without your help!'
one village has been transformed with Wexford's help
good, it was decided to try to get the locals to become self-sufficient and so began what has become an extremely successful gardening programme. Seeds, potatoes, lettuces and vegetables were sent out to the Gambia from Séamus Kane's farm in Whitechurch with the help of another local man, John Joe Nolan from the Street Children of Bucharest charity, who was a big influence. A container filled with all the seeds as well as computers and sewing machines was then shipped to Africa.
'This led to the vegetables being grown and whatever produce was left over the locals sold it on, and this started to generate money for the village and the locals started to become self-sufficient,' said Joe, adding that the sewing machines led to the establishment of work groups where people started making clothes, scarves and souvenirs for the tourism industry, which created another income stream, while the computers benefitted the schools that had electricity.
To run the school and the feeding programme costs €5,000 a year and, due to the problems encountered over the years, two people are now employed full-time to travel to the school weekly to ensure everything is in order. 'That is the key to its success,' said Joe.
'We just didn't build a school and walk away from it – there was no point in us putting in so much energy and then turning away and walking away from it. We keep emphasising now to the locals that they need to become self-sufficient.'
To date it is estimated that over €80,000 has been donated locally from the people of Waterford and Wexford since the inception of the project.
'At the end of the day we couldn't do this without the people of Wexford and Waterford,' said Joe, who continues to travel with Nicky Mcevoy and Tom O'mahoney to the Gambia every March and November.
During the years they have brought with them many local people from both counties to help out on the project and are still inviting people to travel over with them and help out.
'We fund all our own trips which, between flights accommodation, would cost around €1,200 for 10 days. If anyone wants to come and see the project they are more than welcome. Anyone who has travelled with us before says it is just mind blowing, they cannot believe it,' added Joe.
Every time Joe travels back over to Africa, he meets children who started in junior infants in the school when it first opened its doors in 2004. 'They can read and write and are hungry for information,' he said. 'But now it's coming to a stage where we will have to build another three classrooms when they finish in primary school so they have a secondary school to attend – you can't just educate them up to sixth class and say goodbye to them,' said Joe, adding that donations are still being gratefully accepted for the project.
'Even if it's only €2 it goes a long way out there. The average week's wages is under €6 so that will give you an idea of how far €2 will go,' he added.
The Gambia Project is now a huge part of Joe's life, with him now regarding the country as a 'home from home'.
'We have people out there that are like family members to us. We have built up a relationship with them over the years, they trust us and we trust them. At first they were very sceptical of us but once the first block was laid for the school they knew we were serious about helping them and the relationship started to form from there,' he said.
'Realistically speaking we will never be finished with the Gambia.'