Trip Diaries 2013

2013, March 20, Students Isatou and David Robert

March 20, 2013

Today I started the morning by hand washing clothes in a bucket, having instant coffee (Italian Roast VIA Starbucks brand) and had a couple of Scottish Shortbread, which was leftover from our snacks up-country.

Today Essa and I traveled to New Life Upper Basic School to pay Isatou’s school fee and exam fees. We were lucky because Isatou and her brother David were in the schoolyard at the time of our arrival. It was good to see them, a first time since my arrival in The Gambia.

20-boy    20-girl

We plan  to have a meeting with the CEO of the Jammeh Foundation and the entire  family on Saturday. We will be setting up a medical account so that Sonnie,  the mother can be seen.  Her leg is swollen and has been bothering her a lot limiting her ability to work.  This limitation results in the family having less food to eat – it is a fact here in The Gambia – life can be very, very hard.


20-boy and girlIsatou and David Robert at New Life Upper Basic School

2013, March 17, Lists, Meetings and Thoughts

It is hard to believe that I have 9 more days to go…

The list for Monday keeps growing and as the departure date gets closer the “to do” list becomes even longer. It looks like this so far:

  • Set up Jammeh Foundation meeting to obtain medical care for Robert’s Family
  • Pay rest of Roberts school fees and schedule home visit
  • Pay Binta Sanneh 10th Grade school fees at Muslim Senior Secondary School.
  • Funds to Essa for container clearance and bicycle repair.
  • Pay fees for Banjulinding students, obtain responses to pen pal letters and take photos of children.
  • Meet Abubakar Bah, Headmaster at Kudang for priorities list and discussion.
  • Prepare Case Management list for Essa to cover remaining tasks we don’t get completed in the next 9 days.
  • Obtain Proformas for items identified as needed at Banjulinding Skills Center Rehabilitation [attach list]
  • Visit Cherno Gaye, past MD of GPPC and supporter of work.
  • Draft letter to Regional District Head re changing staff and lack of continuity- ask Cherno to proof re protocol issues.
  • Define skills training support and outline what Yamai can do as a facilitator/data developer for measuring center’s outcomes. Set meeting with Women’s Head.

There have been so many new people this trip that actually getting connected beyond the greeting and “hello” is difficult.

I have one tentative meeting with the Abubacar Bah, new Headmaster at Kudang Senior Secondary School to discuss the outcome of his community meeting.  He’s to draft a list of school project priorities.

When we first met, he had told me about the many issues he would like to address and seek funding for – I told him he needed to obtain community input and to bring a priority list to me. After that, we could discuss further development of a proposal. This is a new Headmaster and he brings with him the motivation and zeal newness brings. I liked his enthusiasm and want to see him take the necessary steps to make something happen at the school. It is the persistence and dedication to the students that usually brings out the extra-ordinary from the ordinary. It is too often that school heads maintain the status quo.

This trip I met several new Principals and Headmasters that appeared motivated. At three of the schools we frequent every year both the Deputy Headmasters and the Headmasters have been replaced. The new appointees did not have a record of our ever being at the school. There was no file, nothing.

Essa appeared quite distressed to learn that not one of the three principals we had been relating to (for 4-5 years), exchanged information with the incoming Headmasters. We were told by the Kudang Headmaster to report our frustrations to the Regional District Office, Mr. Gibril Bah. Because of our time limitations we could not pay a personal visit. Instead I will write a formal letter seeking his assistance. I will ask Essa to follow-up my letter with a telephone call to the Regional Office.

The issues that were on the mind of the new Headmaster are as follows:

  • Home Science Lab has no materials
  • Trust fund not funding girls as in the past and the fees are $375.00/Grade 7, $300/Grade 8, 9. Seeks funding for boys since they can be sent home for non-payment whereas the girls can not (due to the trust fund).
  • Science Lab for all grades has no materials – no beakers, nothing
  • Lots of drop-outs due to pregnancy and lack of funds to pay school fees. Wants to see a computer training class – there is an extra classroom that could be used for this purpose.
  • E-learning has been sponsored by the World Bank but it is not for drop-outs.

The school is fed by 17 communities. A observation tour of the school indicates that it needs maintenance, better furnishings [desks in disrepair] and the library could use more books, not just any books, but quality books.

17 library     17 library2 copy

This Senior Secondary library was started by one organization, but completed by USAID. USAID is not doing any more libraries. However, Peace Corps seems to be developing them (as witnessed in Jappineh). (Me: to investigate the country/govt. opinion on library development and that of NGOs)

A huge support to his school, he indicated, would be teacher capacity building – give them more training on “child centered delivery”. I asked what he meant and he said to involve the child in his/her learning rather than dictate the lessons through continuous lecture and rote memorization. He said a group called FAWEGAM has done this training before for schools and has found it very effective. (Me: to investigate the FAWEGAM program, outcomes and funders).

