(Note - if you click on a small picture, you should see a larger version)
Thursday the first of November saw me and my daughter, Claire, off to The Gambia. It was the first flight of the season with Thomas Cook airlines and it was packed. When we arrived in Banjul airport there was drumming and dancing to welcome us. Then later we found out it was for Prince Charles and not for us.
I had taken five sewing machines to Redcoat on 12th September to make sure they would be on time for us to deliver them to the villages but on that first Thursday, November first, we had heard nothing. We went to the ports on Friday to see what had happened and there they were – they had forgotten to phone us. It was too late by that time to get a government car and to let the villages know we were coming.
As we had a weekend to fill we decided to go to the monkey village. It was great fun with lots of good shots of us and monkeys. We also met the boss of ‘Green up Gambia’ who are a group of young people who are planting trees as well as trying to do something about the amazing amount of rubbish all over the place. (look them up on Facebook}
As it was our day off, we decided to go to Sanyang beach to get some fish and paddle in the sea. We saw six boats come in with only a handful of fish between them. The Chinese are trawling with their factory ships and taking all the catch. Fish is now much more expensive than it was.
A poor catch
Our ex-fisherman is now a taxi driver so on the Tuesday we hired him to take us to two villages past Soma to deliver the sewing machines. He had never been so far up country and found the gears a bit of the problem as it was a bit hilly there. We were staying the night in Soma so we dropped off our luggage and then carried on to Jappineh where the group were waiting for us. They saw us two years ago when we were delivering machines somewhere else and they have been patiently waiting since then. We handed over one shuttle and one electric. Then they sang a long song about the current state of affairs – lack of rain and the government that they feel has let them down.
The Electric Machine
When we come to these villages there are always women who come to ask for our help. Three came from different villages (one on a donkey cart) to tell us about their crops that were ready to harvest. All of them wanted dryers. We have so many people asking for these we try to be fair but when you hear their amazing problems it’s hard to say no.
Lady and Donkey
The next morning we had time on our hands so we went to see a group near Soma where we went to four years ago. On our arrival we found them having their Wednesday meeting. They were so pleased to see us and told us all the things they have been doing with their machines – bed sheets, curtains and uniforms. They have a lady tailor who is teaching other young women to sew and they are bulk buying. Their next projects are tie & dye and buying chairs to rent out. This was a very good start to our day.
On our way to Jabisa Village near the river we took a detour to see the bridge that is being built over the Gambia River linking it to the North Bank. The many stalls selling goods will go when it opens, as the Ferry will probably go with it.
The road to this village was a nightmare. It was a single sand track with holes for four miles. When we arrived there were lots of children waiting to welcome us with songs and speeches. The place looked new but the children’s uniforms were in a poor state. I’m afraid to say that it wasn’t a very good handing over. The men tried to take over. A child was told to talk about wanting computers, laptops, table and chairs etc. We had to stop all this and confine our talk to the women, explaining that we were here to focus on them so they could develop their own business and help themselves.
The Road to the Village
A Lovely Welcome
On the way back we called in to the school at Jamakunda where Alan, one of our sponsors, gave money for tables and chairs. We were able to see them and to give needed supplies. Across the road we tried to see the Lady President to ask how the solar dryer was working. She was out but the women were able to tell us that it is working well. They are growing okra, tomatoes, sweet potatoes to dry and they have dried lots of mangos when they were in season.
We had two days rest before we were off again. In those two days we went to a naming ceremony, a wedding and a Jolla ladies evening.
This time, instead of giving dryers and machines, we thought it would be good to see as many villages as we could, to see how the projects were going. Our government driver arrived at 8.45 in the morning and we were away by 9.30. We stopped by in Bwiam to book our accommodation and to give the people of Karror (Sarjo’s sister’s village) two boxes of chicken legs, a sack of rice and copious vegetables for our feast that evening. We were to be celebrating Claire’s almost birthday in the evening. En-route we had a call from Setee saying he had a funeral to go to and couldn’t come. We then discovered he had arranged to have two villages meet us to discuss their needs without telling us. The first village had been waiting on the road since 10 o’clock and it was now 1pm. We were able to promise them a sewing machine, onion seeds, look into tie & dye and put them on the list for a dryer. They showed us their garden which needed fencing but we couldn’t do anything about that.
We then drove on to Kayaborr, Sarjo’s village. There was a lot going on there, mainly drying herbs to make tea. This was the village that got the first machine in 2002 when my husband’s mother died. Unfortunately they said it had recently broken and was in Bwiam being repaired. They were keen to get it fixed as they had been doing well and had recently made enough profit for every woman in the group to buy a full set of bowls, plates and laundry tubs. The donkey and cart we bought them seven years ago were still going strong.
Bowls and Herbs
Our next call was to Sintet who we had last seen four years ago when they had two machines and a dryer. They were in a middle of a naming ceremony but ran to meet us when we arrived. Sadly we were told that the dryer had been broken by two women fighting. Luckily the frame was intact so we promised to repair it. This village is surrounded by mangos so they will be very pleased to have it fixed. The sewing machines were a huge success and the ladies were keen to show us the chairs they had been able to buy. They had made over 200 bed sheets as well as school uniforms, bought 180 chairs which they rent out to neighbouring villages and a marquee. Another good thing was that they are now able to make their own dresses and the young girls of the village are learning to sew, developing the business even further. Last but not least they can now buy in bulk for such things as oil and soap. Wow!!
Some of the Chairs
By now it was late in the afternoon and we were rushing to get back to Karorr for the evening. As we were speeding along the road we saw a group of people waving at us so we stopped and found that these were the other people Sette had arranged for us that morning. They wanted a drier, tie & dye and seeds. Finally we got to Karorr just as it was getting dark. It was not how it was supposed to be as we couldn’t go round the village to see what was going on. What we DID see was rotting couscous, the same as last year and the year before. There wasn’t enough rain and the time it did rain there was so much of it it blew the plants down. I suggested they try sunflowers next year. The poultry business is doing well. They were waiting for the next batch which will be broilers and layers.
After dinner some of the sponsored children came and we had fun taking photographs. There was no dancing after all as there was a funeral that day. The next day before we started on our way back we visited a shack along the road for coffee (three cups of coffee with condensed milk for 50p all together!) With that and a huge watermelon we’d been given we started for home. Our task was to visit four more villages on the way. Three of them told us how the driers had helped them. The lady president of Kassang told us the dried mangos were amazing and that they grew okra, chillies, cassavas and tomatoes. They used the profit for fencing their garden.
