This month the Star of the month is Fatou Tourey Cham, born in a small village called Gunjur in the south bank of The Gambia. She works as 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.
The medical dream
I grew up in an extend 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 my primary school with good grades. I had to give up my medical dream. This was a difficult moment for me. Because of my grades I got a scholarship. I was very happy with the scholarship 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 to change my career path. I think if I came from a rich background, I would have been able to make my own education choices. That was the time I felt a level of poverty. I realised I had limited choices.
As a mum of three children now, 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 from the strengths from within and what can they do to achieve their dreams!
Girls, focus on your passion
The most important thing is education. I believe that if I wasn’t educated. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do right now, I would just have the passion but no future. With the education I have the right tools to make the right decisions. Next to education, I believe 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. In this way you will learn what you have to do and what you have to change to reach your goals. That keeps you inspired and gives you more energy, to do what you want to do. 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!’
Change and learn
As I grew up and started to become the person I am today I found out why I had wanted to become a nurse: I really like to take care of people, impact their lives positively and to 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 loan. The women would always come with problems, the payments were a real challenge. That was the time I said to myself: ‘I don’t think micro credit 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 be able to turn their dreams into goals and to really achieve these goals. That is what the journey with Buzz women Gambia has taught me.
It all starts with you!
Buzz women Gambia gives training to woman about banking and saving, bookkeeping, and general management, and most importantly: how to set your goals and achieve them. The women who attend the training will build (social) relationship with the other women. They speak the same language after the training will build (social) relationship with the other women. They speak the same language after the training. They become more economically smart with their spending and savings. They become each other’s mentor.
If you would have 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 like ‘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!
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. Just 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 a training how to do it and she did it!
Help through sustainability
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: in less than a month it is finished. 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 period.
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 back. Seeing what women are capable of makes me extremely happy. We 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 organization behind the project had to provide and do everything. In that case, the ownership is missing, sustainability will never work.
Improvise, connect, improvise
I believe that the time Corona started Gambians didn’t believe the numbers will increase. We were stuck in denial. This led to late preparedness of the government, and thus down to the community. Corona has affected our work, now we work from home and contact the women through Whatsapp or phone calls.
We try to find ways to keep the women engaged. This is difficult, because most of them aren’t online. They are not even connected to the internet. The best approach is to go to the women, to sit with them and to really know how they are doing. That is our normal strategy. During one of our food distributions in the period of this pandemic we were recognized 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 to 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 to connect these women to share insights and positivity.
Corona is forcing people to think harder what they can do, how to improvise and how to stay connected. I think 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.
How many lives do you want to impact?
I want to welcome everybody to The Gambia, as soon as this is possible. Beside the landscape and beaches of my beautiful country, we have far more to offer. Look around, get engaged with the people, take a tour or come and join a training of Buzz women Gambia.
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. Its 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 the helping hand. Is this also your dream? Come to The Gambia, here is enough space to help and impact people’s lives in a positive way!
Would you like to come and join Fatou’s work a day or a longer period? You’re more than welcome!
Do you want help with a triple effect?
Donate 10 euro 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 5 children. Now that is a triple effect!
Would you like to come and join Fatou’s work a day or a longer period? You’re more than welcome!
By Elsemiek Franken