If you hear village communities being developed by FIOHTG, the Community Development Unit of FIOHTG is at the center of that development process.
To be a bonafide villager or a descendent of a bonafide villager gives more credibility to heading this special Unit because you were born and/or raised among the villagers and therefore you know the real development concerns and desires (example. food security, income-generation, education, especially adult education, etc.) of villagers vis-à-vis development work. That is one of the reasons why a descendant of a village couple by the name of Mr. Bubacarr M.L. Camara heads the Community Development Unit at FIOHTG!!
The unit started development operations in 2006 when FIOHTG management decided to concentrate its village development work within specific areas of the country namely LRR, CRR and URR and called it the Village Development Program (VDP). Previously, there were Units called the Environment Unit, Women Empowerment Unit and Organizational Development Unit working almost independently of each other with targets scattered all over The Gambia. FIOHTG Management saw it fitting to merge these three separate Units as one entity and now call it the COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT UNIT (CDU) for cost-effectiveness and smooth coordination. Since inception, the Unit has been helping farming communities move their own development agenda forward by engaging them in the assessment of their needs and work priorities to offset some of their development challenges such as access to safe water supply, food insecurity, low literacy levels, poor health care, low productivity and low income-earning capacities, etc. and other basic rights issues. Collaboration with major stakeholders such as the National Council for Civic Education (NCCE) to combat the basic rights issues through civic education forms a great part of FIOHTG’s advocacy work in the communities.
The work of the Community Development Unit can be found in 17 Key Villages (villages with FIOHTG-built infrastructures in their schools such as classroom blocks, water points or delivery systems, toilets and or kitchens). Apart from the key villages CDU also works with more than 50 Satellite Villages within the village Development Program and these include those villages that supply the Key Villages with school going-age children. The Unit has contributed immensely to making safe water available to communities through sinking of concrete-lined wells and/or solar-powered water reticulation systems for both human and livestock consumption and school and village vegetable production. Several training activities were carried out and continue to be conducted on sound environmental management practices, re-organization and leadership training for members of Village Development Committees (VDCs), School Management Committees (SMCs), and Village Youth Groups, Gender Committees, Nutrition Committees etc. The various trainings center on topics and thematic areas such as group organization and management, fund-raising, record-keeping, environmental management, nutrition, maintenance of hand-pump wells, civic rights and responsibilities, community policing, cereal banking, Local Government structure, decentralization process, etc. An example of active environmental management apex groups can be found at Bayaba village, Sami District, CRR-North and Sare Njobbo village, Jimara District, URR. A trained and active nutrition group can be found at Tabajang village, Jimara District, URR and a group trained on hand-pump maintenance fully equipped with a repair toolkit at Kisikiss village, Tumana District, URR.
The Unit trains its clientele on Participatory Needs Assessment refered to as Participatory Rural Appraisal methods and techniques culminating into the development of Community Action Plans. (CAPs). The CAPs form the basis for CDU development intervention as the communities’ weak areas and strengths as well as threats and opportunities are well defined and articulated.
Darsilame village, Jarra East District, LRR, identified a cereal milling machine as a need; Sare Sarjo village, Kiang Central District, LRR, a bakery; Sare Musa village, Jarra West District, LRR, a water reticulation system; Pallol Wolof village, Niani District, CRR-North and Changai village, Sami District, CRR-North, school buildings / solid infrastructure; Tabajang village, Jimara District, URR, a waiting shed for the monthly Maternal & Child Health Clinics and Wellingara Yareh village in Wuli East District, URR, a teachers’ quarters.
Yes, the Unit has done and will continue to do a lot for The Gambian population, especially the rural-poor folks. The village beneficiaries generally always welcome FIOHTG with open arms because of their track record in their intervention villages. However, too much expectation from most of the villages is a development challenge for FIOHTG since it cannot deliver on all their development needs. Village project management, especially the management of the village cereal bank schemes is a major challenge due to low management capacity of some of the Cereal Bank Committee members with low recovery patterns of cereal loans.
To address such problems, the Unit staff regularly pay monitoring visits to the villages in a bid to monitor, review and advise on progress or otherwise of projects and programs so as to ensure effective management best practices. They also provide on-the-job training for the village project or program specific managers.
Donor-funding guidelines sometime create development challenges at the village level. For example, donors could earmark certain funds for certain village development projects that the villagers would not like. For example, the village of Chargel, in Upper Fulladu West District, CRR-South wanted a cereal milling machine but the donor does not want to fund such a project. After many negotiations, the villagers were convinced by FIOHTG to accept an oil-milling machine acquired from another donor for a start and then the cereal milling machine could be acquired through other funding sources if the opportunity becomes available.
The Unit currently has 5 full-time staff members – 2 staff members posted at the Regional Offices in LRR and CRR while 3 staff members are stationed at FIOHTG Headquarters in Kotu South, Kanifing Municipality. There is a need for an additional full-time staff member to be posted at URR as management has plans to establish a Regional Office in that Region.
More information on FIOHTG will come your way in our subsequent editions. Keep reading!!
Sidat Yaffa, Ph.D.
On Sabbatical Leave
Contacts: Website – www.fioh.org; Email – firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel. – 4460363/4466868