The Lady President
In Kataka they said they dried everything they could and now have enough money to make a tie & dye business.
ur last visit of the day was to try and find an old friend who we hadn’t heard of for years. Kadi was an amazing president. She was bulk-buying ages ago when hardly anyone was doing it. We arrived in her compound thinking for the worst, as she used to contact us regularly, but to our amazement she came out to welcome us and we had a lovely reunion. When she told her story it was so sad. She was pushed out of her position by a group of men when she was taken ill five years ago. They wanted to do things their way but it failed. The machines are still there but nobody is using them. We will definitely be taking them back.
Kadi and Us
We then headed for home, a lovely shower and a G&T.
Six of our sponsored children have finished their education now. Three of them have done well but the others did not pass. One of the reasons for failing was that the teachers have not been paid for some time now, so have not been there to teach. It is said that out of the 3000 pupils who took the Exam only 800 passed but I can’t verify that. We have decided not to carry on sponsoring children after this. When the present group leaves school, that will be the last.
Things in The Gambia are not in very good shape. Since there are no clean-up days anymore the place is filthy.
Rubbish near our house
The beach outside our house is packed with rubbish which floats in the water when the tide comes in. Fish for the poor people is in short supply. The mahogany trees are being shipped off to other countries. In our area crime is on the increase. Sarjo has had his chickens and goats stolen in the night more than once. The good news is that Sarjo, Abie and their three amazing children are all well and happy. Sarjo works very hard for the charity sometimes receiving up to ten calls a day with women wanting dryers or machines. He puts them all on the list in turn but they often have to wait for up to a year. I have given Sarjo enough money for 14 dryers to be distributed in the next 4 months. Each one costs approximately £80 including the mahogany, solar plastic, the carpenter’s fee and the fuel to get there.
Thank you for reading this report and thank you also for all your support. We couldn’t do this without you.
PS Claire is taking over the website soon so it will be a bit different. Keep in touch.
PPS Just thought - If you can’t think of what to buy someone for Christmas a drying frame might be a good idea!!
I am off tomorrow to Santanba village where they are planting their cassava farm. They have dried more sweet potatoes and mangoes this time than before. They had to work very hard to water them during the dry season and now they are harvested and beautiful dried. Now they want to plant the cassava sticks which they have found themselves and have invited me to go and make the planting program important. I am looking forward to it but will be coming back the same day.
The handing over of the dryer to Nyodema women went very well. They were worried that we might not go but when they heard that we are coming the whole group was very very pleased. On the day, we had a very big goat as our meal and there was a lot of drumming - almost half the day - because more and more people from the nearby villages keep coming.
In Kambeng Kafo too many want to use the dryer and there was a big argument. They listened to what I told them and they agreed that each group should have it for a week but I have since heard that there is a big push and pull again.
The Wuruwa Women’s Group were similar to the Nyodema Group but have more okra and mango trees then them.
I visited four very important villages but they way they are living is very sad. They have local gardens, with mangoes and they can grow more things but they are very remote and hardly anyone visits. They told me all their stories and they are very sad. I didn’t commit to anything until we have discussed it.
We cannot do all four because of the fuel and other costs but if we can help 3 out of the four it will be very good. They are sending some women to Sibanor and I will meet with them on Sunday the 15th while I am at Killy garden for their tree planting. I will invite the tree man in Fajikundatro come along as well.
I am not watching any more football because England are out. We were all disappointed .
We have another very very good handing over. The mangoes are ready up country and it is a very busy time for the women groups on drying. The whole handing over started with lots and lots of drying - buckets full of mangoes ready to put in the dryer.
In Nyodema Kafo they have 210 women but they are very well organised and all willing to dry together and keep them as a group product. Come August, they can decide what to do, if they are very hungry they will not sell any but will share it among the houses but am very worried if they can do as they say without problems because it is a very large group.
In Kaira Kafo the group is very small with only 45 members including men. The men are very good during the meeting and explain how they will arrange there to be enough dry mangoes for all the compounds. This makes me feel very happy and I will be even happier if they do as they say!
Things are going very well with men and women working together during the drying process and happy to keep the dried fruit for the rains.
We will not be doing another trek until on the 19th, when we will be doing food training in Foni.
Whilst getting ready to finish, I had a call about a funeral in a village near Kayabor of the man who was very actively involved in the village’s honey scheme. A great shame, for his wife and four children.
Its nice to get my old email address back. Am on Westfield (Serrekunda) internet which I think is the only internet using Hotmail,
We are back from trek yesterday and we have a very wonderful handing of dryers and food training. We only took 2 dryers because neither the carpenter nor Setti came with us but it is among the best treks we have done.
It is very very far but it is worth going as those villages look like Karror (i.e.very poor) - the only different is that they have land for crops and vegetables. They have more cassavas then anywhere I have been in the last 5yrs, but they are not happy eating the cassava the same way for years. When we teach them about the cassava porridge and cassava fufu they almost come to tears. They cannot believe it. believe it.
In Njiayen and Sereh Jella we did the dryers - they had no idea what they were for - and after the training they were so much happy. The village has 30 compounds and they have a lot of individual farms of cassava. But they have no idea of a group farm an I pray for them not to fight as they started arguing before we left.
In In Sedeba, Tenkoli,and Madina Samako all have training and they are very very pleased and you can see they way they ate all the jam that they processed. It was a big fun to watch them eat the jam. They have a very good mobile network and the signals are good but it is very remote from Basse.
Karror are preparing to buy their chickens soon, I told them that if they buy them, we will help them with the transport , feeds and catchers.
I am so pleased that now I can send emails and see our website again.
Time to finish and I have to sign out before all my typing disappears.
March 9th saw me in The Gambia again and it seemed as if I’d hardly been away. Unfortunately things have got worse since I was there in November. We only had electricity 40% of the time, the teachers and doctors have been striking as they haven’t been paid and there is more looting going on. Sarjo has had his goats, sheep and chickens stolen in three different raids at night. No currency has been minted for ages and the notes are falling to pieces as well as smelling. I’m sorry to start with bad news but from now on things will be positive. My time there was very productive and everything went well.
