Building Solar Food Dehydrators in The Gambia by Whitney Ceeesay

by tuftsigl
Jan 13

Whitney Ceesay, a student in Tufts REAL (Resumed Education for Adult Learning) program, recently traveled to The Gambia to continue work on her solar dehydrating project, empowering women to increase food security in Tanjay, The Gambia.  Whitney’s project was supported with an EMPOWER Scholarship from the IGL.

We were unable to build my proof of concept becauseI would have lost training time due to my uncertainty of the food safety of the materials. Over these four weeks I have identified a builder familiar with solar chambers/drying and food safe materials so I will return in May after graduation to continue with that step. However, in the meantime we forged forward, restoring a dilapidated solar tunnel dryer by partnering with the Swiss NGO that made it several years ago--Solar Association Tiloo. After restoring it to new condition and replacing the solar panel we went ahead and trained four women from Tanjay villlage on drying coconut, banana, and papaya. They were very motivated by their involvement in the process and inspired with ideas for their future businesses. We also trained on business, storage, marketing, and different uses for different dried goods. The women expressed interest in the actual building of the unit, which was music to my ears obviously, so I am very eager to build with them and two other already trained villages, especially now that they will understand what the use of what they are building will be.

Upon completion of the training, they will receive the dryer in their village and be using it their-first with bananas,papaya, and coconut, then gradually increasing their variety as the seasons change and they become more familiar with the process. A food drying certified volunteer from Women's Initiative The Gambia will be following up with them monthly and we will be skyping about problems, solutions, and successes as we go towards the May training. I plan to spend two months in May so we can build, dry, and also introduce solar cookers for a way to increase their capacity of generating income in a way that is locally desirable, such as mango cakes or banana bread, for example, so they are not mostly dependent on the tourist market.

After training was completed, I spent some time in Njau (where the water project, mother's house, library, skills center, etc etc are) and we were able to sponsor 18 orphaned children this year with uniforms, bags, shoes, notebooks, writing materials, and solar lanterns that I received from THRIVE solar lanterns. The next day we hosted 50 teenage girls for a Days for Girls program where WIG is teaching girls how to respect themselves, protect themselves, and take care of themselves as confident young women. There are a lot of pressures for young marriages, taboos about menstruation, early pregnancies, and other issues that we are all dealing with globally so we are trying to educate and empower them to see the big picture and make decisions accordingly because often these conversations are not happening at home. We are working with the Ministry of Education, the Chief, the Alkalo, and the rest of the council to start with 50, but introduce the program into the curriculum at the schools in Njau and Panchang village (to start).

We are writing a proposal to Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) under the advice of our National Entity, Lamin Jatta, to gain funding to start a business opportunity in partnership with THRIVE solar lanterns. We  would be training and employing local Gambian to assemble the lanterns for sale within the villages they are being produced! This is a really exciting opportunity because it is job creation, but it is also introducing a very important product into the lives of people who are spending more than what they have on candles and batteries for light, not to mention candles are a huge source of injury to small children and house fires here. This is a great partnership because you buy the kits outright at a fixed rate of about $1.25 and then assemble them (even in your own home because no equipment is needed) and sell at a price that is fair market value so there is a potential for good profits and savings opportunities.