ready to go at 8.30 am on the first Saturday. We then got a phone call to say that there had been an accident and our pick-up had been damaged badly. There was nothing for it but to set out using private taxis. We were off to the North Bank to deliver four machines a hundred or so miles up the country. At the port we engaged a “push-push” to handle our overnight luggage and the machines on the ferry.
The push push
The crossing was fine but at the other side we had to negotiate a good price for the taxi to take us on the next part of our journey. The young man we engaged gave us a very good price and we set off. As we travelled the traffic on the road got less and less. Two hours later he said “Are we there yet?” It turned out that he had never been that far up country before. Another hour later we reached our first village where the women came out in force to greet us with waving branches, singing and lots of noise.
The village of No Kunda is very large and has two parts to it. Two of the machines were going to one half and two to the other. Altogether there were eighty compounds, probably housing more than 2,000 people. Many hundreds of men have left there to go to Europe and the village is top heavy with women.
We were shown three live chickens which were to be our dinner and then we did the handing over of the machines.
The peanut harvest
We told them we had to leave at three o’clock and we put out the machines ready but still nobody came. In the end they arrived at three, we had a short handing over, had another chicken dinner and then we left.
Villages in this area on the North Bank are very different to those on the South. There are very few cars. Men and boys ride horses or mules and yoked oxen carry people and goods around. There are no large towns near-by so the people have to be mainly self- sufficient.
As I said at the beginning it was election time and there was a very large opposition rally taking place on the North Bank near the port. We wanted to leave early because hundreds of people would be coming home across the river. Our driver had agreed to stay with us so we didn’t have to find a taxi back. (It would have been extremely difficult) Unfortunately we hadn’t gone more than twenty miles when the car broke down. There was nothing at all on the road but after a while an empty bush taxi came along. They kindly towed us to a man they knew who temporarily fixed it. We were so relieved, as we were aiming to get on the 7 o’clock ferry. At 6.50 we arrived at the port and saw the ferry pulling away. It was packed so they had set off early. We had to wait until it had gone and come back, two hours later. Ten-thirty saw us home rather exhausted and happy to be there.
Later in the week we went to visit the women’s garden in Marrakisa where we had given them three dryers a few years ago. We found two old ladies digging up sweet potatoes. The women there had decided to plant hundreds of these through the rainy season before the main planting of vegetables were sown. Unfortunately the rains were very poor and stopped completely at the beginning of October instead of at the end. They were throwing away most of the crop.
Our destination was Janoi, just outside Soma. The people we were staying with were so kind and helpful and the handing over went very well. Other women from far away villages kept turning up begging for dryers for their village. One lady told us they had been trying to track us down for two years. When Sarjo told her that we had a long waiting list she burst into tears.
We were staying the night in the Lady President’s compound so had plenty of time to look around their garden. It was very impressive with so many people, young and old, doing the watering and weeding.
Working in the garden
When I go out next time I have promised to bring the Women’s group two electric machines as they have electricity there.
Unfortunately, the dryer on the roof got damaged on route from an overhanging branch. Even though Soma is the largest town for miles it took a lot of looking before we found some tape to patch up the hole.
Late morning we arrived in Jom-Kunda, a village close to Kayabor, Sarjo’s village. As we arrived there was a large crowd of children holding flags by the side of the road. We wondered what was going on until we realised that it was our welcome. They sang a song of welcome and one of the pupils made a very nice speech. This was a Saturday afternoon and the children had been waiting all morning for us to come. They stayed all through the afternoon and danced with us after the handing over ceremony.
The school was opposite the celebration so I went with the teachers to look at it. I was shocked to see how basic it was. The furniture was falling to bits, there was hardly anything on the walls and no books were to be seen. I promised to help them out with some basic materials next time I come. They had put on a disco for us so we had a few dances and left them all enjoying themselves. The staff and children were so delightful I am looking forward to seeing them again next time.
This is about it. I intend to go again in March but am waiting to see what happens after the 19th January when the President should be stepping down. Let’s hope all goes well.
Sarjo is still working hard for the Charity. Our work is in great demand as more people now have mobile phones. Abi, Ousman, Dawda and the new daughter, Sheira, are all well.
The family, and Sarjo
Thank you for interest,
On Thursday 20th March I was back in The Gambia for the first of my two yearly visits. Sarjo had everything in place for the first weekend when we were going to deliver solar dryers to two different villages on the North Bank. We had not travelled there for years as the ferry had a habit of breaking down in the middle of the river. I was assured that they had now installed a new engine.
Early Saturday morning the driver arrived. Sarjo had asked for a pick-up as the driers were already made up, rather than in kit form. When we got outside we had a shock as the car we had been given was a SUV which could only carry one frame with the back door open. In the end we had to take one on the Saturday, come home that evening and go back the next day with the other one.
