Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Visit to the Depths of Gambia and Senegal

This article is the collection of my observations during my visit to the Gambia and Senegal with the representatives of the NGO, Sen De Gel.  Sen De Gel develops projects with a high impact,  supporting the sustainable development of communities in the Gambia and Senegal. One in every ten people in the Gambia has benefitted by the projects of Sen De Gel. You will see how this organization changes the lives of people via their projects on building water wells, delivering quality seeds, rice and corn mills, sheep and goats, micro credits, bakeries, solar ovens and solar irrigation systems. You can support their projects here, and touch the lives and hearts of the people of the Gambia and Senegal by letting them access clean water and feed their families via agriculture and small businesses in an environmentally and economically sustainable way.

On December 15th 2015, my trip to the Gambia started in Chicago. I first went to Istanbul to meet my companions during the Gambia trip. After a 15 hour flight to Istanbul, another 15 hours to Gambia was waiting for me. As I went from Chicago through Frankfurt, Istanbul, Casablanca and Bissau to Banjul, the individualistic behavior of the passengers left itself into a sense of community: In the flight to Casablanca, an Arab woman next to me asked if I had spare water rather than asking the flight attendant. Then, his son signed me to turn off my reading light as his mother was sleeping next to me. I was reading a book but did what I was told. During my flight to Banjul, a woman was sitting next to me with his 10-year old son and baby daughter. When her daughter pooped while sleeping, her mother changed her diaper right there while her daughter was still sleeping! Meanwhile, her little son put his head to my shoulder and we comfortably slept together through the flight :) Flight by flight, the internet on the flight quickly became a luxury, newer models of planes turned to older models. In the last flight to Banjul, the flight from 11:50 pm to 5 am was spent without any blanket or pillow on sight. Of course, I didn't know at the time that I would meet people next day for whom access to clean water was a luxury!

Day 1: We arrived at our hotel at around 7 am and slept for a few hours before heading to a village called Rumba. The people of the village gathered under a tree before we arrived. Every meeting in the Gambia starts with a prayer and ends with a prayer. This village was a particularly religious one. There was no welcoming ceremony but a long prayer before and after the meeting. They said "we cannot pay for what you have done for us but we pray to God that he pays you in kind. Let your help return you as health and prosperity to your families. You left your families and came all this way to see us and to help us, may God let you go back to your families safely and in good health." The eldest woman of the village said "I am happy to see my village got clean water before I leave this world." Before the water well was built, women needed to carry water from 500 meters 10 times a day carrying 20 liters of water on their heads. With the new water well, the whole village will be able to drink clean water and use the water pump rather than pulling a rope for meters to get a bucket of water from the well.
The opening of the Rumba Water Well 
A girl with bare feet held my hand and said "you is my mother", I didn't understand at first. Then, she exclaimed "friend, friend!" When another girl held my other hand, she said "Now, you have two friend!". We walked through the whole village holding hands until we left the village. In all villages we went afterwards, I walked hand in hand with three, four children fighting to hold my hands all through the village. I hold their smiles and love spreading through their hands still in my heart today.

The second village we visited was Pirang. Before the water pump was built, the open water well that they dug had animals falling into the water and the water itself was full of bacteria and parasites. 
Pirang Water Well
 The old open well the villagers used before. 

A woman showed us how they carry 20 liter buckets on their head with incredible stability. The men in our group were overwhelmed by the weight as soon as their tried to carry it on their head. 
A woman showing us how they carry water on their head
 all day to their home and to water their gardens.

When we entered the garden of a house, a woman was ironing clothes with a coal-fired iron. There was no electricity in the house but when I wanted to take photos in the house, they turned on a very dim lamp. The toilet was in the garden covered with fences and looked like the floor of a shower with a hole. This one looked better than most of the toilets we would encounter later in our trip.
Inside the house normally pitch-black even during the day.
A village kid with a self-made toy
Children of the Pirang Village

Afterwards, we wanted to go to the village Babylon. As soon as we left the high way and started to ask the way to the village, we once again remembered that the distances in Africa are all relative. Every time we asked the way to the village to somebody, the village was in another direction and "not too far". After half an hour, we gave up and turned back to our hotel before the early start the next day. 

