Discussions about migrations from Africa to Europe are not an academic exercise for the Baobab Youth Development Association’s (BYDA)
. Migrations have put a bumper in their path toward developing Nema Kunku, their village south of Banjul, the capital of The Gambia.
“About 75 percent of our original members are on ‘travel’,” says BYDA president Buba Camara. “Since our carpenter left the country, we still have not been able to find a new one,” continued the father of five, who is also responsible for is mother’s care.
Even the banner that the Port Of Harlem Gambian Education Partnership (POHGEP)
provided them is no longer accurate. Two of the three contact numbers on the banner belonged to members who have migrated or are on “travel.”
Some of the former members have “traveled” to Germany, Dhubai, and Holland. Some have taken the legal route; others may have taken the “backway.”
While the lost is a muscle and brain drain, some members such as Alieu Jallow, who migrated to Holland, has arranged for a Holland group, Geven Voor Gambia
, to donate bed and supplies to hospitals including Bundung Hospital, which serves the village, via BYDA.
“We are very happy to work with Geven Voor Gambia,” Camara says. “They have helped three hospitals in the Gambia with supplies and other goods; sometimes they give us second hand clothes and books for the schools. So, they do great things for our organization,” he continued.
Though the hospital supplies are very critical for the ten year old organization, Camera says the group’s most important project is the 16-year-old scholarship program they have administered with the POHGEP for the past five years. Generally, the funds support students who otherwise would not go to school.
“Education is the key,” he says. He continued, “Me and Demba (Demba Bah, education committee head) have even used our own money to sponsor some students.”
While the scholarship program is important to the group’s overall mission, their most visible projects have been the building of foot bridges and a bridge that allows cars to use the dirt roads during the debilitating rainy season.
They started building bridges after “one lady was about to have her baby, it was raining, she called me at 2am to go to the hospital, but we could not use the flooded road. So, we took the long route and the lady had the baby in my car,” recalled Camara. The long way to the hospital takes about an hour. With the bridge, the hospital is only 10 minutes away.
BYDA has had many community infrastructure development projects including the upgrading of the local mosque and a bakery project where they would have bread baked and they would deliver the bread to the less fortunate during Ramadan.
They sell most of the soap locally, but it is also available in Metro Washington at Nisey’s Boutique in Mt. Rainier, MD; Alexandria Black History Museum in Alexandria, VA; Glenmont Beauty Supply in Silver Spring, MD; and Newstyles Beauty Supply also in Silver Spring, MD.
While Camara focuses on community development projects, BYDA is one of the few groups POHGEP works with that has an array of very active staff members including Jabel Ceesey and Lamin Jallow, who handle the small 218 book library. Oumie Jallow heads the 30-member BYDA Women’s group, which is producing Gambia River soap. Awa Bah serves as Vice President.
“Our biggest failure was the electric project,” says the now 43-year-old Camara. POHGEP funded the project where they would recharge cell phones and car batteries. Camara reasoned, “Before we implemented the project, only a few people had electricity in their compounds then more people began getting it, but we had entered the business already.”
It took them four years to ponder their situation, but once they sold the equipment, they gave birth to the soap business. They sell most of the soap locally, but it is also available in Metro Washington at Nisey’s Boutique in Mt. Rainier, MD; Alexandria Black History Museum in Alexandria, VA; Glenmont Beauty Supply in Silver Spring, MD; and Newstyles Beauty Supply also in Silver Spring, MD.
For the Port of Banjul forklift operator, life is a challenge. Like many working Americans, he and his wife Fatoumatta generally live paycheck to paycheck. “It ain’t easy,” he says.
However, it’s been nine years since he first went to a neighboring community’s organization and learned that by pulling together they were able to get lower bread prices and a community water tap. Now that he has helped pull his community together, he is most proud of the sacrifices they have made for the common good.
“We have saved many lives by building the bridge,” he says. With pride, he continued. “When we have a project, we call the people, they come out, even non-members, no one pays them, and we do the job.”
Note: The Port Of Harlem Gambian Education Partnership (POHGEP) provides assistance to the Buba's Baobab Youth Development Association. POHGEP is 501-c charity.