I got back from The Gambia last week having had a successful trip. The temperature was in the forties and even the Gambians were complaining. Our house is near the river so we often get a light breeze there, but up country it was a hot wind and rather uncomfortable.
My aim this time was to visit some of our projects to see how they were getting on. My task is usually to hand out sewing machines but unfortunately there were none to hand out this time. If any of you know where I can find hand sewing machines I would love to hear from you.
Our plan was to see how much we could do in a two day trek up country. The driver arrived on Saturday morning and the first thing we did was to pick up the donkey cart we were delivering.
Some time ago I was in Sarjo's mother's village at Kayabor when I saw one of the women with a leg so swollen she couldn't put it on the ground to walk. She obviously needed to see a doctor but it was three miles to the main road to get a bush taxi. The only way she could get there was for people to carry her. It made me think that a donkey and cart might be just the answer. I spoke to the elders of the village and they were very keen, so two men were nominated to go for a three-day training with The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust to teach them how to look after the donkey properly. Everything went well and the villagers are now very happy with their donkey and cart, using it for carrying goods and people. While all this was being arranged I told the ladies of Hitchin Inner Wheel about this project and what I was planning to do. Some time later they came back to me and said they would like to sponsor the cart. As the first project was up and running, so to speak, I thought we could start another one. The village that we nominated was even further off the main road and they were delighted with the idea. We gave them money to buy the donkey and it was our job to deliver the cart. So on that Saturday morning a group of willing helpers managed to hoist the cart onto our pickup truck and off we went.
The first stop was to buy chicken for our dinner. Once you get past Brikama it is hard to find chicken that isn't running around and hasn't got feathers on it! We always take plenty of food to share and there is always someone to cook it for us.
There is a village along the road that received two sewing machines and a tie- dye business a few years ago, so we stopped there to see how things were going. Kani, the lady President, was so pleased to see us. She told us that they had the equivalent of £600 in the bank and had a micro finance system in place which was helping the village people.
At our next stop we arranged our accommodation for the night before proceeding to a small village due south of Bwiam near the Senegalese border, where we were to deliver the donkey cart .While the meal was being cooked all the children gathered round to look at the strangers and have their photos taken. I found out that none of the children in that village attends school. They are all so poor that no family can afford it.
It was late afternoon by the time we could assemble all the people. (There was no way to let them know we were coming as nobody in the village owns a mobile). The cart was lifted off the pickup and the donkey found.
It was then suggested that I had the first ride on the cart. I was warned that it would be the first time the donkey had ever pulled a cart and they weren't sure what to expect. As it turned out there were only a few times she "lost it" and I went bumping along at speed. Everyone was happy and I hope the donkey and cart make a big difference to the village.
The next day we visited a village where we had started a bee keeping project some time earlier. They hadn't had much success attracting a queen bee to their hives. Sarjo had been to seek help from the Beekeepers Association where he had been shown how to place the wax in the hives. He showed one of the men involved in this project and we went together to look at the hives. It was so amazingly peaceful making our way through the trees and very exciting when we found that one of the hives had bees in it. We hope it goes from strength to strength now.
Our next stop was Kayabor, Sarjo's village. We met some of our sponsored children here, Alieu, Fatoudada, Dembo and the Bojangs who told us they were all working hard at school.
The highlight of this stop was our trip to the river. It was extremely hot by this time and we asked the driver to take us as we wouldn't have been able to stand it otherwise. Some time ago an old man from this village came to our house in Fajikunda begging for food. Sarjo told me that he had been a successful fisherman but his nets had been mended so many times they were now useless. I gave Sarjo £70 to buy a new net and the two of them went to Banjul and bought one. Every time I go to the village he has promised to give me a fish if possible. This time we weren't able to let them know we were coming so there was no fish waiting for us. Instead we went to look at the net and his little boat. It was suggested that we go on a small trip in it. I love being on the water but I cannot swim and panic very easily. Sarjo tried to turn round to have his picture taken and the boat nearly tipped up. Everyone thought it very funny except me!
Our last stop of the day was to visit a women's garden where we had delivered a solar drier a few months before. They were very pleased to see us and said what a success it had been so far. Their garden was amazing. They had been given a solar panel to help with irrigation and the place was full of women watering and tending the plants. They are looking forward to the mango season when the drier will come into its own.
We arrived home on Sunday evening tired but happy that everything had gone well.
The rest of my week was taken up with trying to find Seruba, Sarjo's aunt, a place to stay. The landlord of her last place wanted the rooms for his family and turned all seven of them out. With nowhere to go they put all their worldly goods in the man's compound. When they came back that evening everything had been stolen. The whole group has scattered, all trying to find a place to sleep each night. Bakau is the most densely populated place in the whole country and the situation hasn't been resolved yet.
We have a neighbour in Fajukunda whose passion is a tree nursery. He, like many others, is worried about the amount of wood and charcoal being used for cooking. Trees are being cut down and not being replaced. All along the main road the most amazing old trees (baobabs) have been felled to make way for electricity pylons. In his small plot of ground our neighbour has planted thousands of trees. His aim is to make Gambia green. We, as a Charity, have the means to help him in this as we travel to many villages all over the country. In future we aim to hand out trees to every village we visit. Many of these will be fruit and cashew nut trees which will help the economy of the villages.
Looking to the near future we hope to deliver eight solar driers before the rain comes in June and train a large number of villages. This is the best time of the year for vegetable and fruit growing so Sarjo will be very busy. It is more important this time, as the last rice and peanut harvests were very poor and they are predicting wide spread hunger.
I will finish by thanking all the people who support our Charity in so many ways. Without you we could not do what we do.
Barbara and Sarjo's Trek Reports and experiences.