I had two weekends. On the first one I decided to concentrate on our sponsored children. I don’t often talk about them as it is a side line to our working with women, which is our main priority. We have five children about to graduate this year and nineteen others in middle and upper school. Twelve of these come from Kayabor and Karror where there is a lot of poverty. Their staple crops of peanuts, maize and couscous all failed when the rains stopped a month early. Most of the children there don’t go to school. The problem we had was letting them know we were coming as nobody there has a mobile phone. We had good feedback as to how the children are doing and we managed to see two thirds of them. Election time is coming up soon and on the Tuesday the nominations for councillors happened. The rally was very noisy with cheering, dancing and generally having a good time. Many people want the old president back.
The next weekend saw us off to visit two villages near Soma with four sewing machines. In the first one we were drummed into the village with the Concoran leading the way.
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 donna 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.
Sarjo is doing a really good job. Every day he gets at least ten phone calls asking for help. His family is lovely. The two boys are in school now and Sheira is just two. She talks and sings all day.
Thank you for reading this report and thank you so much for all you do to keep this charity going. If you have any friends who would like to support us I would be very grateful.
We are back on Sunday from Southern Senegal.
Going through the border was very difficult - much document checking and lots of questions about we whether we had informed the government of Senegal. After a few hours we were allowed to enter.
Wonderful welcoming with hundreds of people from 9 different villages. 5 big cooking pots and 3 rams presented before us. No government official was invited because we are not registered to work in Senegal and their government would not be pleased if someone were to help without their knowledge.
They made us go round the village with drums. I was afraid in case the rebels found out about the celebrations and came around - but thank God at the end I was focussed on the program and joined those dancing in the circle. I danced and danced and my friend also danced because nobody knew us there.
The next day, Sunday, they brought 7 baskets of cassava ready for drying. It rained very heavily at the end of the program but we still very happy.
The sad time was when it was 4pm, and we were ready to go back to the border and then home. Lots of people were crying next to our car, they cry and cry and we cry too because we have a lovely time together and they are very very happy with their dryers and they know how important they are for them. The Senegal government never visit them - this is the first time anyone has visited and given them help. Saying goodbye to us was very sad because they don't know whether I can consider them again, not to mention the other 7 villages. I didn't say anything at that time because I was sad to leave them too.
Thank you once more - my time is finish on the net. I also have a cold because I Got wet
Wonderful trek as all the meetings were very very quick as most people are fasting. All the food will be available in the evening and that makes things easy for the villagers as there are fewer people coming from the next villages to attend.
Mangoes are in season at the moment in the villages and every village with a dryer is very busy on drying as we don’t know what the rains will be like.
In Sanden, across the bridge, they have someone in Brikama who will supply them with lots of plastic bags for dried mangoes. They first thought that they will give all their dried mangoes to this man to sell for them in Brikama, but now they change their mind and will keep everything they dry for the rains. No-one is sure of the rains this year.
We also visited Masembe in Kiang to see how their dryer and jam are going. It was fantastic - they assign 6 women to be responsible for all the drying and all the dried mangoes will be kept in the Lady President’s house until the rains. Then they will have a meeting with the men and see how to share it into compounds. They have dried more than a thousand plastic bags of mangoes and I was so happy and hope they will help to save them from hunger come August and September. It was a job well done by the Kabafita fund as most of the people who have our dryer are very busy drying. I have a lot of demands from villages without but I will first finish the ones on the list and then will decide where the next batch will go.
Very interesting I will be meeting 3 Lady Presidents, one from the former President’s village because we helped his mother's village. They will meet me tomorrow and on thursday it is the Lady President from the north bank of Bunyadu. I think they all coming to make a case for a dryer because everything is not going well here and people want to keep some thing in the village in case come August they have something to manage in their stomachs.
In Kanikun Jara we didn’t stay long but they have a very big garden of cassava and before we arrived they pulled 6 bags of cassava ready for the process. Now they have their dryer, they started drying straight after the handing over.
We came back straight from the meeting with no food because we needed to get home before it was too late.
It was a busy trek with lots of things done and visited. I thank my friend (who provides the transport) for all his time away with us. He never complains wherever I ask him to go, he has really contributed very very well with our charity.
We returned home on Saturday night and I was very tired and had a rest on Sunday and Monday. Tuesday I was growing some flowers in the garden.
It was a very wonderful handing of dryers and food training to Jeren, Keneba2 and Kerr Amadou In Kerr Amadou there was very large turnout and it was very difficult for them to hear. But they have a lot of mangoes and they are going to dry as a group not as each individual house. We also train them on mango jam so that they can both dry and process.
After handing over of the dryer in Keneba 2 we went to to help them harvest their tomatoes and okra. They had a very good harvest and we both enjoyed harvesting with them.
After the end of the handing over and training we were invited to the village near the river where we went with you and Claire last year. They attended the handing over and from there we went to see how their sewing machines are doing, They are fantastic people and have done a very wonderful job with their machines which are in a very good conditon. Almost each house has a new bed sheet made with that machine and they are very happy that the machines have put off most of their worries when festivals come. They think the machines will change their living conditions because no one bothers to visit them because they are far away at the river side and with the rains, no car can get to their village because you cannot cross at the crossing point.
We also visited Jamakunda where the village has dried more than 300 packets of okra ready for the market and they still have some in the garden and mangoes as well. They are also very happy and they thank the Kabafita fund very much and they want me to see and comment. We also visited Funtang to see their drying progress - this also went well. They are working very hard drying mangoes because their mangoes are very ripe. They also process the jam and pepper sauce and have made more than 120 bottles. Their jam is wonderful and I thank them for making good use of what we gave them.
Next trek is on the 10th and 24th June which will be our 5th and 6th trek.
Best wishes to you Peter and all the children
Thank you so much for helping the Gambian women
The beginning of the year was a difficult time in The Gambia with the problem of the last President refusing to stand down. Sarjo and his family were frightened enough to leave our house and find a safer place up country with his sister. For me it was also difficult because I couldn’t get a flight. In March I usually take all the money needed for the next seven months for the Charity’s projects. At the last minute Thomas Cook put on an extra flight, as things were back to normal by then. Peter, my husband, was coming with me this time as he is a keen birdwatcher. Usually I book a flight so as to have two weekends to deliver the sewing machines and solar dryers but this flight was for ten days from Tuesday to Thursday so we only had one.
