Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Update of my time in The Gambia (draft)

So, yes, I've been slacking off with keeping this blog updated--my apologies. A lot has happened in the last year. In January 2011, I went off to The Gambia as a US Peace Corps Agroforestry Volunteer and was based in Dankunku, Central River Region-South. I have wanted to be a Peace Corps Volunteer ever since freshman year of high-school, 13 years ago, and was lucky to have been given this opportunity to help communities improve their lives.

Much of my time was spent with my counterpart Jaye Jallow, a ethnic Fula coos farmer and cowhand. He approached one day during my first few weeks at my permanent site and said, "Give me your ideas. I want to take care of my land." We started on a new tree lot that day.

I honestly thought that Peace Corps would be a cake walk. Far from it. It was probably the most challenging work environment that I've ever been in. I went in with the mindset that I was going to be a development superstar and that everyone would be excited and eager to work with me. I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry after holding a village meeting and hearing that no one knew why I was there. Dreaming big, but having realistic goals is extremely important.

Soon after I arrived and began planting trees, locals understood that I was there to help them with agroforestry production. But many villagers expected that I would give them physical tree seedlings or vegetable seeds instead of showing them new improved agroforestry and gardening techniques. I got a lot of demands for seedlings, as well. "Give someone a fish, he or she eats for a day. Teach someone how to fish..." you get the idea.

But I was adamant about not acting like a tree bank, as doing so would not contributing to building local capacity in planting and maintain trees after I left. I wanted to promote the development principle that you get what you put in and looked for the most motivated counterparts. Jaye, Abdul Jallow, and a handful of others were seriously interested in gaining new skills for themselves, and I was happy working with them to plant trees to improve food security and protect the land.

Working with Jaye and other motivated locals was extremely rewarding. A typical day would involve being in the fields for a good chunk of the time, double digging beds to plant mangoes, collecting tree seeds in the wild, planting beans and short-term crops, watering plants, making tree guards, etc.

In August, my service was unfortunately interrupted due to security concerns (a threat outside my control made it unsafe for me to continue service), but I did manage to accomplish the following things before I left:

• Setting up 12 household cashew and mango tree nurseries, five moringa live fences, and one model multipurpose tree nursery and wood lot in four villages; introduced intercropping and soil fertility improvement methods; trained locals on proper tree nursery management techniques for enhanced food security and income generation



• Demarcating beds for the first dry-season garden in Dankunku Village proper, which now provides an additional source of nutrition and income for 30 local women and their families



• Securing a Water Charity grant to repair three Mark II hand-pumps in Fula Kunda and Brikama Lefaya Villages, improving access to clean water for 550 women, children, and men



• Equipping households with donated solar flashlights to better enable women and girls to cook and read at night. There is no electricity provision in rural Gambia, with only a handful of homes being able to afford solar lighting