Check out our video of the 2018 Implementation below!
The 2018 Travel Team
This trip was our first implementation trip of our commitment to the community of Njau. During this trip, we aimed to start construction of the fence that would protect the community’s garden. We are partnered with a wonderful NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) called WIG (Women’s Initiative The Gambia) that helps with women gain economic empowerment through employment. WIG also has initiatives to help send children who have lost one or both parents to school and help disabled women gain an income where they wouldn’t have had one before in Gambia.
July 31, 2018- August 18, 2018
Team: Bronte Beaman, Melanie Sich, Richie Tran, Emily Aebker, Christine Samanich, and Alejandro Gonzalez
Mentors: Mike Dadik and Gaj Sivandran
July 31 – August 1 – Columbus to Gambia
Bronte and Richie with the post hole digger that we somehow got through customs
All the students, except Christine, flew out together of Columbus’ John Glen International Airport. Christine and our mentors, Mike and Gaj, met us in DC for our flight to Brussels. After a five hour layover in Brussels, we flew to Senegal with another short flight to Banjul, the capitol of The Gambia.
After a long 24 hours of travel, we landed in Banjul at around 6 PM Gambia time. We were greeted by WIG members Modou, Awa, and Mariama. We loaded our bags on top of a rickety blue van and headed to Isatou’s home and WIG office to stop by and say hello.
Afterwards, we all headed to the hotel for the night. The girls stayed in one apartment style housing and the boys stayed in another. We went to dinner at the restaurant underneath our hotel where we had our first meal in country – a dinner of chicken and fries.
Mariama and Awa gave all the travel team members dresses and shirts. They had made themselves from the measurements we gave them earlier in the summer. Check out our picture form the Naming Ceremony to check them out.
Day 2 – First Full Day in Country – August 2
The majority of us tried our first sips of iodine water this morning. Some of us were smart enough to think ahead and fill up their water bottles in Brussels- the last stop before we could no longer trust the water. If you’ve never had iodine water, don’t. It’s quite terrible. Thankfully, everyone brought Gatorade and propel packets to cut the flavor.
Today, half of the team went to Water Point Gambia to talk to our in-country engineer, Mr. Touray, about our project. The other half of the team went to exchange money, get a SIM card to be able to contact people back home, and pick up groceries.
That night we saw our first rains of the “rainy season,” a 3 to 4 month period that they experience extremely hard rains.
Day 3 –Cultural Training – August 3
The team with Babukar
Babukar, a trainer for the Peace Corps and Gambia native, came to our hotel in the morning to give us a short session of cultural and linguistic training.
In the afternoon, half of the team went to talk to Mr. Touray about our building materials. The other half went to WIG. We were able to walk to a local farm that was growing peanuts. ON our way, we passed by cashew trees, termite hills, and the biggest millipedes I’d ever seen.
After the whole group joined us all back at WIG, we had a dinner of rice and fish. This was our first “Gambian Style” meal – we ate with our hands from a large family style plate while kneeling on the ground.
That night, we packed our bags so we’d be ready to leave for Njau the next morning.
Day 4 –Travel to Community – August 4
Cows crossing the road on our way to Njau
We set off at around 9 AM on a stuffed bus to the ferry. After 2 sweaty hours, we got into the line for the ferry where we had to wait an additional hour before we could board the ferry and leave. After the half hour ferry ride, we had to drive another 3 hours in the even sweatier bus to the community.
Pulling into the community of Njau, we were greeted by all the children of the community, running alongside our van.
We stayed in a small, clay home with 3 rooms – all of which were bedrooms – one for the girls, one for mentors, and one for the boys. We had a small walled off space outside our home and a hut for a bathroom which included only 2 holes.
That night, after hours of hot and sweaty travel, we ate dinner and hung out on the “island.” The island is a concrete slab with palm fronds over it that remained as cool as possible in the minimum of 90 degree weather. This island was a saving grace for the extreme heat during our trip.
Day 5 –Naming Ceremony – August 5
The team ate a breakfast and then got ready for the naming ceremony, putting on the dresses and shirts that we were given earlier. We headed to WIG for the ceremony where we sat in a circle with the community sitting around us.
For the ceremony, we were called into the center one by one to be named. This naming ceremony is usually only done with newborn babies, but this was the community’s way of showing us we were welcome and accepted.
After your old name is called, you sit with your legs straight out and a shawl over your shoulders. They pretend to cut your hair (for the babies, they actually do). The priest then pretends to forget your new name and people start paying him money to get him to remember. All the money collected during this ceremony are given to the parents to help pay for raising the child.
After everyone was named, the entire community got into a large group and danced together to celebrate.
The team and community members in our matching outfits
Afterwards, still in our traditional clothing, we all squeezed on a bus and headed to meet the chief of the district. On the bus, we had a group of women who sang and beat on drums the entire time – we were told they were only there to be our hype squad.
Once we returned, we went to WIG where we gave the school supplies we had brought to kids who were in the program there. These were children who’d lost one or both of their parents, and the program helps send them to and support them in school.
Day 6- Getting Started – August 6
We talked to Musa, our associate of the in-country engineer who would be helping us build the fence. We discussed what we would need for the project and how long it should take to finish.
We also talked to the women in WIG to get their support for the project that night.
Day 7 – The Garden – August 7
We headed to the garden early in the morning to measure the new fence’s parameter and fix what we could of the old fence to help keep it up until we were done with our project.
The old fence
Day 8- The Governor – August 8
The team and some community members took a small boat across a tiny river to meet the new governor of the area. We gained his approval and support of our project.
Day 9- Garden Q’s – August 9
Half of the team went to WIG to learn about current gardening techniques used in the community. We also started working at the quarry to get gravel for the concrete posts.
Day 10 – Setting Posts – August 10
Today, the team finally started mixing concrete and setting the posts for our fence. It’s hard work, especially in the heat. We only had 10 molds to work with but we completed them all.
Alejandro and Christine creating molds
Day 11 – More Progress – August 11
The team checked in on our posts to see how they’re curing. Tomorrow, we’ll be able to take the molds off and set new posts.
Day 12 – Taking Off the Molds – August 12
We were able to take off the molds today and refill them for the next set of posts.
At night, some community members henna’d our feet and hands.
Day 13– Going Away Party– August 13
Today is our last day in the community. They have been nothing but welcoming and caring during our time here, and we couldn’t be more thankful.
They community threw a dance ceremony for our last day there. All the women from WIG and the community children joined us dancing while the band played drums and sang. We danced for several hours on and off, tapping in and out with the women and children of the community. We stopped for a break and dinner and then went straight back into dancing with everyone at 11:30 PM.
We finished about an hour later exhausted and with tired feet. We went back to our home where we immediately fell asleep.
Alejandro dancing with members of the community
Day 14 – Leaving the Community – Aug 14
In the late morning, we left Njau and drove back the 6 hours to Banjul. We returned to the hotel we stayed at previously.
The team and WIG members on the way back to Banjul
Day 15 – 17 – Relaxing and Tying Up Loose Ends – Aug 15 – 17
We spent our next two days in Gambia making the most of Banjul. We spent a day at their beautiful beaches, went to the Gambian History Museum, and went to one of their extensive outdoor markets.
We also completed our contract with Mr. Touray to ensure that our fence progress would continue after we’d left.
Day 18- Saying Goodbye – August 18
On our last day in country, we had our good bye ceremony/party at WIG where we sang songs and exchanged presents with those we worked with most during our time here. We will always be grateful for how welcome these people made us feel in Gambia.
We boarded our plane for ride back to the states. With the time change, we actually made it home on the night of the 18th Ohio time.