The machines were due to arrive in Banjul ten days before we arrived but when we got there they hadn’t come. We were told they would be docking on Wednesday. That would have been fine as we were to start our trek early on Friday morning but when we phoned to find out what was happening we were told the ship was in but there wasn’t room for it to dock. It took two days before the six machines were out. We arrived at the docks on the Friday morning at ten o’clock (even though they said the boxes were not there) and there they were. We were so glad to see them. It then took until three in the afternoon before they were released. Customs took almost two hours to sign twenty signatures before we could take the goods.
We raced back home, undid the boxes and set off at 4.30. It was dark by the time we reached Soma, nearly half way up The Gambia. When I was there last delivering a solar dryer, I promised the lady president I would give her two electric sewing machines as they had electricity there. It was too late to have a proper handing over so we chatted to all the people who had come to see us. We were then escorted to the house where we were to spend the night. It was a huge mansion with “doric columns” all over the place. The rooms were enormous. The lady who lived there had a husband working in America. Unfortunately there was no electricity, the toilet was broken and there was no running water – we were given a bucket! Not a good night’s sleep.
The next morning we officially handed over the machines and were given some lovely clothes. It was quite difficult to get away but we did go to look at the women’s garden. It was full of vegetables and as before there were many people, old and young, watering the crops. Their problem was the fencing that has started to break in places. We are thinking of helping them with this.
A man with a
sense of humour
Our next handing over was a village not too far away from this one. They had been expecting us much earlier but it was a very nice welcome. As you know we mainly work with women’s groups but on these occasions the men usually come too. They like to give advice to the ladies as to how to run their business. This group were completely different. There were no men at all, no prayers and hardly any children. Everybody listened well and promised to make a good business from the machines. They laughed a lot and danced a lot and were very grateful.
We spent the night in a lodge nearby. It looked good from the outside but things were not so good on the inside. There was a bathroom but no running water – another bucket! It could have been worse. The next morning we needed to get off early and amazingly an old lady arrived at 8.30 with bread and boiled eggs. That was a good start to the day.
We set off early as we were going to Kayabor, Sarjo’s village, the school in Foni Bondali where we visited last time and Karorr, his sister’s village. It has been a long time since I have been to Kayabor where six of our sponsored children live.
Sarjo, Nyma & Daughter
When we got there we found the men and boys digging a trench across the village. Apparently a man had come and offered to give them a borehole and running water for each compound in exchange for five large mahogany trees. It was sad to see these beautiful trees lying there but I hope that having running water will help to alleviate the health problems they have been having. We were able to talk to all our sponsored children – two of them will be graduating next year.
Peter making his contribution
The school was our next stop. We should have been there on the Friday instead of being at the ports, so we weren’t expecting any children as it was a Sunday. It was an absolute surprise when we found them waiting for us with speeches and a choir singing a special song of welcome (in two parts). We had promised them educational posters, pens etc. and they were very happy with these. The children were the best behaved ones I have ever met. I hope to help them more in the future.
Our last visit was to Karorr, where we have five sponsored children and a poultry project. We were pleased to see the chicks were getting fatter and everything was going well. Since our visit ninety five out of the hundred survived and half of them were sold locally at a good price. They turned out to be very large and heavy. Sarjo’s sister came to him with the rest and they sold them at a higher price on our local market. This project has brought the whole village together. After this they will be on their own (with a bit of Sarjo’s help.) They are going to start again with another hundred chicks and then possibly go into egg production as well. I hope this will be a turning point for this village. It deserves it.
On the following Tuesday were went to the North Bank for a day to deliver two more sewing machines. We can’t get government cars during the week so Sette’s son took us in his. (Sette always comes with us as he was an outreach worker before retiring and knows most of the Gambia) We were due to take off early but the clutch on the car was playing up. Two hours later than planned they arrived at our house to pick us up. We missed the earlier ferry and didn’t get to Bali until 2pm.
The Road to Bali
The village was close to the Senegal border and a very long way from the main road. We were met with singing and dancing as we arrived into the village and immediately given “breakfast”, as it had been prepared. The speeches were good as was the drumming and dancing. Then we had lunch and it was time to go. Before we went we talked with a man who wanted to show us their amazing vegetable garden. He told us that people from the village had to keep watch day and night to keep the animals from eating the crops. The fences were not fit for purpose. We promised to help if possible.
for the meeting
On the way back the clutch in the car got worse and worse and by the time we had nearly reached the ferry the driver was having to start the car in gear. He realised that manoeuvring a car in that condition on and off a ferry was not realistic and found a garage a mile or so from the terminal. Not your average sort of garage in a building with lots of equipment – this was in the open with a jack and a limited number of spanners. But the mechanic knew what he was doing, identified the fault (a new hydraulic piston washer needed). Amazingly, a spare-part shop was nearby (although it was well disguised), a new washer bought and fitted and an hour or so later we were back on the road.
It was dark by the time we reached the ferry. As we waited for the boat we were near three shepherds from North Senegal and about fifty sheep and goats. One of the rams was enormous, the size of a small calf.. The men were taking the animals to Abouko to sell. Everyone was amazed at the size of this ram and a passenger on the ferry bought it for £ 600. When we docked we saw him walking off with it on a piece of string.
The huge ram
The next day we went to visit Ensa in his office and told him about the problem with the garden at Bali. He immediately contacted the nearest outreach worker to that village and told him to give them a form to fill in stating their needs. Ensa is in charge of a European Charity similar to DIFID which helps women’s groups with wells, bore-holes and fencing etc. Let’s hope they will get their fencing. It can’t be very nice wandering around every night chasing animals away.
Our solar dryers are still in great demand. I left money for fourteen of them.
This is all the Charity news. Between treks we managed quite a bit of bird watching. Sarjo has now got a pair of binoculars. He is very good at spotting birds and identifying them. The family are doing well. Ousman is very intelligent and doing well at school and Dawda will be going soon. Sarah had her first birthday while we were there. She is lovely – always singing, running around, falling over and trying to talk.
Thank you all for reading this report.
