The people of Gunjur have always been able to keep their connection with their way of life and culture and care for the nature and environment they live in. Since the early days, some of their forests have been known as sacred. Mr Manjang explains this used to be a way of preserving the forests by striking fear into the minds of locals to keep them away from cutting the wood.
They say that if you go and cut the tree in the sacred forest during the night, devils will come and beat you up.
But when the need for wood of the habitants increased, they went into agroforestry. This means they started to plant trees with the concept of "one man – one tree". Starting in Gunjur, this movement went viral across the country and is also supported by the ministry. To this day, Gunjur remains the greenest settlement in the Gambia.
We met Mr Manjang at Dalaba Lodge, which is privately owned and established to preserve some of the forests and promote eco-tourism in The Gambia. Since many estate agents wanted to cut down the forest and sell the land, this was one way of preserving it. In Dalaba Lodge, you can live with nature and see many protected plant species.
Mr Manjang proudly shares Bolonfenyo Community Wildlife in the Gunjur area, which is Gambia's first community wildlife reserve. But apart from that, the community is trying very hard to preserve their forests, so there are many sacred forests. One is even owned by a retired veterinary surgeon, which decided to contribute by preserving it.
By the words of Mr Manjang, people living in the Gunjur settlement are committed, resilient and known to be one of the most Islamic-educated communities, which love their tradition. But at the same time, it is one of the most accommodating, colour blinded, and welcoming settlements. There is a Christian community that is very respected, and brings diversity to the place. Mr Manjang admits his community is also poor, so it is in need of volunteers and visitors, which would contribute to the Gunjur development.
Gunjur is a perfect choice for tourists looking for a destination which enables insight into the culture of The Gambia, but also for the students who want to get involved with conservation programs, exchange knowledge and work with some of the most educated volunteers from different NGO's in the area.
As Mr Manjang explains, there are many activities you can attend in the place. You can start by helping locals with the collection of firewood or involve in the programs such as green turtle protection, tree planting, many educational programs, as well as nature work.
Gunjur is one of the favourite nesting places for green turtles in The Gambia. They are one of the endangered species, and that is why local NGO's are protecting their nests and hatchlings, which they eventually release to the sea when they are big enough. This activity takes place from June to September, depending on the natural conditions.
In the rainy season, local NGOs are also involved in tree planting in Gunjur and all across the country, working as consultants and advisors. If you are interested in birdwatching, many programs enable you to observe and learn about new species. If you are more of a reptile person, you are welcome to visit a reptile farm, where you can see many different reptiles and even touch some of them.
But Mr Manjang is not alone in all this. He is a member of 4 different organisations, which are united under one name, Gunjur Environment Interest Group. Those are Eco Travel Gambia, Dalaba Eco Lodge, Gunjur Conservation Group and another local NGO. They are also working with various organisations with specific environmental causes. All those organisations include highly educated and fully trained members. Most of them were studying abroad, and also Mr Manjang is no exception. He lived in Europe for almost ten years, and as he says, it brought him mainly good things. He got a good education, and the money he earned was not bad. But he decided to return to The Gambia and try to make it there. Why? He answers: "Europe can hold it on their own, but if I want to see my country develop and reach the same level as the EU, I had to make my hands dirty. For The Gambia we want to see, we all have to come and contribute our little quarters - that's why I am here."
As Mr Manjang explains, with the advance of technology, people are becoming less happy, so we need to interact and exchange knowledge, interact culturally and learn from one another. Change of environment tends to make people feel good. People in Gunjur don't have much, but they are generally happy, and that is what they want to transmit to the visitors. They also want to encourage them to appreciate things they got too accustomed to. Welcome to the amazing and life-changing experience in Gunjur.