When I took on the role of Africa Partner Manager at Re-Cycle at the beginning of 2020 my mind was buzzing with loads of ideas and plans of how to further develop our already strong partnerships with our partners in Africa. The work that had been done prior to me starting in this role had created a solid platform for me to work from and I was excited about the challenge that lay ahead of me – not only with our existing partners but also with forging new relationships with new partners in other African countries outside of the four countries that we currently work in. After a few weeks in the role my diary was starting to fill up with my orientation trips to visit all of our current partners.
My first trip was to see our partners in The Gambia – WYCE (Wonder Years Centre of Excellence). WYCE is an NGO based in Madina Salam, Kombo South District, West Coast Region, The Gambia, West Africa. WYCE NGO is a local organisation providing education, health and livelihood skill services to the underprivileged communities in The Gambia initially in Madina Salam village. A village which is now home to over 3,000 people from five different African tribes: The Fula, The Balanta, The Wolof, The Mansuanka, and The Mandinka. Our partnership with WYCE started in 2013 and has grown ever since.
Mark, our Warehouse Manager (qualified bike mechanic) and I arrived in The Gambia on 25th February and we were greeted at the airport in Banjul by Lodge Manager Malang and Ebrima who is responsible for the Bicycle distribution programme. We arrived in Madina Salam to a wonderful welcome from the staff at WYCE and took a walk to the local beach via the bike workshop, bee farm and watched some monkeys playing in the trees above us whilst at all times being protected by the WYCE security guards – aka Bobbie and Betty the WYCE dogs.
Over the next few days we were shown around the local area, introduced to village elders, met lots of wonderful school children at the local school which WYCE support with a feeding programme for over 700 children, and started to get a real feel for Gambian life. Wherever we were taken we were met with a very warm welcome. To see and hear how the impact of a bicycle can have on a person or a family is very humbling and until you are immersed in a countries culture you don’t appreciate how much of an important job you are doing back in a dusty warehouse in the Essex countryside.
Working side by side with the WYCE bicycle mechanics in a workshop that Re-Cycle helped to build not only financially but physically in 2016 was a great pleasure for Mark who thrives in that type of environment. He learnt so much about their way of working and making use of the tools that they have at their disposal even if they weren’t designed for the job in hand! He also taught the WYCE mechanics some great new skills and made many new friends along the way. The WYCE mechanics – Lamin, Sol and Ebrima are a great team!
Our Cycle to School project was piloted in The Gambia in 2017 and following a successful pilot 10 schools were carefully chosen to receive between 20-40 bikes for the children that most needed them based on where they lived in relation to the school. We visited 2 of the schools on the programme which involved a very early start. 4 hours later we reached our first school where all the children that received a bike through the programme we there to meet us. It was great to meet with children and talk to them about how the bikes have helped them and their families. The second school was a further 2 hours drive along dirt tracks as far as the eye could see. Life as a child in Africa is so much different to that of a UK child. We all have challenges to manage on a day to day basis but the challenges that they have are so very different. To know that we have been able to help them with one of these challenges is amazing and if there is a problem with the bike the local bike mechanic (trained by Re-Cycle mechanics) will be able to fix it.
All too quickly our week in the Gambia came to an end but on our last night the locals put on a evening of Jola Kumpo entertainment for us. Some amazing dancing that went on till dark then we were treated to a traditional meal shared with all the WYCE staff and we were presented with a leaving gift of a tailored African dress.
A wonderful trip that not only introduced Mark and I to all the amazing work that WYCE does but to also make lasting friends who we hope we can support through the years ahead.
Charlotte Ward , African Partner Manager