Thursday November 17th found me back in The Gambia again with four sewing machines and two solar dryers to deliver. It was very close to the elections and I thought this might affect my visit but as it turned out everything went smoothly – well almost! As I have mentioned before we can only use the government cars on weekends so we were up early and ready to go at 8.30 am on the first Saturday. We then got a phone call to say that there had been an accident and our pick-up had been damaged badly. There was nothing for it but to set out using private taxis. We were off to the North Bank to deliver four machines a hundred or so miles up the country. At the port we engaged a “push-push” to handle our overnight luggage and the machines on the ferry.
The 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.
There was a lot of waiting around and in the end it was getting dark when we arrived at the second half of the village where we would be staying the night. We were very tired at this point so we were rather dismayed when we saw another group of women waving branches and singing as we approached. The first thing they gave us was another chicken dinner!
I won’t go into details about our accommodation but we didn’t get much sleep, what with the heat and the scratching noises across the floor! Out toilet was a hole outside the back door.
We hoped to do the handing over in the morning or at least early afternoon but nobody came near us to arrange things. We wandered around the village for a couple of hours looking at the peanut harvest and talking to people and then another chicken dinner arrived.
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.
I have mentioned Karror village before as it is one of the poorest villages I have visited. We have promised them a poultry business to help them and since I came last they have built a very nice chicken house. Our problem has been sourcing the chicks. With help from Ensa at the Agriculture Department we have now found a person who has a large poultry farm. He gets his supply from Senegal and we have arranged for him to provide one hundred chicks as a starter project.
The chicken house
The next weekend we had planned to visit two villages on the South Bank – one near Soma, half way up the country and another in Foni Bondali. This time we were delivering solar dryers. We needed an open-backed pick-up for these but the day before we were about to go we were told that all government pick-ups like that were need for the final rally before the election. The only car available was an enclosed one. We managed to get the two dryers in with difficulty.
Ready to go
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.
Our lovely hostess
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.
Head Boy speaking, Singing & Drumming
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.
On our way.
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.
I was given a very nice dress
It was time to retrace our steps back to the ferry. The one good thing to come from this was that we could sleep in our own beds.
The next morning we did it all over again with the second dryer. There was more drumming and more dancing and another handing over. At the end of the meeting I asked to be taken to the women’s garden to see what they were growing. I’m very glad I did as it was not in good condition. It was rather a poor village and they didn’t have the money to buy seeds. We arranged that two women would cross the river to meet Sarjo, who would give them seeds to grow when the rains come. They were also given help as to what to grow.
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 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).
It was then time for handing over the machines with lots of speeches and more drumming and dancing.
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.
Preparing our dinner.
Cooking the dinner.
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.
Getting ready for the meeting.
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.
The good road.
The not-so-good road.
The people were waiting to drum us into the village and made us very welcome. We had time to look around before breakfast. It must be one of the poorest villages I have ever seen. All the houses were made of rusty corrugate and many looked as if they were falling down. The people there have plenty of fish to eat and good rice fields so they are not hungry but their nearest neighbours are a long way away so it is difficult for them to sell their products. The terrible track we came on is the only way in and out for vehicles.
Going to the meeting.
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.
The morning dancing.
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”.
Getting the boat ready.
Mud, glorious mud!
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
(Click on the small pictures for a bigger picture.)
On my first full day Sarjo and I were sitting in a bush taxi waiting to go to Bakau to find out about the machines when we were surprised to see a British couple get on. We got talking and found out that they were passing through on their boat. They had brought with them sacks of clothing donated by the kind people of La Graciosa and Lanzarote for poor people in The Gambia. The reason for doing this was that when they had been up river previously they had seen many children wearing rags or nothing at all. They were not sure what to do with all these clothes as it was obvious that people in the urban areas now have access to cheap second hand clothing sent from abroad. (This is all very well but it is killing the traditional costumes) We offered to take these clothes to remote areas of The Gambia where they would really be appreciated.
Our new friends
Sarjo’s aunt had been unwell for some time and was getting worse. She had gone to the hospital but it hadn’t helped and nobody had told her what the matter was. I promised to take her to the hospital in Banjul on the following Wednesday to find out. It was my first visit to this hospital and I was quite impressed. The directions were almost non-existent but when we eventually found the right place it was very efficient indeed. She was told what the matter was and sorted out with medicines within half an hour. Afterwards we walked in the rain (unheard of in March) and went up the Archway, the tallest building in The Gambia, to look at the view over the city. It was a treat for Aunt as she hadn’t been to Banjul since she was a child and had never been up that high.
Sarjo and Aunt
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.
The first wave of visitors in our lounge
A group of women from each village had volunteered to do the cooking whilst the rest of them started the first round of dancing.
Dancers and drummers
He could dance,too!
|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.
The dinner of chicken, vegetables and rice was now ready and everyone dispersed into groups of four or five to eat.
The food is ready
After this everyone changed into their special clothing and the serious dancing began. We all had a good time in spite of the very unseasonable cold weather.
Our Fajikunda Ladies
This was a very good end to a rather disappointing visit.
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
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.
Waiting for the taxi
(Click on the small pictures for a bigger picture.)
From there on everything went well. On the Friday morning the driver came on time. We made good progress on the new road and arrived five hours later at Brikama Ba in early afternoon. The three women's groups we were to visit were around this area which is about two thirds up the country. The town was very busy with huge trucks trundling through, belching out fumes. In contrast there were few cars but lots of donkey carts.
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.
He also recommended a young man from the village who was happy to show us the way to our next meeting. We were travelling on dirt tracks which were more like footpaths than roads and as there were no signs to help us we took a few wrong turnings. As we passed through one village there were a group of people sorting their crop of sweetcorn. I asked them how their harvest had been. This year, as last, was lacking in water and much of their crop was poor. The rice crop too was bad because just as the rice was germinating there was a very cold snap which killed much of it off. At one point in the monsoon season it didn’t rain for a month. The people will be facing a very lean time in the rainy season.
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.
Apart from the worry at the beginning of my visit over the sewing machine this was a very pleasant and productive visit. Sarjo, Abi, Ousman and Dawda are all in good health and all helped to make my visit so pleasurable.
Sarjo and 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.
|The women's garden, Gunjur
(Click on the small pictures for a bigger picture)
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.
|Peter and Sarjo bird-watching|
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.
|Digging the sweet potatoes|
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.
|Sarjo relaxing||Our 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.
