Member Spotlight: Nova Scotia - Gambia Association

ACIC is pleased to be collaborating with the Nova Scotia - Gambia Association by supporting one of their staff to attend and speak at our 2015 Symposium in St. John's, NL this June 11-13. The NSGA is also celebrating its 30th anniversary this summer with a dinner June 4th. See below for more details

Nova Scotia – Gambia Association (1985-2015)

The roots of the Nova Scotia – Gambia Association go back to 1985 with the first in a series of highly-focused development education field-trips to West Africa for Canadian students and teachers. However, by the early 1990s the NSGA had evolved into a major force in education, health and community development in The Gambia through the implementation of a series of complex and far-reaching – and truly unique  – programs that had a nation-wide impact in that country.

In the ensuing years, under the leadership of our founding Executive Director, Burris Devanney, NSGA steadily built a well-trained, professional and highly dedicated Gambian staff capably implementing school and community-based development programs in every region of the country.

Among the programs which made NSGA a household name in Gambia were the following:

  • From 1992 to 1994, a series of free summer school skill-upgrading programs for Gambian secondary school students in language and math skills – a program which was soon emulated by schools throughout the country. In 2006 NSGA “resurrected” its annual summer school program, though on a smaller scale – rotating it through Gambia’s six regions.
  • Commencing also in the early 1990s, teacher-training programs to meet particular needs – e.g. training for school guidance counsellors, environment education teachers, and math and language teachers, as well as hands-on training for hundreds of teachers coordinating school-based peer health education programs throughout the country.
  • The “Almudo Project” – a successful 18-month program in 1994-96 providing daily hot meals, health care, clothing, showers and laundry facilities, as well as recreation and literacy training, for nearly 200 ragged children, ages 6 to 12, who had been begging for sustenance on the streets of Gambia’s capital. By project’s end all of these children (whose plight had been considered intractable) were returned to their families and re-absorbed into their home villages.
  • From 1995-2000, NSGA initiated and managed a “University Extension Program” in collaboration with Saint Mary’s University by which for the first time Gambians were able to attend university – at an affordable cost – in their own country. The success of this program led to the establishment of the University of The Gambia in 2001.

NSGA is best known, however, for a unique Peer Health Education Program which we initiated in 1990-91 in one rural high school, but which over the next dozen years we extended to virtually every secondary school throughout The Gambia and in 2002-06 to 100 schools in post-war Sierra Leone. This is a comprehensive program embracing virtually every health-related issue affecting young people in Africa, but with a special focus on reproductive health, sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, and malaria, as well as issues relating to self-esteem and bullying – and now cyber-bullying.

By December 2006, when Burris Devanney retired as our voluntary Executive Director , NSGA was working on eleven multi-year programs reaching hundreds of schools and villages in Gambia and Sierra Leone with –

  • a combined  local staff in the two countries in excess of 100, including eight young professional drama troupes;
  • more than 6,000 trained peer health educators in  260 secondary schools; and
  • funding from national and international donor organizations.

Over the past few years, with the demise of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and a general decline in international donor funds, NSGA, like many NGOs across Canada and in other countries, has had to downsize – even to the point of releasing our first Gambian Executive Director, Muhammed Ngallan, an excellent leader who had moved through the ranks from Peer Health Educator to the highest position in our organization.

 

Nevertheless, with ongoing support from the Global Fund for Malaria and HIV/AIDS, we have been able to maintain our PHE Program on a somewhat reduced scale. Our staff in Gambia now numbers 36 dedicated individuals, led by National Program Coordinator Abdou Kanteh. And even in difficult times, NSGA continues to be innovative and responsive. Within the past several months, in response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, NSGA has raised funds in Canada to implement a national school and community-based program of “education for the prevention of Ebola” in The Gambia.

On June 4, 2015, at the Westin Nova Scotian Hotel in Halifax, NSGA will celebrate our 30th anniversary, with National Program Director Abdou Kanteh as our keynote speaker (thanks in part to ACIC which is bringing Abdou to St. John’s, Newfoundland for its AGM and Symposium, June 11-13). We have indeed come a long way since our humble beginnings as a development education project for high school students.

***

While our Gambian staff are all salaried professionals, our support system in Canada depends entirely on volunteers, some of whom have full time jobs; some of whom are retired. We would be delighted to hear from new volunteers interested in assisting us in any aspect of our work, or qualified resource persons who could provide training and other assistance overseas. If you are interested, please contact NSGA Chair, Kilby Townshend (ktownshend@ns.sympatico.ca) or Board Member Chris Field (chrfield@gmail.com).