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.
Thank you once again for your mail.
We had a very good food processing which was very very good for the communities we train. In Sangangha they have lots of mangoes and tomatoes, but when it is time for harvest, half of their tomatoes get rotten and are wasted. During mango time, they again have a lot of mangoes with no idea of what to do with them all. The sad thing is that when the rains come, most of the people in the village have a big problem of food. I should have given them a dryer but it is good to train them on jam and paste to save the tomatoes so they are the happiest community at the moment.
In Sambuya and Kunku the women are very hard working. They have very beautiful gardens of vegetable and the very most is the tomatoes. It is tomato season at the moment. They don’t have the same problem as Sangangha but they have no idea of food processing and have never eaten jam, so they are all very happy to learn how to make jam and paste. The only thing I told them is for them to go round looking for bottles because without the bottles it will be difficult to keep it for any length of time.
The jam that we processed at the meeting was all eaten up and everybody was very happy with its taste. All went very well and they all thanked the Kabafita Fund very well.
Since it is tomato time and mangoes are also on the way, I think we need to do more food processing and dryers so that most of our communities can be drying or making the jam ready for the rains. The very new thing we noticed this year was that there was no cold season. We were all surprised - in January it normally is cold but this time it is hot both day and night. We are going on our next trek February 12th - 14th and we expect a very big welcome in all the 3 villages.
I have delivered the hen run and the villages are all praying for all of us long life and they are very happy. I don’t have the cockerel yet and will go back to the supplier at the end of the month to see how big they are. I will consider whether layers or broilers (or none) will be more suitable but we need to think it through very carefully.
I will apply for a pass to let us travel on “clean-up” day in case it happens when we want to go on trek on your next visit.
Thank you once more again. Say hello to Claire and the rest of the family. We are all doing well and Abi also.
Sarjo david Kujabi
Nice to talk to you on the phone but a shame that the connection so poor.
The last trek was very very good.
In Kanjabina we have almost 150 women at the handing-over They all listened carefully and were very happy when they find out what the dryer can do. They are going to make a garden of sweet potatoes for the village because if they have to take it in turn, some of then will not get the chance to dry theirs as they are too many.
While we were in Brikama Ba sometime ago, we met some women from Marcathy who wanted a dryer for their group, This time we went to that group. They have a very good cassava farm and they are very happy that we finally answer to them and help. It was a very entertaining and they will start drying their cassava when we leave.
In Yuruwa Kafo, the meeting was not very good because 2 women fight each other and we were very ashamed . They have their sweet potatoes ready and they were arguing about who should start. We had to close the meeting as they are all shouting to each other!
In our last weekend trek, we went to Medina CRR. They have very good garden and the other end they have a very big farm of sweet potatoes. They are very happy to get the dryer but they asked for more as one cannot do both the garden and the farm.
In Chamen they say most of their sweet potatoes get rotten. The men take them on their heads to the next villages to see if anyone will take their potatoes for something else. But nothing happened because their neighbours have the same problems. I was very sorry when I heard all they were explaining.
In Jarra Karantaba they told me that most of their vegetables, sweet potatoes and cassava were eaten by termites last season and that they are very worried this time. They say they were very hungry last time and their neighbours (Jarra Karantaba group 1) didn’t help but only saved their own food for themselves.
They thanked the Kabafita Fund very well and pray for our good health.
Once more happy birthday and may you live longer and healthy
I’m glad to say that my latest visit to The Gambia in November was much more successful than the last time. My daughter, Claire, came with me as a birthday present and so we tried to make it a little bit of a holiday for her.
When I arrived it was so good to see the sewing machines neatly piled in the corner. They had arrived in good time.
The first day was sorting out and banking the project money for the next five months but the day after that we visited Tujering, a fishing village along the Atlantic coast. The catch was coming in and I have included some pictures below.
We can only get the government car at weekends so Sarjo had arranged with the driver to arrive at 9 o’clock on Friday 13th (Claire’s birthday) which he did! I have mentioned before about Karror village, where one of Sarjo’s sisters lives, and the plan was to hold Claire’s party there. This is one of the poorest villages in the country. It is very hard to grow vegetables there because the water table is very low. Their main crops are sweet corn and millet, which they grow in the rainy season, but this year they failed again. The rain was very late but when it did come it was so heavy the grain was spoilt. At that time Sarjo went to stay with his sister to get the feel of living there but after two days he was so hungry he came home. The people only had leaves to eat. I have thought long and hard of ways to help them and that is why I wanted to celebrate Claire’s birthday there.
We started off that morning by buying a sack of rice, a box of chicken legs, a litre of oil and lots of vegetables. The women of the village were all ready for us and the preparations began.
At about 4pm the food was nearly ready so we started the meeting. I had four ideas which needed to be discussed. Two months previously I had sent out money for four goats - three nannies and a billy. These went to Sarjo’s Aunt and the families of our two sponsored children there. My first idea was that when the goats gave birth, if there were two babies one would be given to another family and so on. They voted on this.
