The girl guides of Canada has an international program where they support different countries at different times.
.They had been supporting the Gambia for quite a while and they wanted to end their support but they realize that without some help they would not succeed alone.
so I was asked by the Girl Guides of Canada to go over to The Gambia and work with a group there and see if I couldn’t help to make them self-sufficient.
it was an extremely interesting challenge and I really enjoyed my time there.
Computers a few years ago had “F” keys for shortcuts and although bough it was not in my original plan I wound up teaching computer skills.
So every night I studied the computer under the mosquito net in my bedroom ready for the next day's class. Particularly those darned “F” keys.
Oh my goodness I will never forget those F keys.
The compound had classrooms and above the classrooms a very basic dormitory. I decided that the dormitory would make a great little guest house. So we set about converting it.
we tie-dyed sheets and made curtains, tie-dyed sheets and made bed covers we tie-dyed sheets and made cushions! we did a lot of tie-dyes.
A large room on the ground floor we made into a meeting room.
We built a low stage and proper theatre “wings”.The local boy scout troop built us a nice wood podium and I went down to the port area where the fabric warehouses were
and bought them red fabric for theatre-style drapes. This all sounds very simple but it was not.
Needed a few nails- How many nails? A boy would ride his bike to a shack in town to purchase that exact number. Yes, nails were sold singly and if you bent one you had better hammer it straight!
Along with reading, writing, and basic maths, the school taught sewing. small animal care, cooking and food growing.
I thought they could have a small catering service and worked on a plan. I created a flyer with menus and I sent the information to my cousin in the UK who owned a big printing plant.
he printed hundreds of flyers for us and ship them back it was great and then the girls went out delivering them to the various businesses.
The Gambia has some nice beaches and a few hotels some restaurants and a small craft market. It was mostly Europeans that went to these hotels and they automatically decried that the beach should be a topless beach which created some interesting situations when we decided to have a commercial project on the beach.
Always looking for another way to add to their income I thought
tourists like T-shirts so let's sell T-shirts I signed a really cool logo and had them printed locally and then took the girls down to the beach to sell the T-shirts.’
So here were these lovely Muslim ladies in long robes and head coverings selling T-shirts to topless Europeans. it was hilarious! They would hold up the T-shirt so high it would cover their face so they wouldn’t have to look at the visions from these European ladies or they would turn their head so far you couldn’t hear what they were saying!
Did we sell T-shirts? yes! was it fun for the girls? absolutely not but they were good sports and because Miss Barbara was with them they went along with it.
The girls were very good at sewing so I decided we should have a little boutique on the compound for tour buses to come to. A big cardboard box was covered in fabric to make a counter and broom handles strung from the ceiling-made clothes racks. I painted flowers around the door and then I contacted the local tour company and invited them over. The Girl Guide movement is very strong in The Gambia and every Friday the leaders came to meet and learn. Many came by River Taxi A trip which would take almost all day so they would stay overnight in the little guest house and go back to the village by river taxi the next day.
As a special event for these wonderful women, I would teach them different crafts that they could take back to the troop in their village.
Very simple crafts but to them, they were special and different. We also made these items to sell in The craft store.
Macrame was popular and so was rag braiding Small rugs for outside the door because all the streets were just red mud compressed mud which was very dusty. and would you believe it- toilet seat covers -
we made bathroom sets- seat covers and little mats and they were hugely popular. It was also a good way to use up old rags. Of course, we couldn’t use any new material-that was all used for sewing.
The ladies were great basket makers and some would go to the little tourist market to sell them BUT they were all very plain. In craft class I taught them to decorate the baskets with wool and ribbon and raffia, using basic embroidery stitches.
Just before I left I paid the last visit to the little craft market and low-and-behold every straw seller had items decorated with anything they could find. Too soon it came time for me to leave and the wonderful teachers and commissioners of the Girl Guides decided to have a party for me right in front of the store. We had a wonderful musical event, we had singing and chanting, drummers and dancing, we had snacks and we had fruit juices to drink.
It was a great evening but over the door of the little boutique there was a cloth and I kept looking at that cloth and wondering “why is that there”! Towards the end of the evening, an announcement was made and with dramatic force, the cloth was pulled down and there were the words Barbara‘s Boutique. What a great tribute.
There is a sequel to this story. When I got home and analyzed everything that we had done I realized that without a lot of supplies and equipment they would never be self-sufficient so I formulated a plan to collect stuff to ship out there.
A kind friend let me part of his warehouse and we assembled so many things I actually sent an 80-foot container out to them. It had bicycles, computers, desks, wheelchairs, cloth, yarn, sewing machines, bikes. It had portable typewriters which were very important because with a typewriter a girl could sit on the curb of the street in the center of town and she could actually make living typing letters, writing to governments, and making applications whatever so typewriters were very important. The Toronto Star newspaper featured me in an article which I laminated and took with me to yard sales resulting in many great donations including rolls of chicken wire! I made presentations at service clubs and got donations to buy tires and spare parts for their van.
One day a chef friend called me and said we have closed our restaurant In Yorkdale mall and you could have anything you want from the kitchen but you must come and get it today.’
So my dear daughter Amanda, God bless her, quickly rented a big UHaul van, drove it up to Yorkdale, loaded the van with everything she could get including cabinets on wheels and pans and pots and trays. You name it she got it! She then drove the van into the underground parking garage of Arcadia where I lived and proceeded to wash it all down with detergent and cold water from the garden hose.
After that, she loaded it all back in the van and took it to the warehouse, and unloaded it. It was an amazing achievement for her to do that and we were very grateful for her help and the wonderful donation which certainly would help a lot with the catering department I had set up while I was in The Gambia. With donations, we bought an 80ft container and got it into the warehouse.
A loading party was a big event with many of my artist friends and Amanda in charge we got the container loaded. The last items Amanda put in-the first things to be seen when the back door was opened - was her hardhat and a big Canadian flag.
So we had a loaded container and no means of raising funds to get it to the Gambia. but sometimes one is lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time I had always been a very active member of the Variety Club, big children’s charity, and Chief Barker (the president of the variety club of tent 1028-Toronto) was the father of a close girlfriend. It is a tradition that when chief Barker leaves he’s permitted to spend $40 or $50,000 of variety club money on supporting any children’s charity he chooses. So thank the gods he chose us and our container got shipped to the Girl Guides of The Gambia. We received letters and photos of its arrival which was a very big event and changed a lot of lives there.