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.


Hot busy days and muggy nights

It is still the rainy season in The Gambia, so the days are hot and the nights are still warm and muggy.  Normally, the rainy season would have come to a close towards the end of September.  But everyone here is glad it is still raining.  The rains arrived very late this year.  Farmers were starting to worry that it would be a bad year for crops, like in 2011 when the rains came late and left early and many farm families were left without enough to eat.  But, with the rainy season continuing, crops are beginning to ripen and it looks like the crops will be ok this year.

The hot days bring a lot of people out to the beach to cool down in the evening.  Some tourists are beginning to arrive for the annual tourist season, from October through February in The Gambia.  But now that everyone can relax about the farming season, the worry is growing about the tourist season.  Bookings on the airlines and at the hotels are way below normal. Even though there is no Ebola in The Gambia, and tourists are unlikely to spend their time on vacation at a hospital washing and treating people infected by Ebola,  the fact that all the news reports lump "West Africa" together as one place when reporting on the Ebola crisis is putting a serious brake on the annual tourist season.

Since nurses and staff at the hospitals do run a risk of infection if an Ebola infected patient ever shows up, the staff of Sulayman Junkung General Hospital were quite relieved to recieve our donation of Personal Protective Equipment.  The Gambia Ministry of Health has ordered equipment for all the hospitals, but it is unknown when it will arrive - with the surge in demand in other areas, it may take some time for The Gambia to get their shipment.  Mr. Kebba Badgie, CEO of the hospital arranged for a presentation ceremony for the equipment.  A reporter from the local Bwaim Community Radio station covered the presentation and I gave a short interview with him.  What was amusing to me was that I gave one interview in English.  Then, he interviewed Mr. Badge - who gave the interview in English, and then did it over again in fluent Mandinka, and then did the interview a third time in fluent Jolla.  We Americans do tend to stand out in our ability to only speak one language.  Almost everyone here in The Gambia speaks at least three.  We also had some newspaper coverage in The Daily Observer.  I was a little confused about the reporters reference to "Ebola testing euqipment" until I realized he was referring to the non-contact IR thermometers similar to those used at the airports to quickly check people's temperature without touching them.   You can read the article online at

Now, on to negotiations with the local Utility company NAWEC for upcoming projects.  I spend more and more time in The Gambia at meetings - it makes me jealous of our volunteers and interns who get to actually do field work while in The Gambia. But, as the current Ebola crisis does illustrate all too graphically - a strong and robust health care system is a critical component of any country.  We are pleased to be continuing to work with the Gambia Ministry of Health to "Power Up" the clinics and hospitals so they can have the lights and electricity they need to treat their patients.


In The Gambia - hoping for the best but preparing ...

It is always a pleasure to arrive back in The Gambia, and see the familiar faces of our friends and colleagues.  This time however, I did not bring solar suitcases or solar equipment with me.  Instead, I brought 4 full bags of health Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) per the request of Mr. Badgie of Sulayman Junkung General Hospital.  Although thankfully The Gambia is Ebola free, the hospital wanted to make sure they had the protective equipment such as double gloves, hazardous waste coveralls, goggles and respirators in place for their health care workers, in case a suspected Ebola case ever arrives at the hospital.

Thanks to the quick response of Univ. of Pennsylvania students Emma Beigacki and Jemi Jacob, and with the help of our former board member Lonnie Angstadt, an online fundraiser organized by Emma gave us the funds needed to purchase the equipment before I left for The Gambia.  A special thanks to Brussels Airlines, who waived the excess baggage fee for our equipment as well!

While there have been no cases of Ebola in The Gambia, the government here has been preparing for the possible accidental arrival of an infected person – who may not even know they are infected at first.  There has been a massive education campaign, and there are posters, radio and TV announcements explaining what the symptoms are and what to watch out for.  There is even an Ebola hotline to call if you have questions or concerns.

