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Finding Inspiration in the Gambia Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by TellUs, Jul 1, 2007
Culture , Human Rights , Peace & Conflict   Short Stories
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Finding Inspiration in the Gambia What does it mean to think globally, but act locally? Joel Andersson, a dedicated volunteer and fundraiser for UNICEF, does just that. Imagine the sense of gratification you might feel investing a few hours a week raising funds and awareness to help others in countries where many families survive on less than €1 a day. Now think of how it would feel to be chosen to travel as part of a committee to understand how your work actually impacts those in the cities and communities in one country.

Joel Andersson, an active Gothenburg UNICEF volunteer, was selected to travel to the Gambia from the 27th of April to the 3rd of May. Andersson, accompanied by five other Swedish volunteers and officers from the Stockholm UNICEF office, had the chance to explore the Gambia, visit villagers and townspeople throughout the country, learn how NGOs implement the projects that UNICEF sponsors, and experience the positive changes taking place in the Gambia.

UNICEF has, since WWII, worked specifically with children who are victims of poverty and hunger. Today UNICEF’s objectives are linked to the United Nation’s Millennium Goals, including gender equality, AIDS/HIV education and prevention, and protection from disease and exploitation.

In February 2007, UNICEF volunteers from throughout Sweden were invited to take part in a visit to the Gambia with staff members representing the Swedish National Committee from the Stockholm office. Andersson was one of the three chosen participants. The experience, he said, was “fantastic,” especially “to see that the money that we have collected can make such a difference.”

Andersson, 23, is currently a student of International Relations at the School of Global Studies, Peace and Development Research Institute in Gothenburg, and will continue his studies at Lund University where he studies Fire and Safety Engineering. He began volunteering at UNICEF as a junior high school student in Sundsvall, his hometown, when his teacher encouraged him to attend the ten-year anniversary conference of the Convention of the Child in Helsingor, Denmark. He and his friends became involved in the Sundsvall UNICEF group, and since then he has been involved for a couple of years as a volunteer. In October 2006 he initiated the Lund UNICEF volunteer and fundraising group for community members and students at Lund University with another student, and is currently volunteering in Gothenburg at the local level to raise money for international projects funded by UNICEF Sweden.

During the trip, the UNICEF group visited the capital city of Banjul, the city of Basse, and a few villages including Fatoto and Medina Koto. Each stop was a different experience. Outside of Basse, in the poorest and most distant part of the country, they met with representatives from the NGO, TOSTAN (meaning “breakthrough” in Wolof, one of the biggest languages in the Gambia). TOSTAN is a non-formal education program that educates and empowers women about democracy, civil rights, health, literacy, and micro-credit training. TOSTAN’s goal is to help communities improve their standard of living and bring about positive, sustainable development.

“The main reason that we visited this organisation’s program is because it has proven very successful in ending the practise of female genital cutting/mutilation [FGC], something that many organisations and programs have not been successful with,” said Andersson. “Instead of beginning with criticisms about FGC, the organisation takes a more general approach and is successful in its approach to eliminate it.” Records, in fact, show that FGC had decreased by 40% since 1997 in the villages in Senegal where the program began and has been implemented for some years.

The Swedish UNICEF group visited the Catholic Development Office (CaDO) in Basse that helps orphans and other vulnerable children (OVCs). Many of the children there are infected with HIV and/or have a parent that had or had died from AIDS. CaDO then finds homes for the orphans and does house visits to find more families in need of help. Once a month every child in the program comes to the facilities in Basse and plays, watches educational television programs and talks to a nurse and a social worker about their physical and social health, family situation and school. UNICEF Gambia sponsors this program with backpacks, uniforms, shoes, lunch money and schoolbooks so that every child can go to school. Andersson noted that one of the most memorable moments about the trip was giving the simple gift of a soccer ball to the children at the OVC in Basse and watching them play.

The group also visited The Faji Kunda Health Center outside of the capital, Banjul, which specialises in births. There, Andersson said, was one of the most inspiring people: “A nurse who put her soul into her work. She chose to stay in Gambia, while 26 of the 28 of her graduating classmates left to work in the United Kingdom.” The Faji Kunda Health Center consults pregnant women and gives information on family planning and STDs. If the woman is tested positive for HIV, they give her medication so that the virus won’t be transmitted to the child. “The work is very important, because then there’s a much better chance of eliminating HIV,” he added.

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