GambiaHELP's founder and director, travels each year for a 2
months to The Gambia. Here are her notes from the 2012
1 of Shelby's Trip
Office, Sukuta San Cheba
office/living room in San Cheba is spacious and stays cool even
during the heat of the day. There is electricity with little
interruption. It has a stark interior but is very functional.
During my stay the weather became very hot - upwards to 103
degrees F and so was forced to place my foam mattress on the
living room floor to stay cool. No AC here!
My neighbor’s daughter, Haddy Njang
Above: Haddy Nyang as
she tries to get my attention through the dining room window as
I work on the computer at the table. She is 11 years old and
attends the local Koranic school. Together we dust and mop the
office on a daily basis to keep the electronics and house
clean. She is a joy to have as a neighbor.
GambiaHELP Container Arrives!
Now the off-loading
begins, as boxes, bicycles, tables and chairs are moved to the
container on site at GPPC (Gambia Publishing and Printing
Essa Camara, GambiaHELP
Coordinator supervises as laborers off-load the container. This
is not an easy task since the temperature outside is near 92F
and inside the container gets above 100F! Inside the container,
a creosote treated floor prevents termites from invading and
destroying the stored book boxes.
March 1, 2012 waiting…
It is close to 1pm and I
am waiting for a ride to take me to GPPC in Kanifing. Today I am
helping to identify and unload items that are for the village of
Essau. Lamin Darboe, a GambiaHELP Volunteer who is here from
Seattle, is ready to take them to the North Bank. He has been
staying with his friend in Bakau, an urban village, for the past
few days. He is eager to get back to Essau where he is putting
up a fence around his property. To get to Essau from Bakau
requires a ferry ride from Banjul and then travel by bush taxi
45 minutes to the village of Essau. The items for Essau include
bicycles and women’s group materials – fabric and sewing
Oops! I have 30%
remaining battery power yet eager to jot down as much as I can
from the past few days before I forget. Off to charge…
The computer battery has
been charged up to 61%. Power continues to be challenging. The
internet connection is slow and by the time I do connect I’ve
lost 5% of my battery life. My computer also seems to be
Essa called and is on
his way – 2 hours later. It is now 3pm and lunch is here.
Lamin Darboe is still waiting at GPPC (Gambia Publishing and
Printing Corporation) to pick up the items. I called to say
where we are and to reassure him that we will get to him this
afternoon. The delays in Gambia are consistent, persistent and
inherent whenever making plans. I am still not used to it and
try my best to make use of time so there is “no waiting” time
March 2, 2012 -
Friday night Tina, Sam and I left the Kombo (Capital area) for
is our Trekking vehicle
It was around 3pm when
we left for up-country. It was nightfall by the time we arrived
in Soma, about 1 ½ hours from Dankunku. We stopped for a drink
(bottled water and Coca-Cola) and to stretch our legs and then
us was a one ton truck loaded with goods from the container
destined for the schools at Sambang, Dankunku, Bansang, Kudang
and Janjangbureh villages.
Stopping several times
to let cattle and donkeys pass – it was quite a journey. There
is a 30 mile stretch of the two lane road where the paving has
not started and where grading has just been completed. It was
like riding on a roller coaster going over the bumps while
navigating pot holes, swerving several times to miss road
blockages. All along the South Bank road there are military,
police and field personnel checking to see who we are, where we
are going and what we have in the back of the truck. No
We arrived at night in
Dankunku. We were met by the school Headmaster Mr. Badjie and
Fatou Fatty, one of the main leaders of the women’s group
there. She provided us with jerry cans of water, buckets,
bedding and pillows. I had sent funds before leaving the USA in
order to have the Outpost cleaned and maintained. It looked
good – dusted, beams repaired, and a fresh coat of paint.
greetings and getting oriented, we quickly got down to setting
up our beds because we were totally exhausted and dust blown! It
was hot. Hotter than in the Kombo area and so I opted to place a
mattress on the porch and sleep outside -thankfully, I quickly
fell asleep and soooo tired I felt no mosquitoes! Only a few
wild dogs punctuated the silence with howls and dog chatter
Most of us woke up at
around 8:30am. For breakfast Essa showed us his grill cook
expertise by frying canned beef and eggs. Bread was found in
the village (from yesterday) and with it we made egg/meat
sandwiches. The meal was delicious along with VIA coffee from
Starbucks. Thank you Tina and Sam for bringing!
of Essa Camara cooking at the GambiaHELP Outpost
Right after our
breakfast, elders and school children started to come by the
house to warmly welcome us.
