In The Gambia, youth unemployment is a huge problem. School is not compulsory here, and although many younger children do attend, the drop-out rate as children go through secondary school is significant. Often young people end up with little education and no skills, making it very hard to compete in a small job market, and this is a major factor in many youths ‘taking the back way’ and trying to reach Europe, despite the dangers and massive risks involved.
One of Lamin’s nephews, Yankuba, is a carpenter, and for many years he’s had a dream to open a skills centre for the youths in Kartong. Recently, a Dutch foundation was formed to help get this project off the ground. It’s taken a lot of hard work and organisation, but in September a brand new skill centre opened – the Change Children’s Chances centre, commonly known as the ‘Triple C’.
Although it’s only been open for one term, just before Christmas they decided to showcase what their students have done so far, and Lamin and I were invited to the presentation.
The programme was supposed to start at 3 o’clock, but in true African style, there was hardly anyone there when Lamin and I arrived except the excited students rushing about making last minute preparations and a couple of DJs on the sound system playing music extremely loudly!
I took a look around the centre while we were waiting. The rooms are spacious and well-lit, making them ideal for practical workshops. The Triple C offers training in a range of skills, including hair and make-up, carpentry, and tailoring.
There’s a hand-made sign over each doorway to tell you what goes on inside.
I took a look in the sewing & textiles room, and found a young woman working away on a treadle sewing machine. Most of the machines were treadle or hand-powered, but there were a couple of electric machines too.
In the hair and beauty studio it was a hive of activity, with students arranging each others’ hair, applying make-up, and practising speeches ready for the show later.
By around five, it was judged there were enough parents and visitors to make a start, so with one of the students compering, the show began. There were several speeches from staff members, board members and local community workers, because one element of the presentation was to let the local community know what’s happening at the Triple C. It seems that some local people didn’t appreciate the need for a skills centre, so it was important that people saw the quality of the work the students are doing.
And the quality was very high indeed! The drama group began with a play about the importance of skills, and they performed it with great gusto. It had the audience shrieking with laughter, but delivered the message firmly.
This was followed by a superb fashion show, where the students showed off clothing they had designed and made themselves – it was a true catwalk show and the clothing was beautiful.
The woodwork students brought out a stunning bed frame and matching bedside cabinets they’d made, explaining to the audience the process they’d gone through to design and make the furniture.
During proceedings, students brought round cups of wanjo (hibiscus cordial) and a delicious ginger cordial, which kept us all refreshed.
By now, the light was beginning to fade and it was difficult to get photos (although there was a beautiful sunset!).
But the evening ended with the students showcasing their individual tribal cultures. Some performed traditional singing and dancing, while others did a little ‘karaoke’ with songs from the culture. By now the arena in front of the school was packed, and everyone applauded enthusiastically and showed their appreciation in Gambian style by donating small notes (worth about 10p or 20p) to the acts as they performed.
It was lively and very exciting, especially when the kankurang put in an appearance. The kankurang is part of the Balanta tribal culture, and is considered something of a bogeyman figure – I’ve heard parents threaten misbehaving with children that the kankurang will come if they don’t settle down! The kankurang has red shaggy hair and always carries a machete in each hand, which he clashes alarmingly if anyone gets too close.
Needless to say, everyone was hugely impressed both with the quality of the students’ work, and also with the presentation – they’d clearly worked very hard to put it all together and it was a huge success. We’re hoping that now the local people have seen what goes on, the Triple C will get more students (the current roll stands at 97).
It was a great evening and we’re looking forward to seeing what they do at the end of next term!