Dirk Depoorter

Friday, May 6, 2022. Hedwig, Dirk and myself are finally going back to The Gambia after more than two years! Covid-19 has also delayed our trips to The Gambia. Our last trip was in January 2020 and now we are going back to follow up our projects.

For the past two years we have had to limit ourselves to coordinating our projects from our headquarters in Kessel-Lo. Fortunately, we have two motivated colleagues on site, Omar Saidy and Lamin Darbou, who have continued to realize our new projects during those years.

Objective of our trip

  • Together with Omar and Lamin, evaluate and optimize the operation in The Gambia where possible;
  • Visit the projects that we have realized over the past 2 years, thanks to our numerous sponsors;
  • Visit locations for possible new projects;
  • We have agreements with the local and regional government to explore the possibilities of building a small lodge, which should allow local employment and generate income for our future project

And all this in 4 days. We arrive on May 6 (6:25 pm) and depart on May 10 (9:30 pm).

Friday May 6

Flight at 12:15 PM, with a 50 min stopover in Dakar. Hedwig, Dirk and myself arrive around 6.20 pm in Banjul, the capital of the Gambia. We are very enthusiastically welcomed by Omar and Lamin. Happy faces with all of us 5. Immediately back that click, the joy of seeing each other again.

20220506 reis01First observation: the used Mitsubishi Pajero that we bought two years ago has been perfectly maintained. Omar handles and drives it super carefully as if it were loaded with fragile goods... It does him credit, knowing that this is a rock solid car (which I tested myself later). In the coming days it will become clear once again why we really need that car. The car has number plate A115 NGO 1: A115 is the official number of our NGO in Gambia, NGO1 is the first car of the NGO. Number plate is reserved for NGOs, in other words, which guarantees a smoother flow at police checkpoints.

What is striking, compared to our last trip in 2020, is how much busier the traffic has become. Traffic jams on unpaved roads, plenty of work to and from the airport. Our place to stay for the next four nights: Evergreen Eco Retrait in Tujereng, about 30 km from the airport. Ride of 1:20 h. By 8 pm at the lodge.

You can really call this an ecolodge: beautiful huts, limited internet, odorless compost toilet ;-), ... and very sympathetic English/Jamaican rasta owner Greg with Greek wife Maria. We get something to eat and drink. Maria cooks very well. We eat together with Omar and Lamin, just as we will the next days.

We discuss and adjust the program for the following days. There is little time for what we all want to do. On the agenda: "mandatory" visits to the villages where we have completed a project over the past two years. This is an explicit question from the various VDCs (village development committees, the village councils), who wish to thank us and our sponsors for this. We also want to visit and evaluate candidate projects.

The visit to a completed project always has the same official programme:

  • Reception by the Master of Ceromony;
  • Introduction of the Gammol board (us) by Omar;
  • Welcome by a member of the VDC;
  • Extensive thanks from the Alkalo, the village elder;
  • Explanation about what a water installation means to them, by another VDC member, or one of the elders of the village.
  • Thanks from the women. Usually an older mother, who explains what this means for the women in the village. For it is they who bear the burden, if there is no water pump.
  • A short party moment, with music and dance.
  • The official inauguration.
  • A closing word from one of the three of us, emphasizing the work of Omar and Lamin, and emphasizing the importance of maintaining the installations if we want to continue to enjoy the support of our sponsors.

We have experienced this program about 10 times. At the end, the final word came out smoothly 😉.

Saturday 7 May 2022

Our first day we stay in Sanyang and its surroundings.

Sanchaba School

20220506 reis02Our first stop is the Abubacarr Siqik Arabis Sanchaba School. This is the third school we have built. A decision we made after our visit in 2020. The school was unlivable at the time: corrugated iron barracks, very limited number of tables or chairs, plates not everywhere, almost unusable in the rain because of not being watertight ... By our standards, this would should not be taught for centuries. Today the new classes are simply stunning. Beautiful rooms with good materials. The photos speak for themselves. Since then, the number of students has doubled.