The art department appeared to be doing well although the art teacher asked how he could obtain more materials.  The projects by the students had just been scored by the examination staff so they were all laid out on tables in the art classroom.  A sample of the projects are below.  The top two are student embroideries.  Below is a painting on glass.

17 embroidery      17 embroidery2

17 painting on glass


2013, March 15, Dankunkuku, Sofanyama, Sitahuma, Jappineh, and Kudang

Essa, Harouna and I left Kerewan at 9:00 AM this morning in order to get to Dankunku, Sofanyama, Sitahuma, Jappineh, and Kudang before nightfall.

15-children Girls at Sofanyama Primary

At Sofanyama Primary School, which is located in the village of Katamina, we saw the newly renovated library.  The change from last year is dramatic.  The before and after pictures illustrate what a small donation can do.

15 library before       15 library before2
Library before Renovation

There are some additional pieces of work that need to be done but essentially it is complete.  There needs to be more wire placed over the bars on the windows to prevent loss of materials and the wood used to hold the corrugate roof material to the walls is not termite-proof. If this isn’t changed then there will be leaks and damage to the books again. Essa will see that treated wood replaces this inferior, less expensive wood. 

15-library outside   15-library2 copy

15-library3    15-library5
                                Library after Renovation

Room next to library is now an  additional classroom

2013 March 14 – Kerewan Visit

March 14, 2013

Yesterday Essa Camara, Momodou Ceesay, Harouna Bojang and I traveled from the Banjul-area to Essau and Kerewan. We got a late start (6pm) since we were waiting until work at GPPC had finished for the day. The work week is from Monday through Thursday and so leaving on Thursday gives us 3 days up country without disturbing work commitments.

The ferry crossing to Barra took a couple of hours since the ferries are traveling extremely slowly through the water. Catching the 6pm ferry we were able to cross by 8pm.   I have been on this crossing in the past and it has lasted 40 minutes. As an overloaded ferry, it was both unnerving and uncomfortable. I was in a very comfortable vehicle and not sitting on the side of a car for those many hours as many Gambians with small children were. I was lucky.

14-ferry1     14-ferry2
In line for the Barra Ferry                                        On the Loaded Ferry – view from my car

By the time we got to Essau it was dark. I had promised Fatou Saidy and her family I would see them during this trip – i.e. see them at their compound. After several calls to locate them, I found them waiting by the side of the road near their compound entrance. Because of the late hour and our commitment to meet the villagers of Kerewan, we could not visit more than 15 minutes. It was sad to go after such a short stop. Present in the compound were elderly women, Fatou, Mariama, Fatou Joof (a former  education student, now librarian) and many small children supported by this compound of women.

We reached Kerewan at about 10pm. Many of the villagers were expecting us during the day – a miscommunication, and so we were only able to meet with the key members of the Village Development Committee (VDC). There were about 25 people crammed into a small, very hot room – many women were crouched down on a small blanket laid out on the floor. Many elderly men sat in chairs along the room’s perimeter.

14-kerewenWomen sitting in the crowded room

14-kerewen2   14-kerewen3
Men and Elders sitting on the other side                           Front & Center, the VDC Chairperson

I was given the history of the development of Kerewan. The VDC chairperson told me that the village is made up of & Cabulos, or families. The Ceesays provide the Imams of the village while the Fattys provide the Akalos.  The names are: Ceesay (Imams), Fattys (Akalos), Hydaras, Jawara, Banta Su, Ma Jawara Kunda, and Samusa Kunda. Each Cabulo selects a member to the VDC. This prevents the committee from being dominated by any particular family or tribe. He further stated that if the VDC becomes dysfunctional, then the VDC is dissolved and the Cabulos are again assigned the task of sending a representative to the VDC.


iWoman showing me the garden implement used to tend to the rice field.

The way in which the village selects community projects is democratically based. The VDC Chair stresses this fact and makes sure that there is no monopoly based on family affiliation or tribe.

The VDC group had been informed of the purpose of our visit the day before our arrival. This gave the committee time to discuss amongst themselves which projects were most important to their development.   A list of the projects they discussed

  • Development of their nursery school – ages 3-5 children attend.
  • Payment of $100 Dalasis a month is required to support the teachers and Head of the Nursery School. These fees are prohibitive for many families and in fact a nursery school that is free and supported by an international donor is attracting many families to the village nearby;
  • Gardening Support – tools, fertilizer and even mechanized equipment were mentioned i.e. tractor and plow;
  • Milling Machine Request – a means by which the women can reduce their workload

I described our work and our limitations given our capacity. I described our process of funding projects [25% of costs supported by beneficiary community] and they said that is how they have been doing projects for many years. At the end of our meeting, prayers were given and the women started to sing about Toubabs (White people) in 3-part harmony.

