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Gambian Friend Recalls Impact of Peace Corp Worker 40 Years Later

Dec 14 – Dec 27, 2023
cham and sevier

wayne with cham

Well before and during my 2019 stay at the Star Lodge (formerly Ya Fatou’s Guesthouse) in Farafenni, The Gambia my friend Ebrima Cham would repeatedly tell me stories about Peace Corp volunteer Paul Sevier impacting his life. Finally, I meet the now happily retired Sevier over the phone and he recalled after more than 40 years since leaving Farafenni, “Ebrima used to hang out by my house.”.

Sevier volunteered in the Peace Corp between 1976 and 1979. While his official focus was business consulting, encouraging schooling was another passion. “Education teaches one to think. It can be a key to being more successful,” admonished the graduate of the International Management at American Graduate School of International Management program.
After repeated attempts to connect him, it was when he used the phrase you have “Ten thousand devils in your head,” did the American respond. Sevier tells me he never understood what Cham meant when using that phrase.
“If they give you money, that can take it from you. However, education will stay with you for the rest of your life,” a now adult Cham remembers. “Without Paul, I would have not finished high school,” added Cham.

During my 2019 Tobaski visit with the Cham family to their home village, Kani Kunda, which is not far from Farafenni, I witnessed the result of Sevier’s influence. His first child, Kotou, completed her post-secondary education at the Management Development Institution, while her younger sister Ndey is working on her plans to study medicine in Canada.

While Cham strongly supports his children’s education, when asked about the younger boys, he said, “Hold on Young, let me ask the mother.”  Ken, now 9 and Lamin, 4, are still in private school, which is common for The Gambia.

“Paul was also the first person to take me out of The Gambia,” says Cham. They went to nearby Dakar, Senegal. Today, Cham travels much of of the world representing The Gambia’s agricultural interest, including food security.

Sevier also left behind a legacy of helping to modernize a fishing cooperative in Farafenni, a town about 2 and half driving hours from Banjul, the capital city. Cham recalls his helping to create a welding cooperative. The weldermen (welders) no longer have the cooperative, but many of their children learned from their parents and carry on the trade.

After subsequently spending 45 years working in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, Sevier looks back at The Gambia having had personally known The Gambia’s first president, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara. His former Gambian Peace Corp counterpart, Isatou Njie, became Vice President. He also met his wife, fellow Peace Corp worker Jennifer, on Africa’s Smiling Coast.

Cham reconnected with the now happily retired Sevier over Facebook. After repeated attempts to connect with him, it was when he used the phrase you have “Ten thousand devils in your head,” did the American respond. Sevier tells me he never understood what Cham meant when using that phrase. When asked 40 years later, Cham recalls that Sevier sometimes could be “different or not as patient as usual,” but when “they” (the devils} go away “he was one of the best guys.”

It was good to finally meet by phone the peace corps worker who has had such an impact on my friend’s life. While we couldn’t agree on why The Gambia is an unusually safe and conflict free country, we easily agreed to have lunch at the Gambian restaurant, Mansa Kunda (House of the King in Mandinka) Restaurant in Takoma Park, MD.
Also Read: Tim Campbell, Passionate American in Africa

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