The Smiling Coast, the land of beauty and sweet hospitality are the many words used to describe the country of The Gambia. And yes, you do have to include “The” in the name, the country demands that respect of us. Located in West Africa, this coastal country is one of the true genes alongside the Atlantic Ocean. It is known for it’s peanut export, fish,tourism amongst Europeans due to its close proximity, and as the birth nation of the famous African dish called Jollof rice.
Unfortunately, years of extreme drought and recent political unrest has resulted in crop failures. Thus, increasing food shortages, malnutrition and poverty for a country in which 70 percent of its two million population are farmers “who are reliant on rain-fed agriculture”.
Even with a population that is educated, ambition and culturally and socially conscious, the struggles of a developing country are prevalent.
For this reason, the non-profit Together For Gambia(TFG) is here to provide basic food items for those living below a $1.25 a day. We had the pleasure of coming across this organization and jumped at the chance to share their story and journey. It’s young founder Baboucarr Faal, is passionate and energized to help his countrymen and women. As a Gambian himself, he understands the nuances of the country’s religious and cultural standards to reach those truly in need. While some might find his approach “simple” in handing out basic food items, simple is almost, always the best and direct route to success.
We asked him to share his story.
1. Tell us about yourself, what’s your story?
I was born in The Gambia into a middle class family. Growing up in The Gambia was a vivid period filled with rich experiences which shaped my values as an adult. My parents were both nurturers in their own way. Our neighborhood (Latrikunda) was a mixture of middle class, working class and the working poor class. Our home was always an open door and as kids, we were able to see all facets of life in that surrounding neighborhood. I remember seeing other parents confiding in my parents about their financial difficulties. Though they always didn’t get the amount requested, my parents would always give something. This is when I learned the value of sharing and knew I wanted to give back to the community just like my parents. At age 11, I moved to the US to further my education. In 2006, I graduated with a B.S. in Computer Engineering from Old Dominion University and started a career in Intellectual Property. With the values instilled in me during my early years growing up in Latrikunda, fighting inequity and equality have become valued principles in my life. I’ve developed a worldview guided by a “balanced equation” theory which encourages those who are financially fortunate to balance the financial equation by lending a hand. Through various charitable efforts, I was inspired and touched by the impact small acts of compassion could have. In the fall of 2014, it was clear to me that these efforts can scale to make a greater impact. With a clear vision and increased confidence, I helped launch Together for Gambia.
2. What was your motivation to start this non-profit?
A couple events served as inspiration to start Together For Gambia. Around 2009, I heard a sermon during Jummah (Friday prayers) on what it means to declare your faith as a Muslim. The sermon made me remember those lessons learned as a child and that my purpose in life isn’t all about self. That there is an inherent responsibility for all beings to look out for one another and “not go to bed full while your neighbor is hungry.”
Around the same time, my wife and I watched an episode of CNN Heroes. We watched as a charity called Wine to Water (started by a bartender in the Carolinas) provided clean water to thousands of Africans in need. We tended to notice outsiders taking care of Africans when it comes to aid, so we asked ourselves, “Why can’t we do that?” The same resources available to Wine to Water are available to us. With economic conditions deteriorating in The Gambia, I and a few individuals put the wheels in motion and Together for Gambia was born.
3. What impact do you aim to have in Gambia? and How do you see yourself creating that change?
Our goal as an organization is to give hope and provide a mouthpiece to all Gambian citizens living in tough economic conditions. According to the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), 55% of Gambians are living in poverty and nearly 50% live under $1.25 a day. With most people falling by the wayside in The Gambia, it is clear that a social safety net (such as the ones seen in the West) is essential to give folks a chance at what we hope will one day be “The Gambian Dream.” We aim to inspire our aid recipients to pull themselves out of poverty with the help of our current food programs and other programs we will implement in the near future.
It may be dream, but one day I hope the organization inspires governments in third world countries to create and sustain welfare programs similar to those found in the West, in order to give its citizens a chance to live with food security and economic independence.
4. What impact will/does the current political environment have on your mission?
Together for Gambia is apolitcal with one mission. As long as there is peace and stability, we plan to carry on our work. Of course, if unrest develops, the safety of our volunteers on the ground is a priority, and when they are guaranteed safety the the mission will continue.
We don’t ask our recipients any information regarding tribe, politics or any other social matters. If we determine you have a need and the resources are available we help. Because the sources of our funding are strictly foreign based, there is no financial dependence on the local government in The Gambia.
5. How can the Gambian community in the diaspora help? Donate, Volunteer etc.
Gambians in the diaspora are critical to our organization. The organization is called Together for Gambia for a reason. We believe that the Gambian community owns the organization and we are merely a vessel to facilitate their acts of generosity. We are always looking for talented individuals to help us grow now that we’ve laid a foundation and found a way forward. We are also interested in partnering with organizations with a similar focus on improving the lives of Gambians – whether it’s food, education, or shelter. Gambians own the organization and the reason I say this is because it is their donations that laid the groundwork and it is their continued support that will provide the lifeline that keeps us growing. I would like to challenge every Gambian to make a pledge to themselves to give back on a monthly basis. A $5 monthly donation from one person might seem small but that same $5 from 1000, 2000, 3000 people is significant.
6. What has surprised you about the nonprofit sector?
The difficulty of fundraising. It is hard to convert compassion into funding. Most people show a willingness to help but are reluctant to give up their hard-earned pay. I’ve also learned that though the cause matters, people tend to donate based on relationships with organizations and its members.
7. Fundraising can be difficult for a start-up nonprofit, how have you funded your work thus far?
Initially, your organization must build trust and once it is established, convert that trust into funding. Slowly, Together for Gambia is building trust by transparently providing annual reports and multimedia of our food distribution efforts on our website and social media outlets. Our Board has pledged to take care of all administrative costs so that all individual donations received go towards providing food for our recipients. Through, board donations, corporate programs like Amazon Smile, individual contributions, t-shirt fundraisers, and community events we’ve been able to distribute approximately 1300 care packages to date.
8. How do you define success? How far are you willing to go to succeed?
With a background in engineering, success lies in finding a solution for the problem and seeing the solution in action. With TFG, success is measured not by developing and implementing a successful program, but instead by the joy others feel when they are impacted by our efforts. There is a part of me that feels that this is my true calling, so my hope is in some capacity to always be involved in giving back. It is a blessing when someone who’s less fortunate than you in status, education, or wealth asks of you. Certainly the blessing is the reminder of what’s bestowed on you by our creator. It’s also a great opportunity to thank our creator for that blessing by lending a hand to those in need.
9. What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage the fear?
It may sound cliche, but failure. Every distribution ends with someone telling us not to forget about them. I don’t want to fail the folks who have seen that glimmer of hope we’ve been able to provide thus far. We will continue to try our best. When it’s all said and done, everything happens for a reason and I believe that you do your part and leave the rest to God.
10. Where you see yourself and your business in 5 years?
Personally, I look forward to learning the ins and outs of the nonprofit sector and perhaps transitioning full-time to the non profit world to continue to serve. As an organization, we hope to engage in multiple efforts through partnerships while changing the lives of our recipients. We also hope to convert our hard-working volunteers into paid workers – especially the folks on the ground.
The OSOW Fast Three!
1. What is your favorite AfroBeat song?
2. If you could have lunch with any person, who would it be and why?
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Most leaders are successful in one area however, as a leader, he was successful in both religious and secular/political affairs.
3. What’s your overarching vision for Africa?
While its important to see miles ahead, its is imperative to point out that the current conditions in Africa are unfortunate, promotes inequality and is skewed against the working poor and when these are addressed, that vision will become reality.