Sarjo & Barry
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!!
|Handing over machines||The bride!|
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.
|Garden at Jassong|
The meeting began with a sewing demonstration by two of the women. The machines were in perfect order and they were happy to tell us of the substantial profit they had made so far. During the meeting they asked if we could provide them with a solar dryer. Of course we agreed.
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.
The road to Dankunda
Handing over Machines
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.
An excellent garden
Before we started to head back we wanted to see the ferry to the North Bank. There are still no car ferries from Banjul so this one near Soma is the first crossing point for cars and lorries. It was very busy.
The crossing at Yelitenda
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.
|My small contribution||Drying cassava|
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.
After a very nice lunch we set off for home, intending to call in on a few more projects but as well as being a little behind schedule we were getting rather tired at this point. I wanted to take some presents for my new sponsored girl in Karror so we pressed on to there. This is such a poor village. It was so sad to see the remains of the millet crop that failed dying in the field. Goodness knows what they will do in the rainy season when things get really hard.
The remains of the couscous crop
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.
A healthy mango tree
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.
Now that Christmas, New Year and my birthday are over I have at last got time to write about my latest visit to The Gambia. I had booked to go at the beginning of November but had to postpone due to a severly broken ankle which is still a problem. As it turned out I went in December and arrived home on the 9th.
It all went well this time and Sarjo had arranged everything beforehand, including setting up a hammock in the garden so I could rest with my ankle up between treks! As I had to take things easy, one of my aims was to see as many of our sponsored children as possible. We have twenty of them and it is sometimes hard to pin them down as some are in remote villages and others live where there are no street names or addresses. It turned out that I was able to meet sixteen of them.
(Click on the small pictures for a bigger version)
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.
Ousman in Kayaborr
Letter from Sponsor
In the Bojang home the rice harvest had just been cropped and was being stored in the parlour. It seemed to be a reasonable amount but I was told it would only last a few months. This year's rain was far less than usual and the crop was not good.
The rice crop
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.
Two happy children
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.
The Garden Sintet
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.
Catching the fish
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
P.S. I have attached Sarjo's two latest emails to 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.)
At last it was our turn
(Click on the small pictures for a bigger version)
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.
Some of the medical supplies
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.
Cooking our lunch
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.
The next day was the beginning of our three day trek to the villages around Soma, roughly half way along the country. There were four of us on this trip - Sarjo, myself, Setti the outreach worker, and our driver, Lamin. Fuel was still causing problems with garages getting intermittent supplies. Again we were late in setting off and didn't reach the first village, Pakal Ba, until mid-afternoon. We had a very nice meeting and handed over two sewing machines.
The next stop was Sabuta, a nearby village reached by a dusty track through the bush. We should have been there hours ago as they had arranged a celebration to say thank you for the solar drier they had been given.
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.
Breakfast next morning
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.
In the garden
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.
Handing over machines, and money
Our last day started with a hunt for a better breakfast than the day before. We asked our driver where he recommended and he took us to a stall behind the taxi park. It only sold goat and you chose your piece of meat. They then chopped it up and put it in some bread. It wasn't bad but some of it landed up outside the car window on the way to the first village!
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.
Queuing for petrol
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.
Soap being distributed
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.
Fisherman sorting out the new net
(Click on the small pictures for a bigger version)
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.
Road damaged by bad floods
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.
Sarjo & Ousman at airport
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.
(Click on these small pictures for bigger versions.)
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.
Unloading the cart, and the Donkey
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.
Barbara on the cart
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!
Fisherman, and with passengers!
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.
Garden, & solar panel above dryer
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.
The tree grower, and some of his saplings
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.
First of all I would like to thank you for your generosity over the last year. This means so much to us. Sarjo is still very busy. He has just come back from a two day training in pepper sauce and is off again in a few days with three solar driers. We are now only concentrating on areas where we have had the most success. These are food preservation and hygiene, solar driers and starting up sewing machines businesses.
We have two trainers who travel with Sarjo when he goes on trek and as a team they can teach women how to preserve anything they grow from mangos to cassava.
Solar driers are still very popular. We have supplied more than fifty so far and have a long list of villages waiting to get one. People are hearing about how effective they can be at reducing hunger. In one village the people were arguing over the use of the drying frame so they decided to change the system. They cleared a plot of land and started growing only food to be dried in large amounts. They also built a store in which to keep the dried food. When this is needed they have to pay a small amount for it to cover the cost of storage. This is working very well so we tell other villages about it and now quite a few have taken up the idea.
I am still sending out sewing machines but unfortunately it is very difficult now to get good hand machines. This is a shame because these make very successful businesses for the women, which bring in good money. In the last shipment I sent there were six electric and only two hand machines. The people who need them most are those who live a long way up country where there is no electricity. If any of you can help in this respect I would be very grateful.
On the domestic front, Sarjo and Abi have a new baby boy called Dawda. Ousman is now three years old very wise for his age. He speaks fluent Jola, some Woloff and some English and he has a fine sense of humour.
Thank you again for your support and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.
First of all I would like to wish you all a very enjoyable Christmas and a happy and contented New Year. Secondly, I wish to thank you very much for the support you have given to me and the Charity in so many ways throughout the past year. The many things we have achieved could never have been done without you.
I would like to mention a few special "thank you's". Firstly to Liz who visited The Gambia in April and stayed in my house. She came back full of enthusiasm after meeting her sponsored family and seeing what a difference our small businesses have made to people's lives. In August she walked 475 miles along the Compostella de Santiago Camino Way and raised over £1000 for the Charity. Thank you so much, Liz, for your support. Thanks, too, to Helen who kindly gave up all her birthday presents in favour of donations to The Kabafita Fund. She raised over £600. English Miscellany and Offley Morris Men joined forces in the summer and we all had a very enjoyable evening singing and dancing with a very successful raffle. Thanks to all of you. It would be good if this could be repeated next year.
I returned from The Gambia last week. In one respect my timing was not too good as the seven day visit coincided with Tobaski, the local name for Eide. This is the most important festival in the Muslim calendar and the equivalent to our Christmas. It took up three days when we couldn't travel anywhere. On the fourth day we were able to deliver two sewing machines to a village on the North Bank. They were very pleased to see us, with drumming, good food and lots of speeches, especially from the men who took over an hour giving the women advice on how to run the business!
