How did Community Based Tourism arrive in Janjanbureh?

On September 30th 2021 I received photos of a Tourist Information Office which had opened its doors that day in Janjanbureh CRR miles away from the coast. It gladdened my heart so much as a charity I founded 12 years ago has been part of that story and the four people who are employed there are all members of JUST ACT.

JUST ACT developed in 2015 from the charity Janjanbureh Uniting Sustainable Tourism And Community Training or Just Act Gambia for short. The development can be read in detail by clicking HERE

After visiting regularly since 2004 I had spent many hours discussing the history and culture of Janjanbureh with my host’s brother the late Hon Foday Jibani Manka. In February 2009 I uttered the immortal words: “What you need Foday is a Tourist Information Centre and we need to train local young people to be Tour Guides”. 

It was decided to set up a charity to support this.

It pays to be persistent and patient! Whilst this opening is not the work of the charity, its foundation played a part in it.

Jane Smith and Foday Jibani Manka, Photo Credit: Just Act

Foday visited my UK home town in October 2009 and visited the local TIC.  He approved the suggested name Just Act Gambia standing for Janjanbureh Uniting Sustainable Tourism And Community Training which summed up its purpose.  

Main Aims:
  • To enable community-led development
  • To support accredited and non – accredited training through local organisations thereby developing life skills and income-earning opportunities
  • To maximise the use of local expertise in developing training
  • To enable Janjanbureh and surrounding areas  to develop responsible, sustainable pro-poor tourism for the benefit of the community whilst respecting the local culture, traditions and the natural environment
  • To enable rural regeneration so the school population of today is assured of a prospering town sufficient to reduce rural /urban/ illegal migration 

The first aim was the Tour Guides initiative.

The long-protracted development can be followed HERE.  

A summary:
  • February 2009:  early discussions between the Late Hon. Foday Manka and Jane Smith
  • Nov/Dec 2009: Setting up a charity
  • February 2010:my visit developing ideas; meeting Tony Johnson, also working in Janjanbureh 
  • Summer 2010: training delivered to some 20+ youths from the local area in history culture and flora and fauna provided by local expertise and Tony Johnson
  • February 2013: with new regulations demanded Jane investigated official licensing through Gambian Tourism Board
  • December 2013: official training provided by ASSET (now ASSERT) working with Adama Bah and Daouda Niang and Gambia Tourism Board funded by Just Act Gambia
  • May 2014: Finalised as LICENSED LOCAL TOUR GUIDES

2014: Ebola affected tourism throughout West Africa but never in The Gambia but thus few tourists

Initial Tour Guide Training in 2013, Photo Credit: Just Act

The formation of JUST ACT

In 2015 Key people with whom I worked registered JUST ACT as a National Youth Council organization and is recognized as a charity by the AG Chambers. This enabled access to a variety of training and support over the years and gradually through the sterling work of Omar Jammeh and the dedicated work of its committee its name became known throughout the country and the work of the tour guides gradually increased. 

Unfortunately, political unrest during the 2016/17 season meant tourists were evacuated after President Jammeh refused to accept the result of the Presidential election. However, with the new Presidency established, funding from Europe was accessible again.

JUST ACT had put forward the proposal to YEP supported by funding from Just Act Gambia for Sustainable Tourism in Janjanbureh.

In November 2017 came the amazing news that Janjanbureh was to be developed as a second destination for tourists, providing an alternative to the traditional coastal resorts of sun, sea and sand starting with fresh training of tour guides. Read the blog by clicking HERE conveying my excitement!  It was run by  ITTOG, (Institute of Travel and Tourism of The Gambia)  NCAC (National Centre for Arts and Culture) and funded by Youth Empowerment Project (YEP),  a fuller account is available HERE but fourteen young people were trained as guides.  

December 2017

The next stage was five of the fourteen guides  were selected to receive high-level training by YEP tourism consultants in partnership with NYC, GTB and NCAC and to extend this training to new regions of The Gambia provided by two consultants from International Trade Centre (ITC) both based in Thailand, Potjana Suansri and Peter Richards. 

Potjana Suansri, Photo Credit: Just Act
Peter Richards, Photo Credit: Just Act

These five became Trainers of Trainers or TOTs , Jalamang Danso, Isatou Foon, Omar Jammeh, Muhammed Jawneh and Muhammed Kebbeh. They trained alongside Master Trainers, representatives from, GTB, ITTOG,  GTHI and NCAC.  Some of these are names you will recognise from further articles in My Gambia’s monthly issues of My Magazine. 

Link to tour-guides Training of Trainers 

Jane Smith, Isatou Foon and Omar Jammeh, Photo Credit: Just Act

These five became Trainers of Trainers or TOTs , Jalamang Danso, Isatou Foon, Omar Jammeh, Muhammed Jawneh and Muhammed Kebbeh. They trained alongside Master Trainers, representatives from, GTB, ITTOG,  GTHI and NCAC.  Some of these are names you will recognise from further articles in My Gambia’s monthly issues of My Magazine. 

Link to tour-guides Training of Trainers 

January 2018

Another major step was the link formed with Naturefriends International through links with Dr Adama Bah.  Although NatureFriends International had long time links with Senegal, they were making their first group visit through Landscape of the Year on the African continent, bringing over 70 European guests.

The first Kankurang Festival was timed to fit with this visit as reported HERE.  

JUST ACT members were heavily involved in its planning and implementation.

Through the success of this relationship, JUST ACT now has a C category membership with them, meaning they are partners without voting rights and has led to funded initiatives from them.

