Technology, creativity, entrepreneurship and leadership: Young Gambians are using a combination of skills to help communities stay safe during the coronavirus and cope with the socioeconomic crisis.
Poems to save lives
Let’s not assume
That we are not going to be infected
Let’s prepare as though
We will be affected
And you can save lives.
Through their poem, Jainaba and Awa are making an effort to change the way youth look at the risks and threats from COVID-19 to their lives while embracing the realities in The Gambia.
They are among the 83 applicants who have submitted their entries in the poetry challenge initiated by the European Union funded Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) in collaboration with the Poetry Café & Writers Association of The Gambia.
In The Gambia, as elsewhere, awareness raising and information sharing remains a challenge. Myths and false information about prevention and treatment of COVID-19 tend to spread through social media rather quickly. With just around half of the population being literate, communication campaigns also struggle to reach the entire nation.
Deeply rooted in the country’s culture, traditional or folk forms of communication still provide powerful channels to entertain, educate and propagate ideas. Inviting public to use these art forms, YEP is raising awareness on COVID-19 prevention through the poetry challenge.
Gambian musicians, poets, writers, associations and promotional companies have partnered with YEP to debunk myths and raise awareness about available support measures in a language that is universal and that transcends all boundaries.
The shortlisted poems and videos are shared on social media channels for the public to like and share. The ones that resonate the most with followers are also promoted on radio and television across the country. A second challenge around music videos is being implemented in collaboration with BrandPlus and Black Lynx.
This initiative not only aims to prevent the spread of the virus but also to provide a platform for artists to showcase their talents. The creative industries are a fledgling sector with great potential for growth and creating jobs and income for young Gambians. The sector has been hit very hard with the collapse of the tourism industry and restrictions to public life and entertainment as a result of the state of emergency.
From tour guiding to awareness raising
Until recently, there was longing and excitement to welcome visitors to beautiful Janjanbureh famous for Kankurang, a masquerade tradition in The Gambia.
However just a month ago, the budding tourism industry in the country took a hit with severe effects of coronavirus: travel bans, flight suspensions, quarantines, lockdowns and social distancing measures.
The tourist season in the country that usually lasts until early May is over in advance this year. This has added to the loss already suffered from last year’s collapse of renowned tour operator Thomas Cook that used to account for more than 30 percent of arrivals.
As part of the efforts to boost economic development in the rural Gambia, YEP has been offering community-based tourism training for young enthusiasts. Bringing their community leadership skills into use, youth trained in community-based tourism and tour guiding have sprung into action as first responders to protect their communities and build resilience against further impacts of COVID-19 to the vulnerable tourism industry.
YEP engaged these young leaders and mobilized them with funding and resources to undertake an awareness campaign across the rural region of Janjanbureh, initiating the first critical step towards prevention. They are placing informational posters on the virus and safety guidelines at prominent places, campaigning across social media platforms and installing hand-washing stations in markets and across town, helping provide practical solutions to the lack of hygiene checkpoints in the area.
Young entrepreneurs fixing new problems
Amid intensified control measures against the deadly virus, The Gambia declared a State of the Emergency in late March.
Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC) which is among the country’s biggest municipality faces a number of challenges as a result: market distortions and closure of non-essential shops, reduction in public transportation revenue, and learning disruptions due to the closure of schools.
KMC’s Lord Mayor teamed up with the EU, YEP, the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) and other support organizations to launch the KMC Mayor’s Challenge which supports young innovative entrepreneurs with smart solutions. The entrepreneurs have a chance of winning grants up to GMD 500,000 (EUR 10,000) to implement innovative solutions to address the socioeconomic challenges caused by COVID-19. “Youth have always been at the core of innovation in society. The KMC Mayor’s Challenge seeks to leverage on youths’ ingenuity to solve present day challenges faced in the era of COVID-19,” Lord Mayor of KMC, Talib Ahmed Bensouda said.
The Challenge Fund is supported by Gambian business development service providers with the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industries (GCCI) as the lead partner. The COVID-19 emergency is a huge challenge to all livelihoods especially micro small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs). However, the challenges also provide opportunity to accelerate and leapfrog in the development process. Subject to the outcome of this pilot focusing on challenges in KMC, the EU, ITC and partners will scale the challenge fund in other regions.
“A good business is run by an entrepreneur in the right state of mind and good health, you want to be that entrepreneur – stay safe, stay home and protect yourself and your love ones.”
This is the main message that goes out every evening on a live radio talk show and reaches youth across North, Central, Upper and Lower Bank Regions. The Gambia Youth Chamber of Commerce (GYCC) produces the radio show. The Chamber is an umbrella body and voice of young entrepreneurs in The Gambia – a trade support organisation that empowers young entrepreneurs and help improve their earnings.
Since the creation of GYCC, YEP has supported the Chamber and helped establish its regional chapters. The rural reach has helped with creating awareness among 500 young fishermen, vegetable growers and processors traders at ferry crossings and in rural markets. At the same time, GYCC helps assess the impact of the crisis on young entrepreneurs and works towards solutions that protect health while allowing commerce to continue and keeping young entrepreneurs in business.
Innovative protection: from cotton facemask to 3D-printed face shields
“It’s almost midnight and I found time to have dinner just now. What I do, my craft is my passion. Providing creative solutions gives me so much joy”. Ndey Fatou Njie’s enthusiasm is still fresh after a long day.
She has joined hands with a group of young fashion entrepreneurs and women groups in rural Gambia who are working hard to give back to their communities by turning towards producing facemasks. Three training centers supported by YEP where youth acquire tailoring skills are now coming handy to help meet the urgent demand for protective facemasks. This support to entrepreneurs and institutions is not only creating opportunities to mitigate the economic impact but also reinforcing COVID-19 precautionary measures for the public.
In addition to hand made facemasks, Make3D Company Ltd, is producing and testing 3D printed protective gear in partnership with the Medical Research Council (MRC) Unit The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. YEP Tech supported the procurement of 3D printing materials and equipment. The protective equipment will support MRC in its work with plans and plans are under way to extend the support to other medical facilities.
These efforts will go a long way in containing the infection and building resilience in rural areas in the country with an opportunity for everyone to give back to communities.
The COVID-10 health and socio-economic crisis has hit The Gambia very hard and it will take time to recover. Meanwhile, the creativity, leadership and entrepreneurial drive of young Gambians give a glimmer of hope in the midst of the crisis.
The youth engaged in responding to COVID-19 situation have developed their capacity to engage with communities with support from the Gambia Youth Empowerment Project. The project is implemented by the International Trade Centre and is part of the Tekki Fii – Make it in The Gambia Program, a flagship initiative of the Government of The Gambia and the European Union with the aim to reduce migration pressures through increased job opportunities and income prospects for youth. YEP takes a market-driven approach and enhances employability and self-employment opportunities for youth, with a focus on vocational training and the creation of micro and small-sized enterprises. At the same time, the project creates and improves employment opportunities in selected sectors through value addition and market linkages. YEP focuses a number of traditional sectors such as agriculture and tourism. The project also helps diversify the Gambian economy by supporting ‘new’ sectors, including the creative and digital services industries. YEP is funded through the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.