In the Gambia, about 95% of people are Muslims. There are masjids or small mosques almost in every village with usually four rectangular minarets. They are usually the most sturdy structure of the village. The president Yahya Jammeh declared the Gambia an Islamic republic around two weeks before our trip. While there was no visible effect during our time there, shortly after our trip, the female government workers in the Gambia were ordered to wear head scarves (The Guardian, January 5th, 2016).

Day 2: After a quick breakfast where everybody shared whatever they brought from Turkey in their suitcase, we hit the road at 7:30 am. First, we stopped by the village Jalokoto where a wood-fired oven was built by Sen De Gel upon the villagers' demand. The villagers in this way will be able to bake and sell bread in large amounts to Jalokoto and neighboring villages. Part of the profit will be used to pay back the microcredit over 5 years to Sen De Gel so that the money can be used again to build new wood-fired ovens to other villages.
The wood-fired oven built in the Jalokoto village

We stopped by a "mall" to buy bottled water. There were cases of sodas sitting next to a poor selection of vegetables and dried fish.
"The Mall"
  A local woman shopping for vegetables and dried fish

Afterwards, we went to a village called Kalaji where we were met with a welcoming ceremony on the road. If there are no professional musicians available for the welcoming ceremony, it is always the women and children playing the rhythm with a plastic bucket and branches, whistling and dancing. 

The welcoming ceremony in the Kalaji Village

After the welcoming ceremony, we gathered under a tree sitting on the plastic chairs provided for us. The the village chief and women leaders of the village talked about how happy they were with the animals they received although they lost some of the animals due to the epidemics common in the Gambia. In the animal husbandry project, a family is given a goat and they are not allowed to sell or cut it for three years, and they need to give one out of every two offsprings to another family. Goats usually give birth to twins.

"With you all the way into a sustainable, socioeconomic development 
into our doorsteps for a better brighter future"

"Longlive the people of Turkey, longlive the Gambia and Turkey"

One of the newborns and the volunteer project director of Sen De GelHayri Dagli

After this village, we went to another village called Kanmanka. In Kanmanka, the villagers met us on the sand road next to a wetland, home to herons. Their welcoming ceremony included two people bushes bound onto their bodies representing the scary monsters of their folk tales. 
On the road to Kanmanka

The woman with the knives

The dance of the bushes

They only got two buckets of seed so far but they were incredibly welcoming and grateful that we came to see them. The men and women leaders of the village said they need more seeds, a seed bank and a water well. This village seemed poorer than the others we have seen so far. Yet, their sincere happiness to see us and their gratefulness was very touching. 
The open well in the Kanmanka Village

A small girl held my hand when the villagers came to welcome us on the road and didn't leave it until we left. She sat on my lap through all the talks and dances. It is amazing how these children physically active in every day life also have the ability to calm themselves up and focus when needed.

The woman leader of Kanmanka
 talking about the needs of the village

In the village of Madina Ceesay, after the welcoming ceremony, the village chief and the woman leader talked about the problems of the village.

The welcoming ceremony in Madina Ceesay
Walking to the old open well with the villagers

There have been snakes and bugs in the open well and they cannot understand what kind of water they are getting until they pull the rope with the bucket for many meters. (The new water well built by Sen De Gel is for drinking. The open well still needs to be used for the irrigation of the fields.) They need seeds so that they can build a garden. While the adults were talking, the children were eating from plastic bottles which contained only a few beans in a fluid substance.
The village children enjoying the clean water 
from the new water well Sen De Gel built.
The village women with their beautifully colored dresses,
 and children with bare feet
The woman council member of the region talking to the villagers 
and Sen De Gel representatives

During the talks, a man started calling everybody for prayer from the small masjid with his bare voice. After the talk, some of the villagers walked to the masjid to perform their salat, men and women together.  