Tina and Sam were
presented with shirts cut from the same cloth as a gift from
Fatou Fatty and the DKK women’s group. Shortly thereafter, the
Headmaster came to collect several boxes of books and games we
had for DKK Basic Cycle School. We had an informal Handing-Over
Ceremony in front of the Primary School.
Tina Minor and Sam Naughler presenting books to the DKK
Included in the donation
box was a 9ft black balloon that fills using solar energy,
spinning tops and games. Thank you Ann Fasano from Seattle!
Also present with the
Headmaster, Elders, women and children, were drummers and two
Concorans – a mythical beast made up of red bark as a head and
green leaves for a body that delights and scares young
children. Oftentimes, Concorans are present during welcoming
ceremonies, festivals and circumcision rites of passage.
The children, followed
by the adults, came together with us over to the school yard.
Chairs were set up under the main tree and a circle was quickly
formed – dancing by the women and Kanyeleng Kaafo accompanied by
excellent drumming. As Tina and Sam sat and enjoyed the
gathering, Essa and I went into the Headmaster’s office to pay
the school fees in front of the school committee – funds are
always exchanged in front of others to ensure transparency at
all times. Receipts for our records were obtained.
After the school fees
were paid, we entered into the truck for a quick trip to Sambang,
Katamina, Janjangbureh and Bansang. Kemo, who drives the truck
containing the hospital and school resources headed down the
and inside of the Sofanyama Primary School Library are pictured
At Katamina, we toured
Sofanyama Primary and saw the library that GH built 5 years
is in desperate need of repair. The roof has been leaking, a
bookshelf is broken and the main central table is in need of new
cement and paint. I’ve asked the Headmaster if he could take
this on and he stated he was more than happy to.
We will obtain an
estimate of repair costs and get the library back into shape.
Although the room is in rough shape, it is still used to hold
classes. The cement blackboard is cracked and in need of
replacement. (An Update 3/18/2012: Essa reports that the
Headmaster has delivered a proposal for the library to the GPPC
office on Friday)
This picture was taken from the truck – Gambian landscape
Sofanyama Primary School in the village of Katamina, we then
head to the village of Sambang which is very close by. The
landscape is dry and filled with low lying bushes.
At Sambang we met with
the Principal Kumba Kumay Camara and her Deputy.
Picture here are the
Principal and Deputy of Sambang Upper Basic School
goal was to present some books, tour the library and meet Mai, a
young girl who has a donor in the United States. We may be
paying the school a second visit because we have more books, a
globe and soccer balls for them. Mai’s education has been
funded by a family whose daughter used to be a Peace Corps
Volunteer in Sambang in 2005/6. Mai, Grade 8.
Leaving Sambang, we head
to Janjangbureh and on to Armitage Senior Secondary School – the
only government boarding school in The Gambia. Here we met the
Deputy Head and tour the library and computer center.
Here we are (Essa Camara,
Country Coordinator and Shelby Tarutis, Executive Director)
unloading and recording boxes for Armitage Senior Secondary
Secondary School Library
Notice the metal/treated
wood shelving for books. These are ideal in this environment to
prevent termites from devastating book collections.
Senior Secondary Computer Lab
This computer lab was
started 11 years ago by GambiaHELP and Garfield High School
students from Seattle, Washington. It has since been relocated
into another building and at present is assigned a Peace Corps
Volunteer named Joanna Le Hay. We anticipate a request for
resources from the IT staff.
There is major
construction going on at the campus. They are building a large
two story building that has a mosque on the ground floor. The
Deputy indicates that classes will be held upstairs.
In Janjangbureh, we eat
lunch at the Baobolong Lodge – a half chicken with fried onions
and French fries. Coca Cola for everyone! The lodge is
currently undergoing major renovations and it was very quiet
while we were there.