Sarjo has been working as hard as ever, even throughout the rainy season which was extremely difficult this year. There was more rain than usual coupled with very strong winds. Many people's houses were destroyed. However, the news from villages who had received solar dryers was very good. Many of them reported far less hunger than usual. Not only were they able to fall back on the fruit they had dried but they had also saved their sweet potatoes which they ground up and made into porridge. These dryers are proving invaluable. I took enough money this time for four more and there are six villages still waiting.
The sewing machine businesses are all doing well. I have heard so many good reports that I cannot mention them all here but I'll tell you about just two of them. Last February I was asked to return to a village that had been given two machines a year before. They were so pleased with what they had achieved that wanted to say "thank you". I was suitably impressed with how much money they had made and how well they were running things so I agreed to help them with a tie-dye business. They phoned last week to say everything was going very well and that they had D10,000 (approx. £250) in the bank ready for emergencies in their community. Such a small investment has completely transformed their lives.
Another village has received a contract for the uniforms from the local school and they are having difficulties keeping up with demand - not a bad thing! Up until now I have been very fortunate in receiving the hand sewing machines we need to fulfil demand but all of a sudden I have run out. If there are any of you who have a machine in good condition I would be very grateful to hear from you.
Thank you to all of you who sponsor children. I am very well aware that this part of the Charity's work could be improved. It is sometimes difficult for children to write when they live in villages a long way from the town. There is no postal service and children would not have a table to write on. I intended to go up country to visit as many of the sponsored children as possible and bring back the latest news but it didn't work out that way for the reason already stated. Also people were not travelling to Foni, where many of the children live, because so many people have died there recently - they were too frightened to go. I also decided it was better not to go! My daughter, Claire, came with me this time and she has kindly offered to help by devising a profile for each child. This shouldn't take the place of letters but it will give you useful information concerning your child.
On a more personal level Sarjo and Abbie's little boy, Ousman is absolutely delightful. He is now just over a year old and is confidently walking everywhere. We were amazed how well he dances. He hardly ever cries and is always smiling.
I will finish now by thanking you once again for all you do for the Charity, however small.
Special thanks to those who give regularly. It helps a lot to know that the money will be there month by month. I can assure you that it is being well spent. Sarjo is turning out to be a really good manager and is working harder than ever before to make The Kabafita Fund a real success.
It is now May 2009 and last week I returned from The Gambia after another successful visit. I took with me enough money for training nine villages, supplying five solar dryers, money for setting up six more sewing machine businesses and money raised by St. John's School, Baldock, for St Peter's of Lamin. As well as this I took all the children's sponsorship money for the next school year, as my next visit won't be until November. I'm pleased to say the feedback is very positive. It gets more difficult to follow up on all the projects, as we have started so many - over 130 women's groups trained in food preservation and more than 50 sewing machine businesses. Sarjo does his best to visit as many as possible when he goes on trek with the trainers.
Children have to have a uniform if they attend school and one village school has had the bright idea of contracting our sewing machine ladies to make all the uniforms. The parents then buy them direct from the school instead of finding their own tailor. This has made a big difference to the finances of the Women's Group.
In January last year Peter and I visited Kafuta village and gave them their two machines. They invited us back in January this year because they were so pleased with their success and wanted us to share it. They have been making bed sheets and selling them in all the neighbouring villages. I was so impressed with what they had done I agreed to their request for a tie-dye business so this time I visited them again and gave them the money to set it up. They told us they had made an amazing 4000 delasies since my last visit. (£100) This money is for communal use and will help enormously in the difficult rainy season coming soon.
These are just two of the success stories we have had and there are many, many more. The ten solar dryers already in use are proving invaluable and women are drying as much of their produce as possible in readiness for the coming rainy season, which usually causes a great deal of hardship. More and more people are asking for these dryers and unfortunately we cannot meet the demand at the moment it is so huge.
The week before I went to The Gambia an enthusiastic supporter of ours, Liz (See her report below), went for the first time and stayed in my house there. She kindly worked on behalf of the Charity by visiting the ladies of Lamin to give them their annual donation for fertilizer. She also supplied and delivered a solar dryer to a women's co-operative in Brikama and visited another of our projects, the library at Mayork Lower School. Kingsfleet Primary School in Ipswich has been raising money for this and I'm pleased to say the project is coming along well. We hope to establish a link between these two schools.
Sarjo is working hard as usual. I leave more and more of the decision making in The Gambia to him, leaving me the job of raising the money!
Thanks to all our loyal supporters. Without you we could never achieve what we have.
To those reading this for the first time I hope you will be inspired to find out more and help to make the Kabafita Fund even more successful.
It's time for another newsletter again. Everything is continuing to go well for the Charity. Money is coming in steadily and requests for help are rolling in. Thank you to those who give on a regular basis. For many months of the year this is the only income we receive and we do rely on it. I am having an interview with the W.I. next month to try and get more talks to boost funds. Chris Turner is kindly organising another Charitea Dance on 2nd November at 4.30 in Welwyn Civic Centre to raise funds - all welcome.
As most of you know Sarjo came in June for a well earned holiday. It was a most successful and very busy trip. Many of you met him and were impressed by his dedication to the Charity and lovely personality. He enjoyed meeting you all and experiencing our beautiful country. During his first week he got up every day at 6.30 in the morning and walked round the garden looking at the flowers and trees. He loves roses and plants. We visited Cambridge, Whipsnade Zoo, where he saw his first elephant, Oxford where he steered Claire's narrow boat down the Thames (a highlight), London, where we did the usual sights including the Eye and the Albert Hall which absolutely amazed him. We spent a day at my brother Peter's in Suffolk and another with Sally, Chris, Jane and Mervyn's in Sussex where we had a wonderful BBQ and an invigorating walk on the South Downs Way. He also joined the dancing at Friday Folk - very different from his traditional dancing! My thanks to all of you and everyone else we met who helped make his visit such a memorable event. It was a big culture shock for him but he coped very well and has gone back to The Gambia with renewed enthusiasm.
