The Oasis Project, has a locally run charity shop, which is a not for profit organisation. All proceeds will go directly into helping the locals of the small community in which the shop is based. Over several weeks late last year, Chris collected items such as clothes, shoes, household implements and books; items all generously donated by friends and family. These items were shipped to the Gambia to be sold in the Oasis Project shop.
Whilst on holiday in The Gambia in early 2006, Chris was introduced to young chef called Jobis and his family. However, after several trips that year, in November 2006, Chris was led by her faith to start researching the possibility of setting up a charity shop and other ways of assisting the community, in the area of Bakau where Jobis lives. In May 2008 Chris began taking over items to be sold in the shop.
Whilst Chris appreciates the good large charity organisations do in the poverty-stricken countries of Africa, her approach was to try and provide assistance on a more personal and long-term level. Since she started this project, Chris has seen how empowered the two young locals, Baba and Hela, who are running the shop, have become. The project is teaching them basic skills such as money handling, book-keeping and stocktaking. She has seen how they have grown in self-worth and confidence and she is pleased with how well they have handled this additional responsibility.
The shop is based in a residential area called a compound. The compound is little more than dwellings lining dust filled streets in a rural district called Bakau. There is little in the way of greenery and scarce shelter from the intense heat; and whilst there is a nod towards 21st century technology in the form of internet cafes, on closer inspection we could see that most of these shops were closed, boarded up or laying bare. However they are not totally without modern technology as they do have mobile phones and satellite TV.
There are several compounds dotted around the residential areas and this particular one is home to roughly 20 people. The compound consists of single room dwellings which are usually occupied by whole families. The room I saw was fairly large, however in this one room the inhabitants would cook, eat, sleep and entertain. There is only one toilet, which is shared by both sexes, and which is essentially a hole in the ground, and running water in the form of one tap. This public convenience is a new addition, and only came into existence within the last 18 months. The shop itself is small, but what was once a neglected space has been transformed by the hard work of the locals who came out in force to clean and paint.
Although there is electricity, there are no street lights and the electricity regularly goes off during the evening. Therefore those residents lucky enough to have them, use torches. Nevertheless, this lack of resource, which we in the western world take for granted, does little to diminish their community spirit.
The inhabitants of the compound regularly come together to celebrate a birth, wedding, or another momentous occasion. These celebrations usually take the form of street parties, in which the inhabitants display the dancing and music they are famous for. Whilst there, we were the guest of honour at one of their parties, and so could personally experience the warm and welcoming nature which so characterises the Gambians. Not only are they generous with their time, but also with their food, and we were treated to some traditional Gambian cuisine.
Within easy walking distance of the compound is one of the most luxurious hotels in the Gambia. As is the case in many third world countries where tourism is a major source of income, the divide between the rich and poor is striking. In this particular complex you are surrounded by rich greenery and facilities which the nearby compound sorely lacks.