It cannot be appropriate to address you with this missive without decent and adequate salutation of the Muslims: Salam alaikum wa rahmatullah. May the peace and blessing of the Almighty be upon you and your team for the initiative of a foundation that is meant to support the poor and the needy in other parts of the world.
We have learnt from the media of your interest to start an orphanage in Gunjur, and we applaud your compassion for those less endowed particularly those in that defined category in our community of birth. But as citizens of that community in foreign lands, we are first concerned about the accuracy of your data that engendered the compassion for an orphanage. We are equally concerned that your initiative would only solve a short-term problem and if ever successful would create much wider social malice in the long term.
It is an unarguable contention that Gunjur in The Gambia is no less a basket case of poverty as any marginalised community whose economic activities and centres have given way to other emerging centres of trade in the world and the resultant collapse in the adequate means of subsistence could have manifested in the extreme conditions you have observed. We however do not think the conditions are so severe as to require an orphanage.
First the idea of an orphanage is a social and cultural anathema for The Gambia and Gunjur; anathematic in that it portends a lamentable lack of care and social solidarity of the community for orphans. Every community does have orphans and Gunjur is no different. We are unaware of any cataclysmic catastrophe that occasioned the number of destitutes and their conditions so severe as to require a separation from immediate or extended families and to be housed in an isolated orphanage.
Even where the conditions are dire, should it require a complete separation of children whose relations are still in town? This is a recipe and a potential seed bed for social dislocation! Even with all the best of provisions (medication, food and services), children brought up in these facilities would not forgive their relations and by extension the community from whence they spring for the abandonment of care to an institution whose main spring is indicative of societal breakdown. Gunjur is not a war-torn community, and certainly not socially so dislocated to the extent of abandonment of our relations to the care of a service provider whose sole motive is often to gain employment and make a living.
A number of us have lived in the West and have worked in care and nursing homes where facilities are of better standards, yet the care provided by those supposedly trained and compassionate enough and their attitude and conduct towards the elderly have proved less than desirable. We do not need to give grave and graphic statistics of abuse in some of the homes that reached headline news on the major media. We however think it would help to make an informed judgement by just carrying out a small survey of any migrant community in the UK and their choice or otherwise of going to care homes when they come of age. Just as the outcome is likely to indicate a denunciation of even the slightest idea of being separated from their loved ones, from the environment they are familiar with, to the faces they could not connect with, to the harsh language of command they never imagined could have been communicated to anyone let alone an elderly person, so sounds the idea of an orphanage to any culturally connected people.
The fact of the matter is that any child brought up in the institution of an orphanage would most likely feel socially alienated, psychologically inferior and spiritually deprived, and would grow into adulthood with the pain of neglect. We have seen child soldiers in other parts of the war-torn world and how much havoc they have wreaked on their supposed community of birth. If not for social neglect, what else could have explained their callous and sadistic practices on their own people and communities? It is common knowledge that, African communities always teeter on the edge of incivility, we therefore need as much material as social development to help us navigate the mine fields of social chaos by studying the conditions and promote a course that would facilitate our material as well as social and cultural stability.
Even though our community is poor we do not wish to nurse our material deprivation with another sedative drug of an orphanage only to live the consequence of our failure to provide for our loved ones a familial, communal and convivial environment of peace, love and tranquillity.
Just as Marlborough Brandt Group has done over the 32 years of true brotherly partnership, so could your foundation by engaging the community and complementing the existing efforts to arrest the conditions you have observed.
In response to the Brandt Report published in 1982, Marlborough Brandt Group rose up to the occasion and sought partnership in development with the community of Gunjur, and has since been involved with the community’s development efforts. It has never initiated things that are outside the community’s demand or recommendation. From the building of classrooms, to carpentry workshops, to women’s horticultural gardens, orchards, the rehabilitation and maintenance of the village market, and so forth, the Brandt Group has made tremendous contributions to the lives of the people of Gunjur within the framework of our economic indices and social norms.
There are many ways your foundation too could help without doing body damage to our social structures and raising too much expectation.
· There are still families trapped in poverty to the extent that their children could not be sent to school.
· There are few skills training facilities within the community and country, and often too expensive for families to enrol their children and relations.
· The community health centre has always been in a dire state and in need of repair and worst of all, it lacks basic facilities and drugs.
· There are far few trained nurses within the community relative to the size of the population.
· There is an initiative, the Drug Revolving Programme, initiated by the local village development committee which attempts to address the drug shortage at the health centre.
We hope you would reconsider your choice of an orphanage by looking at the alternative areas as indicated above for our better material, social and cultural development. By so doing, you would undoubtedly arrest, and at best improve, the observed conditions in the long term without doing body damage to the social and societal structures.
Kombo Sillah Association