What is also interesting is the huge hand washing campaign nationwide.  I feel like we are all becoming like the TV character “Monk” – an obsessive compulsive TV detective who always has to clean his hands when he shakes hands.  Officially, Gambians are now not suppose to shake hands in greeting.  But – this is The Gambia!  Everyone shakes hands – it is what you do!  How can you suddenly stop tradition – it just feels strange to walk up to a friend or associate and not shake hands.  So, everyone is washing hands constantly.  Banks, stores, government buildings - all have hand sanitizer or soap and water available.  One bank I went into, the guard at the front door stopped me and directed me to the hand sanitizer station on the wall before I could proceed to the teller.  And at the hospital they have installed a sink with running water at the front gate.  Anyone and everyone who enters the hospital grounds has to stop and wash their hands – no exception.

The hospital is also stepping up basic hygiene procedures. New, closed waste receptacles are replacing the open bins and cardboard boxes that use to be used. Segregation of waste is being improved so that hazardous waste does not co-mingle with regular waste.  And the hospital is stopping the open-pit burning they use to use for waste.  They have built a deep, covered ash-pit and are constructing an incinerator on top of the pit to burn waste right away and contain the ash, so that waste and rubbish  doesn’t sit out exposed in an open pit and risk being scattered around the grounds.

We will have a presentation ceremony of the PPE’s later this afternoon.  The doctors and nurses seem very relieved – the Ministry of Health is working with WHO to get PPE’s into all health facilities, but in the meantime, while they wait for supplies to arrive, our friends at SJGH have some of what they need ….. just in case.

Solar Suitcases at Kaiaf Health Clinic

Saikou and Ivy installed two more solar suitcases at clinics at Lower River Region - at Kaiaf Health Center and Pakaliba Health Center. Here are some of Ivy's observations: 

" I found that like many of the small rural health clinics, the physical conditions of these two clinics were poor and they struggle with limited resources. In both clinics, hospital beds were in short supply, so sometimes patients have to wait lying on hard concrete benches instead.

The staff works hard, but they have limited equipment and limited drugs - and some of those drugs have reached or past their expiration date.  And while these two clinics were built and wired for electricity,  they don't have any way to generate that electricity.  They don't have generators, and even if they did they could not afford the fuel to run them.  So the staff have to treat patients and deliver babies at night by either candelight or by holding up cell phones to light up the room. 

They also have to pull water by hand from a well - no water pumps to deliver clean fresh water here!  Living in America, you forget that you need to have power to pump water - otherwise you have to pull it up from the ground by hand!

 Yet I find the staff was very upbeat and friendly. As you might expect, they were very excited to be receiving a solar suitcase for lights, cell phone charging and monitoring of fetal heartbeats during pregnancy and delivery.   Saikou installed the panels, and then he and I educated the staff on how to run the suitcase. I helped Saikou do the clinic survey and enter the results on his new laptop.  The information we gather will help to monitor and evaluate the use of the solar suitcases, and we will be checking back periodically to see how well they are performing!"




Installing Energy Efficient LED Lights at the Hospitals in The Gambia

Ivy, one of the two Drexel University interns working with PUG in the hospitals in Bwiam blogs about their work and lives in The Gambia:
When Mengdi, or Ami Gibba as the Gambians call her, first arrived, she brought with her 25 LED lights from Independence LED intended for Bansang Hospital. This past Thursday, they finally made it there. Mengdi, Saikou, Anabi (the driver), Saidou (a friendly helper) and I got up before dawn and left Bwiam at 6:40am. On our way we stopped at the Kaiaf and Pakaliba health clinics where Saikou and I installed the solar suitcases, to drop off surveys for them to fill out about their clinics and their use of the suitcases. In Soma, we stopped to get bread with beans, which were absolutely delicious! Unfortunately, I could not finish mine as my malaria pills were making me feel a bit ill, but they smelled great. Further along, we passed a large group of baboons and even a camel!

When we finally arrived, we met the hospital CEO Mr. Baba Jeng, and the heads of each of the hospital's departments and then went to the Maintenance Head's office. He showed us their solar panels and generators and then we got to work. Our mission was to deliver and install some of the 25 LED lights Mengdi had brought with her. We worked primarily with a man named Lamin who insisted on speaking Jola to us. This was actually really helpful as we learned the words for 'catch', 'turn it on', 'turn it off', and 'light'. Each installation required a technician, either Saikou or Lamin, to climb a rickety old ladder (and sometimes balance on top of it) while facing dusty electrical equipment.  At one point Lamin needed to go rinse out his eyes from the dust. At another, they moved the ladder while he was standing on it. I was so scared for him! OSHA would have had a fit. Somehow, none of this seemed to really disturb the hospital's day. Patients stared at us from their recovery beds and lab workers forged on.