By the time the meeting ended it was 11:30PM.  Momodou Ceesay took us to the Badala Lodge for the night. We took 3 bungalows and asked the proprietor to leave the generator on until 3:00AM. I was wide awake after the long meeting and stimulating conversation so having the generator on was nice – plus the fan worked!

The following are some photos taken of the children as we arrived in Kerewan – some are related to Momodou:

14-kerewan-children      14-kerewan-children2


During our visit in Kerewan we also met the Imam – Imam Ceesay. He posed with his robes on and as we sat listening and receiving prayers, this small child peeked in to greet her father, the Imam.

14-kerewen5     14-kerewan-children5

The Badala Lodge was reasonable in terms of cost and provided us a clean, safe place to sleep for the night. Some pictures below capture our surroundings and the lodge amenities.

14-bungalo3       14-bungalo7
The Bungalow in the Morning               Interior View


Harouna and Essa eating breakfast omelet, bread, orange juice, jam and butter, coffee


2013 March 13 – 8 hour candles

March 13, 2013

Pop Can candle holdersIt is 4:45 am and the Call to Prayer is beginning. I went to a Rotary meeting last night and we had no lights, still no lights! My candles sitting within their pop can holders ( a pop can torn in half makes two holders). The candles are burning strong. I love those 8 hour REI candles!

Off to the rural areas this afternoon. Since I switched antibiotics my tooth pain has been fading…whew!

2013 March 12 – Planning Trip Up-Country

March 12, 2013

Today I awoke at 3 AM and started writing. I typically have 20-25 e-mail messages that need responding to daily and I like to use the quiet time to do this – writing about events of the day, writing about project evaluation design, writing consultancy contracts and setting/revising trip goals.

I spent about two hours segmenting out all of the school payments we will be giving to schools in the Central River Region during our trek up-country on Thursday. There is a lot to do and a short amount of time to do it in. It is better that the trip will be quick given my tooth continues to cause me discomfort.
1-house b-cropAfter it gets about to about 5 AM I go to the pump and start filling the 7 buckets I need, in order to replenish the water that was used the day before for bathing, laundry, cooking, and dish washing. It takes me 30-40 minutes to get everything filled. The water comes out slowly from the tap so I try and get other tasks done while it is filling. A couple of times I forgot I had the bucket filling and found the water gushing over the rim! Water is precious here and so now I sit and enjoy the garden and watch the bucket as it slowly fills.

It is 12 PM and I am heading to the office soon. I had some tomato soup with saltine crackers for breakfast. Lunch comes about 3 PM.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) we do all of our buying for the trip up-country. I understand Essa’s boss, Momodou Ceesay, will be joining us in Essa’s blue pick up. We will have a very good driver – one that is quiet, easy going and is professional. It is Momodou’s driver and he is the Managing Director of the Gambia Printing and Publishing Company.

Specifically, Momodou is taking us to Kerewan, his home village. I had read about Kerewan as part of my course work in Urban Global Education, (sponsored by Teachers without Borders and Johns Hopkins). The 2012 “Education for All” policy report results indicated that Kerewan had a reading/literacy rate lower than any other part of the country. If I can do anything, I can adapt my work to meet the most distressed areas in The Gambia. I look forward to meeting the Akalo (village leader) and seeing how the schools are performing. This is fortuitous – Essa’s boss having come from the village and the course-work leading me to the area through an analysis of the statistics.

2013 March 11 – Handing Over & GambiaHELP in the News

March 11, 2013

Well, we did make the news last night!  Essa didn’t have electricity last night so he didn’t even see it. The piece didn’t use my name but called me Binta, my Gambian name. They also highlighted University District Rotary.  Fortunately we had made a banner with GambiaHELP on it that showed in the presentation.

Anyway, it was a good piece.  I guess I am so integrated with the community now that my American name doesn’t matter anymore. I plan to ask for a tape of the news segment which is about 4 minutes long.
handing over w banana treeAlso, at the handing over, Essa’s mother cut two of her banana trees down and had them stuck in the ground at the handing over site. As part of the program I had to help cut down the banana bunches with a member of women’s group and with my Toma, Binta Badjie.

It was a first for me and I asked Essa what it was all about.  He said it means that the relationship is “natural” for no other reason than love for one another, the purest form of a relationship. It made me feel good.

This is a picture of Kadysa and I and then the banana man who helped hold the tree.

A Toma is someone you are named after – it is a real honor and reflects the rearing, grace and all the qualities of typically the older person you represent – the name is given to you because f a relationship and those qualities that are transferred to you as representative of the Toma are for you to uphold and honor. It is a good way to socially control behavior.  Your shame is shame onto the Toma as well. To honor her, you honor yourself.

