Sunday 15 Januari
We start early today because we have to drive a lot further. The regional counselor, Ousman Bah, rides with us. He is responsible for the development of a particular region and is therefore in close contact with our Omar. He provides information about the needs in his region, which Omar can use.
First stop is Gidda Sukuta, where we already have an installation. A community of an estimated 4,000 inhabitants, “fast growing”. Estimation can also be taken literally here. We must find a better method for this than just relying on an unverifiable number. In any case: ask for an additional installation. They also explain that the pure water they can now pump thanks to Gammol is a magnet for new compounds / families to come and live there. And there is also land available here, which is no longer the case in many places. The cities and urbanized areas are overcrowded and there is a flight to more remote regions. As a result, there is a need for clean water, especially since NAWEC does not come here to provide the inhabitants with water. In any case, the water has made a lot possible. Extra water, therefore, but also demand for a clinic, and for a fence for a large piece of community land that can then serve as a community garden. We ask them why they don't provide this themselves?
Here too, motivated young people are taking matters into their own hands: they dug the trenches in three days so that we could lay the pipes to connect about 10 taps. They are also the first to highlight how much the water has helped improve their health. “It really changed our lives”. Everything is very well taken care of here. There is a school in Gidda: nursery, primary and memorizing center (to learn the Koran). During our meeting we explain to them how we see the future, depending on their demand for extra water supplies, whereupon they state very clearly that they are going to show us that they will take matters into their own hands by building the fence around their community garden themselves. It should be there on our next visit… We are curious.
Mandinaba Darussalam means Mandinaba Peaceful Place. We get an update on the Alkalo's water project, highlighting how their lives have changed thanks to the water. Population is also growing here thanks to the water installation. He speaks of about 100 compounds, each with 10 to 15 family members. Rather than asking for an additional installation, he expresses concern about whether they will have enough water in the future. And also after the sun has set. Different approach. Hence the concern we have whether there is a way to know how much water is left in the 5 000 liter barrel at sunset, and at sunrise, i.e. what is the consumption once the panels no longer provide energy and therefore no water inflate more. This would indicate the actual need for additional installations and/or vessels. Based on this concern, he also explains how carefully and carefully they handle the installation. Why the compounds also fill 50 liter kegs to have clean water even in the evening.
The main reason to come here, however, was their request last year to build a nursery school. Today the children have to walk 3 to 4 km and, above all, cross a very busy road. This would be a project we would have to start from scratch. Because there's nothing here. We explain to them that preparatory work has to be done by them. The roadmap: how many pre-schoolers, what classes, where are they going to find the teachers, how are they going to pay wages, a midday meal for the pre-schoolers, … There is a real belief that the community can make the school work. Here too, we explain how we see our approach, and we show the willingness to invest (not before 2024), if there is a clear plan, and the necessary commitment. We visit the location where the school (on community ground) could be built.
Kuloro Ba Duma en Faraba Sutu
We make a short visit to the new installation in Kuloro Ba Duma, after which the regional counselor takes us to their community garden, which is really well equipped (even more efficient than the Sanyang Garden). Here too, traditionally, we are faced with the demand for additional water reservoirs. We will not comment on this, the needs are much greater elsewhere. We are kindly invited to sign their guestbook…
We continue to Faraba Sutu. New project, realized in 2022. We are received by a delegation, but which mainly consists of younger people (I estimate in their thirties). After the traditional ceremonies, with the presentation of a number of Certificates of Appreciation, we are confronted with a new problem, i.e. this is the first time we have been approached about this: we are of course asked for extra water installations, out of necessity, but also because we are confronted with the comment that part of the village now has clean water, while two other districts are those who don't. The distance between the neighborhoods is too great to reach everyone with our installation. Consequence: idea and feeling of inequality. This is something we should not underestimate. And therefore must also be taken into account in the criteria that we use to decide where to place water pumps. Frustrations about this can really be avoided.
Then we tell our story about taking responsibility, taking the initiative and asking them how they see this in practice. After which the young people (a man and a woman) take the floor and explain their plans to us. They have already made plans to build a covered market that will allow them to sell their vegetables to have some income. There is also a school, the Alieu Jawo Memorial Nursery School, which is heavily invested in. Really well developed, with a mission, a vision, clear rules. And a tractor, Alieu Sanyang, as there should be more.
The mission: To create a conducive environment for effective and efficient teaching and learning.
Their vision: To produce hardworking disciplined and productive pupils.
With also a dress code policy, attendance policy, health and environment policy, classroom rules, …
They are co-sponsored by Child Fund and the Saama Kairo Federation. Really an example of what might be possible in other communities. “Maybe”, because the bar is high here, by Gambian standards. Beautiful. How the school is set up, the kitchen, the dining room, but especially how they have organized all this. Actually, we should come back here on a school day. It's really admirable, and how we envisioned it in our dream for the other communities we want to continue to invest in. Still a long way to go to get our projects to this level.
