Hi and thanks for your interest! My name is Amin Ramzan and I am a second year student at USC Keck School of Medicine. This is the story of how I spent my winter break.
*During the bulk of my trip I was away from electricity, let alone internet access. Thus these blog posts are adapted from notes taken throughout my 2 weeks in The Gambia.
In January 2009 my partner Michelle Nicolas (a graduate student in education at Antioch University) and myself created a group called Suto Yediya (meaning “sweet dreams” in Mandinka, the predominant language in The Gambia). Our initial goal was modest: raise funds to purchase enough malarial bednets to provide universal protection to the people of Barrow Kunda, a medium sized village that is far upcountry (i.e. “the bush”). I had lived in Barrow Kunda while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer about 5 years ago. Michelle (also a former Gambian Peace Corps Volunteer) and myself formed strong and lasting relationships with the people of Barrow Kunda village and this project was an effort to give back to a place that had given so much to us while we were visitors in this very foreign country. I have an especially close relationship with my former host family, the people I lived with, ate with and worked alongside on a daily basis. Near the end of my service we experienced the tragedy of four year old Ustapha Barrow, my host brother, dying of malaria. This project is dedicated to the memory of Ustapha, pictured below with me, in the hope that completely avoidable deaths such as his can be eliminated through the use of $4 bednets and sensible anti-malarial eduction.
With the enthusiastic support of the US Peace Corps in Gambia and the UK NGO Against Malaria our project morphed from a small scale undertaking to provide bednets to a population of 1,600 villagers in Barrow Kunda to an ambitious long-term project to provide universal bednet protection to the entire district of Wuli (population 18,000+). I am proud to report that through hundreds of small donations made mostly by friends and family of current and former Gambian Peace Corps Volunteers, we have raised enough money to cover half of the Wuli District. This is possible because the amazing folks at Against Malaria allow us to purchase long lasting insecticidal treated nets at the lowest possible price on the world market. We were also fortunate to partner with NetLife Africa, an organization founded by former Peace Corps Volunteers that provides bednets to people in Senegal. Netlife Africa was kind enough to cover the shipping costs on the initial 7,300 nets for our Gambian project. You can visit our website at www.sutoyediya.org to learn more about our 0% overhead fundraising structure (and make an easy online donation if you are so inclined!).
We arrived in The Gambia on December 21st minus two pieces of luggage (which would eventually reach us 12 days later) and ecstatic to return to a place that held so many wonderful memories. We had a brief stay in the capital, Banjul, where we met with Peace Corps, local NGOs and Gambian government officials involved in the distribution to discuss logistics. On December 23rd we set off to our up-country destination. As anyone that has spent time in The Gambia knows, if anything proves Murphy’s Law, its transportation in this country. The condition of roads has improved considerably since I was last in The Gambia. However, you have to cross the river Gambia where it meets the Atlantic Ocean to get to the “good” road. It is necessary to take a giant Ukrainian built ferry to make this 10 km crossing. And sometimes your ferry breaks and has to be towed across the river by another ferry with nothing but two big ropes and hope.