Adama Bah and Jane Smith with Education Officer, Photo Credit: Just Act

Community-Based Tourism was introduced in March 2018

“Is high time for stakeholders in the tourism industry to begin diversifying in new forms of tourism….Community-Based Tourism through applying the right tools can be harnessed as an approach to support community development….”

In preparation, the ToTs were tasked with developing possible CBT with the nearby village of Jamali and Potjana and Peter returned bringing  a new model of training ‘Fresh from the Field’

This page provides real insight into the principles of CBT but an extract training was based on these principles:

  1. CONSIDER: How to select a CBT destination, build trust and assess potentials;
  2. CONCEIVE: How to shortlist and design marketable experiences and programs;
  3. CRAFT: How to build local capacity to welcome tourists and offer tourism services;
  4. CONNECT: How to build trusting marketing partnerships and business linkages;
  5. CONSERVE: How to sustain and build on this work, after the project finishes. 

“It revealed great potential for communities to offer and enable guests to interact through cultural exchange and preserve their norms and values without distorting or commercialising their beautiful culture… 

Progress continued throughout the following years as reading through the many blogs will testify – click HERE.  

eg: A study group from Canada – click HERE.  
     EU Trust Fund visit Janjanbureh – click HERE.

After training JUST ACT Tour Guides were renamed Janjanbureh Tour Guide Association

January 2020

Kayaking Training, Photo Credit: Just Act
Kayaking Training, Photo Credit: Just Act

Kayak Tour Guides
Dave Adams of Fair Play Gambia now lives in the area and has long been associated with JUST ACT. Fair Play Gambia and JUST ACT were successful in gaining funding for Youth Empowerment Project in equipping to a very high standard and training Kayak Tour Guides. 

I was pleased to be present during the two weeks of training provided by Darren Sherwood and Chris Brain.

Despite the pandemic having a profound effect on tourism, the Annual Kankurang Festival continued in a modified form attracting more Gambians and those Europeans living permanently in the country.  It is planned to restore to the three-day festival, 28th-30th January 2022. 

Read more about kayaking training by clicking HERE.

Kayaking Training, Photo Credit: Just Act
Kayaking Training, Photo Credit: Just Act

Walking Tours

Gernot Henn visited with NatureFriends International the first Festival and returned several times spotting the chance to develop walking tours as chronicled here and here

So how has Janjanbureh and the surrounding areas benefitted for  the introduction of Community Based Tourism?

Janjanbureh has a Tourist information Office and four guides are employed by Janjanbureh Tour Guide Association

TELL: (220) 7837857/ 3239165

    • Omar Jammeh: Visitor Centre Manager
    • Isatou Foon: Admin and Finance Officer
    • Jalamang Danso: Senior Guide
    • Kebbeh Sarjo: Maintenance and Staff

There are in excess of 20 tour guides covering traditional tours, kayaking and walking tours, all thus receiving an income.

The development of the tours in Janjanbureh, and the  villages of Tabanani and Jamali :

  • The communities benefit 10% of all tours including service providers contribution and goes to their community account for anticipated projects within and the communities to decide how
  • Each village has their own guides
  • It also helps to bring back lost skills and providers are trained to deliver services to visitor’s eg. Women’s garden, women’s skill centre, woodcarver, local fan weaver, Kankurang, Fula Riti, dancers and food suppliers
  • Cultural groups provide entertainment and receive pay
  • Individuals offering any service receive a contribution for that from the tour prices
With the woodcarver, Photo Credit: Just Act

The Kankurang Festival

  • Inevitably incidental income is created by an increase in visitors especially in Janjanbureh in the lodges, the shops, the market and street food and drink vendors
  • With increased demand families offer accommodation and thus gain an income

20 youths are trained a tour guides over three areas:

  • As traditional tour guides, Kayak Tour Guides, Walking Tour guides all trained and licensed
  • The newly established Tourist Visitor Centre will be a source for crafts etc and indeed
  • an established women’s group is formed and trained through the support of YEP and have tie& dyed and made the curtains etc. 

The showroom will present their products for sale and will no doubt attract many more in the future.

Pupil interchange between Janjanbureh and Koungheul, Photo Credit: Just Act

A further important aspect of NatureFriends International  involvement is the funding of two major initiatives: 

It is obvious that the benefit to the communities is wide-ranging and ever-expanding and those visitors who come know that they are supporting those communities in a very practical way. 

Three year mangroove initiative, Photo Credit: Just Act

It is providing income for youths who might otherwise be tempted to migrate to the coast in search of jobs or indeed partake in irregular migration.

 The visitor/tourist should:

  • DO: a hands-on experience of local life – not just taking photos 
  • LEARN: the chance to learn something about local life and culture 
  • FEEL: the experience stimulates excitement, interest, wonder, pride, etc. 
  • SHARE: experiences with travel companions and local community members 
  • BENEFIT: local community members benefit from offering CBT tours 
  • RESPECT: experiences create mutual understanding and respect between hosts and guests

Even in this year of travel difficulties, several groups have experienced through the great organisation, Kids Are The World The Gambia, with the collaboration of an online platform My Gambia

Organise such a visit in this manner or direct with the new Visitor Information Centre.

You know you will leave enhanced in every way with greater understanding.

Now travel restrictions are eased for many countries, do take the opportunity to explore this wonderful area. Plan on at least two nights and it is easy to spend even longer living in this great community. You will be welcomed with open arms and both you and the communities will benefit in so many ways.
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