Next is Sohm Village. We have planned a new installation there in 2022 as well. Classical ceremony, the thanks of the Alkalo, the Imam, those responsible, then the committees, the counselor…
A few things that were different here compared to our other visits:
- We hear the regional counselor "advertising" with a lot of fire to place an extra pump in this village. Everyone asks about this, but there was clearly more to this. Turns out his family is from this village. If he can get us to put an extra pump here, it would certainly raise his prestige. Some self-interest is never far away. We speak to him about this, and obviously we will not comment on this.
- Moreover, the local Alkalo, after his speech, shows little interest in what is happening. He's more on his cell phone than anything else. Either way, it doesn't make us feel good.
- Fortunately, a number of young people are also given the floor here. Motivated by our input and vision, they promise that initiatives will be taken to meet our expectations.
- And it continues to pay attention to the basics: it is already later in the day, the sun has already moved to the west, and I notice that a number of solar panels are no longer getting any sun. Cause. The shadow of a tree. When the installation was installed, the tree did not reach that high. But now it is. So must be pruned. If you address them on that, you can almost hear the Dalasi fall.
Back solid day. After dinner with Omar and Lamin, Dirk and I start to sort out a few things. Today's visits have taught us a lot. With the important observation that the young people seem to be really willing to roll up their sleeves, in contrast to the older people who let it happen to them. We have seen a few examples today (such as in Farabu Sutu) that show that it is not just words, but also deeds. The “we need more” that we always hear, to which we reply with “we need action” is also filled in in Farabu Sutu. A nice evolution, which is also really motivating for us.
Monday 16 Januari
First stop is Gunjur Freetown. A relief. A funeral is in progress, leaving the men absent. We are welcomed by 25 women, who keep it short and sweet. They explain to us how much the water pump helps them in their daily lives, how important this is to them. Some 110 compounds make use of the water. Each compound pays 100 Dalasi per month (€ 1.5) for the maintenance and possible repairs to the cranes. A water committee ensures that the solar panels are cleaned every day! They get their income from their vegetable garden. The garden is not a community garden, but in private hands. The owner allows the community to use it. The problem is that the day the owner decides to build, for example, there is no garden left. So a real problem. There is a piece of land where the pump is located that can be used as a community garden. But there is preparatory work on it (putting a fence to begin with). They are committed to making this work. We promise to support them: “if we promise, we deliver”.
We continue to the Lanuwarr Community Pre-School, “Excellence Through Education”, also located in Gunjur. A school straightened out with the help of an English NGO. We are given a tour by the principal of the school. A real example for many other schools: how the classes are decorated in function of education, language, math and general knowledge. Of course also have lesson plans, which they are willing to share. There is also a small garden, where preschoolers can already learn how to grow vegetables. Really pretty everyone. A minus, not unimportant: they also have a water installation, but with serious problems. And the cause is not far to seek: the solar panels, which are not on the ground but in height, are not cleaned, resulting in limited efficiency. But above all: the pump that is used is much too light (power 1/3 of what we install). We discuss this with the person responsible, but also decide that this is not a priority for us.
Also interesting: there is an English section here with 100 students, and an Arabic section with 150 students. Both next to each other, to indicate that the Gambia is liberal when it comes to religion. Additional information: The training as a teacher in Gambia lasts 3 years and costs 36 000 Dalasi (€ 540 or € 180 per year). If we want to have at least a number of qualified teachers in the Gammol schools, we have to take this into consideration.
Next stop is Pacholing, The Christian Village. A village that we definitely wanted to visit, because last time we were really disappointed with the state of this installation. This is a very poor region. Moreover, quite an extensive village, with about 100 compounds, so that a lot of use is still made of the self-dug wells. A water hose departs from our installation and runs to a private garden, where about 40 gardens have been laid out. Similar to Gunjur: owner allows the garden to be used, as long as he does not need it. The brother of the owner of the plot of land shows us around with his grandson. Very nice guy, on crocks and with a T-shirt “I am awesome all the Time”.
There is also a funeral going on here, so no ceremony whatsoever. A relief. Somehow we should be able to make it clear that this is not necessary for us, but this is very sensitive. This prevents us from being able to do more. At the same time, we realize very well that this is part of it. That it is important, not only for the different villages, but also for how Gammol is viewed.
As far as maintenance of the (old) installation is concerned, day and night difference compared to last time. Well cared for, clean panels, cleaned up all around. However, there is a serious problem: the installation dates from 2012, regularly breaks down (the pumps used then are not of the same quality as the ones we use now), with the result that if they are without water for 2 or 3 days, the crop is broken. In addition, the water tank only has a capacity of 1,000 liters, which means that there is no reserve. Is something we should think about, with all old installations. With all due respect to our predecessor, it is becoming increasingly clear what limitations the old installations have, as a result of which the efficiency really leaves much to be desired.
