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.
Barbara and Sarjo's Trek Reports and experiences.