Gambia is The Smiling Coast

Gambia may be the smallest country in mainland Africa, but the hearts of the Gambians are big!  No wonder they call it the Smiling Coast!  From the moment I stepped off the plane, I was greeted by big smiles from everyone and shouts of "you are most welcome!"  When I went through customs, the agent asked me how long I intended to stay.  When I said, "just a week," he said, "I'll give you 30 days. A week is not long enough for the Gambia."  Boy was he right!

Although the heat was oppressive (apparently it was the hottest October in five years, who knew?), I was so privileged to be traveling to the Gambia on behalf of Power Up Gambia.  Along with my executive director, Lynn McConville, and our intern, Mary Shimell, we were there to deliver three solar suitcases.  The suitcases had been purchased thanks to the generosity of the Moorestown Rotary Club, the Moorestown Rotary Breakfast Club, the Garden State Rotary Club, the Rotary Club of Camden, and the students at Clearview Regional High School.  I asked some of the hard-working professionals at Sulayman Jungkung Hospital, "what does electricity mean to you."  Every one of them had a one word reply.  Life.  In the United States, electricity is something we take for granted. It powers our homes, our businesses and our schools.  Lose electricity for even an hour and the average American will complain of food going bad, television shows unwatched and emails unanswered.  Now compare that to The Gambia.  In The Gambia, there is no reliable electricity.  Imagine even in the suffocating heat and humidity, you have no air conditioning, no fan, no power for lights.  Because so little of the country has power, there is no light pollution.  The clinics in the rural area operate seven days a week/ 24 hours a day.  After the sun sets, it is so dark it is almost impossible to see your hand in front of your face.  Now imagine trying to deliver a baby or perform surgery in that darkness.  The light of a candle or cell phone is simply not enough to penetrate the enveloping darkness.  It swallows you, it makes you invisible.  And in The Gambia, the lack of reliable electricity can kill you.

Death seems more real here, you are closer to it and not sheltered from it as you are in the States.  I was talking with a gentlemen who was in charge of vaccines who was in awe of the number of doses a typical American child gets.  In The Gambia, vaccines are only given to newborns, there are not enough  vaccines in the country to give booster shots.  People in The Gambia regularly die from diseases we think of as minor - such as the flu, pneumonia and diarrhea.  Tuberculosis and malaria - diseases we rarely have contact with - are a leading cause of death.  Sadly, childbirth often proves deadly for mother and child.  

But there is reason for hope.  We are now halfway to our goal of Powering Up the Gambia!  In addition, we are working closely with the Ministry of Energy, the Ministry of Health and NAWEC (the National Water and Electric Company) to build a 110 kw installation at Sulayman Jungkung Hospital.  This project will provide not only the 3,000 people in Bwiam with reliable electricity at their hospital but will serve the many thousands who come to the hospital from the surrounding villages.  A week long round of meetings provided valuable insight into the importance of the project to the government of The Gambia.  

As I ended my week sitting oceanside with a cold Jul Brew Beer, I too was smiling.  Although the customs agent was right, a week was not long enough to accomplish my goals, I was happy that I was able to experience this amazing country and be a part of a wonderful organization that is truly making a difference in The Gambia.



19 and counting!

Yeah! We now have 19 clinics with solar lighting and 2 hospitals with larger solar power systems in The Gambia. Working closely with the Gambian Ministry of Health's Regional Health Offices, we are excited about how our clinic projects are shaping up!  For the smaller clinics, we are placing out two standardized solar kits - a solar suitcase made by our friends at We Care Solar, and a smaller solar and light unit purchased within the Gambia from Yingli Solar.

With the huge support of Sulayman Junkung Hospital's CEO Mr. Kebba Badgie, volunteers from both University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University have done a great job of moving these clinic projects forward.  And, with SJGH solar technician Saikou Gibba lending a capable hand, we are now able to provide support in-country for any of these units that may have problems.

This is a big deal - by placing solar power kits that are built the same and have standardized parts, we can have spare parts on hand for any repairs and replacements needed.  And the clinics now know they can call or email Saikou for support when something goes wrong!