The second idea was a poultry business. I wasn’t too sure of this because if people are starving it would be very tempting to eat the birds.
Whilst we were walking around the village we saw lots of small hens with their baby chicks. I commented on this and was told that most of the chicks would be eaten by predators. This seemed such a waste and we formed the idea of providing pens for the chicks while they were young. Ensa, our friend who provides us with transport, had been telling us of a project to introduce a larger breed of cock to The Gambia which, when mated with the small Gambian hen, would produce larger chickens. This was the third idea and seemed better than the second.
Lastly we suggested that rather than keep growing millet in the rainy season they grew cassava instead. This crop grows when the season is right and stops when it isn’t. It’s very reliable and can be dried and pounded into bread, pancakes, porridge etc. They are going to try this.
The people were very happy with the meeting and we all sat down to a lovely meal. Afterwards the drummers came and everyone danced and was happy. The Karror women were the best dancers I have seen.
We spent the night in Bwiam Lodge where we found out that it was a surprise clean-up day the next day. In my last report the same thing happened. This was the second Saturday NOT the fourth. This meant we had to get up at 6.30 in the morning to get to our next village before the roads would be closed at 9am.
We had planned to hand over two lots of machines. The first village, Naneko, was a two hour drive away. The people there were of the Sarahule Tribe, fairly rare in The Gambia. We arrived at 9am and were made very welcome with breakfast of milk from the cow, couscous and ground peanuts. By 10 o’clock everyone had gathered at the meeting place ready to hand over the machines when they were told that it couldn’t go ahead as it was clean-up day and they should all be cleaning up their environment. This was a surprise for most of the people. The meeting was adjourned until after two o’clock prayers. (I have included some of the pictures we took whilst we were waiting).
When the meeting finally took place at 4pm about four hundred people attended. My speech had to be translated from English into Mandinka and then into Sarahule. They were all very well behaved and listened well and were extremely pleased with the machines. Nothing like this had ever happened to them before and they promised to make a good business with them. They made a big fuss of Claire.
It was getting dark by now and we set off to find accommodation for the night. The place that was found for us turned out to be basic in the extreme - best not to describe it. The next morning we were covered in bites.
The next village, Tankuler, was on the River Gambia. Unlike this country there are not many villages actually on the river. This is probably because there are so many tributaries around it. It took us an hour on a reasonably good road and another hour virtually on a track, to get there.
We hoped to start the handing over of machines straight after two o’clock prayers but the Alkalo, the Imam and various other men failed to turn up. The women during this time were still dancing. In the end we threatened to go as we had a long journey ahead of us. The handing over was a quick affair but the women were very grateful and promised to do their best to make a successful business.
It was dark by the time we got home and we were exhausted. The next day we rested.
The following day we paid a visit to the Poultry Advice Centre to find out about how to start a poultry business for broilers. We had thought to start with one hundred birds but the man we talked to said that would never make a profit. He suggested four hundred! The nearest large village to Karror is Bwiam. It made us laugh when he suggested that the Karror women should “get contracts from the restaurants of Bwiam” I have only seen a shack by the side of the road. We came away realising that this project would not work.
At the beginning of our stay three of the elders of our street (Mandina Street) came to say that they had arranged an evening of drumming in our honour on our last night. Thanks to Sarjo they have formed a very tight-knit community, making sure that the road is kept clean etc. They are making plans for litter bins to be put along the way. As I mentioned before, the President ordered this road to be built thanks to Sarjo organising things. They have met a few times now and he is well aware of our Charity.
On our last day our fisherman friend took us out in his boat among the mangroves. It was a nice peaceful end to our “holiday”.
Sarjo makes things very easy for me. He does all the organising and planning so all I have to do is raise the money. I have left enough for twelve solar driers. This, and the many villages asking for training in food preservation, will keep him busy until I go again in March. Abi and the two boys are well. Ousman is now seven and goes to school.
Thank you for reading this report. If you have any questions or comments please get in touch.
We are back from our trek which went very well. We are all very happy, we have our meals in the evening as we are in Ramadan.
In Kuli Kunda, we have a very low turnout but at the end they have the best handing over. They have a very nice dryer with which they are very happy. They still have lots of mangoes and will start drying straightaway. I told them to dry more baobab leaves. They have a lots of baobab trees and they can dry lots of leaves and store them for later in the rainy season.
In Jaruneh Koto, they were the happiest of all to get the dryer. They have a very big village garden of cassava and if they dry as much as they can, they will be better come August and September when many villages will be very hungry. There was no drum dancing because of Ramadan but we had a very, very large group. We were all were smiling together and we were happy working with a large group like that. It is not as enjoyable without singing and the drums but you have more chat and laughing. I told them to dry more cassava then we will go back and train them on cassava porridge which will help them come August and September.
Dasilam. The village is very well organised and they were very happy to have the dryer. They have some mangoes and cassava, but they have individual rather than “village” cassava so they will take it in turns to dry. The hand-over meeting was very well organised and they all participated in the training process.
