The Star of this month is Fatou Tourey Cham, born in a small village called Gunjur on the south bank of The Gambia. She is a national coordinator for the Dutch non-profit organisation Buzz women Gambia.
What did Fatou dream about as a child? Is she living this dream, or did she take another road? Fatou shares with you as Star of the month her vision, experiences and dreams.
I grew up in an extended family, the first of a family of fourteen children. I lived with the sister of my father. That is quite common in The Gambia. Parents give away their children to close relatives that they love. I didn't know my parents really well at that time. From a young age, my passion was to study science. I wanted to become a medic. This dream was prompted by my active engagement in social clubs as a young person. I was exposed to visiting schools, hospitals and psychiatric homes.
After graduating from primary school with good grades, I had to give up my medical dream. This was a difficult moment for me. I was very happy that I got a scholarship because of my grades but unfortunately, no science was offered in that particular school.
My father told me at that time: 'We won't and can't pay your school fees for another school. You may become an early dropout and get married at an early age.
At this early age, I had no choice but to give up my medical dream and change my career path. If I had come from a wealthy background, I would have been able to make my own choices for education. That was the time I felt a level of poverty. I realised I had limited options.
As a mum of three children, I talk a lot with them about my journey. I don't want them to believe that you only need money to do what you want to do. I am a strong believer in positive values. I encourage them to believe in themselves and to think about the strengths from within and what they can do to achieve their dreams!
The most important thing is education. If I weren't educated, I wouldn't be able to do what I do right now; I would just have the passion but no future. With this education, I have the right tools to make the right decisions. Next to education, you need to be adaptable to change and focus on your passion. You always have to learn from people around you and from the questions you are asked. This way, you will learn what you have to do and what you must change to reach your goals. That inspires you and gives you more energy to do what you want. I think everybody - wherever they are and wherever they come from – can achieve what they dream about as they focus on what they really want. My message to the young girls out there is: 'Know your passion and focus on it!'
As I grew up and became the person I am today, I found out why I wanted to become a nurse: I really like to take care of people, impact their lives positively and offer them a hand. Every day I am happy to go to work because I know my word can give a woman the courage to work harder to achieve her dream. When I wake up in the morning, I think: 'I can change a woman's life. That energy thrills me and gets me going!'
In December 2017, my journey with Buzz Women Gambia started. Before I started working for Buzz women Gambia, I worked for an organisation that provides micro-credit to women. I saw a lot of women come to pay back their loans. The women would always come with problems; the payments were a real challenge. That was when I said, ' I don't think microcredit is the only solution to poverty'. Due to my experience working for Buzz women Gambia, I believe that women don't always need the loan; it's just about being able to find ways to organise themselves properly. It's not about giving someone 50 dalasis. It's about showing them how to get that 50 dalasis.
Buzz women Gambia is allowing women to believe in themselves. Buzz women helps the woman to think first from within instead of thinking: ‘Whom do I have to contact to get what I want? I want this; what do I have to do to achieve this?' That's where responsibility comes in; that is what you need to do to achieve your dreams. Every woman has a dream. Buzz women Gambia allows women to turn their dreams into goals and really achieve these goals. That is what the journey with Buzz women Gambia has taught me.
Buzz women Gambia trains women about banking and saving, bookkeeping, general management, and most importantly: how to set your goals and achieve them. The women who attend the training will build a (social) relationship with the other women. After the training, they speak the same language and build (social) relationships with the other women. They become more economically smart with their spending and savings. They become each other's mentors.
If you had told me about Buzz women Gambia a couple of years ago, I wouldn't have believed you. This is really new to us. I thought that this would never be doable for us Gambians. First I laughed and said: 'This is a white elephant, I don't think that is going to be possible'. After reading about what Buzz women already achieved in India, I thought, ' okay, this seems doable'. You don't always need to have a loan to be able to do something for yourself. It's just about changing your attitude towards money. Everything starts from yourself, from within. It starts with you!
'I want to see many of them in The Gambia: strong, informed women who make smart decisions and know their impact on their own life and the country'.
The small things women can achieve after engaging with Buzz women Gambia make me feel really proud. A woman called me up to tell me that she was able to do savings and buy her own bedroom set. Another woman wanted to tile her house for years. By saving 200 dalasis per month, she was able to tile her house. She didn't know how to do it, Buzz women Gambia showed her with training how to do it, and she did it!
Sustainability is one of the key factors of Buzz women Gambia. You can give someone a bag of rice; it finishes in one month. You can give someone soap: it is finished in less than a month. When you give someone seeds and tools, and they will do gardening in their backyard. In this way, their lives will be improved for a much longer.
Buzz women Gambia is engaged in different garden projects over the country. I always enjoy going to the garden. Seeing the women take the lead with their babies on their backs. Seeing what women are capable of makes me extremely happy. We are allowing them to take the lead, we from Buzz women Gambia provide what we have, and the women of the community then take real responsibility. In this way, the community garden can provide food for a long time. I think that was something that was leaking in a lot of projects that have been running in The Gambia for over many years. At some point, the Gambians didn't take ownership of the project. They felt that the organisation behind the project had to provide and do everything. In that case, ownership is missing; sustainability will never work.
I believe that when Corona started, Gambians didn't believe the numbers would increase. We were stuck in denial. This led to late government preparedness and, thus, to the community. Corona has affected our work as working from home and contacting the women through Whatsapp, or phone calls has become a daily practice.
We tried to find ways to keep the women engaged. This was difficult because most of them weren't online. They are not even connected to the internet. The best approach still now is to go to the women, sit with them, and really know how they are doing. That is our normal strategy. During one of our food distributions during the period of this pandemic, we were recognised by a radio station in The Gambia. They offered Buzz women Gambia a slot of 1 hour a month; to talk about our work, encourage the Gambian women, and keep them engaged. I hope this will stand as a platform for women: to know more about what we do, where they can find us, have interviews with women and connect with these women to share insights and positivity.
Corona forced people to think harder about what they could do, how to improvise and how to stay connected. I believe this is a positive side effect of Corona. Improvise, connect and improvise again. This is definitely a challenge with the poor internet connection in The Gambia.
I want to welcome everybody to The Gambia. Besides the landscape and beaches of my beautiful country, we have far more to offer. Look around, engage with the people, take a tour or join Buzz women Gambia training.
Together we can do so much, despite our location or where we are coming from. I believe strongly in: ‘you are what you give back to humanity’. That is what makes us human. It's about how many lives you have impacted in a positive way.
My medical dream came true in a different field; with my work, I am able to care, impact lives positively and offer a helping hand. Is this also your dream? Come to The Gambia; there is enough space to help and positively impact people's lives!
Would you like to come and join Fatou's work for a day or a longer period? You're more than welcome!
Donate 10 euros to Buzz women Gambia. With this amount Buzz women, Gambia can train one woman and change a whole family's life. The knowledge women get during the training will always be passed unto their children. The average Gambian family has five children. Now that is a triple effect!
Find out how to help Buzz women Gambia HERE.