Volume 19 Number 3
Adopt a Village
01 June 2006
'Because of the state of poverty in which they live, their focus is naturally on their next meal. We have supported their thinking so that their focus can be within their future, not just within their present'.
IMAGINE YOURSELF in a small village in the Gambia where the sun shines over a landscape of big trees and colourful birds. The river Gambia, which is the biggest in Africa, meanders serenely around the village, producing a soft breeze. Imagine that although the river has a great variety of fish you are hungry. You feel thirsty but clean drinking water is out of reach. This sounds unlikely, but it is reality for the people living in Kossomer, a village located only 200 miles from Gambiaâ€™s capital, Banjul.
After spending her holidays in Gambia in 2003, Judy Browne, a consultant from Leeds, came back to the UK with the whole village in her heart. She told the story to Denzil Nurse, whom she had met while working in community training development. They started thinking of possible solutions. Nurse decided to visit Kossomer with Browne. â€˜We felt moved to see a village could be so poor,â€™ he says. â€˜There is no electricity, no telephone, no running water. While technology advances more and more in the world, this village doesnâ€™t have the basic tools of survival.â€™
Originally from Barbados, Nurse came to live in the UK more than 30 years ago. He worked as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital for 19 years and then he started helping people set up small organisations. He realised he could use his skills to help the village. â€˜Because of the state of poverty in which they live, their focus is naturally on their next meal. We have supported their thinking so that their focus can be within their future, not just within their present,â€™ he says.
On this first visit they took with them sewing machines, books and toys. Later, they decided to adopt the village and they created the Beryl Browne Foundation, in memory of Browneâ€™s great-grandmother. Their aim was to create self-sufficiency within the village. â€˜I pledged to the people in Kossomer that I would make the village sustainable,â€™ says Nurse.
His best tool working in community development training is imagination. When he visited Kossomer, several ideas started boiling in his head. â€˜There were four projects that seemed possible to develop: fishing, candle-making, soap-making and bread-making,â€™ he says. Following the villageâ€™s protocol, Browne and Nurse approached the Alkali, or village chief, who was enthusiastic about what they proposed.
On a second trip to Gambia, nets and bicycles were donated so that villagers could sell the fish to other villages. â€˜They could not exploit the river simply because they could not afford to buy the basic tools to fish,â€™ he says. They had the knowledge to build boats, but they did not have money to buy the wood from another village. So, funds were raised for the materials.
Another project consisted of restoring an oven that had been in ruins for 30 years. The elderly people who had used it to make bread taught this underestimated skill to the new generation. Since then they have been selling it to other villages. â€˜The idea is to let other villages see Kossomerâ€™s process of transformation in order to do the same,â€™ says Nurse.
The Foundation has supported 2,000 people with fresh clean drinking water for at least a year. It has also helped to repair the school libraryâ€™s roof. A donkey has joined the project too, helping the school kids to learn that agriculture need not be all hard work.
Nurseâ€™s garage is currently full of clothes, shoes and all sorts of items that he will send to Kossomer. â€˜Wherever I go I talk about this project. People are very supportive and they want to help,â€™ he says.
Future plans include providing the equipment to irrigate the land, so that they can grow potatoes, and to generate electricity for the village. There is no doubt that Kossomer will be very different in a couple of years.
Andrea Cabrera Luna