Japine. We trained them on pepper sauce and mango jam. During the training, I was the only one to taste and tell them how it was because most people are fasting (some are not but they don't want people to know so I have a wonderful time testing the jam - which was lovely). They will eat everything when they break their fast.
In Kanumeh, we have processed more jam and less pepper sauce because they say they have more mangoes and paw paw and are happy to know more about jam before August and September.
I did not go to Kayaborr because I was very very tired and need to rest as we are off tomorrow to Foni and Kiang. When we return on Sunday, I will visit the clay pot village, where they are already waiting for me. I promised them that I would be there to see they work. I might go on Wednesday and come back on Thursday.
There have still been no rains and lots of villages are very worried and means that the villages with dryers will be very busy drying.
We had a very nice handing over, and all the villages are very happy. We have also started discussing with the women’s groups about the rainy season gardening because we are not sure about the rain this year. It is still cold and most of the people are not sure why and what will happen this season. If there is no rain, they can grow paw paw, sweet potatoes, okra, cassava, cabbage and carrots. If the rains come, we decided that they should not grow onions but instead grow more pumpkins. These make very good food and they dry well. They have to start drying more baobab leaves – they are very good and make a sauce for most of their cooking.
We will try and tell more villages to grow during the rains.
In Jumansarr 2, we have a very good programme. The handing over of the dryer was very successful and we have dried a lot of different things, including paw paw and cassava. Paw paw and mangoes are all the same in drying - mangoes are very late this year that is why we are showing them how to dry with paw paw.
In Bantang there is a Fulla women’s group. They have a very very big garden of chili and cassava and can eat their cassava for most of the rainy season period. They harvested 5 big buckets full of cassava ready for drying when we were there. We filled the trays of the dryer and they will keep the rest until the ones in the dryer are ready for packaging. They will also dry their chilis and grind them into powder and then they send it to the market in Brikama. It is not a good thing for them but they have too much of it.
Sankuleh is a village bigger than Kayaborr, They are very hard working and they grow most of their vegetables. They said that last year food was very difficult for them and that is why they are doing their best to grow more this year. They are very happy to have the dryer and now most of their vegetables will be saved for the rains. The dryer will make a lot of different for them. Without, it most of their vegetable would go rotten so they are very very pleased and say thank you Kabafita Fund.
We are going again this weekend but to Jarra where we have 3 villages really in need of the dryers. They have grown some sweet potatoes at the rice field and have dug shallow wells and watered the potatoes very well. They are now ready and waiting for us so they can dry them. Once they have finished, they will grow another crop so that when the rains come, they will have something for their children. This will not be for sale but for use during the rains when things are bad. When we come back, we will set a date for the sewing machines. I will then take the material given by your friends and them some along with the machines.
We have 3 villages in the LRR (Lower River Region) which are not on the dryer waiting list. They told me a long time ago but they never follow up and I forget them. I would like to make the dryers ready for them now.
I will write to you again when we return from trek on Sunday
This was going to be a short account of my recent visit to The Gambia because it wasn’t very productive but it has grown!
After my terrible time in the ports last time I tried a different shipper to see if they would be better, as it didn’t involve collecting the machines at the ports but at a place in Bakau.
The six sewing machines I was to deliver to the villages were due to arrive in Banjul two weeks before I did. When I arrived on Thursday 12th of March they were not there. We had two treks planned but our handing over of machines was due to take place the following weekend so I wasn’t too worried. We had decided to visit Kayabor and Karror on the first weekend as we have seven sponsored children in these two villages and I had not been able to see some of them for a long time. One of Sarjo’s relations offered to take us in his 4X4 on that first Saturday and we were to have a day in each village. On Friday’s six o’clock news it was announced that the next day was to be a clean-up day. This meant that nobody without a pass could travel on the roads until 1.30pm as they had to clean up their environment. This usually happens on the last Saturday of the month so this was a complete surprise. In the afternoon we tried to get in contact with our driver but there was no answer. The next day was the same so in late morning we tried to catch a bus. We waited for over an hour and then gave up. (Probably a good thing as we would have had a big problem getting to the villages) Not a good start!
Waiting for the bus
I had been in The Gambia for a week and we were getting worried by now as the machines still hadn’t arrived. It was time to contact the three villages waiting for the machines to let them know the celebrations would not be taking place on the next two days as planned.
This was Thursday and we had arranged to deliver two solar driers to Marrakissa in early afternoon. We had given them one but there were three women’s groups sharing their large garden and there had been a few problems. As this village is fairly close to Brikama they have easy access for selling their surplus mangoes etc. so we thought they would make good use of them. We arrived at the place the frames were being stored to find they were locked inside. It took one hour before someone came with a key. During this time we had a call to say that the machines had eventually arrived and we needed to pick them up in Serekunda before 6pm. It was getting late by the time we reached the Lady President’s compound. She told us that the women were waiting for us in the garden but we couldn’t stay because of the machines. We off-loaded the frames, had a quick chat and then left. We arrived just in time to collect the machines.
Loading and delivering the frames
It was far too late to contact the villages and we had also cancelled the car for the Friday. Our new plan was to take the car to Kayabor and Karror early on the Saturday for the day to make up for last week’s disappointment.
