was not only a joyous occasion but also an emotional one, when village elders,
women and youths gathered at the spot outside Penyem village – located about 8
kilometres outside Brikama. It has been 20 years when they last had a water
project like this in the community. The elders then have all gone today.
“Most of the people convened here are a part of the history of Penyem,” Alkalo Kalilou Colley told the gathering, also comprising students from the village’s primary and junior schools. “Minister James Gomez has been a blessing as the pioneer of conventional education and water systems for this village,” village chief said, expressing pride in the bond shared with friends from the US.
“We are bound by the past and the future,” he added.
Mr. Alieu Nyassi, whose late father was the village chief in the 80s, expressed gratitude to the Hartford Memorial Baptist Church and School for building an enduring relationship with Penyem over the years.
“Pastor Adams did not hesitate to come to the village’s aid when we made known our problem of access to clean drinking water some twenty years ago,” Mr. Nyassi recalled.
“As a leader of a Christian ministry helping a Muslim community, Pastor Adams believed we are all God’s children. Hence his mission to come down here and launch the project,” Mr Nyassi added.
That Pastor Adams has grown of age, but his son, Pastor Adams Junior is equally keen on strengthening the legacy left by the father. The latest mission to launch the borehole came through the effort students and church members who raised funds to ensure the project becomes a success in the community of Penyem.
“When I arrived here (in Penyem) this year, I did not know that the small project started here decades ago have now expanded to serve 15 communities with education and clean water. I would return to Detroit to tell this story that women here no longer have to work hard to bring clean water for the families; nor do children have to travel miles just to receive education,” Ron Spears, youth leader of the Hartford Memorial Baptist Church said.
Mr. Alieu Nyassi, now living and working in Detroit, U.S., once worked at President Awards Scheme in The Gambia when Dr. Pierson Manuel and Ron Spears brought a group of African American youths for socio-cultural expedition in The Gambia.
The youths were to undergo manhood rites in the village of Penyem, opening doors of enduring collaboration between the village and the two institutions in Hartford. The expedition positively impacted on those youths and changed their view of life and personal development, Spears recalled.
“Thanks to this link with Hartford, I have watched African-American young men grow into responsible adults after going through rites of passage here in Penyem two decades ago,” he said.
20 years ago, Ron Spears was also adopted by the Touray family as a son of the village. “I was given the name, Ebrima Sulayman Touray,” Ron Spears told the gathering, noting that it was a blessing for the people to celebrate this ground breaking event today.
The Gambia’s minister of Water Resources James Gomez, who served as a social worker in the village in early 1980s, also graced the occasion. And so did the family of former-volunteer-now-late Peter Lewis (sons Forrest, Gabriel, and wife Cheryl).
While Minister Gomez then a social worker with the YMCA Gambia, was reportedly instrumental in bringing the first water project and a nursery school in the village, the late Mr. Lewis was credited for constructing several latrines across the area for community’s public health and safety.
Being in Penyem for this event was an emotional moment for him too. “I recalled my first visit here in 1981; our dream then was to make Penjem a model village for the area. It is a pride for every social worker to see such a dream come true,” Minister Gomez said.
Gomez said with the visible expansion of the settlement, the size of the student population – he has a renewed belief that Penyem has a future and Gambia has a future, Minister Gomez said, thanking the Church for their partnership and support to the village.
He urged the community to strengthen the management of the project: “You wanted water, now you have got water. Ensure that the project is sustained… the contractor will train a few youths for any minor maintenance works. Appoint a care taker, even if you have to build a house for him here,” he told villagers, urging them to make the women an integral part of the management committee.