The masjid of the village

We needed to use the toilet and a boy showed us the way to the “toilet” carrying a bucket of water for us. The toilet was a whole in the ground, and we needed to be quick before the cattle wandering around decided to use the toilet as well :)
The toilet in the nature
Cattle not too far away from "the toilet"

 We stopped by on the road and I saw the first volleyball net and soccer field in the Gambia next to a secondary school.
The volleyball net and the soccer goal
The schools just got closed due to the Christmas break

Next to the field were the baobab trees. If you call a person “baobab”, it is a compliment meaning that that person is a useful to the society. The fruits of the baobab tree are edible, the body of the tree can be used to make ropes, the leaves of the tree can be cooked and eaten as a source of greens.  
A baobab tree heavy with the fruits

Afterwards we went to the village of Wurrokang. Children welcomed us with their drums and dances. 

The children of the Wurrokang village
The welcoming dance in Wurrokang

This village got seeds from Sen De Gel. There was one tiny solar panel in the village to charge phones. Phones are really important in the village life although not many have it to communicate with the outside world. 
When we asked how many people there were in the village, the village chief said "700 women." He didn't know how many men or children there were...

The solar panel on the roof 

We next went to the village of Dumbuto to see how the solar ovens recently received by the village women were doing. Sen De Gel provided the solar ovens in two regions as part of a pilot program to evaluate their impact before providing them to more villages. 

The Logo of Solar Association Tiloo
Hayri, the solar oven and the women 
who baked delicious delicacies for us in the solar oven

The solar ovens provided by Sen De Gel to the Dumbuto village was manufactured by the Solar Association TilooThe ovens get 80% of the heat by directly absorbing the sunlight into the oven and 20% by the light reflected from the aluminum surface on the lid of the oven. Tiloo gave education to women in the village about how to use the oven. In this way, the women in the village will be able to bake bread and other goods in an environmentally friendly way, and sell them at schools or the village bazaar to create additional income for their families. The solar oven project aims to help the sustainable development of communities in the Gambia. At the same time, by reducing the use of the wood-fired ovens, they can help decrease the deforestation in the Gambia and health problems due to the inhalation of smoke spread by the traditional ovens. 

We were offered a very nice lunch at a village house with goat meat, rice and local vegetables. The mild spices enrich the taste. The villagers usually eat from a big plate with their hands but were kind enough to provide us with spoons. After lunch, we tasted the delicious delicacies baked by the village women in the solar oven.  

We saw two girls in the village around 10 years old who have recently gone through female genital mutilation (FGM). We could understand that because these girls leave their scarf long hanging from the sides for some time after the mutilation. Female genital mutilation has been a big problem in the Gambia. Approximately, 76% of women have been mutilated. Approximately three weeks before our trip, FGM was banned in the country (The Guardian, November 24th 2015). While the law might take time to disseminate to villages, the ban will hopefully reduce the death of girls due to excessive bleeding or infections in the near future.

Next, we went to see the Dumbuto Women’s Garden and solar panel powered water pump, irrigation system and the rice mills. The whole village welcomed us with great enthusiasm. The women sang, danced and performed a play about the difficulties they faced before Sen De Gel’s support. 
The women performing a play about the difficulties 
they faced before Sen De Gel’s support. 

