Written by Dianne, people and places volunteer programme advisor
“I am writing this report sitting by the pool at Safari Garden Hotel on a sunny Sunday morning. The sky is blue and the temperature will rise to about 30 degrees later on today, so I hope those of you in cold rainy England are feeling jealous!
The Gambia is a popular destination for volunteers from people and places at the moment. Four of us are here at the moment – Yvonne, Natalie, Esme and myself. This picture was taken last night as we celebrated Yvonne’s birthday. Colin and Pam were here last month and Barbara, Alice and Hayley will be arriving in two weeks’ time. All of us are having a great time and are enjoying working in this friendly country, although working somewhere with such a different culture to our own, where everyone is totally laid back and time is of no importance, can pose some frustrations!
Our volunteers in The Gambia work in two broad areas, education and business, and I am here to look at all our projects and see how we might expand them in a way that will benefit the local community and fit in with their own aims and objectives. I will write a bit more about all these projects in the next newsletter. I am also here to meet Lamin Bojang who is now part of our team of local partners, joining Adama and Lisong Bah. Lamin is a lecturer at ITTOG (The Institute of Travel and Tourism in The Gambia) and has worked in the past with several of our volunteers who have done placements at ITTOG or with ASSET, the association for small, tourism-based businesses in the Gambia. Lamin has been helping me set our aims for volunteers working with ITTOG or ASSET, update our documents and review the accommodation we use for our volunteers here. We are very pleased to welcome him to our team and look forward to working with him in the future.
Yvonne has been working with Lisong on the education side of the volunteer programme.Up to now our volunteers have worked with Lisong to set up the education training programme she hopes to run, and in one local nursery school, Bijilo. However Lisong has made an agreement with Child Fund, the NGO which sponsors many of the nursery schools here, to expand the schools we work with, so Yvonne has been visiting a range of schools to assess their needs. So far she has visited 6 or 7 schools with more to come next week. This afternoon she and I are moving up country for a week to look at schools and accommodation with a view to finding placements for those volunteers who would like a more rural experience.
Esme has been working with Sia, a lovely Gambian lady who manages Guaranteed Gambian, a business which works with local artists and craft workers to produce high quality goods which use local materials and are sold at fair prices. Sia helps them find markets for their goods, but also provides training and guidance in production techniques, business skills and making their goods attractive to the tourist market. Esme has been doing a fantastic job finding new outlets where Guaranteed Gambian goods can be sold – now the producers will have to work hard to keep up with this increased demand!
Natalie has set up a radio programme to advertise the ASSET businesses and give a forum to the Gambian tourism community. This is going really well and is already becoming well known in the local area. She is busy recording interviews to air on the show and developing marketing to advertise it. A good number of people are phoning in and the show is doing a great job at raising awareness. Lamin, our new local partner, presents the show. I’m not sure whether you can hear it in the UK or not, but give it a try – you should be able to listen online – www.paradisefm.gm 105.7MHz. The show airs at 8.00 on a Tuesday evening (there is no time difference between the Gambia and the UK). Natalie and Esme are also developing the website and publicity leaflet for the Bantaba, a new restaurant at the ASSET Business Centre.
You should be able to tell from this that there’s a real variety of things you can do if you volunteer in this country. Come and join us!”