Unforeseen circumstances meant that we didn’t set off until mid-day on Saturday. We had a chance to speak to some of our sponsored children in Kayabor but when we arrived in Karror we found that our three children there were at school having a sports day. I was very disappointed because one of those children was mine and I had been looking forward to having a good chat with her.
The next day, Sunday, went far better. The last time I was in The Gambia I visited Mandenary, a village not too far from us, to see how they were getting on with their machines and solar drier. (see November 2014) They wanted to show their appreciation for what we had given them so they had arranged with Sarjo to come over to our area for the day bringing with them their own food and drummers. It was to be a big occasion with all the people in our area of Fajikunda invited. When the neighbours heard the word “drumming” they became very excited and all the women who could afford it started planning their new costumes, all in the same material but in different styles. The tailor, who was working in our garden, made over thirty dresses in a week. At about midday about forty women from Mandenary turned up.
A group of women from each village had volunteered to do the cooking whilst the rest of them started the first round of dancing.
Preparing the lunch
After about an hour of dancing it was time for the meeting. The Imam and the other elders were called and after the prayers it began. A spokesman from the group told us that this was a new group that had not existed before we came along. When they heard that we were giving out sewing machines and solar driers they formed a group of about forty women. Not only has it brought them all together it has made them a very lucrative business. They thanked us for our help and gave me a very nice trouser suit in their colours. Their ambition now is to have a poultry business, selling chickens for meat. We will wait for the costings and think about it! One of our earliest projects in 2002 was a poultry business in Suware Kunda, north of the river. I understand on good authority that it is still going strong.
Sorry I didn’t write earlier but most of the internet was closed. Now everything is ok and we are back to normal.
It was a very very nice trek and we had a lovely time with villages with lots of happiness. In our first handing over at Kolier, we were both given new names, My was Sulayman, Setty's name was Alagi Fatty. This group never had anything like a dryer and they are very very happy.
In Worokan we had some problems. The Lady President of the Women’s Group who spoke to me died before the day. Another group changed the programme to theirs and spoke to Setty who approved it without getting my approval. When we arrived, 2 groups had come to the welcome and there was a big argument and I was very embarrassed and angry with Setty. He said he thought that the death of their lady president would make the group postpone and i say it wouldn’t have mattered because there are 87 women in the garden who were happy to get the dryer. In the end we gave to the first group, and I told the other group to forgive us and one day I remember them.
In Njaren we have the best handing over as the group is not big and their garden is among the best you have seen. They are had working and are going to dry most of their vegetables and keep them for the rainy season when it get difficult. We also were given very unusual presents - mine is a hat made of palm leaves whilst Setty got a pair of shoes made from car tyres. We both are very happy to receive something we never think of even if we don’t want it.
Our next trek will be on the 16th Jan.
Thank you so much and wish you again a very health and happy 2015 to you and all the family.
From Sarjo D
Sent: Monday, 26 January 2015, 11:34Dear Fatou
Sorry I didn’t write to you sooner. On my way back from the trek I stop at my mum to spend a day or two as I didn’t see her for a while. When I arrived there I found she was ill had little help, so I stayed with her until yesterday when was better and able to do things by herself. My sister will be there with her today for a few days so mum will be happy to have her near because I have to come and rest and be ready for this weekend.
We have a very good handing-over and all the 3 groups are very happy.
In Kundong we have the most successful meeting. They have 2 women who have seen a dryer before in Sewol which we gave a few years ago. We also encourage them to grow more sweet potatoes as they don’t have enough mangoes in the village.
In Baladagi, they had never seen what is a dryer or anything like that. They were very very happy and everyone was pleased. At the end of the meeting they gave us 2 sheep to take along and I take the big one and Setty the other. I am so happy and the sheep is now in the house with the goats. I appeal to them to keep their animals but they say what we gave them is bigger and better than the sheep and is going to change their living. They have a very big garden of vegetables and I advised them to grow more sweet potatoes. They also have a lot of mango trees and they will dry as much as they can though it is a big village
In Jumansarr we have a very short time as we have to return home which is a long way from here, further than our trek last March. So we just explain how to use it and how to keep and storae it. They were very disappointed as they have all the drummers ready for us but we really didn’t have the time.
We will be going on trek this Saturday but only to Foni area - not far.
This is a rather belated report of my latest visit to The Gambia in November which was rather exhausting but very productive. It is hard for me to make these twice yearly reports interesting as I do the same sort of thing every time I go, which is to deliver sewing machines.
