We have tried to follow the latest thinking of gurus in the aid world. Throwing money at a problem doesn’t solve it. Experienced management on the ground is needed to assess and evaluate a project, to plan and monitor it as well as motivating the locals involved. Well-meaning tourists had previously visited the village of Bafaluto and made promises of help but nothing had materialised. However we returned to the area and had a combined meeting with representatives of 5 local villages. We carried out a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) and after a lively discussion, there was a vote taken whereby it was agreed that the priority was clean drinking water and a village garden to grow vegetables and fruit. We chose Bafaluto (pop.600) as the first village.
We had been lucky to meet Mr Momodou Joof, vice-principal of St Theresa’s School in Serrekunda. He had done courses in Community Development and was due to retire. He had set up a local organisation, Future Farmers of the Gambia, with the aim of training young people how to work the land adjoining their villages and become self-sufficient. This has a synergy with our future aspirations. Momodou agreed to work with PING and began establishing costs and timescales for the two-pronged project. During a visit in July 2007, a final budget with start & completion dates was signed off.
The Gambia is Africa’s smallest country. It is bordered on north, south and east by Senegal and the Atlantic on the west, only a 6hrs flight directly south from London. It stretches 300 miles inland along the River Gambia which splits it inconveniently into north and south.
Population : 2.2 million (44% aged under 15 yrs) – Life expectancy : 56 yrs – Infant mortality (under 5yrs) : 112/1000 (EU 6/1000) – Lack of clean water and malaria are major causes of these infant deaths.
The Gambia gained independence from England in 1952. The current President Adam Barrow came to power in 2016 after 22 difficult years under Presdient Yahya Jammeh. A growing Tourism business is helping the economy to grow but on the Economic Development Index, it is rated at number 192 out of 208 countries.
Unfortunately most of the tourism is in the form of packaged holidays with flights and accommodation being paid for in the European country of origin. However it is a growth area with 6 flights a day now compared with 1 or 2 a year ago. Some of the new hotels are very luxurious and while this may be at odds with poverty in the local villages, they do provide a source of employment (wages £30 to £40 / month) and a market for vegetables & flowers.
Gambians are friendly sociable people, the majority of whom speak English. When given support and the opportunity they have responded with hard work & commitment. Educating their children is a very high priority and an obvious driving force among those we have met.