Our first call was Sika Baduma, a village right on the river just past James Island. The country round there is full of wonderful old trees and the villages are few and far between. We went for miles without seeing a soul. The south bank is much more populated and far too many trees have been felled there.
At last we came to the village where the people were waiting to receive us with drumming and dancing. It was a wonderful welcome. This was the first time I had delivered a dryer as I usually only do the machines (hence the mistake concerning the car). It was a good meeting. The people were very excited as they had never seen anything like it before.
After the explanations of the dryer’s uses and all the things they could dry with it there was the handing over ceremony when we lifted it in the air. The mango season is starting now so it should be very well used.
It was nearly 6pm when we arrived at the ferry and the queue was very long. We were worried that we wouldn’t get on. We would have had to wait another hour for the next one. I’m afraid to say that we were so desperate to get home that we did something a bit naughty and managed to get the last place on the ferry. It was heaving. We were exhausted and so happy to be home.
Abi, Sarjo’s wife, had been staying in Brikama with her mother because she was expecting her third child. Sarjo and I had arranged to visit them on the Wednesday morning and then visit the women of Marrakisa in the afternoon to see how they were getting on with the dryers. When I woke up that morning Sarjo broke the news that Abi had delivered a baby girl in the middle of the night. We set off to bring them both home. Abi was very happy to see us as she had given birth in a single bed with another woman top to toe! The little girl is called Sheira and she weighed two and a half kg. She was expected in early April but turned up on 16th March. The tradition is that she had to stay in her room with her mother for one week until the naming ceremony the following Wednesday.
Two days later we were off again, this time with four sewing machines. It is getting harder to find good quality hand sewing machines so we only took four machines for two villages. Both were fairly near each other but were well over half way up the country in the Niamina East Division. As before we were met with singing and dancing and were shown into a very nice building which we were told was the court house. This was the big chief’s village.
The women enjoyed themselves with some very frantic dancing and then we were given breakfast of cow’s milk and couscous and shown our dinner (below).
As soon as we realised that we were having goat for lunch we knew that our plans for visiting two villages in one day were not going to go as we had hoped. It takes a long time to kill and cook a goat.
While we were waiting we looked round the village. At first glance it looked quite prosperous with lots of goats roaming around but when we saw inside some of the houses we realised that it was not. The goats all belonged to the Chief. One lady showed us her two small rooms with a dirt floor and two sagging beds with sacks for a mattress. She shared that with her seven children.
It was ages before the dinner arrived and we were very worried because we were due deliver the other machines before it got dark. When we got to the next village there was more drumming and dancing but unfortunately we had to do the handing over in the dark. It was very difficult. When it’s dark it is really dark.
We stayed in that village and had breakfast there the next morning.
Our last visit was to Karror – Sarjo’s sister’s village. This is the village I talked about in the report of December 2015. We had hoped to start a poultry business for broilers there but it turned out not to be practical. Near our house along the river in Fajikunda there is a very large egg producing farm. Before we went on trek we visited there. We were shown around by a very helpful young man who inspired us to start an egg producing business in Karror. He would be able to sell us everything we needed for the project. This seemed a much better idea than broilers. There is a market on the main road some way from the village where the eggs could be sold and it would give the villagers an easy way of getting protein.
The men and women of Karror were ready when we arrived and we started the meeting. They were very excited about the project. The men were happy to build the chicken house but we made it clear that the women would run the business. This didn’t go down so well but they had to agree. We walked around the village and found a good place for it to be built and I was told later that they started making the mud bricks the next day.
As I have said before, Karror hasn’t got a lot going for it – low water table, a shared women’s garden a mile away, problems with the weather etc. but it is a very friendly village. Its location in the south of Gambia means that it has had an influx of people running from South Senegal where the rebels are killing people indiscriminately. The government of The Gambia has helped some of these families by building them a row of houses in the village but recently two more families have turned up. We have found them both sponsors for the two children. One saw their father being shot and killed while he was harvesting peanuts and the other told me that when they heard the gun fire coming closer they ran, leaving everything behind. These children were at school in Senegal and are now able to continue their education in The Gambia.
Our two new children
On the whole it was a very good trip. I always think I will get more done than I actually do. Sarjo excelled himself over the organising of our treks which were very successful. Since I left he has been very busy sorting out the materials for the hen house. A lot of these have to be bought in the urban area and taken up to the village. He is also busy delivering solar driers to as many villages as possible as it is now mango season.
Thank you all for reading this report. Without you we could never consider projects like this which help so many people.
P.S. I have just heard from Sarjo that the hen house is finished and is looking very good. The villagers are so excited about the project and are waiting expectantly for the chicks. He is now about to sort that out. They should be up and running in a few weeks.
Barbara and Sarjo's Trek Reports and experiences.