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.
First 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.
Our 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."
After all the ceremonies, speeches, thanks, dancing and singing, on to the next location.
We 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.
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.
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.
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... 😊