Our first trip was to Sarjo's village, Kayaborr, where six of them live. We took Ousman, Sarjo's eldest son, with us and we had a very pleasant time visiting people's homes and finding out how they were getting on.
In the afternoon we called at Karror village to meet our newest sponsored children, a brother and sister. Their sponsor had sent lots of exciting things for them and they were very pleased indeed.
My main task this time was to visit three villages and deliver six hand sewing machines. Our first was to Gunjur, a village on the coast and not too far away. We had the meeting in the women's garden where they grow all their vegetables. It was a large, well kept plot with lots of things growing. We were very impressed and offered to give them a solar dryer so they could preserve some of it. We then handed over the machines. They were very happy and promised to make a good business with them.
It is not unusual to be told of the women's problems when we visit their gardens. They are mainly concerned with fencing, animals eating their crops, and lack of water. There are expensive sollutions to these problems which a charity like ours cannot solve. However, what we CAN do is to put them in touch of other agencies who can help. Back in 1999 two men in the Gambia Soil and Water Department were sent by the government to Norwich University to gather data that was stored there. At the end of their task they spent a few days with us and we showed them the sights of London etc.
It turns out that now one of them is the Big Boss of a DIFID led project to help communities to be more self sufficient by providing, amongst other things, fencing and bore holes. He is very happy to help us with transport and we have now informed the women of Gunjur on how to apply for this help. Much of our work is helping people to access what is available to them. I will be visiting again in March to see how things have progressed.
Our next visit was to two women's groups in the Lower River Division and we would be away for two days. Our driver, Barry, was on time at 9.00am with a very comfortable, new 4 by 4.
The ladies of Sibanor were ready for us but there were far fewer than expected due to a funeral that morning. They, too, hope to make a good business with their machines. A young tailoress in the village has promised to teach them to sew and their plan is to contact local schools and get contracts for making the uniforms. One of the machines donated to this village was a very beautiful, old shuttle in perfect condition. We asked them to take extra care of it.
The village we were to visit the next day was near Tendaba Camp (a very popular place for bird watchers) but when we got there they were full so we had to retrace our steps to find accomodation for the night.
The next day found us at Sintet. We were slightly early so we had a walk around the village talking to some of the women. It was a very interesting experience. Surrounding the village as far as you could see were mango trees. I asked how they managed with so many of them and was told that many rotted on the ground. When they heard about our solar dryers they were very keen to have one. We then walked on to their large vegetable garden where very few things were growing It was a sad tale.
As I said earlier the rainfall this season had been smaller than usual and the rice crop poor. Coupled with that there was a week in early November when it turned extremely cold with wind and rain. This damaged the couscous and the peanuts. We saw large amounts of couscous still in the fields in the hope it would come to something later. The women told us that half of the crop had been spoilt. A good proportion of the peanuts had rotted too. Peanuts provide cash and without it they did not have the money to buy vegetable seeds. We walked back and had the meeting with the handing over of machines. At the end we promised them a solar drier and arranged for two ladies to come into town and collect seeds for their garden. They were very happy indeed.
Two days after I had gone home the ladies arrived and took back with them tins of onion, okra, chilli, carrots and cabbage seeds. In March I will go back and see how they are getting on.
One year ago the Charity bought a fishing net for two of our local fishermen, as theirs had worn out. Every time I come back they bring me fish to say thank you. This time, however, they took me out in their boat round the mangroves to show me how they catch the fish. It was beautiful and peaceful on the river and we stayed out until dusk. They drag this very long net in a sweeping ark to catch the fish. We caught about fifty small ones which were shared around. They were very nice for supper.
Abi, Sarjo's wife, is a very good cook and she makes wonderful Gambian food. One day we all went to the market to buy some beef. I walked on by to ensure the price didn't go up. As I was standing there two butchers signalled that they wanted their photos taken. I couldn't resist including these in my report!
