My journey to transforming women’s lives in the Gambia

I am proud of my decision: returning to my homeland, The Gambia, to give back to my community.

In 2003, I migrated with my family from the small coastal village of Tujereng in The Gambia to Torrelles de Llobregat in Catalonia, Spain. While I remained strongly tied to my roots and values from my home country, I did not miss any opportunity of learning and personal growth that the new country and its inhabitants offered me. I carried with me three main passions in life: multiculturalism, social business and FC Barcelona.

Since my children were grown up, I began to study international cooperation and development at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. My humble origins coupled with the traditional wisdom of my grandparents enabled me to overcome the new challenges of being in a new country, and to successfully manage my family life and studies.

My mother, the only daughter among seven siblings, grew up in a society that believes that a girl should assist her mother in the household. She therefore was also the only one who did not go to school. Women’s role in our society is underestimated and see women working really hard. While their work could be compared with that of a small ant—efficient, hardworking and a fighter—yet, their work remain undervalued. The division of labour is firmly based on a patriarchal economic system ruled by men. As a result, I have always wanted to support women in my home country, especially those who did not get a chance to go to school.

To tackle these issues, I created a charitable organization called Africa Mbolo (that is, Africa United in Wolof) with some Senegalese and Gambian immigrants to promote the development of our home communities. Since I was working at the time as a tour operator for Terres Llunyanes and was regularly travelling to The Gambia, Senegal and Guinea, I could provide punctual support and aid shipments via my trips.

Although it was a good initiative, I believed that it was not the kind of projects that would alleviate poverty. In fact, we were generating more dependency and sometimes, I was feeling that we were falling into the paradigm of Africa being a container instead of a continent. In my opinion, development aid means that the donor is ready to transfer knowledge and financial support to strengthen local capacities and needs previously identified by the recipient communities. The recipients should on the other hand be ready to receive in order to empower themselves. Effectively using development aid therefore requires a model that is self-managed locally to allow community autonomy and empowerment.

One day I decided to bring my whole family back to The Gambia to help change women’s lives. This is how Fandema (that is, help yourself in Mandinka) was born as a flagship project of Mbolo. It is a family project supported by several Catalan organizations.

Every year, Fandema offers a second chance to almost 70 young women school drop outs (85% of whom are under 30 years old) from 15 rural villages mostly in the West Coast part of The Gambia. The project aims to enhance women’s livelihoods by strengthening their productive capacities and abilities through training in entrepreneurship whilst boosting their professional activities with renewable energy.

My interest in renewable energy sparked in 2009 when I attended a seminar in Barcelona on renewable energy targeting installers from developing countries. Azimut 360, became our renewable energy partner and they designed a basic renewable energy system for the Mbolo Training Center. Unfortunately, on 26 December 2011, we had a fire outbreak at the training center. Nevertheless, about 8 months later Fandema came back to life from the ashes, now with a state-of-art 8,3kWp hybrid installation granted partly by the Global Environment Facility and UNIDO.

Fandema’s renewable energy system ignited the women’s interest in renewable solar energy. The Mbolo team knew how to listen and search for ways to enhance their knowledge.

Today, Fandema is nurturing this interest with a pioneering one-year hands-on solar installation-training course in West Africa with support of the Global Environment Facility, Small Grants Programme. Fandema promotes women’s economic empowerment by building their technical capacities in developing affordable and reliable renewable energy solutions. I am truly delighted to be the renewable energy trainer and mentor for these young energetic women. Fandema has also contributed to breaking the energy access barriers for women.

I am lucky. I am giving back to my land and I am able to do so with committed women who are ready to take on challenges, innovation and continuous learning.

It seems unbelievable to some people that an African man is so committed to gender equality and has dedicated his life to advocating and fighting for this cause. If we, Africans are not the engine of development, this development can never be, and even less be ours. If this engine does not include women, it is a lost cause.