One of the village elders explained the difference Sen De Gel projects made in the daily lives of women beautifully: The women used to wake up at 4 am to plow the field and carry water for irrigation and drinking several times during the day by pulling a bucket from an open well several meters deep. They carry the 20 liter buckets on their heads for several hundred meters.  Despite this effort, they can get very little return from their harvest due to the lack of quality seeds. After this exhausting exercise, they shower if there is any water available from the well. Then, they need to pound the little rice they bring from the field with their hands. When we shake hands, we can feel how hardened the women’s hands are due to this daily exercise. Finally, they prepare dinner for their family. After a short sleep, their day starts again at 4 am. With the closed water wells Sen De Gel builds, the women can pull clean water with the help of water pumps, can access quality reusable seeds, pound the rice via rice mills. One of the man of the village said “Now, our women can get enough rest and go to the fields at 9 am. You see, now our women are sturdy and beautiful.” The women’s hands are softer, their families are healthier and happier thanks to the Sen De Gel’s high-impact projects creating sustainable development in the Gambia villages.

The women play a very vital role in the every day life of the villages, and expressed themselves freely during our visits through their dances, plays and talks about the problems of their community. However, according to the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI), the Gambia has very high levels of discrimination against women in social institutions.

After the meeting with the villagers, we walked to the women garden. The fields were smoky with the stubble fire set by the villagers to clear the fields after the harvest. The solar panels pumping water can get dusty and this can degrade the capacity of the solar panels. Also, initially the solar powered irrigation system was built with the wrong specifications by an . The solar panels capacity weren't sufficient, an inverter and battery were installed which reduces the efficiency of the electricity generated for the water pumps although it is sufficient for the irrigation system to work only during the day.  The villagers are not shy to express their demands for a direct solar pumping machine which will be provided by Sen De Gel:
Children of the Wurrokang village
Walking back from the women garden
Three girls and a boy holding hands with me 
during our walk in the village

As the day was ending, we walked back from the garden to the village with the villagers on our side and holding hands with children. The girl in the yellow purple dress wanted to be my friend and later asked if I had a pen. I gave these group of girls the couple of pens I had in my bag. While we were leaving, I saw them testing the pen on their hand.

We arrived at our hotel late at night and were too tired to eat dinner so we went to our rooms to get some sleep before the Senegal trip waiting for us the next morning.

Day 3:  In the Gambia, the Saturday every two weeks is designated as "the cleaning day". I am not sure what exactly is cleaned that day on the roads but no cars are allowed to drive in the whole Gambia from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Therefore, we needed to arrive at the Senegal border before 9:00 am that day. We left our hotel at around 7 am to do that. 

As we got our Senegal visas in Gambia on our first day, we didn't expect any delays at the Senegal border. However, many things in this region are done in several rather redundant steps. For example, when we wanted to get our Senegal visas, we went somewhere which looked like a house. A man appeared from the window and got our passports and money. He didn't let us fill out the forms ourselves. While he was slowly filling out the forms for the seven of us by looking at our passports, he asked us our professions. We were asked this question at the Senegal border and during the passport control at the airport several times. It is still a mystery to me why they care so much about someone's profession while at the same time not asking any documents verifying the information provided. Finally, we submitted our photos. While another man at the back was processing our applications, the man at the window started talking to us about Turkish history and politics. Even with his broken English (his French was much better than his English but none of us were fluent in French), it was obvious that he read and inquired a lot and was fond of intellectual discussions. He looked like he was in his 40s and told us that he is studying at the university. 

A slow process like the Senegal visa application is normally very frustrating for a professor in operations management. However, submission to the natural flow of events not in my control was the way to cope and actually enjoy the moment. 

When we arrived at the Gambian side of the border, our passports were taken and we had to wait for sometime. Women were selling cooked eggs for breakfast and we had bread in our trunk so eggs and bread were our breakfast that day.

The bazaar at the Gambia border 
with eggs, fish and vegetables on sight

Meanwhile, we also exchanged Dalasi (Gambian currency) to some West African CFA franc (Senegal currency). Approximately 42 Dalasis = 1 USD, 72 Dalasi = 1000 CFA. Then, we moved the car and started to wait to go to the check point at the Senegal border. This time we had the chance to see the bazaar where women sold colorful clothes, eggs, vegetable and fish. 