Below is a copy of the news presentation:

2013 March 8 – Career Day for Girls

Diary Friday, March 8, 2013
4-school aYesterday I had the pleasure of participating in a Career Day as part of a Rotary function at Scanaid Senior Secondary School in Brufut village.  There were children from three other Senior Secondary schools present – SOS Children’s Village, Brufut Upper Basic School and Kotu Senior Secondary.

To the left is the Scanaid Senior Secondary School Crest

The Career Day was announced at the Fajara Rotary Club meeting that I attended last Friday evening – held at the Senegambia Beach Hotel.

The Career Day event brought together:

  • Mama Africa, a women’s museum & art centre run by an African woman named Mrs. Isha Fofana, who was trained in Germany
  • Several senior secondary teachers
  • Rotarians from the Banjul and Fajara Clubs
  • French teachers & students from a program in The Gambia which offers French language training in Dakar, Senegal.

Core Career Day Resource persons included:

  • Accountants (Foday Sillah, Fajara Club Rotarian President)
  • Businessman represented by Rotarian Assistant District Governor for Gambia and member of  the Banjul Club named Mr. Joiner, a civil engineer
  • Fajara Club Rotarians
  • Managing Director at JooFoo Construction (Mr. Joof of Fajara Rotary)
  • Former Banker who now runs a beautician/salon skills training center (Mrs. Gaye)
  • GambiaHELP represented by me (Shelby C. Tarutis), a University District Rotarian and Director of Gambia Health Education Liaison Project, a non-profit organization working in international development in The Gambia.

4-children-bThe day started with school children gathering under canopies in the courtyard of Scanaid Senior Secondary School. Each school assembled under their own tent or under the huge trees. The Scanaid students are pictured to the right under the shade trees.

Starting at 11:00 AM, there was a line up of students presenting: a drama – the story line, do not settle for menial employment; a singer who sang for the hungry and brought many to tears; a young girl who delivered an extemporaneous speech about raising voices in Africa and promoting change; and, a poet who wrote a poem about the pen being mightier than the sword.

Messages were strong – help the continent rise above the challenges of poverty and war and dream, dream BIG. Photos from the event:



A Drama about unemployment and the message: Strive above menial positions.

A moving song  about ending hunger, helping others and rising above.

4-girl-e 4-girl-f

2013 March 5 – Tooth ache and someone’s unfinished project

Tuesday, March  5, 2013

It3-meds-a is my second day of treatment for an abscessed tooth. A call to my dentist and I found out what kind of antibiotic I needed. I text’d Essa and he went to Malick Chemists to locate the medicine.

Feeling better and not so tired.  Although, I am up late due to tossing and turning – now, 2:30 AM.  Tough trip, sick twice now.

Tomorrow I at 10:00 AM I will be at a senior secondary school to participate in Career Day.  Rotarians from the Fajara Club will be at desks – i.e. BANKER, ACCOUNTANT and students will come to talk to them. I am interested in hearing what the girls want to be when they grow up…to report on that later.

Today I saw a sight that illustrates the death of a project when someone misuses funds. A
multi-million dollar project to build four connected labs for students to learn chemistry and physics has only been partly constructed.


There are few funds left to do the major finishing of this project. It is so terribly tragic when mis-management, and outright stealing of project funds destroys the wonderful potential a project has.


3-lab-bI was disgusted but then not surprised to see this in The Gambia. Someone or a team did not put into place sufficient financial controls

2013 Feb 27 – Meeting with Fatau Saidy and Mariama Keita

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Mariama Keita, 8 years – Essau Primary School

Today I had the pleasure of meeting with Fatou Saidy and Mariama Keita.  Mariama is a young girl whose education is funded by the Zwinggi Family in California.   Mariama’s favorite subjects are English and mathematics. She is pictured here with her new Barbie.

As we waited for Essa Camara, GambiaHELP Coordinator, Mariama drew a picture for the Zwinggi family.  When asked to sign her picture, Mariama pulled a small, crumpled piece of white paper out of her school uniform pocket from which to copy her penciled name onto the drawing paper.  Her drawing consisted of many smaller drawings.  In asking what the drawing depicted she said, a tree, a man on the tree, a mango, food in a bowl, a basket, a knife, and a house. All these things are familiar to and important in the life of a young girl.

2-girl-b copyA Mariama smile that comes when asked to “chuckle”. Smiling in photos is not common in The Gambia – in photos, people often appear “straight faced”.


2-fatou-bFatou Saidy, sister of Lamin Darboe.  Lamin Darboe is one of GambiaHELP’s volunteers. She is a friend to Mariama’s mother, named Mariama Saidy.  Fatou brought Mariama to Kanifing today.



Essa Camara’s office at Gambia Printing and Publishing Corporation. (GPPC). My desk sits behind the blue chairs. The building has air conditioning – a step up from my location in San Cheba. In addition, the building has generator back-up which is marvelous.


My workspace at the Office at Kanifing where we met Fatou and Mariama.