Concern Universal, The Gambia, and the River Gambia Expedition collaboration

On the road to Concern Universal headquarters, Fajara, The Gambia, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

A few years ago, Florio services as a photographer were requested by the then Country Director for Concern Universal, Paul O’Hagan (who has since left to start an independent project and also to run a beautifully tranquil lodge, with his wife Betty, in The Gambia – Suleima Lodge). In exchange for a vehicle and driver, we drove around to various rural Gambian villages to photograph the male and female ‘Coming of Age Ceremonies’ – huge, traditional, tribal, ceremonies to celebrate the boys and girls ‘initiation’ to manhood and womanhood, respectively. The initiation involves male and female circumcision – still very prevalent here in West Africa. Once the operation has been performed, the boys are taken into the bush and the girls spend some time in isolation – in the bush and/or in a specially designated compound. During this time of, both sexes are taught the ways, and responsibilities, of becoming a man/woman.

Whilst making the rounds of the ceremonies for CU, we also managed to fit in some portraits for a personal portrait project which Florio had been working on, during his travels to The Gambia, over many years – ‘Makasutu-mecca in the forest’. Here is one example of a boy who had just come out of the bush for the ceremony:

Young Gambian boy, dressed for male circumcision (‘coming of age’) ceremony – Myork village, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio, 2008

Yet another fortuitous, timely, meeting here in The Gambia – of which, we are happy to say, there have been many – was for us to meet the new Country Director, for CU, Tony Jansen. It just so happened that Tony, his wife, and daughter, were spending the weekend here at our friends, Geri and Maurice’s, place (Sandele Eco Retreat), a couple of weeks ago.

‘Concern Universal helps communities around the world find practical, long term solutions to poverty.’

We chatted with him about what we were doing – the River Gambia Expedition – and mentioned that Florio had shot some stuff for CU a few years back. Tony said that the website could do with updating with new images but that, as with everything these days, budgets were particularly tight. We also asked him if they had any vehicles going down to Guinea (where they have other projects going on) that we could hitch a ride with, with all our gear. And a plan came into fruition…

After Florio and I hastily put together a proposal, mailed it over to Tony back in his office on the Monday morning, and by the middle of the same week, we had our lift to Tambacunda in Senegal – o.k., not to Guinea but well on the way, at least. And, with CU’s ‘Ordre de Mission’ (a kind of official stamped document to travel across borders which NGOs, amongst others, use for easy passage), it means we are sure to cross through at least one boarder post without too much hassle.

From an assignment we did in DR Congo, for micro-finance group FINCA © Jason Florio ‘Village Banking for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo’

In exchange – our whole journey seems to be based on an exchange – for the vehicle and the driver we will provide CU with images for the website, marketing, annual reports etc. – similar to those (example above) we previously provided for FINCA, a micro-finance bank, in DR Congo.

Again, we’ve made many contacts whilst we’ve been waiting for ‘the black box’ – who we may not have met had we left when we should have done, three weeks ago, on the River Gambia Expedition. It gives one further belief in the often over-used (but often justified too) adage: ‘everything happens for a reason’.

Image – courtesy of the Concern Universal website

We’re really looking forward to working with Concern Universal again. Please take a minute to check out what CU do and, as always, if you like what you read about them, please feel free to spread the CU word. They have a FB page too.

Thanks to CU, we’ll be posting more on our imminent departure date during the next couple of days.

Stay tuned!

Thanks for stopping by

The Florios (H & Flo)


About River Gambia Expedition 2012

Jason Florio, FRGS: award-winning photojournalist. Helen Jones-Florio: expedition & photography producer. 2009: The couple co-led the West Africa expedition 'A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush - a 930km African odyssey' - the first circumnavigation of the small West African country, by foot, with two donkeys and a cart. Resulting in the award-winning series of portraits of Gambian village chiefs (Alkalo's) (under 'Projects') 2012-13: The couple co-led their second West Africa expedition - 'River Gambia Expedition - 1000km source-sea Africa odyssey' over-landing for 400km and canoeing the River Gambia for 720km
This entry was posted in Adventure, Culture, Expedition, photography, Photojournalism, River Gambia, The Gambia, tradition, Travel, West Africa and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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