We are nicelly received here, by exuberant students, who came especially for us on Saturday, with song and dance. We get a traditional costume to put on and each a scarf made of the Gambian and Belgian flag, which Dirk is very happy to get around his neck 😂😂. The gratitude is great. We are shown around by the proud headmaster. And we notice that there is still a lot to do here: decent toilets to start with - this is now an uncovered pit in the ground -, a paved playground - now a place full of (sharp) stones where you can can hurt -, and need for an additional classroom - given the growing interest. On the list to invest in further.

To conclude, we receive a very nice token of appreciation in the form of a Certificate of Commendation, "In recognition and appreciation of your support to the community, as proprietors of GAMMOL BELGIUM NGO, your personnel commitment and dedication to the empowerment and development of our community. We are most grateful."

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After all the ceremonies, speeches, thanks, dancing and singing, on to the next location.

Nimisack well

20220506 reis05We visit one of the first water projects that Omar and Lamin only use under their good names: Nimisack Community Water Project. I am not going to explain again and again how we are received, and the thanks to Gammol and his sponsors that are evident from the entire ceremony. What was striking here was how they take responsibility for our investment: everyone in the community pays a small contribution, which is kept by the female eldest, and which must serve for the maintenance of the installation. A very good initiative, which we will take with us on our next visits, and which we will bring up on our other visits. Omar has also understood the message and adds it to the criteria to decide which projects we can realize where.

Fula Kunku water well

Next stop is Fula Kunku Community Water Project, one of our older installations, partly built in concrete blocks. Classic program. With the request from the Alkalo for an additional pump. A question that we will often receive in the coming days. The problem is that the water containers of the old installations, placed by our predecessor, are only at a height of 3 meters. That limits the flow. The installations that we are now installing are at a height of 6 metres, which means that we can lay extra pipes that extend much further. And that way we can of course reach many more families with clean water. But even then, we are still called upon to install additional installations. Even in places where the national water company NAWEC is present because they do not guarantee a constant water supply. We are faced with the difficult decision that we sometimes have to make by saying “no” because there are other priorities.

Sanyang nursery school

Next to Sanyang Day Care Nursery School. A school that Dirk and I visited on our last trip, and where we had some comments that also prevented us from investing in it. In the meantime, we have invested in a new roof for some of the classrooms, thanks to the last student interns. The roof had blown off because the wind had free play under it. There were no students in the school at the time. What we notice: on the outside beautiful buildings, the classrooms inside a lot less: lack of material, floors full of pits, a dead cat, ...  and still not well cared for. They have a nice water installation, but 1 of the solar panels is defective (and was already when we came 2 years ago). Difficult… In the meantime they have received a complete toilet block (9 toilets) from another NGO. Beautiful construction. In our conversation with the superior, we make it clear to him that there are other priorities.

Sanyang Garden

Next stop is the Sanyang Women Garden – Salaba. Beautiful realization of a community garden for an entire village, where the women (yes, not the men) do the hard work. Large water installations, which fill large water basins, where the women can then fetch water with their bucket to water their garden. The domain is divided into gardens of approximately 10m x 10m, which must be watered daily by the women involved. About a hundred buckets of 10 kg, daily, per garden, per woman who takes care of it!

Gammol maintains the installation. This year we closed the water basins with bitumen and repaired pipes and taps.

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Darboe Kunda school

Penultimate stop for today is an application for a new school in Darboe-Kunda. A school where one of our older water installations is already installed, and which is well maintained. A responsible person has therefore been appointed for this, which is a minimum requirement. The solar panels should be cleaned, which would benefit the efficiency. The demand for new classrooms is understandable. The existing ones are worn through and through: holes in the walls, primitive classrooms, one of the classrooms is no longer usable because of no roof. What is missing is a decent curriculum, actually a plan tout court: where do they want to go with the school? We lack clarity, something that is not abnormal in The Gambia, but is important for us to have maximum chance of success if we want to make an important investment, such as building a new school.