We hope to focus next on Central River Region and North Bank Region clinics.  If we can raise an additional $10,000 for the clinic project by October, we hope to add an additional 6 clinics to our "completed" list, and bring the grand total up to 25 clinics this year.  Consider helping us out with a donation today!  Let's build the momentum, and see  if we can get all the clinics and hospitals in The Gambia powered by solar energy by 2020.

Basse is Hot!

Our interns and technicians spent last week installing small solar units in the 5 remaining clinics in Upper River Region that did not have any access to any light.  Bit by bit, we are working our way down the country, filling in the missing gaps in covereage for electricity in clinics in The Gambia in partnership with the Gambia Minsitry of Health and Social Services. We are wrapping up Upper River Region - now, on to North Bank! 

Thanks to the generous support of our donors, we have been able to place solar suitcases (manufactured by the charity We Care Solar ) and small solar units we can buy in The Gambia from Yingli Solar . For the nurses and midwives in these remote rural clinics, having light, cell phone charging and a fetal heart monitor to use in difficult deliveries is a huge deal.  Their smiles and thanks alone make this "solar suitcase project" worthwile.

University of Pennsylvania dental student Jing shared her experiences about their trek to the clinics of Upper River Region in her blog post "Basse - hot"  Read about her adventures and see what we have been doing this summer with the help of these great interns!


We can accomplish a lot, thanks to some very special students

We love the help we receive from students in and around Philadelphia!  From the students at Tilden Middle school holding a penny drive to buy headlamps and chargers for clinics, to Jack B. selling wristbands at his school to purchase a fetal heart monitor, to Emily and Cecily at Clearview High School holding a dance and raising enough money to fund a solar suitcase – we appreciate all the help!

Emily and Cecily met with Sulayman Junkung Hospital CEO Mr. Kebba Badgie while he and his wife were visiting the United States last month.  They were able to present the solar suitcase that their school funded to Mr. Badgie, and learned more from him about health care in The Gambia.  In discussions with Kebba, we realized than over 30 American college students have now volunteered at his hospital through Power Up Gambia and our collaborative work with University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.  It has been an amazing learning experience for the students, and the hospital staff has really enjoyed getting to know all of the different students as they have rotated through the hospital on their volunteer projects.

It seems only appropriate that Power Up Gambia works with so many students and student groups.  We were founded by a University of Pennsylvania student, and our projects have grown mainly through the hard work of student volunteers and interns.  With two hospital and 18 clinic projects under our belt, based mostly on the generosity of individual donors and the hard work of student volunteers, we look forward to continuing our collaborations with student groups not only in Philadelphia but in The Gambia as well!

May Day

On May 1 Gambians will celebrate International Workers' Day, generally referred to as May Day. This day was born out of a struggle for shorter work days - a demand of major political significance for the working class. Although the demand for higher wages appears to be the most prevalent cause for the earlier Workers' Days, the question of shorter hours and the right to organize were always kept in the fore when workers formulated their demands against the bosses and the government. As exploitation was becoming intensified and workers were feeling more and more the strained of inhumanly long working hours, the demand for an appreciable reduction of working hours became more pronounced.

Each year, the rest of the world joins the International Labor Organization to remember the plight of workers across the globe and those who struggle to ensure that the working class is not alienated exploited at work. In The Gambia, it has been traditional for all the workers to converge at one place to rejoice among themselves and reflect on the prevailing peace, progress and prosperity flourishing in the country.  The Gambia has engendered a climate that allows workers to become part of their institutions, as measures are put in place that bar the exploitation and marginalization of the workers from their work. 

This year the National Sports Council staged a successful May Day Sports at the Independence Stadium in Bakau.   According to Marcel Mendy, the executive director of the National Sports and a member of the National Organising Committee,  "this year we are going to celebrate it in grand style because it coincides with the Golden Jubilee [independence] of The Gambia."

The executive director said the committee is expecting 50 institutions and 40 countries to take part in this year's edition.  New events will be incorporated into this year's sporting aspect of things. These competitions, he added, are eating; dressing among the security apparatus and a race between the ministers, heads of departments and managing directors.  The celebrations will begin with a volleyball competition at the Manneh Sillah Memorial Volleyball Court in Banjul.  