Leaving the island we
head to Bansang to make deliveries at the hospital. At the
hospital we meet the CEO Mr. Jammeh and distribute the x-ray
viewing box, an ob/gyn examination table, examining stool,
wheelchair, microscope, resource books and materials.
At Bansang Hospital,
GambiaHELP and hospital personnel taking pictures to record
As per procedure, we
obtain a receipt – this time from Bansang Hospital’s Security
officer, for anything we bring to the facility. Mr. Jammeh, the
CEO invited us for lunch and soda in his main conference room
after all the work had been completed. It was a very kind
gesture and typical of Gambian hospitality. People in the
United States could learn a lot from the way Gambians treat
visitors – often they are more giving and generous with their
time and hospitality.
After completing our
trip to Bansang we headed back to Dankunku to pick up our things
and deliver the items that the hospital had been keeping for
Dankunku. During our last trip there, we had a truck breakdown
and many items for Dankunku were stored in the warehouse at
Bansang for later delivery. We picked up 4 bicycles and 27 boxes
of books from them.
Before we leave, Fatou
Fatty gives Essa a chicken to carry home and a woman from the
community gives us a bowl of local coose coose. Heading home
and leaving late – about 5pm. We start onto the road at dusk and
know that in 5 hours time we will be back at our
office/residence – the 2-bedroom rental in Sukuta San Cheba at
Overall the trip was a
success. Tina and Sam were able to see what the differences were
between the Combo (urban) area and the up-country (rural) area
of The Gambia. There are significant differences, not only
visually, but culturally as well.
March 5, 2012
Tina and Sam left for
the USA on March 3 taking a 10:30pm flight.-
see Tina's Diary
The blogs are now mine
to write. Today I read and wrote a lot. I am currently reading
a book by Doris Lessing titled, African Laughter – Four
Visits to Zimbabwe. It is well written and I enjoy the
contrasts she makes between her visits to an ever changing
The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah
One of my routines while
in The Gambia is to go to a bookstore called Timbooktoo. At the
store I select a few books about Africa, some by African authors
to immerse myself whenever there is down time.
Another book which I am
completing is by Kwame Nkrumah. It is his autobiography, latest
copyright 2002. It is a fascinating book and clearly discusses
the struggles that led to the formation of the independent
country of Ghana from British rule.
The Roberts Family
Tonight around 6:30pm
Essa and I went to visit Elizabeth Roberts, a young 17-year old
girl who is seeking funding for her education. She came here as
a refugee from Liberia with her mother 12 years ago. She is in
the 8th grade and UNHCR funding for her education has
stopped since the Liberian war is now over.
am meeting her because she initiated contact with a woman in the
USA via Facebook. The woman contacted GambiaHELP for
assistance. I offered to meet the girl and her family in order
to verify that the life story and family situation were
consistent with what the girl has written on Facebook. During
our visit, we saw her living conditions, met her landlady and
family – one sister, one young brother and her mother Sonny.
Our initial visit went very well and we continue our follow-up
with a meeting scheduled with the UNHCR Refugee Officer that has
worked with them in Gambia.
Started by Angella Konot,
a Bainbridge Island resident in the USA – there’s a
listing for “Educating Elizabeth”. This "causes" site is to
help raise funds for this family struggling to maintain
themselves without a livelihood, income or any financial
support. The funding for the childrens' education was stopped
after the first term and there are three terms to an academic
year in The Gambia. Currently the 4-member family is living in
one room without electricity or running water. The bed, which
rests directly on the floor is not a full size and sleeps all
four. The landlady has provided them with free rent and feeding
in exchange for domestic chores and for looking after the
compound. I strongly encourage anyone who has compassion for
this family to support our efforts by contributing to the
meeting with the Refugee contact confirmed everything we had
heard at our meeting with the family. His recommendation was to
support the continuation of the children’s education, look into
better housing conditions and after a period of stability look
into the skill/trades development for Sonny, the mother. Sonny
has indicated that she has worked in a restaurant setting and
would like to pursue a small fast food enterprise in order to
make money for the family.
The inherent challenge
with development work is to design the program so that
dependency is not created while autonomy and independence is
Little by little we can
make positive impacts in the lives of others.
Elizabeth Roberts at
Deeper Life Senior Secondary School