June and July are the months when there are thousands of mangoes falling from the trees and rotting because people don't know what to do with them. We gave solar drying frames to villages in the past so they could preserve them for the rainy season where there is very little food but we were never sure if they were being used. All of a sudden the idea has caught on and many villages want them. Sarjo came with a list of six villages and while he was here Liz, one of our supporters, did a sponsored run and raised an amazing £600. Within three weeks of Sarjo arriving home five villages had received frames and training in their use. Each frame was given to a central village and told that others round about should be able to use it. At one village a group of ladies arrived the day after training, having walked three miles with baskets of mangoes on their heads, wanting to use the frame which was already in use. There was a big argument and Sarjo was called back to come and sort it out. They now have a rota.
There have been so many requests for help from all over The Gambia that we are slightly overwhelmed. Sarjo has had to "close the book" until we have cleared the projects on our list. They include the renovation of a school room in Foni Bondali to form a library with shelves and books. Diane is in charge of this project with sponsorship from Kingsfleet School, Ipswich. We have promised another village to fence their vegetable garden as soon as wells can be dug. This is a slow process but the lime plants which will be used to reinforce the fence are growing well. The women of Giborokuta have asked for a poultry rearing project which we have agreed to. I will take funding for this, along with money for more drying frames, when I go out in November. Just these few projects will cost over £1000 and don't include the ongoing sewing machine project (a BIG thank you to Robin and Mike who work so hard to keep us supplied) and the food preservation project. You can see why we are keen to get more funds!
Thanks to all of you who sponsor children. All the fees have been paid to the schools and the children have started in their new grades. If you would like details of how your children are doing please let me know. I will end with Sarjo's own words to you.
"Thanks to Barbara and Peter who invited me to the UK. My visit is very important both to the Charity and me. I have learnt a lot during my visit. My English has improved a bit and it makes me feel more confident in myself. I wish all the donors and friends of the Charity a healthy life so that you can continue to support the Charity. Without you the people will not get help".
Everything is going well. Our team has changed slightly. Jenny is still a trustee but with a new surname. She now has a Gambian husband and is Mrs Camara. Mark has left us to live in America and Diane based in the UK has taken his place. Diane is interested in developing the schooling side of our work which has rather taken a back seat in recent years See her article below.
Sarjo continues to do a marvellous job distributing sewing machines, training and following up on our various projects. Without his dedication the Charity could never be as successful as it is. He is very hardworking and extremely honest - very important characteristics in this line of work!
As I write he is out on trek somewhere up country with a team of trainers from the Department of Agriculture, teaching the women how to make the best of their mangos before the very heavy rains start. I went on a training when I was there in April and the women were thrilled with their cashew jam they had been taught to make. Many groups have made quite profitable businesses from preserving their excess fruit and vegetables. So far we have trained roughly sixty villages all over the country. We have also provided eight villages with simple solar dryers and taught them how to dry their produce.
When we visit villages they nearly always ask for our help in some project or other. One of the major problems they have is with fencing. Animals are allowed to roam where ever they want which is often through the vegetable garden. We have helped a few villages with barbed wire fencing but our latest project is to help them grow lime trees as well, to form a living hedge. They have the added bonus of eating the limes. Apart from this we have sponsored businesses in bread-making and tie dye, three poultry rearing projects and two very successful bee-keeping businesses. To train a group of people and provide everything needed to produce honey, candles, soap and body cream costs £300. The difference this has made to the two villages involved is enormous.
So far we have nine children being sponsored through the Charity. It costs £60 per year to support a child's education. The money pays for uniforms. book hire, pencils, exercise books and school lunches for a year. We also have a very poor single-parent family being sponsored. The woman's husband died leaving her with six children to feed. Thanks to all of you for your continued support.
Things are always changing with this Charity as we try and respond to peoples needs. We never know quite what we are going to be asked for next but we do our best to help if it is in our power to do so. It is only due to your generosity that we are able to carry on with this work and make it such a success. I would like to say a special "thank you" to those of you who support us on a regular basis. It makes such a difference having a dependable income. We thank you, also, if you have helped us in the past and hope you will continue to support us in the future.
Many thanks to all of you who make it possible.
Although schooling in The Gambia is supposedly free at Primary age the children have to provide their own exercise books, pencils and school uniform, without which they cannot attend. Many families cannot afford any of these.
Many children as young as 4/5 also have to walk for 30 or 40 minutes to get to school in the searing summer heat and then the very difficult rainy season.
We aim to help schools that are situated in the provinces away from the tourist areas as these are so often overlooked.
On my next visit, I will be visiting one such school which has asked for our help in repairs to the building. The school provides rice for the children at lunchtime and at present the kitchen has holes in the floor beneath which snakes have found a comfortable home! I am sure that when I visit there will be far more that we can do in order to provide a better environment for the students.
I will also be visiting a nursery school to see how the charity can help. We can help in many ways such as sponsoring individual children, providing comfortable buildings and perhaps most useful of all by providing equipment such as exercise/reference books and stationery.
We also collect hand-operated sewing machines which we donate to villages. They then set up a co-operative which enables them to sew the school uniforms for the children.
Any help in these areas would be much appreciated
After a few years sponsoring "my" family and getting very sore feet last year doing a marathon for sponsorship I decided at long last to go and see all these people.
It was a great adventure: I was met by Sarjo in Banjul Airport and we came back to his place. It was like another planet: mango trees, cashew nut trees and mangroves and all these people so welcoming and so friendly! I was struck by the poverty, but I realised that it was nothing compared to the villages I visited later. One of the things I did was to deliver a solar dryer to Brikama. Sarjo and I were welcome by drummers and a group of ladies in their best clothes. They started dancing and asked me to join in. I am afraid that I did not match their impressive performance. They were so pleased with the solar dryer and had great plans for them.
Then we went to the villages: it was a very interesting trip on a very bumpy and dusty road, our first stop was at Majork school to check on the library which is sponsored by a school near Ipswich, then we were off to Kayabo where "my" family lives. It was wonderful to meet them, one of the children a delightful 5 year old girl full of life and mischief decided that I was leaking because I was sweating so much and she started to sponge my face and neck ! At the airport on the way back I started talking to one of the custom officers. He told me that he had been to Majork school and that it had changed his life; he added that he has now a place to live and helps the rest of his family. What I heard again and again while talking with people is that the charity is really making a big difference and not by handouts but by helping people to help themselves so this Summer I am off again but not a marathon this time I am going to walk the Camino de Santiago (470 miles) and I am hoping to raise enough money to carry on all this great work!
Contacts: Barbara on 01462 813620, or Sarjo (in Gambia) on 00220 666 7730