Over the course of Thursday and Friday, we managed to install 11 lights.  The purpose of the new LED bulbs is to have brighter, less energy-craving lights.  Mengdi and I helped mainly by holding the ladder, flicking the light switch, and passing things to and from the technician. We also had the opportunity to tour the entirety of the hospital and to speak with staff about the benefits of the solar power project installed last year by PUG. Previously, Bansang Hospital did not have electricity from 2am-8am or 2pm-7pm because the Rural Electrification grid in the area only runs for a portion of the day.  They had to buy fuel for an on-site diesel generator, but now they can utilizes primarily solar power.
Mengdi and I got to stay at Anita's home. Anita is a British philanthropist who has worked in  Bansang for almost 20 years, but she had gone home for the holidays; so we unfortunately did not meet her. However, we really enjoyed her gas stove (we made pasta with tomatoes and onions) and her comfy couches! Thursday for lunch we ate out in a little 'restaurant' for 25D  (68 cents) with the men we travelled with, but it was not nearly as delicious as Fatou's home cooking.

Friday after we finished up, we packed our things and headed to Bansang Fire Station. One of my first friends in Bwiam, MS Bah, works there and had invited us to come and visit. He showed us around the station's extensive gardens and sent us home with bitter tomatoes, chili peppers, a pawpaw, and more banana than I could carry. We also got to see the Bansang health clinic which when we asked how we could help, gave us two broken electronic scales. We ate lunch under a cashew tree before taking pictures with the trucks and firefighters. Before leaving the hospital, Anabi had guessed that we would be home around 5pm while I said 7pm; we were both wrong. We got home at 9pm and I was snug in my bed by 9:30.

Saturday morning, we went to Kombos. Kombos is the capital, more populated region of the Gambia and consists of 4 states or districts called Kombo North, Kombo Central, Kombo South and Kombo East. Many people go to Kombos every weekend to visit family or go shopping, but it was only my second time. It turned out that a fairly-stable patient also needed to be transported to the hospital in Banjul, the Edward Small Teaching Hospital,  so we were able to use the siren and lights! I thought that was the coolest thing. We flew through traffic blaring the whole way.

After dropping the patient off at the hospital,  Anabi, Saikou, Bentou (our pharmacy worker friend), the nurse who accompanied the patient, Mengdi and I went shopping in Banjul. It was quite an experience. We started out in a fabric store where Mengdi and I each bought two prints. My total was 250D for 4 meters of fabric which is about $6.80. We are going to take them to the tailor in Bwiam for wrap skirts. In the craft market, Mengdi learned that bargaining could pay off when she bought a leather purse for a third of the original price: 300D or $8.22. Our funniest experience was in the upholstery shop. We were on the hunt for a blanket - Gambian nights are surprisingly chilly - and stumbled into our last-bet shop when Mengdi noticed a woman selling lettuce out of a bucket to the shopkeeper. The salesman seemed a bit confused when we ditched him to buy lettuce from the woman. Before last night, I had not had salad in 6 weeks! It was so great to get some raw vegetables!

We were beginning to get a bit hungry - the lettuce did not help - so we headed to Bentou's home for lunch. I was a bit confused when we pulled into a police station, but it turned out her father is a police officer and lives at the station. It seems that many employers provide housing as both of the hospitals, all of the clinics we have visited, and the fire station had staff accommodations. Lunch was delicious and we got to try to Gambian fruit juices. Mengdi really liked the one from dida (a Gambian fruit I do not know an English name for), and I the other (made from sorrel or hibiscus flowers).  After leaving Bentou's family, we picked up four more people (two nurses and the Peace Corps couple, all heading to Bwiam) and we headed to the supermarket. Mengdi and I got lots of delicious things to take back up with us to our volunteer house in Bwiam.

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