Gammol house

Last stop is our headquarters, Headquarters Gammol NGO in Sanyang vilaage. A happy reunion with our 2 nurses, Marijke and Mien, who are here for a few weeks for their project – wound care.

In the evening we are invited by the host of our lodge to have dinner a few kilometers further, with a German lady who has a restaurant, with live music and dancing. We of course invite Omar and Lamin to come with us! Everyone puts their best foot forward, some better than others... 😊

Dirk Depoorter

Sunday 8 May

Sunday is all about the water projects realized over the past 2 years.

Gidda Sukuta

20220508 reis02First stop is our new water project in Giboro Gidda Sukuta.

Kuloro Ba Duma

The second project is in Kuloro Village, Kuloro Ba Duma, where we also get a tour of the village, and see the different extensions that have been built to get the water as far as possible into the vast village. And yet we still come across the classic wells (shallow, with impure water, with a pulley and buckets). What we hear is that the classic (old) wells are still used to water the gardens, and that our installations are used for everything where hygiene is required, such as preparing food. Although hygiene in The Gambia is given a different interpretation than what we give it.

Mandinaba Darussalam

Next project is in Mandinaba Daru Salam. Here we are asked to build a new school from scratch. Apparently an area where the population is growing strongly, but it seems premature to us to invest in a school here, without anything concrete: where do they get the teachers, how many students would come to school here, let state that there would be curricula… In terms of location, this seems suitable, but we lack too much information.

Gunjur Freetown

From Mandinaba Village we continue to our project in Gunjur Freetown, nice installation. Striking, but something we already notice too often: solar panels full of dust. And this while the panels are on the ground (so easily accessible), but that little or no attention is paid to it, as a result of which the efficiency of the pump decreases. And the first question we get is for an additional pump. We make it clear to Omar that he needs to be more careful about this. This is an essential condition before we even think about installing an extension or additional installation. As long as the discipline is not there to make optimal use of the existing installation, we do not think it makes sense to make that additional investment.

Gunjur Madena Salam

When we arrive in Gunjur Village, for our Gunjur Madena Salam project, we see that things can be done differently. In addition to many thanks, a sturdy - and highly motivated - lady takes the floor to explain to us how our installation contributes to the quality of life of the women in the village. This testimony really speaks to us, gives us a warm feeling, that together we realize something that really makes a difference, very often for the women who take on the heavy work in The Gambia. Cheers!

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Nursery school Kartong

Normally we would end the day at the Astry Nursery School in Kartong, the second school we have built. Another Belgian NGO takes care of the follow-up and supervision of the teachers. We pass the school, which is deserted on Sunday, and notice that it still looks very neat. Which once again emphasizes the importance of follow-up.

Dirk Depoorter

Monday May 9, 2022           

Jalambang

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Our first stop is the Jalambang Central Community Water Project. In, where else could it be, Jalambang Village. A bit of an atypical project, in the sense that this installation is located in a very busy inhabited village, where the national water company NAWEC is also present. And yet Omar has responded to the village's request because of the complete uncertainty of when water will come out of the NAWEC's pipes. What makes matters worse is that another village down the road is also connected to the national grid. If they take water, there is little left for Jalambang, making the water supply even more uncertain. We are given a tour of the village, where we see how creative some families are not to lose water: from one of the water basins to which an extension has been laid, the excess water is diverted to a neighboring vegetable garden. What strikes us time and again, whether it's the main tap or the extension taps, is the women (often in beautiful costumes) who keep carrying buckets of water.

Gambia Tourism Board

We leave from Jalambang in the direction of Farato along a very busy road, full of activity, so typical of The Gambia. The rest of the day is devoted to our lodge project. We want to build a small-scale lodge on the coast from which the proceeds will be used for the Gammol projects.

