Starting her own business is the goal for Isatouh Baldeh, one of several hundred young people who have participated in the Norwegian MyFarm project in the Gambia.
The 19-year-old had dropped out of school when she joined the scheme soon after it began. Curious and industrious, she learnt about making soap, preserving food, packaging and sales. Although conventional school did not suit her, Baldeh swiftly absorbed this practical teaching. She has shared her earnings with her family, and any money she makes from selling products is saved for the future with MyFarm.
“That my country remains at peace,” responds Baldeh when asked her dearest wish. She recently gave birth for the first time, and her goal is to be able to take responsibility for her own children with the money she makes.
Many young people in the Gambia have acquired the knowledge they need to lift them out of poverty in recent years. The AfricaStartup foundation has taught them how to launch a business on their own or with others.
MyFarm is one of the projects under this umbrella, and provides youngsters with a centre where they receive practical training. In addition to farming, subjects covered include food preservation, soap-making and how to run an enterprise in the From Seed to Business programme.
Norway’s Marit Linnebo Olderheim, the woman behind the venture, explains that MyFarm reflects new solutions to the challenges she identified during five years in the Gambia.
“I wanted to create a place where it was possible to test our new ideas and see what works and what needs to be corrected,” she explains.
Africa Startup has developed a training programme presented in the newspaper How to Make Money, along with educational videos in formats suited for mobile phones, videos and film.
Young people can join a MyFarm course, study on their own or learn through other organisations which use the foundation’s educational programmes.
The Gambia is a small English-speaking country on the west African coast. Olderheim reports that Gambians are tolerant people and open to testing new ideas.
Because the country is small, it becomes easier to acquire an overall view, understand the culture and grasp the local context – important for this type of grassroots work.
Africa Startup has developed methods which can be scaled up, and all the material and ideas from MyFarm are also being used in Uganda and Burundi.
The foundation is collaborating with such partners as youth group Activista, entrepreneur organisation Empretec Gambia and the country’s Institute of Travel and Tourism.
Another MyFarm participant is 26-year-old Alieu Sanneh. He started selling soap after just a week, and had soon saved enough money to buy his own equipment for making soaps and creams.
He also learned to produce jam and to dry lemon grass, and has started a small guesthouse and his own fruit and vegetable garden to supplement the manufacture of soap and cream.
“I have faith in the future,” Sanneh says. “Because of what I’ve learnt here, I believe I’ll have a better tomorrow. And I want peace and unity for my country.”
Browse the educational newspaper How to Make Money here.
See the educational films here.
Read more about Africa Startup and MyFarm here.