This time we delivered the machines to the shippers in Crawley at the end of September so as to be extra sure they would be there when I arrived. It turned out that they didn't put them on the next boat but the one after and when I got there on Monday 10th of November they were not there. Sarjo had arranged for us to deliver the six machines to three women’s groups a long way up river near Georgetown. Everything was in place and the driver had been instructed to arrive at nine o'clock the following Friday morning. We were told on the Tuesday that the boxes were there, so we set off straight away. It took three taxis to get to the ports in Banjul but when we got there they told us "yes they ARE there but they are still in the ship. We don’t know when they'll be out." It was a very stressful few days. In the end the call came at eleven o'clock on the Thursday morning to say that they had been unloaded. We set off immediately. I won't even try to tell you how horrible and frustrating the rest of the day was, going backwards and forwards, waiting to get signatures etc. At 4.20pm the boxes still hadn't been checked and signed off when the lady customs officer started to get ready for going home. Our whole trek seemed to be in jeopardy. I rushed into her office and explained about the hundreds of women who would be so disappointed if their programmes had to be cancelled. She kindly signed them off without looking inside. We were very grateful but it still took us another hour before we got them and us out of the ports. It took half an hour to find a large enough taxi and we got home at 7pm, exhausted.
Our first meeting was very interesting. Most "handing overs" are very similar. There are usually drummers and lots of dancing by the women. Then the Imam says a prayer and a local man introduces us. Setti, the outreach worker, gives a speech about our charity then I talk about some of the successful businesses that have been set up by other women's groups. This is to give them a few ideas. Sarjo then tells them how to look after the machines. After this the men start to talk, telling the women what they should be doing. Eventually we hand over the machines to the Lady President of the group who gives them to the Secretary and so on. The slight difference with this group was that the men wanted to be involved in the project. After the handing over a very strong lady spoke out to say that if the men got involved in it there would be no profit. This was going to be for the women only. There was muttered agreement among the ladies. The men then got up and walked out. I have great hopes for this women’s group.
Handing over the machines
Sarjo and I had been expecting to be staying the night in someone's house but we found out that there was a government place where we could stay. (I was quite relieved.) We were shown to our rooms, which were very basic - no electricity and no running water, just a bucket. During the night, which was very hot, we found we were sharing it with various small creatures. Neither of us got much sleep.
A very kind man in the village provided us with breakfast on both mornings we were there. It consisted of warm milk straight from the cow, couscous and sugar.
Sorting the corn
We were heading for a ferry to take us across the River Gambia to the north bank. The boat only took three cars at a time and it was lovely just waiting for it to come and get us. It was so peaceful.
The River Gambia and the ferry
As we approached Barajal, our next village, we could see a group of women ready to meet us and drum us in. We were told later that someone had just died that morning and the programme that had been prepared for us would be smaller and shorter. This meant we had time to spare so after the meeting we decided to go and see the famous standing stones at Wassu. None of the Gambians had seen them before and neither had I so it was a treat for all of us.
Then we went on to Georgetown where the slaves were kept before they were shipped away. We were shown the place where the men, women and children were kept manacled in terrible condition, packed all together with not enough room to stand upright. It was horrible!
To make up for this rather unpleasant experience we spent a few hours later on star gazing as it was a beautiful clear night with lots of stars and no pollution.
And so to bed with the small creatures!
The next day was Sunday and our plan was to hand over the last machines and leave by 2 o'clock so that we could call in at Sarjo's village Kayaborr and Karror where quite a few of our sponsored children are. This last group were not far away so we thought our plans would work. We didn’t anticipate how much the word had got around about our visit. Just as we were about to start the meeting we were told that another group had gathered close by and wanted to talk to us. They had heard about the solar driers we provide and wanted one. I told them they could have one in March when I came next. The list is huge already but I couldn’t say "no" and we needed to get to the other meeting. All went well and to plan. Afterward two women came up to us because they, too, wanted a solar drier for their village. They had walked for two hours and crossed the river to come and see us in forty degrees heat. We promised one for them, too, and gave them money for a donkey cart to take them back.
Drummers and dancers
At this point everything was on time and going well but then we realised that the women cooking our lunch had only just killed the chicken. Time ticked by and I was getting anxious because our plan wasn't going to work. It would have been rude to just go because of the chicken. Eventually we set off after three. We had to bypass Kayaborr where we were to pick up letters from the sponsored children and rush on to Karorr where we had rice, presents and clothing to deliver for three of our sponsored children. It was getting dark by then and we were getting worried about being out on the main road after dark. It is a very fast road now but donkey carts don't have lights and when trucks break down, which they often do, they turn their lights off. Lots of accidents have happened but thankfully not for us. It was late by the time we got back, very exhausted but happy to be home after a successful trek.
The rest of the time I was there involved sorting out a pension for Sarjo. It has become mandatory to provide social security arrangements for all employees so now Sarjo can look forward to a pension when he retires. Needless to say this took rather a long time.
We also had enough time to visit two projects we started some time ago. The Mandinari women were given two sewing machines four years ago and we went to see how they were getting on. We met the lady president at her home and she updated us. They make clothes for many people in the village and use the money they earn for buying cooking pots and any other things that are needed. They have also bought a job lot of plastic chairs which they rent out for naming ceremonies and funerals.
On another day we went to the garden at Marakissa where we visited last year. (See report for March 2014.) They have had a real success with their solar drier. We walked through their garden and the ground was full of okra. They decided to grow so much more than before because it is very popular and now they can dry it and sell the surplus. Their biggest problem is that there are three women’s groups in the area and they all want to use it. They have asked for two more to solve the problem. I will sort this out soon.