Gambia river and the Atlantic ocean provide large amounts of fish, which is important for the livelihood of many households in the Gambia. However, the lack of refrigeration hinders the storage and distribution of fish to a great extent. 
The coal iron and the women in the shadow

Afterwards, we walked to the Senegal side of the border. While the officials once again took our passports and filled out some other forms, we saw yet another open well at the border village with questionable quality of water. There is so much to do and so many people to help even with their basic need of access to clean water here!

After we finally passed the Senegal border, the smiling faces of Gambians left themselves to the more serious faces of Senegalese. The official language switched from English to French. The roads were worse than the main road in the Gambia, which was apparently financed by Qatar. In both the Gambia and Senegal, there are checkpoints approximately every 5 kilometers. In the Gambia, the police at the checkpoint usually asks "How is it going?". An answer like "Good." along with a smile usually suffices to pass the checkpoint. However, at the Senegalese checkpoints, there are sometimes heavily armed soldiers and the questioning can take much longer especially if you accidentally forget to slow down before the check point. In addition to the checkpoints, the villagers living next to the road put tree logs to the roads to slow down the cars and prevent their children from getting hit. However, the logs can be hard to notice from far especially at night.

As soon as we switched to the village roads, there was nothing but sand... Our car got stuck in sand twice during the day. If Sen De Gel can find a sponsor, they will buy a much-needed jeep to manage their operations in Senegal and Gambia. Apparently, the roads here are even worse during the rainy season.  

After the shaky ride, we arrived to Casamance. This region is Senegal's land on the South side of the Gambia. Jola is the dominant ethnic group in this region  but the Wolof are dominant in Senegal. Many in Casamance are animists or Christians as opposed to the 94% Muslim population of Senegal. The region has been subject to a civil war between the Senegalese government and the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MDFC).  Armed gerillas fought for the autonomy of the area arguing that the area, ethnically and religiously different from the rest of the country, does not get enough investment relative to what is taken from the area by the government. MDFC declared a unilateral cease fire in May, 2014.

We had a more serious welcoming ceremony in Casamance. The mayor of the region, the project manager of the Casamance region, and other prominent people of the region were waiting for us in line. We shaked each and every hand. The women shaked hands in the French style, very loose and short sometimes accompanied by a curtsy, which was particularly unusual for me being used to powerful American handshakes. 

We were led to the motorbikes to the administrative chief of the region representing 142 villages. 

The office of the administrative chief

He welcomed us and thanked for what Sen De Gel did for the community in the Casamance area. The major responsible for the military training in the region said that "As you can see, I am not in uniform today. If there was any tension in the region, I would be in uniform." He assured us that the region is in peace now and is looking forward to new projects. We left them in the office to meet again later in the day.

We first went to the village of Korouck. The volunteers in my hometown Izmir collected money to open a well in this village. When they heard that I am from Izmir, they wanted to me send their thanks to the people of Izmir. I did that once I went to Izmir after the trip. 

The water well in the village of Kourouck
 sponsored by the volunteers in Izmir, Turkey.

We were greeted by the villagers on the road with dances and led to the place in the shadow prepared for us. 
The villagers in Korouck welcoming us on the road to the village

The villagers thanked Sen De Gel for the water well and asked for lighting for the school so that the students can take night classes and another water well nearby the school so that they do not have to carry water to the school from the village. 

The well opening
The women of the village singing and dancing 
at the opening ceremony of the water well

After the talks and the dances, I, as a woman in the group, was given two roosters as a gift. I don't know whether I was expected to cook them for the group afterwards :) We were also given coconuts. We left the village with great memories through the sandy road.
On the sandy roads back from Korouck 
walking until our car got unstuck from sand by man power

On our way to the village of Silick, we stopped by the road next to another village. The children were first shy to interact with us. We were told that the villagers here see a white person once in a blue moon, and some of the children here have not seen a white person in their life before. Luckily, the lollipops we had with us broke the ice pretty quickly :) 
The children with the lollipops
Yet another open well...

