Looking back – those who helped make the River Gambia Expedition possible. Today, our thanks goes to Concern Universal

WASDA garden, Basse, The Gambia

Image © Jason Florio for Concern Universal – WASDA Garden, Basse, The Gambia

As we continue to trawl through 1000′s of images and multiple journal entries, for our forthcoming book about the River Gambia Expedition, we’re reminding ourselves of those who helped make our journey possible and, in the case of Concern Universal, adding the comfort and ease of passage factor to the first leg of our road trip down towards the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea – where we would pay homage to the source of the mighty River Gambia and the true beginning of our West African odyssey. For this, in the age old West African tradition, we bartered.

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Image © Jason Florio for Concern Universal

Before we left The Gambia, for the source, we visited a number of community-based gardens where Florio took photographs for CU – for their ‘Gambia is Good‘ (G.I.G) initiative. In exchange, they supplied us with a vehicle and a driver – Nicolas – to take us over the border into Senegal, with our two canoes, all our gear and our two Gambian team mates, Abdou and Ebou. What could have been a lengthy and expensive nightmare – getting through customs – was made seamless, partly due to being driven in a shiny 4×4, with NGO number plates, and having a huge seriously-important-looking radio antennae sticking out of the hood of the vehicle! We even managed to get the BBC World Service on the way!

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G.I.G van – CU Head Office, Fajara, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

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Jason Florio – shooting for Concern Universal, The Gambia, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

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Jason Florio - shooting for Concern Universal, The Gambia, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

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Our next stop: GADOH – Gambia Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing © Helen Jones-Florio

In our quest to document the lives of the people and communities whose lives depend on the River Gambia, we had phenomenal support from many, many people and companies. And, we are sure to be coming across more images from everyone who got involved – which we will post as and when.

Please stay tuned for further updates – especially about our River Gambia book!

The Florios (H & Flo)

P.S. If you are in Brooklyn, New York, between 19-29 Sept, come by and say ‘hello’ to us at Photoville

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

Concern UniversalBefore we left The Gambia, for the River Gambia Expedition, we had the privilege of working again with an NGO called Concern Universal ‘...helps communities around the world find practical, long term solutions to poverty‘ CU are doing some phenomenal work not only down in West Africa but also in India, Brazil, Bangladesh.

Image © Jason Florio for Concern Universal - The Gambia, West Africa
For an update about the River Gambia journey (as of today) please check out our blog post here

 

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 Concern Universal. In exchange for a vehicle and driver, we drove around to various rural Gambian villages to photograph the boys ‘Coming of Age Ceremonies’ called Futanpuf – huge, traditional, tribal, ceremonies to celebrate the boys ‘initiation’ to manhood. The initiation involves male circumcision – still very prevalent here in West Africa. Once the operation has been performed, the boys are taken into the bush to spend some time in isolation. During this time of, they are taught the ways, and responsibilities, of becoming a man.

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)