Sarjo and the family in our garden
It seems ages ago since my last visit to The Gambia and I should have written this report much sooner. The visit in March was very successful with everything going to plan. Peter, my husband, came with me this time to do a bit of bird watching whilst on our treks.
I planned to visit the villages where we had delivered the machines in December to see how they were doing. The first stop was to Gunjur, not too far away, and then on to a lodge in Marakissa where we were to stay overnight for some bird watching. We got to Gunjur at about 11am on the first Sunday but many of the women were getting ready for a naming ceremony so it was a rather short visit. They told us the machine business they had started was going well and they had made a small profit. Quite a few of them were learning to sew. Unfortunately there was nothing to see drying on their solar dryer but they assured us they had been using it. Their garden was looking very well but overall we were a bit disappointed with the visit.
We had booked a local taxi to take us to Gunjur and then on to Marakissa where our driver would leave us. There are very few road signs in The Gambia so we had to ask the way from the local people. We were directed to an unmade road and told to go straight. As we travelled along, the "road" got narrower and narrower until it was more like a footpath through the bush. It also forked a few times. The car was being scratched by the scrub and there was no habitation or anyone to ask. After half an hour of this we were so relieved when suddenly a newly built tarmacked road appeared in front of us.
The overnight stay was very good and we saw lots of birds.
In the morning we were met by the Lady President of the women's group at Marakissa and we had a half an hour walk to their garden in the heat. Their produce was exceptionally good and we promised that Sarjo and his team would come back in May and train them in whatever they need. They will also get a solar dryer for their mangoes. When we left they dug up lots and lots of sweet potatoes for us to take home. Things went downhill after that as we stood for an hour in the heat waiting for a bush taxi to bring us back.
The next few days were spent trying to sort out National Insurance Contributions for Sarjo's pension and a trip around the mangroves in our fisherman's dug-out. It was lovely experience and we also ended up with a large pile of assorted shell fish for supper.
The next day we set off for a three day trip to deliver some sewing machines. Barry, our driver from last time, turned up half an hour early which was a good start.
Our first stop was to Nema, a village close to Tendaba Camp (famous for its bird watching) where we intended to stay the night. We had a big welcome with an unusual conceran, a mythical figure, leading the dancing. The most amazing thing about this village was the amount of children there were. None of us had ever seen so many in one place before. The women were very happy with their sewing machines and presented Peter and myself with some very nice Gambian clothes. They dressed me up as a bride going to her marriage!!
Peter and Sarjo got up early the next morning for an hours bird watching and then we were off further up river to Jassong, where we delivered two machines last time. We were very impressed by their garden then when we visited and it was lovely to see it again at a different time of year.
Our next stop was to Dankunda, a village a long way from the main road and rather isolated. The area Chief lived here and the meeting was held in his compound. He was an extremely nice man and the people were rather serious and listened very well. They should do well with their sewing machine business as it is so far from anywhere.
We spent the night at the Agriculture Department's Camp near Soma. The Director made us very welcome and was interested in our solar drying project. He agreed to accompany Sarjo on his next trek to the North Bank to learn more about it. Early the next morning whilst bird watching we came across a women's garden that caught our attention. It was the best garden we had ever seen. They had been given helpful advice from the Agriculture people and it showed. Like many others the problem is what to do with the produce when everything comes at once. We told them about our dryers and they were extremely interested so we have put them on the list.
We arrived at Sintet around eleven o'clock and were able to wander around the vegetable garden before the meeting. This was the village that didn't have any seeds due to a bad rainy season (see Dec. 2013 report). We promised them at that time we would give them a dryer because of the amazing amount of mangoes they would be having. It has since been delivered and we were pleased to see it being used to good advantage in its own fenced off area.
Our meeting went well and we were told that a large group of women were being taught how to sew. They have decided to concentrate on this before they set up their business. We were also told that there were two other women's groups in the same village who were keen to have solar dryers. As they had attended our meetings we decided to help them as soon as we could.
We had one more village to see. Bintang had a frame some months ago so we called in to see how they were doing. Unfortunately there had just been a death and they were preparing for the funeral. They showed us the frame with some vegetables on but it was not appropriate to stay too long. All these frames will come into their own as soon as the mangoes start ripening in May.
We arrived back at the house that Sunday evening completely exhausted and flew home the next day. The visit had been very successful and Sarjo had arranged things very well. I left enough money for fifteen solar dryers.
Thank you for showing an interest in our charity. Please get in touch if you would like more information and thank you to all those who already support us. Without your help all this could never happen.
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.
I have recently returned from The Gambia after a reasonably successful visit. My aim was to catch up on projects we have started to see how they were getting on and to deliver two lots of sewing machines. If you read my last report you might remember that these were the ones that travelled to Nigeria and back before they finally reached The Gambia on December 30th after three and a half months of travelling!