We next went to the village of Silick for another well opening. Another group of lively women with their yellow and dark blue dresses welcomed us with their dances on the road. Some villages have their own traditional clothes and they wear these clothes in special occasions like a well opening. 

The villagers welcoming us at the village of Silick
The children of Silick
The well opening in the village of Silick

After stopping by at a village to deliver seeds, we arrived in the Sindian Arrondissement of the Ziguinchor region.
Ibrahim Betil, the President of Sen De Gel,
 delivering quality seeds to women

We were shown a "school building" where the refugee children study. The building was about to collapse any second. There was no lighting that worked, there were only crude wooden school desks and soil ground. The building actually collapsed last year and got barely repaired but is still in a very bad condition. 

"The school building" in Sindian
The residents of Sindian

Afterwards, we were shown a radio station, which was a treat to the eyes after seeing the condition of the school building. The reporters at the radio station broadcasted our visit live to the region. Their aim is to invite people who escaped the civil war back to the region and show that there is peace in the region after the cease-fire declared last year.

The studio at the radio station
The weekly program at the radio station

We headed to the meeting area where hundreds of villagers from Sindian gathered. There was a beautiful show the residents of the region prepared.

The welcoming ceremony in Sindian

The major and the administrative chief of the region joined us at the ceremonies. Ibrahim Betil, the president, and Hayri Dagli, the volunteer of Sen De Gel were presented with plaques by the administrative chief of the area. 

After the ceremony, there was a dinner prepared for us and the administrative and military personnel of the region. 

Heading back to the dinner area after the ceremony
The young women at the back are security guards.

At dinner, we ate benachin with goat meat and fish, and tried wanjo juice and other local juices of the area. After dinner, we said our good-byes and headed back to the Senegal border. Our local project manager and others led the way for us until the border. 

On our way back from Sindian

When we were on the road, we saw villagers sitting together around a fire, a crowd of people dancing (probably a wedding), and even a disco next to which cattle were grazing! We stopped several times at the border watching the stars and thinking if the villagers would give us a bed if we cannot pass the border that night. After some waiting, we passed the Senegal border and drove to the Gambia side, and our passports had to go through yet another check. While we were waiting, a young Gambian man approached us and said hello. Then, he introduced himself and said Sen De Gel opened a well in his village and the opening was a few days ago. He worked at the Gambia border and when he recognized our group, he wanted to thank us again in person. Yet another sign how Sen De Gel touches people's lives and hearts...

Day 4: After our incredibly busy schedule in the last few days, we had some free time on Sunday to sleep in and recuperate our strength. In late morning, we walked to the ocean for the first time, which was 15-minute walk from our hotel. 
We chose the bushy road to the beach.
The Atlantic Ocean
Tourists and the Gambian security guard

We saw the touristic side of the Gambia with only white people sunbathing and drinking, and the Gambians selling goods or day tours trying to communicate with us. It was the same story when we went to a restaurant. There was no single Gambian in any of the restaurants we went. The most expensive one cost us around $13 per person, still not affordable for most of the Gambia. 

In the afternoon, we headed back to the Jalokoto village for the opening of the wood-fired oven. We watched bread freshly baked for us. 

The dough for the bread prepared for us in the new bakery
The wood-fired oven
With the villagers in front of the bakery
The Jalokoto bakery sponsored by Sen De Gel

At the meeting with the village elders, they assured Sen De Gel that the person responsible for the bakery is a trustable man and will make sure the bakery works smoothly and pay back the microcredit as planned so that there can be new projects in neighboring villages. They all seemed to understand the importance of this pilot project for the future of their village and it seemed like a matter of pride for them that this project worked out as planned.
Meeting with the villagers in the shadow of a tree
Freshly baked bread in the Jalokoto bakery
With the young villagers of Jalokoto
The children wanted to pose for the camera
 with the single book they had at hand. 
It seemed like their most valuable possession...

