The Gambia is a wonderful, warm and welcoming country that is fast becoming a top holiday destination. With beautiful beaches and outstanding wildlife, it’s easy to see why tourists return year after year. But there’s another side to The Gambia that not all of its visitors see – extreme poverty.
Many children grow up hungry in The Gambia
The Gambia is one of the smallest and poorest countries in Africa. Many children grow up hungry and malnourished, and their families can’t afford to send them to school.
This kind of unseen suffering is why I have a love-hate relationship with travelling. While I can’t get enough of finding out about different cultures, customs and traditions, it is impossible for me to gloss over the facts.
Facts like this one: In The Gambia about fifty percent of Gambians live on less than £1 a day.
Ethical travelling can help the economy
But that doesn’t mean that tourism is bad – ultimately it’s helping the economy, which in turn will help the people and the whole infrastructure of the country. The way I get round my internal conflict is by making sure that I support the local economy when I travel.
As far as I’m concerned it’s all part of why I want to explore the world anyway. So, I eat in local places, buy stuff which is clearly not imported and suss out the tipping system where I’m staying so that my money benefits those who need it most.
But tourism alone is not enough to help Gambian people escape poverty. Especially when, shockingly, 49% of adults who live there can’t read or write and 36% of girls are married by their 18th birthday.
We're trying to combat these worrying trends through our child sponsorship programme. Child sponsorship doesn't just support an individual child, it also helps their whole community.
Helping whole communities lift themselves out of poverty
We spoke to eight year old Aja, from a village in the district of Niamina West, at a time when her community desperately needed help to produce food. She told us about her beloved granny, who could remember better times:
“She tells me stories about her youth and how things have changed. She says that when she was young, food was plentiful in the village and they had more than they needed from one harvest to another.
“My parents, like many others, work very hard, but there isn't enough food to last our family until the next harvest. I didn't go to school frequently before, because my parents couldn't afford to pay for my education and provide enough food for our family.
This changed when Aja was sponsored by one of our supporters. Now, thanks to their support, she can proudly say:
“For the last two seasons we have grown enough groundnuts and food crops for our family. I now go to school regularly and have enough to eat.”
This Christmas, we're looking for people to help children like Aja, who live in some of the poorest countries in the world. The gift of sponsorship can mean so much more than having enough to eat, it can mean an education and a chance for a whole community to break the cycle of poverty.