In the heart of the popular town of Abuko, a not-for-profit organisation – Daughters of Africa (DOAF)- is rolling out life-changing personal and professional development programmes to assist young Gambians to break through the glass ceiling and attain self-actualisation.
Under its Daigo project, DOAF pooled Gambian students with students from the University of West England to undergo rigorous programmes such as developing and modeling good leadership and fostering opportunities for further education to inspiring new enterprises in the country.
“We want to have three or four centres like this in the country,” Odiri Ighamre, co-founder and director, said.
Established in the country in November 2016, DOAF aims to support grass-roots development in Africa through the channeling of self-leadership and the building of sustainable projects for youth and their communities.
It recently graduated another 45 batch of students drawn from various institutions and colleges, following a six-month rigorous and intensive programme. The students graduated under the Daigo project. The young students, comprising males and females, learned about arts and design, architecture, midwifery and law.
Odiri said their UK students would travel from the United Kingdom to join their Gambian counterparts for three weeks for the programme. However, she explained that due to Covid-19, they were forced to conduct parts of the programme virtually.
“It’s every six months but because of Covid-19 students weren’t able to travel from the UK to attend. But we don’t want Covid-19 to suppress our activities because no one knows when it’s going to end and that’s why we decided to do it digitally,” said Famara Fatty, the programme manager.
He said the programmes give the students an edge in a world where basic education alone is no longer seen as sufficient to land a decent job.
“It’s to give them the skills they require in their various domains,” he said, “what they have not acquired from their institutions. When they finished, it gives them an edge over the locally trained person in The Gambia, and that will give them the employment that they require”.
According to the organisation’s website, DOAF was born out of the initiative led by KORI a (London based charity), that has been developing models of youth and community work in The Gambia since 2014 through its Vessel UK Programme.
Its Daigo project, which has trained more than 500 Gambian youths, began in 2019.
Odiri said all the graduating students of its last class would be called again for the other aspects of the programme.
An international educator, she studied youth and community work and creative writing. A published author, Odiri has taught in schools, prisons, museums and in mental health units across the globe.
She invented the Vessel UK, a training programme that has trained and supported over a hundred people and adults to lead successful projects across Tanzania, Kenya and The Gambia.
“For some of the architects [in the programme], it’s the third project that they have done and it’s improving their skills on areas that are important in The Gambia – like ventilation in building, the use of other materials not just concrete and thinking about better designs for cities, climate change, all these areas that are continuously important and they [the students] are not getting enough support for them in their education.”
“We are not here to take over their education,” she added, “we are here to supplement the learning that they were already doing.
She said the students are promising and got ideas in their heads for instance around design. “But they don’t know how to make those ideas visible. So, this is where we come in to provide something like sketch-up, and the training in sketch-up so that they can make those ideas real.”
Lamin Fofana, Jainaba Jallow, Modou Lamin Bojang and Yerro Jallow were some of the graduating students.
For young Jainaba Jallow, who was taught midwifery, the programme has “already made a difference” in her life.
“I am an eleventh-grade science student but the project has widened my horizon and made me understand the basics of midwifery. One topic that stands out was FGM. And I have learned the reason we Africans keep practicing FGM is ignorance. The issue of contraception was also quite telling,” she said.
Jainaba said before the programme, her understanding of midwifery borders on a nurse who helps women deliver babies.
“That was all I thought,” she said. “it was why on my first day when I saw them discussing contraception I was like ‘wow’”.
Law student Yerro Jallow said “the way I was before this project and now is quite different”.
“We have been learning things we were never taught in formal classes. We were having classes with our counterparts from the UK and it was wonderful.”
Impediments to growth
While acknowledging and heaping praises on all their milestones since 2014, Odiri lamented “few simple things” that she felt are eroding their gains, and destructive to the country.
“For instance, people need to arrive on time for classes. They need to trust that what they’ve signed up for is going to be delivered,” she said.
Odiri said she has also detected the building of “a lot of disappointment” among young people in the country. She said that is “quite dangerous” for a country with 65 percent youth population.
“So, [that’s why] we are trying to build a [programme here] that young people can rely on. When we say we are going to be here, we are here,” she said.
She said at the grassroots, the challenges have been minimal.
“We have just been growing. Of course, money is always a challenge. We always want more money to do more things. Our team needs to be better paid, and liaising with the bodies in the country that can support has been very difficult. So, it’s been more about building the network of support in the county and that has been a challenge,” said Odiri.