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Tourism in the Gambia and Senegal wants to be written in feminine

For Isatou Ceesay, one does not travel if he does not approach the reality of the other. “The tourist who comes to Africa not only wants to take photos of beautiful landscapes; he wants to know our problems, ”she says convinced in a video call from the Recycling Center in N´Jau, Gambia. There, about 4,000 women make colorful waste souvenirs that tell the story of a country drowning in plastic. On the banks of the Gambia River, which seeps like a horizon in much of the country, collecting oysters and caring for the mangroves is “a woman’s thing.” Specifically, of 600 mothers who since 2007 have joined to work as a collective and turn the harvest into the main livelihood of their families without abusing the environment. In Senegal, Leontine Keita revealed her destiny – to marry and have children – and today she is the first Bedik woman to own a humble hotel. Its ten cabins are a window to the most authentic of Senegal and already appear in the main tourist guides. “I started, but every time we will be more,” he predicts.

They are united by the desire to undertake and the years trying against the wind. Starting this year, they will also have in common the impulse of Banco Santander’s Best Africa program. The Foundation provides an initial amount of 500,000 euros over the next three years to women’s projects in the Gambia, Senegal and Morocco who lead tourism projects in their communities and are also environmentally sustainable. Gabriel Viloria, coordinator of the plan, sees in this support “an opportunity to promote solidarity and ecological tourism”: “Our work affects the promotion of gender equality in a sector, tourism, seriously affected by the pandemic. It is the only way that we advance in a transversal way in the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals ”, he says. This injection aims to reactivate this deteriorated sector. And it is that the African Union estimates a loss of at least two million jobs related to tourism due to the pandemic.

Ceesay won’t be one of them. She is a robust and clear-minded woman who resigns herself to accepting the ravages of climate change. In 1997, together with four other women, she opened the recycling center and since then her constant struggle has been to get the message across: “If we do nothing, warming will make our lives worse,” she repeats. The idea came and found its way into the more than 4,000 women who make up the Women’s Initiative The Gambia (WIG), an environmental awareness project and a space for those who did not have it: mothers, single women, widows and the unemployed.

Every Sunday, the Gambian went to the markets in her free time to teach other women to work with household waste, which without any restrictions accumulated in nearby villages and forests. Today, the impact of what they do has grown exponentially. In addition to souvenirs made of plastic, they have launched a new initiative to make carbon blocks based on coconut shells, peanuts, paper or dried grass, which replace the usual pieces of firewood, which are more polluting and one of the causes behind of deforestation in The Gambia. “The key is to understand the effects on our ecosystem and do everything possible to stop it. We are the main stakeholders ”, she says, proudly displaying the bags made of plastic strips and the tire keyrings. Seeking revenue from other initiatives is the following objective: “There are always things to do, but we are many people thinking.”

“We understood the strength we have as a group,” he emphasizes.

Fatou Janha Mboob is a social worker and she also thought hard until she gained the trust of the 40 oyster collectors who fish the Gambia River individually. “They saw me arrive with a good car and nobody trusted me. They thought I wanted to run for politics and secure their votes, ”this 67-year-old woman remembers with laughter. He came back several times – without a car – and with many ideas. The strongest of all: setting up a cooperative in which making decisions together and preserving the environment on which they depend was a priority. Thus was born in 2007 TRY Oyster Women’s Association. And there are already about 600 members in more than 20 communities between the Gambia and Senegal. “We understood the strength we have as a group,” he emphasizes.

They have always been after the fragile ecosystem of the Gambian mangroves, so no one like the shellfish women to take care of its preservation. “But women don’t usually let us make decisions,” says Janha. Until they started taking them. The hardest was to stop collecting every month of the year and thus assume a decrease in income. But climate change gave no truce to the mangroves and the oysters were becoming fewer and fewer. “We got together to decide how to deal with it: and we chose to shellfish for four months, starting in March,” he says, “And we all did. Here there is no picaresque, we do it because we know that it is better for everyone and for our country ”. They have also established group fishing zones and quintupled the price of their product. “I feel like they are now proud of everything we are achieving. Before, they didn’t see the value of what they did ”, he presumes.

“I feel that they are now proud of everything we are achieving. Before, they didn’t see the value of what they did ”, he presumes.

“The key is not in the size of the program,” says Vilora, “What we are looking for are projects that have an impact and help create stronger societies.” Leontine Keita’s story is embodied in the words of the coordinator of the Best Africa program. Behind the ten cabins that the Senegalese manages and rents there is a whole revolution. It has been 21 years since she refused to marry and be a housewife and decided to set up a small resort in Bandafassi, in southeastern Senegalese. The Campement Le Bedick Chez Leontine opened in 2001 with three small cabins without electricity or bathrooms and currently there are 10 fully equipped cabins, with independent kitchens and a huge circular dining room that gathers the tourists who arrive. “I work to change the rules of my country, to show that we can be in front and make money,” she says, mixing Spanish and French, “I want to be one of many more working women.”

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