Ida Jeng NjieFirst visit is with Ida Jeng Njie, Regional Director West Coast Region of the Gambia Tourism Board (GTB) in Farato. The GTB is the government agency that provides the necessary permits to build something on the coast. The first 500m from the ocean is managed by the state. Ida lived in Great Britain for a long time and received her education there. A pleasant, sensible lady, who has moved back to The Gambia with the mission to make a difference for her compatriots. She is therefore very pleased with our plans and sets us on the road to plodding through a long administrative mill.

From Ida in Farato we leave for Senegambia, where we have an appointment with the Development & Loan Officer (DLO) at the GTB Head Quarter in Senegambia. Totally different reception than at Ida. Apparently the man is very busy: first he makes us wait, and when we are finally “allowed” in his office, he is constantly busy with all sorts of things, without paying too much attention to us. We get the impression that this is wasted time, and that we are being sent away with a clod in the reeds. Or no, we are sent to a Project Manager, Saltech Conglomerate, who develops projects, writes business plans and would be the right person to clear all the administrative hurdles. Our conversation with the person in question was not that good, in the sense that we got the feeling that he was getting his assignments from the DLO. Disappointing, but we don't give up.

Smile For Life

20220509 reis03During one of our visits to our installations, we were accompanied by another Omar, Omar Sanyang, responsible for development in the Sanyang region (the same name coincidentally). Turns out Omar is also Executive Director of Smile For Life The Gambia. This is an organization that is responsible for the “Marine Biodiversity Conservation”. The ecological balance on the coast and in particular the sea turtles. Omar had helped us make arrangements with Ida Jeng and the DLO, and was just as disappointed as we were with the latter's visit. However, it turns out that his organization Smile For Life owns a very large piece of land on the coast of Sanyang. A nature preserve, breeding ground for turtles and birds, hectares in size. He would like to develop something there himself, so that he has income to maintain this beautiful piece of nature. He invites us to come and see it. 

So back to Sanyang, where we first pass the Sanyang Fish Market on the beach of Sanyang. We also have a water project here and built a fish market, and we notice that its maintenance leaves something to be desired. We agree with Omar (Saidy) that we only want to invest in the optimization of the project here, only if there are guarantees that the installation will be properly maintained. Asking for a financial contribution from the users could be a lever. 

From the fish market we go to the Eco Lodge Sanyang Beach, How Ba Road, a lodge built by a Spanish NGO, right next to the domain where we had our first plans. It was interesting to see how they handled it there. Together with a local architect we view and discuss the possibilities of the location, recommended to us by the VDC of Sanyang, over a good glass of beer. At least beer for Hedwig, Dirk and myself. Our Gambian friends don't drink alcohol, and stick to lemonade.

From there we leave for the nature reserve, a few kilometers further on From there we leave for the nature reserve, a few kilometers further on Sanyang Beach. What we get to see is quite spectacular. Hard to describe. Starting from the ocean, the beach, dense vegetation, a mangrove, ... simply beautiful. We leave here with a feeling that this would meet our needs much better. But also with the idea that there are many more questions than answers to really realize this project. Our day is over. After dinner in the evening, we discuss and dream a bit further about the opportunities that the location and country in question does offer. But also the obstacles that you have to overcome if you want to undertake here.. What we get to see is quite spectacular. Hard to describe. Starting from the ocean, the beach, dense vegetation, a mangrove, ... simply beautiful. We leave here with a feeling that this would meet our needs much better. But also with the idea that there are many more questions than answers to really realize this project. Our day is over. After dinner in the evening, we discuss and dream a bit further about the opportunities that the location and country in question does offer. But also the obstacles that you have to overcome if you want to undertake here.   

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Tuesday 10 May 2022

Our last day is already approaching! Back a day to visit our new projects.

Mandinary

We start with the Mandinary Project. Strange: next to our water tower they have built a concrete pier to install a second water barrel. Enterprising in any case: instead of asking Gammol for extra water, they took the initiative themselves to increase the capacity. Although we questioned the efficiency. What we noticed during our installation is that the tower on which the water barrel stands is not straight. As a result, the load of the water vessel is not evenly distributed over the 4 legs. Here they "solved" it by not placing the barrel in the center, but moving it to one side. We point out to Omar that he should pay more attention to this, as this could be the weak point of the installation in the longer term.

