My Gambia internship
In 2013, when I was in my last academic year Bachelor of Midwifery in Brussels, I was selected for an internship abroad to a land of my choosing… WAUW, that was my dream! I was able to choose an African country to stay and work for 3 months, to help less fortunate people and to prepare myself for the best job in the world. I was born for this!
After a thorough investigation in books and the web about several African countries, I chose The Gambia. With its interesting contemporary culture, kind people and painful history I was curious about this small country. I prepared myself for travelling south and counted the days until my departure.
In February 2014 I left my homeland together with other midwife students. In the middle of the night, we arrived in The Gambia. A small taxi driver welcomed us kindly, put our excessively large luggage on his taxi roof and drove us to Brikama, Kombo South. We arrived in a lodge and slept in a small cabin for the night.
When we woke, we experienced the hot African sun for the first time and witnessed a lot of impressions during our walk into the town. I got an indescribable feeling that I’ve never felt before.
Up until now I still remember the first moment that I walked in the streets of The Gambia. (To witness that, you just have to come here!)
Our time in Brikama was short because we had to travel along to Gunjur, further to the coast. The taxi driver brought us to the health centre, where we met the nursing and midwifery team. And we got a house there, where we were allowed to stay as long as we wanted to.
My first delivery
A day that I remember very clearly is when we started working in the antenatal clinic and labour ward. It was the day that I delivered my first Gambian baby in Gunjur. ( Pictured above )
When I look back on this picture, my heart fills with love. I remember two things very clearly looking at this picture (except that I look very young in this picture haha 😊).
The first thing was that I am barely able to communicate with the woman in labour.
Not only during labour but also before I noticed that the women did not speak English very well.
Somehow, we understood each other’s feelings. Even though English is the official language, you have a lot of tribal languages like Wollof, Mandinka and Fulla.
During my time in The Gambia I learned to communicate better with women, I learned their language (not easy!)
What I also remember when I look at this picture, is how I barely had any material and medication to make a safe delivery happen.
In Belgium, we have birth packets, epidural packets, stitching packets, medications to take in the closet, linen, protection, etc.
A little shock to stand there in the labour ward on your first day with nothing but gloves and a scissor.
Quick to learn
I learned to work extremely economical in The Gambia, to consider twice every use. But every midwife takes an extremely high risk, to work like this. Not only the risk to protect herself from HIV, Hepatitis B/C and others, but also to be able to prevent maternal deaths and childbirth deaths…
Those are two things that I remember, just by watching this picture… Those two things are so important: healthcare (with enough materials) and education (SDG 3 & 4, United Nations).
Education for women
A midwife told me that women are not always well educated in The Gambia (lack of education, because of the costs of school, and because of daily habits in this country – Women are more supposed to help in the house). I was a bit sad to hear that… That midwife told me that times are changing a little bit, and some girls get an education these days. But change is going very slowly…
The Gambia really changed my life
Years after my first months in the Gambia, I return each year to the same village. Every year I volunteered in that same labour ward in the same health centre of Gunjur. And in 2019 I founded the MAMAFRIKA charity project with my mother and friends. MAMAFRIKA is a project to help with those two important things. We want to support and help improve (access to) healthcare for women and children, as well as education for them.
We named the Belgian non-profit organization Mamafrika and changed the name in 2022 into vzw Gambiana
We have a local volunteering team of 5 people to guide us on the best way into the community and to help implement the prepared projects. You can check out our work on social media, Facebook, and Instagram, where we post news and pictures of our work. Feel free to contact us in case you want to help with our projects (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I am not a stranger in The Gambia. It has become my second home. So when David asked me to write about my experiences and work, I knew this page would not be enough to describe.
Feel free to come to the Gambia yourself, and experience the smiling coast of Africa 😉. You can join us to carry out projects on-site, or support our projects with donations.
The story was written by Sabrina Asselman.
If you feel inspired by MAMAFRIKA & Sabrina’s time in The Gambia, why not help her by following her social media accounts or even contacting her directly to offer support!