My Parting Reflections of The Gambia by Whitney Ceesay

by tuftsigl
Feb 05

This visit to The Gambia taught me a lot about opening up to, and even expecting, constant adaptation of plans. I was unable to build the proof of concept food dehydrator that I was trying to build due to the complexity of logistics and the lack of internet to research materials for food safety. I proceeded with the food dehydrating training with the help of Isatou Ceesay, Director of the partnering NGO, Women’s Initiative The Gambia (WIG), and certified food systems trainer, Jaw Ceesay. I decided to refurbish an out-of-commission solar tunnel dryer with the help of Solar Association Tiloo, a Swiss NGO in The Gambia, then hold a nearly week long program for the women of Tanjay village.

I had spent two weeks focusing, and worrying, about the piece that seemed to be falling apart until I stopped to appreciate what had come together. On January 1, the day after this realization, Isatou and I received an email stating that a proposal that I had written to Engineers Without Borders USA (during my visit last summer) for a water project in Njau village, had been adopted by Ohio State University and they were expecting to come to Njau this April to begin. This was a turning point that forced me to finally change my interpretation of how I define what success versus failure is--this visit was a success on so many levels.

With the mentorship and example of Isatou, I have learned that working on the ground means being ready to navigate differently than any way you “studied,” or thought you knew, on “this side of the pond.” I was able to identify local materials (determined to be food safe once I returned home), identify a builder, determine a solar powered backup system would be necessary, and complete fruit preservation training. Focusing solely on the training piece for the women this visit ended up making far more sense, even though it seemed like a “backup plan” at first. Now, the women’s knowledge of the process and outcomes will be helpful to their understanding of what exactly we are building when I return in May to construct the proof of concept solar dehydrators with them.

I am in contact with Isatou weekly and we are planning a two month training program from May-July to accompany the proof of concept and additional solar cooking. According to the most recent update last week, the women were enjoying their tunnel dehydrator and using it to make dried fruit snacks for their children as they continue to practice with the support of Women’s Initiative The Gambia (WIG) while I am here, working hard to survive my final semester at Tufts before graduation. I am eager to return to hear about their experiences, see their progress, and continue moving forward.