Women of the Serrakunda Market

Women in The Gambia are incredibly hard working.  In addition to tending to the household, raising the children, helping their husbands, tending gardens and rice fields, and helping their extended families and friends, many of them run small businesses on the side to raise money. 




The Serrekunda Market is a very busy market in The Gambia where you find women running businesses and selling goods everywhere.  You can find almost anything in the Serrekunda Market.  There are food stalls, housewares, clothes, appliances, shoes, and a thousand other items.  Everything is laid out for the potential customer to see, either in a stall, on a table, or spread out on a tarp or cloth on the ground.



A lively, colorful and sometimes overwhelming place, the Serrekunda market is a wonderful place to visit in The Gambia.  Thanks to Shayna McConville for sharing her pictures of the marketplace with us!

Our Wharton Community Consultants

Power Up Gambia was pleased to welcome our Consultants from the Wharton School of Business.  The MBA Program at the University of Pennsylvania is renowed for creating global learning opportunities.  The Program believes that by erasing borders and extending the options of making a difference in the world, MBA students apply business skills to promote economic development and improve quality of life in developing countries.  Locally, Wharton Community Consultants are making an impact in non-profit organizations based in Philadelphia like Power Up Gambia.  

These first year MBA students, led by Rob Velung, volunteered their time to evaluate Power Up Gambia's fundraising toolkit and database.  While fundraising is by no means a hard hat job, all not-for-profits need tools to help our fundraising efforts and Power Up Gambia is no exception.  

Power Up Gambia was fortunate to have five talented first year MBA students, each with a diverse set of skills.  Rob Velung, project manager, is an engineer who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana.  Agustina Bellsola is an anthropologist who worked in communications in Africa and the UK.  Laura Gordon's background is in advertising and brand strategy.  Priyanka Mehrota worked at JP Morgan Chase in strategy and IR.  And Steve Santoro has a political science degree and worked in finance before coming to Wharton.  

Our volunteers worked tirelessly to organize information we already had.  They then synthesized our data to create a road map for our efforts moving forward.  By standardizing our database, Power Up Gambia is now able to effectively maximize the time we spend on outreach.  The team was also able to streamline our documents to make grant writing easier.  We are forever thankful for the effort put out by the Wharton consultants.  

An Action Agenda to Power Up All in The Gambia

Congratulations to The Gambia! It was obvious this week how serious The Gambia is about improving energy access for all and increasing the use of renewable energy in the country. Stakeholders and participants from a number Gambian agencies and other African energy ministries met to review and validate the Gambia's National Sustainable Energy for All Action Agenda and Investment Prospectus.

This project, part of the United Nation's Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) Initative was supported by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Agency and The Gambia Ministry of Energy, partnering with BizClim and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to jump-start energy access and renewable energy projects in The Gambia. Power Up Gambia's proposed expansion of the Sulayman Junkung General Hospital solar power project (as a way to generate electricity and revenue to sustain our energy projects in hospitals and clinics) was highlighted by the Minsitry of Energy as the type of project they would like to see prioritized for investment and funding!Ms. Ade Mamonyane Lekoetje, UNDP Gambia in opening remarks

Our Executive Director Lynn McConville and hospital CEO Kebba Badgie were able to present the project to the workshop participants, and network with a number of international agencies working to implement the goals of the SE4All initiative. SE4All is a global initiative launched by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon in September 2011, focusing on three goals: (1) Ensuring universal access to modern energy services; (2) Doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and (3) Doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030.  Gambia is now one of the first countries in Africa to produce its own Investment Prospectus to accelerate the implementation of SE4ALL.

We have high hopes that new Action Agenda can help Power Up Gambia accelerate our efforts to ensure that every health facility has the clean, reliable, renewable electricity they need to provide quality health care throughout the country. Based on results of the validation workshop, the Investment Prosectus will be finalized in the next few weeks. We will post a link to it as soon as it is available online!  In the meantime, you can learn more about this exciting initative at

Thanks Again to Our Supporting Rotarians!

Thanks to a grant organized by the Rotary Club of Paoli-Malvern-Berwyn, we have been able to upgrade some of the wiring and improve energy efficiency at the Bansang Hospital project site!  Bansang Hospital is one of the larger hospitals in the Gambia - serving over 60,000 patients every year in the very rural areas of Central and Upper River Regions, The Gambia.  Many of these patients travel long distances by car, truck, horse and donkey cart to get to the hospital – so many of them are in great need of high quality care when they arrive.  And with two new Gambian doctors now stationed at the hospital, they are doing more surgeries and treating more patients than ever before!  More patients, more procedure – that translates directly into the need for more power.