Let’s join together: Mbolo (Africa United).

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  • Joy Eze
    I wish you success in your work,and more strength in mentoring and empowering women in your community.i really love what you do keep touching lives.
  • Catherine wachu
    We need more men like you, together we become the change we want to see. Keep up, all the best.
  • Tahera Daud
    An inspiring journey indeed, where in the developing world, 'Brain-Drain', is a common phenomenon and people rarely look back after leaving one's country, you came back to be a part of your people again. I think it's a great work and initiative, it would go a long way.
  • Angela Ianniciello
    This story is an inspiration and a great example for all of us. It gives hope and shows how great achievements can come from willpower, good training and helping each other. I am really impressed and want to say bravo to you.
  • Mary Achieng
    Am touched and if we all take up the responsibility of ensuring this world becomes a better place to live in for all of us we can go far. Keep up the good work.
  • Adebisi Haruna
    I am greatly inspired. Great job you are doing out there. Wish you God's blessings.
  • Liz Guantai
    Women are truly the backbone of family and society. Congratulations for your contribution in improving the welfare of women in your country. Brilliant initiative
  • Robert Michira Oichi
    You have inspired me Malang. I will never shy away from supporting women empowerment in any form. "If our societal engine does not include women then it is a lost cause"
  • Clarissa Rios Rojas
    Malang, great work!, as you said it is very unusual to see a man trying to empower women in Africa. Your work is helping many women but it is also inspiring many men to question what is gender equality? why is it important? why is this man so committed to tackle it. Thanks for story! I would like to know how did you overcome the difficulties about tradition and culture. How did you broke those barriers and let people embrace your vision? Thanks a lot!
  • Tonny Okello
    Educate a girl/woman you will have educated the nation, empower a girl/woman you will have ignited the strongest power to drive the nation towards development.
  • Evelyn Bisona Fonkem
    Thank you Malang for sharing your story.Your life is a success story.It will go a long way to inspire many men to become partners to women's economic development.
  • Badejoko Fabamise
    This is amazing! You are truly phenomenal Malang for challenging norms and going all out to commit so passionately to women economic empowerment. As you said, using development aid that is self-managed locally allows community autonomy and empowerment, and it is by empowering women that they can manage their communities better. I really wish you all the best.
  • Swati Vempati
    "If we, Africans are not the engine of development, this development can never be, and even less be ours. If this engine does not include women, it is a lost cause." It was wonderful reading your journey. Here in India too, we experience a lot of people migrating to west in search of better education or better careers. Though the ties are maintained, many never come back. It truly takes courage and determination to not just come back but also work in such a difficult sector. Hats off to you and your team! Just curious to know, were there any issues the women technicians/ entrepreneurs faced due to the prevailing disadvantaged norms?
  • Thabo Mubukwanu
    This is amazing! I completely agree with you when you say "Effectively using development aid therefore requires a model that is self-managed locally to allow community autonomy and empowerment". Truly the only way to produce sustainable results in Africa's development is by empowering people especially women do manage their communities better. Im inspired by your work and would love to see more men on board like you are. Also, the program on solar energy definitely needs to be replicated in other countries like Zambia which are currently facing energy crises.
  • Gladys Muthara
    Wow! I am so inspired Malang. I like the fact that you are a man yet so committed to women economic empowerment, successfully doing it, and even breaking stereotypes about women and technical 'things.' If only we could have more people like you understanding the importance of Women Economic Empowerment to Africa's Development, this continent would really go far. I hope that as you do this incredible work, you are also planting the same seed in young men in the Gambia and Africa so that we can have more people supporting the cause. Women Economic Empowerment is a universal agenda and everyone has a role to play. Good job! Thank you.
  • Michel Choto
    Thank you for sharing. You are right, we need to empower women as opposed to creating dependancy.
  • Teresa Abila
    Inspiring article from Gambia. Such bold moves by Malang are hard to come by.Amazing!
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