Makumbaya

20220510 reis01In the meantime we know the customs. After the various ceremonies and interventions of the local dignitaries, taking the pictures, handing over a certificate of thanks, we leave for Makumbaya Village, for our next project. And as always, we are received with the necessary “respect” and we experience the gratitude of the local population. In Makumbaya Village there is a very motivated man who has taken it upon himself to maintain the installation almost daily. It is therefore visible! In our speech we do not fail to say this and congratulate the person in question!

Karewan Nursery school

Our next visit is the local Arabic Nursery School in Karewan, where we have been asked to build a new school. When we get there, we see why the demand is there. A dilapidated school, partly built from waste corrugated iron, without any school materials. And yet we decide to answer this question negatively. After all, the problem is that all classes are taught in Arabic, and not in English. While a basic requirement to continue studying is just the knowledge of the English language. We make it very clear that it is not a matter of faith, but that our aim is to give the preschoolers maximum opportunities to go to primary education later on. We are sorry, but if we want to achieve the maximum with the support of our sponsors, we have to adhere to some minimum standards.

Gammol Nursery School Abuko 

20220510 reis03From there we leave for our school in Abuko. Also the first school that Gammol has built and where we have made a number of extra investments in recent years to optimize the school. It is a very happy reunion with the director of the school, who is very proud of what Omar and Lamin have achieved. We are welcomed by the Parents' Council, which has come together especially to thank us. And here too, as in almost every place we have visited in recent days, there is a demand for additional support. But they also show a lot of understanding that other villages also need a decent school and clean water (We have also installed a water installation in this school).

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It is now 5 pm, our flight is at 9:30 pm, and taking into account the traffic we end our “work” day here. We drop the plan to visit 2 more “older” projects. First we have dinner with Omar and Lamin at Lamin Lodge, a pleasant lodge in the middle of a mangrove, where the monkeys will eat your plate if you are not careful (you get a stick to scare them away, because they can be quite aggressive to be). Ideal time to go over our past days with Omar and Lamin and to make a number of appointments for the sequel.

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We leave for Banjul International Airport after dinner, 8 km further (about half an hour drive 😉), and say goodbye to our two friends. Quite emotional. These have been intense days, where we have seen how seriously both Omar and the quiet Lamin take their responsibility, and how they have grown in this over the years: Omar, who used to be so shy and now spoke up on every visit, and there had no trouble knocking pickets to the many Alkalos we met, if necessary. And Lamin, silent force, who has seen it all and is more technically skilled.

A successful trip for us, which has confirmed that what we do there, with the donations of our sponsors, is really well spent! And that we are not going to wait two years to return. It would be nice to get together with a few sponsors, so that they can see with their own eyes what Gammol achieves with their donations.

Will no doubt be continued with a lot of energy!

Last year we started building a nursery school in Sanchaba. We installed 4 classrooms and a room for teachers and management. Now we are expanding the school. Two classrooms, a kitchen with storage space and toilets will be added.

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Not far from Sohm, in Faraba Sutu, we will place our sixth well of 2022. The last one before the rainy season starts. This well provides 2800 people with clean water.

By choosing villages that are close to each other and installing the wells immediately after each other, we can better coordinate the works. In addition, the councilor, competent for the region can more easily monitor the proper use of the installation.

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Sohm is located about 30 km inland in the south of the Gambia against the Senegalese border. Yet soon more than an hour's drive from our offices in Sanyang.

This well provides 3,000 people with clean water. Here too we provide the standard 1000 m of pipeline and 10 taps. If the village maintains this installation good, it can be expanded.

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Sanyang Garden is a 10-acre fenced area where residents of Sanyang can grow vegetables. Water is pumped into large water basins after which it is used to irrigate the plots.

Many water basins are leaking, causing the pumped water to be lost, and taps and pipes are also defective. We seal the basins with bitumen and repair the pipes and taps.

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