“Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for the day. Teach him how to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” Chinese proverb

After visiting  the girl I sponsor in The Gambia, we set off to visit Lamin’s family who live just up the road, in a village on the outskirts of the large town of Brikama.

Lamin, was the headmaster of the school my sponsored child was going to the first time I visited The Gambia back in 2005. Even after she left to go to a school for older children, I carried on visiting this school and with some friends organised fund-raising events for the school and its pupils. This was done through a community group we formed called Nyodema. It was actually Lamin’s idea to call it this and it means ‘Helping each other’ in Mandinka the predominant tribe in Jeddah.

Sad news

Lamin’s dedication to the school, which he founded, has always impressed me, as did all the teachers. Recently the government took over the school and replaced both Lamin and all the existing teachers with new teachers who are better qualified. While I knew this might be better for the community in the long run, I felt terrible for Lamin and the teachers that had lost their jobs. They were all dedicated, hard-working people. Lamin was devastated.

Rather than give money to Lamin, that would soon be spent and gone, we wanted to think of a way that would really help him and his family in the long-term but we really weren’t sure how to go about this.

Lamin's family

Binta, Lamin’s wife with two of their three children

Lamin was away when I recently visited The Gambia but I still went to see his wife, Binta, and their three young children, to see how they were managing. When we arrived it was wonderful to be greeted by numerous female relatives and their children. In particular, I was delighted when I realised that the twins (Lamin’s nieces) that I had first seen on a previous visit when they were just a month old, were the two little girls that were now grinning for my camera! So many young children in Africa never see their fifth birthday.


Twin 1_tonemappedLamin had been out of work for a few months now. Although he had members of his family nearby and the support and respect of the community, I knew that this is a very poor neighbourhood and it can’t have been easy. Binta looked so thin. I was worried about her and I asked her how they had been coping (bearing in mind that there’s no social service to fall back on in times of need). She explained how they collected firewood or made a local type of soap to sell, both jobs being long and laborious for little return.

The Gambian Community Stoves Initiative

When I visited Lamin’s family I took with me a gift of a new stove from the Community Stove Initiative. This is a project developed by Dick Sisman on behalf of The Gambia Experience. Dick is one of the travel industries main advisors on sustainable tourism. A new design of stove has been developed the benefits of which include:

  • They use half the amount of charcoal that a standard stove uses
  • Better still they can be run using alternative fuel such as briquettes made from peanut shells, a readily   available waste product from the Gambian peanut industry. These are much cleaner and cheaper than traditional fuels
  • They can be used indoors (especially useful) in the rainy season and produce less smoke thereby reducing respiratory and bronchial problems
  • Through the use of alternative fuels such as the briquettes, deforestation, which is a big problem in The Gambia, is also reduced

Read more about Dick’s development of the project here.

Community stoves

Fanna, from the Community Stove Initiative demonstrates the best way to light the stove

As with my sponsored child’s family, when I arrived at Lamin’s compound I had a large sack of rice and one of these new stoves to give Binta. These have all been donated by Nyodema.

Three generations checking out the new stove design

Three generations checking out the new stove design

Community stoves #blogGambia

Fanna, the Community Stove Initiative’s representative that had come with us, explained to Binta how to use the stove. We both noticed that all the ladies and even some of the children, were really interested and eagerly listened to all the advantages of this new design.

Like a jigsaw the pieces of the puzzle slot together

Currently as there are only these two stoves in the village no one will visit selling the briquettes that really make the stoves the most economical and eco-friendly, however, if there were more people wanting to buy the briquettes then someone from the village could become the agent to sell the briquettes, making themselves a small income.

Fanna explained that if we raise enough money for just 10 more stoves to donate to families in Jeddah, Lamin’s family, can become the agents for selling the briquettes. The stoves, with an initial supply of briquettes, cost just £20 each. This was exactly the kind of thing my friends and I had been trying to think of.

While I knew that giving Lamin’s family one of these new stoves would help his family save a little bit of money it had never crossed my mind that this would lead to a way to help the family in a much more long-term and sustainable manner.

Since my return to England Lamin has emailed me to let me know that his wife is really pleased with the new stove. Not only does it save the family money, it also saves Binta time and her baby is not bothered by the smoke that used to make him cry and cough until Lamin or one of the other children took him away. Lisa’s mum, also called Binta, has told Lamin that she is equally delighted with her new stove.

Nyodema is now raising funds to buy more stoves to help other families in Jeddah. This will also enable Lamin’s family to become the agents selling the briquettes there. We already have enough money to buy 4 more stoves. I can’t tell you how delighted I am about this. I’m grinning from ear to ear like a Cheshire Cat just thinking about it!

Find out how many more stoves we were able to buy when I returned to The Gambia a couple of months later in my post The Community Stove Initiative.



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