After the opening in Jalokoto, we went to see the Gambia river. At the "base camp" below, a guy under the hut was waiting to take money from the tourists to let them to the river side. In the few minutes we were there, we saw a few monkeys including a female with her young. After we left the "base camp", we found another way of accessing the river. While each one of us on the trip got our videos taken talking about our impressions so far, Sen De Gel representatives had a meeting with the local project managers sitting on the warm sand next to the river.
The afternoon on the banks of the Gambia river

Day 5: In our last morning in the Gambia, we headed to the village of Kartong. We took a second solar oven from Tiloo and carried it to the village. There was no welcoming ceremony in the village as somebody well-respected passed away that dat. As soon as we brought the solar oven, the women started baking cakes for us:

Then, we went to another village to check the status of the animal husbandry project. The children and the villagers were very friendly. They showed us the new offspring of the goats they were given. 
I left the village with the smiling faces of children
imprinted in my mind forever. 

We next went to the Sandele Eco Retreat. Geri and Maurice built a very impressive example of responsible tourism and learning center in Kartong. Solar panels and two small wind turbines are used to generate electricity for the village. A solar fruit dryer  serves as a test bed for future larger projects and lets the women dry mango in large quantities and export it overseas. The added value to the fresh mango prevents the produce from being wasted and turns back to the community as additional profit margins. They plan to add high-value export products such as dried moringa seeds and baobab into their product mix. The local tea might be another product which might have a potential to be exported overseas and attract people to the region to try them in the Gambia. 

A Slow Food Festival in 2016 will let the younger generation learn from their elders the local vegetables and herbs used in cooking, and keep the traditional cuisine alive.

At the learning center, Kartong community learns about a series of topics ranging from permaculture to small business management. 
A woman at the learning center
 talking about the problems in her village

When we visited the learning center that day, we found the women of Kartong with their instructors. We started a conversation about the needs of the community. The women explained how the water wells they open quickly dry. They need a sustainable source of water, quality seeds and a seed bank, fencing for their gardens so that the cattle cannot destroy the crops. They need a solution to the fact that most of their produce comes to the market at the same time. When there is an abundance of the same produce, the middlemen can buy them in significantly reduced prices and most of the produce is wasted except the more durable vegetables such as onion. These were the problems common to the villages we visited in the Gambia and Senegal.

Afterwards, we saw the jewelry and clothes the local artists showcased. Meanwhile, the cake baked in the solar oven and fish empanadas were ready to eat! While drinking local tea and coffee, we were shown a video the young community members prepared about Sandele. Sandele seems to have brought hope to the community of Kartong that they can build a brighter future by using their own skills and local resources. 

The solar panels in Sandele
The solar panels attached to the food dryer
The two wind turbines
 at the Sandele Eco Retreat

During this trip, I saw firsthand communities deprived from basic resources like clean water and seeds, and given the resources how enthusiastic they were to provide a better future for their children by agriculture and small businesses. 

As a Mandinka proverb states "Do a thing at the right time and peace follows." You can donate to the projects of Sen De Gel right now so that peace and prosperity follow in the lives of children in the Gambia and Senegal.

Music in West Africa

I have been the admirer of the Malian kora player Toumani Diabate for almost ten years now. I watched him live twice in California. However, I have never imagined at the time that I would go to West Africa from where the instrument "kora" originated. Wikipedia describes kora as "a mandinka harp built from a large calabash cut in half and covered with cow skin to make a resonator with a long hardwood neck". A traditional kora player is called a "Jali". The instrument is played in GuineaGuinea-BissauMaliSenegalBurkina Faso and the Gambia 

You can see and hear the instrument below where Toumani Diabate and his son, Sidiki Diabate, play the kora in great harmony: 

I haven't seen a kora player in our visit to the Gambia and Senegal this time but I hope to meet a Jali next time I am in West Africa. 

Disclaimer: This article was prepared by Ozge Islegen in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of any organization the author is associated with.

All rights reserved © 2015 Ozge Islegen.