In 2012, we helped repair an older solar power system for the hospital’s Pediatric Ward and replaced their damaged batteries.  In 2013 we constructed a small solar power system with battery backup to power the critical care areas of the hospital.  But, to improve the performance of the system we also wanted to install energy efficient LED lights and timers to turn off heavy energy use hogs like air conditioners when the hospital was running on battery power. This is where the P-M-B Rotary Club stepped up!  Thanks to their help and the support of Independence LED, we were able to install over 50 LED lights in the patient wards.  We also installed 16 heavy duty timers to ensure air conditioners were not run at night while the hospital was running on battery power.

The improvements and upgrades in the wiring will continue.   This need for wiring upgrades really hit home while our Executive Director was visiting Bansang Hospital last month. An electrical fire started in the laundry of the hospital – likely due to old wiring that had deteriorated.  Fortunately the hospital’s security staff responded right away and put the fire out before it spread from the closet where it started.  In an old hospital like Bansang, where the original building was built in 1930 and where wiring has been added bit by bit over the years, the need to upgrade to more modern wiring standards and plan ahead for future hospital growth is critical - especially as we plan for larger and more powerful solar power systems to meet the hospital’s increasing patient load!

Thank You PMB Rotary for helping us get this energy efficiency and improvement project moving forward!

A generous donation brings light to 6 rural clinics

This past summer five students from the University of Pennsylvania traveled to The Gambia to work at Sulaymun Junkung General Hospital on a number of projects for both Power Up Gambia and for the hospital itself. As always, hospital CEO Mr. Kebba Badgie made sure the students received a warm welcome, and the staff at the  hospital quickly made them feel at home.

Volunteers Emma and Jemi took part in University of Pennsylvania’s International Internship program and worked on a number of projects at the hospital as Administrative Interns to Mr. Badgie.  In addition, UPenn first year medical students Ben, Allison, and Alicia used SJGH as their base for installing 6 more solar suitcases in rural clinics and for continued data collection at the hospital and clinics as part of our Monitoring and Evaluation program.

Our Solar Suitcases project is now being coordinated through the Gambia Ministry of Health’s Regional Health Offices.  Based on our past years’ experience with this project, we determined that working with the regional health offices was the best way to receive accurate information as to which clinics should be prioritized for solar power systems. This collaboration paid off with the regional health officers assisting our volunteers in identifying the clinics, transported in the suitcases out to those clinics and making sure they were placed properly.

To keep the solar suitcases in working and in good condition, SJGH’s electrician Saikou Gibba will work part-time as our solar technician for this project.  Saikou has helped us install all of our solar suitcases and has trained clinic staff on how to run the suitcases properly and.  Saikou will also be helping to collect monitoring information and maintaining the systems if there are any problems.

The rural clinics nurses and midwives are delighted with what these small solar  suitcases can provide.  As Saikou wrote in a recent email to our Director about one remote rural clinic and its attending nurse “  " Lynn, it was so terrible to see the way this man work at night without light and he is alone. Now (that he has lights and cell phone charging with the solar suitcase)   everyday he call me to show his happiness and to give thanks ....."

The 6 suitcases this summer were donated by a generous couple who learned of our program in The Gambia through We Care Solar  Thanks to their kind support, 6 more clinics have the lights, battery charging and fetal heart monitors they need to provide quality care for the farming families of The Gambia. 

It is due to the generosity of individual donors and and the hard work of student volunteers and interns  that that we have been able to run this small clinic solar suitcase program and have been able to “power up” 13 clinics now in The Gambia. We hope to have solar suitcases and small scale solar kits placed in the remaining small rural clinics that need them in the Gambia over the next three years .

Consider supporting our efforts!  A donation of $2500 can “power up” a small clinic.  You, your school, or your church can sponsor a solar suitcase for a clinic and know that the light you provide has the potential to save lives and reduce suffering in some of the poorest regions of The Gambia.


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