Sarjo is working very hard and is enjoying his work with the Charity. I leave all the arrangements to him now. He fills out trek reports every time he goes up country so it is clear where all the money goes. It makes my job so much easier as all I have to do is to raise the money. This time I left enough to fund twelve solar dryers.I would like to thank all of you who keep the Charity going by your donations.
Thanks to you all
PS. Sarjo's two latest emails give you a follow-up to this report.
6 Jan 2014
Hope your foot is recovering very well, I am wishing you a quick recovery so that you can get to your best, it's not good to have that experience in life, but God will be with you all the way.
Happy New Year to you and all the family, best wishes and love to all of them.
We did not go on the 28 December because I was not feeling well with a bad cold and a bit of headache, but am back to my best and we went the following weekend
We return home from our trek yesterday which is so good and we both very happy.
In Sintet they still gave us a very warm welcome, but half of that cassava we show is all eaten up and they now have only a small amount to dry for the moment.
In Jarra Karantaba (not the one we postpone when you here because is very far the road - that one is Kiang Karantaba) we met the Mari Darbo group who have a very good cabbage, okra and sweet potatoes. Normally they only have them during the rains but they water them very well and they are almost ready for harvest. They are very happy to have the dryer - we had a very wonderful programme with nice food too.
In Dasilame Jarra, we do the handing-over at their garden. They too have a very very wonderful garden with lots and lots of different vegetables. Last year I gave them some carrot seeds and they tried them and they worked. They bought more this year and now they have a very large space of carrots and it comes very good, I think I will tell more groups to grow the same. There will be more vegetables for you to look at when you visit the garden next.
We also have pepper sauce, melon juice training in Jasong. In Dasilame we did pepper sauce and paw-paw jam as mangoes are not ready yet.
This weekend we will be going to Gunjur, Aronke and Dunbutu where the groups are very in need of dryers as the tomatoes, okra and cabbage are almost ready so we decided to go ahead before having a break.
If possible we will visit the "pot" village but it is just on the south of Cassamance. I will see if there is a better way of reaching them.
A lot of news but I don't want to write a long mail when I don't know how your foot is going on - you might like a good rest and it might be too tiring for you to keep on reading longer mail.
Thank you so much and once more I wish you a quick recovery and get to your best.
*Fatou is Barbara's Gambian name.
18 Jan 2014
I should have written this mail earlier but as I told you there is something that will surprise you on our street when you come next. I was with the people working on that because I will be away when they will be doing it.
The Gunjur women are very very happy. They didn't understand when we said a solar dryer and when they saw it they cannot believe it and they make a nice dance for most of the day. They start drying their okra straightaway in our present after we told them how to do it.
From there we travel to Jarsong instead of Aronkon, We should give Aronkon but in Jarsong their cassava is ready and they are very in need of it. They are not happy in Aronkon as they are looking forward and they are ahead of Jarsong on the list but sometimes I have to give chance to groups whose vegetables or fruit are about to spoil.
Back to Dembut village they only have sweet potatoes as their soil is not very good for other things. When they have this dryer they asked for another as they will only be drying sweet potatoes. They say they will use one for drying the community potatoes and the other will be used for each compound to dry their own for food, I told them I only have one dryer for each village but that I will talk to you but with no promise.
In Buren they made a very nice tomato jam and pepper. It is one of the very good training we have done, they listen with no talking and is not a large group,
In Bintan there was a very large group and it was a bit noisy during training. But they had a very good idea - during the mango season, or even now, they will make a lot of jam, which they will send it to the school. There their children and children from other villages can also have a taste of the jam when they buy it - one dalassi a spoonful. So that all the children who want it are able to have it which is a very good idea.
My time is up and I haven't finish telling you all the good news. We will be going next weekend instead of waiting for sometime in February because most villages are ready with their gardens and they need the dryers and training now. So off we go next week Saturday.
Thank you once more.
Barbara and Sarjo's Trek Reports and experiences.