Sanyang Fish Market
We have invested a lot of time in Gunjur, also with the visit of the Lanuwarr school. Result: we skip the visit to Jalambang. This is also not really necessary. Much more important is our next visit to the Sanyang Fish Market. This is one of the oldest water installations located on the coast. Dates from January 2008 and is still powered by a generator. In addition, Gammol built a covered market place here for the local fishing community. Before we take a look at the pump, we have a meeting with the fishing committee, their chairman and a representative from Sanyang's VDC.
Their needs, in a nutshell:
- A new, more efficient water installation. New because apparently there is an infiltration of salt water. More efficient, because since the installation several restaurants have been added that also use the water installation.
- The restoration of their covered marketplace. After all, the truss of the roof is made with materials that have been shipped from Belgium to The Gambia by container, and these are not available in The Gambia. We are mainly talking about metal profiles and wooden beams.
A long discussion ensues, initially about the water. The essence: “Bad communication” and tinkering with the installation yourself, instead of calling Omar and Lamin and asking for advice. Could be the cause of salt water infiltration. Bad organisation: no agreements have been made with the restaurants about the use of the water. Let alone that they have already thought of asking for a contribution for this. “Bad maintenance” of both the pump and the marketplace. And then we are looked at, with the implicit demand and expectation that we fix this all. After a long discussion, we make it clear to them that we want to support them with regard to water, but not before they have made a business plan, to prevent them from having to deal with the same problems in a few years' time. They hear it thunder in Gambia. Dirk and I simply explain to them what we mean by this: overview of investment, costs and returns. And how they can generate these revenues recurrently. It is not self-evident that restaurants play a decisive role in this. We helped them on their way. Curious about the sequel.
Then we will visit the pumping station and the market. As for the pump, we discover a piece of industrial archaeology. The generator that used to drive the pump is rusting in a container. Huge thing, accompanied by the first placards that were then hung at Gammol's achievements: “In our fellow-men we believe, in our creator we trust”. Really nostalgia. Then we go to the market, where they show us the repairs that need to be done “because they don't have the same materials that come from Belgium”. After discussion, we make it clear to them that we will no longer ship containers from Belgium and that they will have to take care of the necessary repairs themselves. Not really appreciated, I get the impression. But so be it, we wish to concentrate on water and education.
Before we go to our last stop on our journey, we pass a piece of land that the VDC of Sanyang wants to give us to build a lodge. Totally unsuitable, so we quickly drive on to our last stop, our Gammol house. First observation: there are costs involved. The termites eat up the wooden trusses and parts of the walls. Reason: not the right, local, materials.
A little later we meet two representatives of the VDC. Yusupha Jassey and Lamin Bojang. We discuss our findings of the past few days with them. The learnings (see below). Yusupha and Lamin promise to discuss this with the VDC. It is clear to them that our approach will be slightly modified from now on. I must say that this has been received positively. So definitely to be continued. Then we discuss the condition of the Gammol house, and our willingness to invest in it, under the condition that we can continue to use the house, as long as we invest in The Gambia. Indefinite duration, in contrast to the MOU (Memory of Understanding) that exists today, with a fixed term of 10 years, cancellable. Both agree to this, but must also discuss this with the rest of the VDC. We will make a proposal to adjust the MOU and confirm everything by email.
With that, our journey comes to an end. Short trip, but oh so useful. Monday evening Dirk and I discuss the past days and the todos.
- 9 h. Omar and Lamin take us to Banjul airport.
- 10 h. Saying goodbye is emotional. Those two, Omar and Lamin, we carry them in our hearts!
- 12 hrs. Plane departs, with a stopover in Cape Verde. We land back in Zaventem at 10 p
On to the next journey…
Key learnings from our trip:
- There are curricula in the schools, but often dated (2003).
- There is no mutual consultation between the schools: setting up a Gammol school community can mean added value.
- Learning center for evening classes for the elderly (from young adults to ...) has potential. Motivation among the target group will be essential.
- Need someone with learning experience who can coordinate and pull this.
- Every visit started or ended with “we need more”. Gammol is being looked at for that “more”.
- A clear message was conveyed that this “more” will only be achieved if initiatives are taken to take steps forward. Our answer to “we need more” is “we need action”.
- Young people are much more willing to roll up their sleeves to get ahead.
- Cultural differences are very big: women work, men talk, and when they talk they think it is necessary for everyone to speak and they keep repeating the same thing. Tiresome, but it's part of their culture, especially among the elderly.
- Calculating is difficult, making concrete (business) plans is new and too much to ask, often due to a lack of knowledge.
- Some villages are much further along than others, especially where the young people (M/F) are taking matters into their own hands.
- It is becoming more and more clear to us that we have to place more responsibility with the responsible people of the different communities and villages for the realization of our projects. The word “roadmap” has been used many times. This serves as a basis for checking who wants and will take the initiative.