This visit did not start well and at one point I thought it was going to be as unfruitful as the last one. The problem this time was that there was no fuel. I arrived in The Gambia on Monday 25th of February and our plan was to go up country to two villages on the Wednesday. I needed to visit various schools to see how some of our sponsored children were doing, measure some land for a new house for Sarjo's family and to deliver some plasters and bandages for the clinic at Mayork, kindly given by a Friday Folk member.
Our driver turned up a bit late saying that he had been trying to find diesel for the trip but there was none to be had. At that point I was ready to give up and I won't repeat my language! However we set off and found a filling station that said a tanker was due to arrive soon so we parked in front of a pump. Three hours later we managed to get enough fuel for the trip. (It took one hour to fill our tank due to an air-lock.)
By the time we reached the High School the morning shift had finished and a new set of teachers and pupils were there. At the clinic the morning shift had also finished and the two nurses were only there because they had no fuel in their car to go anywhere.
We had brought a large amount of rice and chicken with us for a treat so when we got to the village the fire was lit and a couple of hours later we had our first meal of the day, just before we had to leave. We sorted out the house foundations but everything else was a disappointment as we only saw a few of the children we wanted to see. All in all it was not a good day and the last straw was when the fan belt on the car broke just as we were nearing home and we had to abandon it and get a bush taxi for the last bit.
After that day things did get better I'm pleased to say.
The Charity was started in 1999 and one of the first things we did was to befriend a women's group in Lamin at the request of John P. Bojang, the then High Commissioner in London. He told us that these women could only grow crops in the rainy season as they had no water supply on their plot of land. We looked into a bore-hole for them but the cost was far beyond our means. When we heard that the women had to plough their large field by hand we offered help to hire a tractor when the first rains fell in June and money to buy fertilizer. This tradition still goes on fourteen years later. Lamin is only a few miles down the road from us in Fajikunda so the next day was an easy one. The ladies were pleased to see us and we heard that their peanut crop had been very good last year but the couscous was a bit disappointing. I always give them the money when I visit - four months before they need it - and I was pleased to hear that they have started using it to make more. They buy in bulk and sell to the group to make a profit. The more money they raise the more fertilizer they can buy.
Their garden was amazing - full of cabbages and onions. They told me that dried cabbage goes very well with palm oil in a type of soup. I must admit it didn't appeal! As soon as the cabbages finish they will be growing tomatoes and okra, both are extremely good dried. But before this happens it will be mango time. All around the garden and everywhere else in the village there were huge mango trees carrying hundreds of fruit. This will be the time that the solar drier comes into its own.
The sun was just setting as we left the village and drove back to where we were staying the night. It was an agricultural camp owned by the government for agricultural workers just north of Soma and it was much better than I imagined it would be. We each had a room and a bathroom, although we had to wait until the generator was switched on before we could get any water. Food was in very short supply that day.
Next morning we went into Soma to find some breakfast. It was not easy. The one café that looked reasonable was not open so we had to resort to squeezing up on a bench in a not-too-hygienic store where all they could manage was sweet Nescafe from a thermos flask - better than nothing.
It turned out that Soma had very few places to eat and hardly anything to buy. Nearly all the shops sold the same stuff - a limited amount of groceries and soft drinks. We were told that shop keepers and people in general had to travel to Serekunda, roughly 130miles away, if they wanted to buy anything other than this. Soma is quite an important town as it is on the main highway for trucks and people travelling to the North Bank and Senegal. It is just south of the first ferry crossing point of the River Gambia since Banjul. (At the moment Banjul hasn't even got a ferry as the three boats they used to have are broken. New ones were bought only to find that they were too big for the docking area.) Huge lorries rumble along the streets emitting lots of fumes although quite a few were stationary because there was no diesel to be had.
Our first stop of the day was to a very large village called Baro Kunda where we had given a drier some months ago. Half of the village was reasonably well-kept and the other half was very poor and run down. There were two different tribes living side by side but I won't mention which ones! Our drier was in the poorer one and they have had great success with it so far. Let's hope it will make a difference for them.
When we reached our next village, Jassong, the drumming started as soon as they saw the car approach. The tradition is that they drum, sing and dance the guest into the village. It was very hot and dusty but I duly got out and joined in.
They took us to show us their garden after all the dancing and drumming was over. It was very impressive. The concuran (a mythical figure similar to our Green Man) came too.
We were there to hand over two sewing machines so after lunch the meeting started.
So far we have provided around sixty five villages with sewing machines and many of them have made very good business out of them. This village was very optimistic that they could do the same and they were very grateful for the chance to do so. Along with the machines go a small amount of money to buy scissors and material and advice on caring for them. We also suggest business opportunities like contacting local schools for orders to make the uniforms. When these are made in the villages it encourages more children to go to school.
We arrived at our last stop at about ten o'clock where the women of Mesembe were so pleased to see us. They have had their frame for quite a while now and it has made an amazing difference. It was full of a certain type of dried leaves, very beneficial to good health, and cassava. Cassava is a good thing to dry as it grows all year round and can be made into bread, pancakes and porridge.
