Me on the Coast near Bakau

2002 - A Year in Review

2002 Country of Living: The Gambia (West Africa)

This has been a very challenging year for me. I began the year with my mother as we visited Europe for a bit of a holiday at Christmas and ended up in London during the New Year (see my journal of this trip here). This was my last trip before I left for my VSO placement on January 25th.


I am currently volunteering through the VSO organisation to work for the Department of State for Health and Social Welfare (in the Directorate of Planning and Information) in Banjul, The Gambia which is in West Africa, surrounded by Senegal. I work in the Planning group and basically help with anything that has anything to do with computers including training, purchase, system design, etc. A lot of what I do has to do with people: Talking to them about their computer problems, working on training curriculum, assisting in the design of systems, etc.

The work ethic here is somewhat different than I have been used to. Here the priority is NOT work but rather family and relationships so it is not unusual to have people leaving the office at any time of the day for unspecified periods.

There are a number of other volunteers in the country working in many different roles and I we tend to be quite close, always going out for dinner or having a party somewhere. In many ways, this year has been the most social year of my life.

VSO related activities also keep me busy with my assisting the office in various functions including the Small Projects Fund (SPF). SPF is a small grants scheme that local groups can apply to for funding of small projects. It is administered by the staff of the VSO office as well as volunteers who visit the various groups to complete visit forms and evaluation of projects. The volunteers have control over the money and what gets funded so it is a very “hands on” experience. I have been assigned a number of projects and I am also helping with the administration side of things as well.

Please see the journal I created when I first arrived here and the follow-up a few months later here.


Despite my being posted as a volunteer I have also had time to get out and do a bit of travelling. Here are just a few of the places I have visited while here:

  • Senegal - Dakar and St. Louis - I visited Senegal in May for a week. We used the excuse of visiting the St. Louis Jazz Festival held during that time to go. The highlight of my trip was staying on Goreé, a small island just off the coast of Dakar. A wonderful, quiet, place. See the journal of my visit here.
  • Tendaba (The Gambia) - I first visited this camp for a workshop related to my job but since then I have visited about 4 or 5 times (using every excuse I can get). The camp is located about 3 hours from where I live and the roads going there are very bad but it is a great place right on the river with comfortable rooms, a swimming pool, great food, and lots of birds to look at. Yes, not a lot to do, but that is precisely the point!
  • Western Gambia - I have visited many places along the coast – to be expected since that is the area I live in. I have been as far south as Kartung which is right on the southern border with Cassamance (Senegal).
  • Up-Country (The Gambia) - The Gambia is a long skinny country running to the north and south of the River Gambia. Many volunteers spend their time here only quite close to their assigned placement area but I am lucky enough to be posted in a position that allows me to travel around the country. So far I have visited the six divisions in the country twice on work related activities though finding time to visit with volunteers and others in the various places.
  • London (UK)/Toronto (Canada)/Winnipeg (Canada)/Banff (Canada) - At the end of the year I returned to the UK and stayed with a friend near London for a week then visited family in Toronto for a few days before spending Christmas with my immediate family in Winnipeg. After Christmas my mother and I drove across the prairie provinces to go skiing in Banff for three days (over New Years) before returning to Winnipeg for a final few days in Canada. I then returned to London and stayed there for a few days before finally returning to The Gambia.

Me in Gambian Dress - Skiing???

Next Year

This is the last year of my two-year placement though it looks likely that I may be staying more than two years. I am hoping that a lot of the projects I have been working on will be completed or in such a state to be sustainable after I leave.

Mother is visiting at the end of February for a few weeks so I will look forward to showing her around the country and perhaps even a trip to Senegal.

Visit here for my review of 2001.