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First person: Hatching a plan for success in rural Gambia

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Guidom Sabally’s high school education was cut short because his family could no longer afford school fees. For many years, he struggled to find work as an unskilled labourer.

Now in his 40s, Mr Sabally was able to take up the opportunity of free technical training, provided by a UN-led training programme, in 2018; having completed the course, he found work as an engineer, supervising the construction of culverts – raised roads that allow his community to cross land that is inundated by floods, a consequence of climate change that is affecting many parts of the country.

He explained to UN News that, with the money he has saved, he has been able to branch out, and become a successful poultry farmer.

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“I live in my family compound in Brikamaba village, where I was born, in the Central River Region of Gambia. There are 14 of us, my brothers and sisters, their children, and my father. Life is difficult here. There aren’t enough jobs and, when there is work, it is usually only available for a short period of time. So, people here find it hard to feed their families,” he said.

Sabally said when he dropped out of high school, he was sad because he knew that, without education, it would be very hard for him to learn the skills he would need to become a professional and advance in life.

“For many years it was difficult for me to find work,” he stated.

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Breaking ground on a new career

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In 2018, Sabally added, “a friend of mine heard a radio advertisement about a free technical training course, run by the UN, that would provide me with construction skills. He told me about it, and I applied”.

“It wasn’t difficult for me to go back to school, even though I was 38 at the time. The teachers knew exactly how to support me. I learned many useful skills, including masonry, carpentry, and painting and decorating. At the same time, I was also able to earn money by going to work on a UN project to build road culverts. At first, I was employed as a labourer, getting gravel, moving rocks, doing anything that was needed,” he said.

He added: “After I graduated, I was able to work on the next culvert project as a trained engineer, and today I supervise a team of 50 workers.”

‘The women can do anything the men do’

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“We have 25 men and 25 women, because gender equality is an important part of the project. When it started, people in the community would say that women cannot do this job but, today, they are seeing the benefits. As well as the money they provide, women can now work with their husbands to improve their own homes, contribute to the decision-making process, planning, and construction,” he added.

Sabally said the women “can do anything the men do, from fixing steel reinforcements to masonry. We have to give them opportunities to show what they are capable of”.

Adapting to the changing climat

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He said building culverts is very important, because of the changing climate.

“The rains in The Gambia have become more and more extreme and have caused the roads to erode. These culverts will allow the community to cross flooded areas during the rainy season. This will make a big difference. Children will be able to get to school, we will be able to access health care, and businesses will be able to trade. It will make everything easier because now, when there are heavy rains, everyone has to take a much longer route to cross the water. These higher roads will change our lives,” he noted.

‘This belly is never full!’

“The culvert-building projects are heavy jobs, and I’m not getting any younger! Also, they will be phased out soon, so it’s important to learn about entrepreneurship and business, so that you save some of the money you earn. My grandfather used to say ‘this belly is never full’; you always have to think about how you will get your next meal.

“I decided to invest my earnings in starting a poultry farm, and it’s working well for me. I started with 50 chicks and, with the money I made from selling eggs and chickens, I was able to buy 100. It’s going well. I don’t even have to go to the market; people come to me, and I sell very easily. I’m planning to rebuild the farm, and add more lights, so that I can house more chickens. I would like to have around 600, and employ some of the unemployed young people from my community.

“I also want to pass on the skills I have learned, so that they can start their own businesses. I can’t do it all on my own! More people need to understand the importance of saving and investing. Because, even when you have millions, if you spend millions, you will end up with nothing. I’m very happy that I was able to get the skills to work on the culvert project, because I am now a professional mason, and a successful poultry farmer. I have been able to fund more technical training, and earn an advanced level diploma, and put my kids through school. My life is far better than it was before,” he stated.

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