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The Travel Foundation: The Gambia Roots Tour Project
'Roots' Tour Project - The Gambia
Since Alex Haley’s book ‘Roots’ was published in 1976, tourists have been flocking to the villages of Juffureh and Albreda in the Gambia where the story began. The book and subsequent film tell the story of Kunte Kinteh, a man captured as an adolescent from Juffureh and sold into slavery in the United States. Today, around 2000 people live in Juffereh and Albreda, including decedents of Kunte Kinteh's family.
Tours to the villages involve international visitors arriving by boat and spending a few hours in the community learning about the slave trade and life in the village. Although Juffureh and Albreda are situated in one of the poorest areas of the Gambia, local people earned very little from the tours. Until recently, the villages received no fee from visitors and the only way that the community was able to gain from the tours was through donations and by hassling tourists to buy crafts, sweets and other items.
As a result, hassle to tourists was rife, complaints were common and tour operators were thinking of dropping the excursion from their itineraries. In addition, local people had very little, if any, say in the tourism to their villages. In response, The Travel Foundation, a UK charity, began working with the communities and tour operators to redevelop the tour. The aim was to create greater benefit for local people, to help ensure that their voice was heard in decisions made about tourism to their communities and to create a more sustainable future for the tours.
The project was initiated and piloted in the 2008/2009 season and has since been developed in 2009/2010. It is implemented by a local team based in the Gambia. The first step was to gain agreement from tour operators for part of the price of the tours to be paid into a village fund to support development projects. Now, 50 Gambian Delasi (around US$1.84) per tourist is paid into this fund, increasing local earnings from tourism significantly and raising over US$27,500 to date. The fund belongs to and is managed by the communities themselves and we have helped to set up a village steering committee to ensure an accountable and transparent process for the use of the money.
The Kinteh family also receive an allowance from this fund and they have reported that this has enabled them to increase their income from the tours by 50%. So far, 16 local people have been trained to become professional tour guides, who now earn a monthly salary paid for by the fund. The guides enable visitors to gain more from their visit and help to limit hassle from street vendors. We are also helping local people to increase income from the sale of crafts to visitors without hassling tourists.
Many of the vendors in Juffureh sell on goods made elsewhere. We are training these vendors to make their own distinctive crafts using traditional methods, enabling them to increase the margin made from each sale and to create attractive products for tourists which are unique to the region. To date, 24 women have been trained in traditional tie dye methods using natural dyes found in their local environment, and 11 men have been trained in wood carving skills that are unique to the villages of Juffureh and Albreda.
Our aim is to set up an official market at the pier where the tourist boats arrive. In addition, we have created a children's centre in the village, which gives local children facilities to learn and play outside of school hours. 70 children are now using the centre and an art teacher is helping them to learn traditional techniques and explore their artistic talents. As well as giving children an additional opportunity to learn and develop outside of school, the centre also helps to reduce the number of children begging from tourists.
It is early days for this project, but already local people are seeing greater benefits from the tours through increased income, new employment opportunities and a chance to learn new skills. Tourism is vital to the Gambia’s economy, representing its biggest foreign exchange earner and around 17% of its GDP. The 10,000 visitors who took a 'Roots' excursion last year brought important income to the villages of Juffereh and Albreda. The project is also helping to increase the quality of the 'roots' tour and improve the experience for tourists, helping to ensure a more secure future for tourism in the area.
The areas visited on these tours represent an important part of the Gambia's heritage and tourism can play a significant role in its conservation, helping to keep alive the story of these villages and to improve the well being of the communities that live there today. Our aim is to continue to improve the benefit for local people from these tours and to ensure that visitors continue to gain an authentic experience of the region’s culture and history in the knowledge that they are also contributing to the well-being of the people they meet.
Alkalo Issuing Certificate to Female Guide