They were so pleased to see us and to say thank you that they gave us a chicken to take home. We have promised them a second drier as they have done so well with this one and it is a very big village.
We were now on our way home a bit earlier than we had hoped because our driver had to pick up his boss. As we approached the filling station in Brikama where we had got our fuel we saw that nothing had changed.
The strange thing is that there was nothing on the news about the situation so nobody really knew what was happening and why. The next day, on the Monday, everything was back to normal.
Our sewing machine project is extremely successful and has made a lot of money for many villages. The problem we are facing now is that when they arrive in the port we are having to pay duty on them even though charity goods are exempt. We sent in our documents last November proving we are a registered charity but government departments are not known for their efficiency and we had to pay the duty before we could get our machines out of customs because our records could not be found. I am not one to let them get away with this as it is hard earned charity money that they are taking, so we went into Banjul and found the relevant department to make a fuss. It turned out to be a very pleasant meeting with very dedicated people who are helping to develop small businesses for women, exactly what we are doing. From now on I hope to help by sending them electric sewing machines, which up until now I have refused to send. This, of course, depends on whether we get our duty waiver next time!
The last village we visited a few days later was Mandinari and it was close enough to go on a bush taxi. As soon as we got off the taxi the drumming started. For the next hour the ladies (and myself) danced and sang in a small space in front of the house. They were enjoying themselves so much it was hard to stop them so that the business could start. On the ground were about thirty piles of soap. It became clear during the meeting what was happening. These people had their drier a year ago and they had made a lot of money during the mango season. For the first time none of the fruit was wasted. I was shown the books and it was impressive. Now they are able to buy commodities in bulk which makes it cheaper for them and also makes profit for the group. The piles of soap were handed out after the meeting.
Two years ago I delivered two sewing machines to a village close by this one so I asked if these people knew how they were getting on. I was told everyone from this village goes to have their clothes made there and they now have thousands of Delasis in the bank. Another good result.
This was my last day and overall the visit had been a success. I did not get done all that I wanted to but I suppose that's Africa!
Sarjo is still working hard and loves what he is doing. The family is fine. Abi is well and cooks us wonderful meals. Dawda is now walking and makes lots of noise while Ousman, at four, behaves like a wise little man and is always smiling.
I left behind all the money needed for our twenty sponsored children's education for the next academic year and enough for ten solar driers. This is all thanks to the generosity of you all.
Thank you so much. We couldn't manage without you.
Sarjo and I have been working together now for eleven years and the Charity has gone from strength to strength. Every time I visit The Gambia I come back pleased with what we have achieved but this time, however, things were different.
Towards the end of September we delivered seven sewing machines to Redcoats in Crawley in good time for me to receive and distribute them in November. To cut a long story short they were left behind in Antwerp, shipped out to Nigeria by mistake, are now travelling back to Antwerp and should arrive in Banjul at the end of December.
This was the first set back. I arrived on Thursday 8th November with plenty of work to do. The next morning when we were about to arrange our transport we found out, at the same time most other people did, that it was a public holiday and there would be no one in the offices. Apparently it was announced at 6 pm the day before but as there was an electricity cut at the time we only found out when the children started coming back from school with the news! Sarjo had encouraged all the sponsored children to write letters to their sponsors and without transport we were unable to collect them. If your child lives up country I am sorry but your letter is still there. I do not want Sarjo to post them as they seldom arrive. To make matters worse, there was a big conference going on with West African leaders discussing ways to alleviate poverty. This meant that all the Agriculture's cars were being used that week for shipping the delegates around.
The only positive thing I did was to buy a fishing net for two of our local men. Their net was beyond repair so I thought this was a good thing to do as it will help both them and the local community. It took them nearly a week to set it all up.
The good things are that over the last few months Sarjo has been to seventeen villages, training in pepper sauce, papaya jam, tomato chutney and cous-cous benachin. At the same time he delivered seven solar driers.
In my last report I mentioned the fact that our neighbour had grown thousands of trees that he wanted to distribute all over The Gambia. Unfortunately the government didn't want to support him so we decided to buy 2,000 of his cashew trees and started cashew farms in four villages. This will give them a good source of income. We paid £50 for them plus the the cost of transport. Will let you know how they get on.
Sarjo, Abi and the two children are fine and the house is still standing after the torrential rains they had this year but there was quite a bit of repair work to do. We had no running water as the pillars under the tank had collapsed. Many houses have been knocked down or damaged with huge cracks appearing everywhere. We had to negotiate a river to get up to our house. I'm not sure how the very poor people are going to cope as the rain damaged much of their crops of cous-cous and peanuts.
I am so sorry this report sounds gloomy but life will go on as usual. The people are very resilient and will cope with all this.
On the plus side Sarjo has funds for seven more solar driers which are in great demand. They have proved very beneficial so far to the villages who are using them and I often get invitations from them to come and see how well they are doing. I am really looking forward to my next trip now, when I will be able to do all these things.
Thanks to all of you who contribute to our work either by donations of money, time, sewing machines or sponsoring children. It is much appreciated.
Barbara and Sarjo's Trek Reports and experiences.