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Gambian Association in Oslo: Our cultural week provides a unique ground for reunion of friends, family members and relatives
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Gambian Association in Oslo: Our cultural week provides a unique ground for reunion of friends, family members and relatives

The Gambian association in Oslo, Norway is one of the most unifying and successful Gambian associations in the diaspora. Apart from encouraging their country folks to engage in positive activities, the association is also involved in philanthropy activities. Currently, it is sponsoring nine students at the University of The Gambia. The secretary, Omar Drammeh tells us more about the association in this exclusive interview; 

What’s on-Gambia: Can you please tell us when and how the Gambian Association in Norway was established and what are some of the issues you work with? 

Secretary: The Gambian Association in Oslo was first established by a group of Gambian seamen in 1972. They were not many, but they found it useful to organize as a way of securing their welfare. Over the years the association expanded with the influx of Gambians to Norway in the late 70s and early 80s. It has since evolved to be a non-profitable charity organization that works to promote Gambian culture in Norway to enhance the inclusion of Gambians in Norway, to safeguard the welfare of Gambians in Norway as well as to contribute in the development process in The Gambia. 

Apart for the annual Cultural Week, what other activities does your association undertake? 

The cultural week serves as the association’s main event as it is our key fundraising activity. However, we are also involved in other activities, which are geared towards enhancing the welfare of Gambians. This we do by way of providing access to education, supporting initiatives that uplift the livelihoods of those who need it in the Gambia and collaborating with African diaspora organizations to work on issues of common interest and concern. The association also organizes events to commemorate The Gambia’s Independence Day and the celebration of the feasts of ‘tobaski’ and ‘koriteh’. 

In your honest opinion is it difficult to mobilize Gambians in the diaspora? It’s very common to hear Gambians saying; “I don’t like hanging with Gambians. They don’t mind their business.” What is your take on that? 

I believe where ever you go; it can be a challenge to mobilize people. It is not an exception amongst us in the diaspora, in Norway. There will always be some people who for different reasons will keep to themselves. In the same way, a substantial number of Gambians have positive inclination, drive and passion to join diaspora organizations as a way of serving and contributing their quota in uplifting the communities they live in. They serve as an invaluable resource to the Gambian diaspora. For this reason, it is helpful and important to encourage everyone to actively engage and participate in any way they can. 

What are some of the challenges/issues that your Association is facing and what are the common problems affecting Gambians in Norway today?

The association has had its ups and downs. As a committee we do receive encouraging and positive feedback about the voluntary work we do. The association is highly privileged to have a generally supportive community around it who show an admirable sense of voluntarism during our events. We are highly indebted to those individuals for their continued support and collaboration over the years, which have contributed in making some of the challenges we face minor. We thank them for the community spirit. 

On the other hand, every now and then we at times receive negative criticisms. As we are here to serve our community, the committee is open to constructive criticism, which can only positively impact the work of the committee. 

Living in Norway also has its advantages and disadvantages. It is certainly one of the best countries in the world to live in, but this does not mean it is without problems. Besides the harsh climatic winter conditions, issues related to language barriers, employment,

discrimination and cases of racism are stumbling blocks to some. However, quite a number of Gambians in Norway have made headway and have stably established themselves in both the public and private sectors. 

Can you give us an insight on some of your organization’s memorable moments? 

We have many memorable moments and it is hard to choose. However, one of the memorable moments was in 1991 when the association organized a seminar on the issue of drug dealing. It had reached a point back then when the image of the Gambian community was tarnished by certain individuals due to illicit dealings in harmful drugs. The association confronted the issue to restore the good name of the community by organizing a seminar with participants from the police directorate and other institutions. The seminar got a lot of positive media coverage in the newspapers, which in many ways uplifted our image. 

Another major highlight is when Jaliba Kuyateh and the Kumareh Band first came to Norway in 1993. This was the group’s maiden trip to this part of the world and it marked the beginning of establishing the name of Jaliba Kuyateh as a household name here. Since then Jaliba has made repeated visits to Norway. 

Of recent times, one of the students we sponsor at the University completed her undergraduate studies and we are very proud for the small role we played in helping her achieve this important development aspect of her life. 

Did your executive ever step back and take a moment to appreciate and celebrate what you’ve been able to accomplish? 

We try to. We have indeed achieved positive things in spite of the limited resources and other challenges. The fact that we manage to create a platform that bring people together despite our different affiliations is a force to reckon with. We have over the years contributed our quota in profiling the Gambia, its people and culture, which has undoubtedly made the Gambia known to many Norwegians and Scandinavians. Our cultural week provides a unique ground for reunion of friends, family members and relatives. People come from afar come to grace the occasion and we try our best to involve everybody with specific attention to the children and youths. We collaborate with sister Gambian organizations in other Scandinavian countries, which strengthen the bonds of sister/brotherhood and friendship. We highlight and take up issues affecting our community through different forums and at the same time serve as a pressure group to pursue other issues affecting the welfare of Gambians in Norway. These are all achievements that we tend to take for granted, but they have indeed impacted the well-being of many people in our community. 

The Gambian Association in Oslo is sponsoring two students at the University of The Gambia. How did your philanthropy focus develop? 

Actually, we are sponsoring seven students at the University of The Gambia, not two. The idea of the scholarship fund came into being in 1998 and was actualized in 1999 when the first batch of students in different secondary schools across the country were identified through an application and selection process. The project was successful in the sense that we were able to

reach out and support quite a number of needy students. That first batch had since completed their studies and moved on to further education in the country or abroad, or taken up employment in different sectors in the country. The performance of one of our sponsored students, Kitabu Jammeh, was so outstanding that the committee decided to sponsor him further through University. Kitabu is now attending the School of Medicine and is in his 5th year. He continues to excel in all subjects. A year later and due to the impressive performance of Kitabu, the committee decided to expand the sponsorship at the University; but this time to give opportunities to females students. Six were selected and are currently undergoing different programs. We believe that giving opportunities to female students has a lot of merit as it can enhance positive change in the future in terms of their participation not only within the family but also in national development. May I add that the philanthropic work the organization does predates the current scholarship fund. 

The association has also in the past sponsored the construction of a classroom block at Albreda in the Niumi district. We have also in the past donated books to the Gambia National Library. Mr. Sheik Tejan Nyang has been instrumental in coordinating these initiatives. 

The plan is to further expand the scholarship program, especially now that the students at the University are getting closer to completing their studies. The expansion however, depends on the availability of funds, but plans are underway to raise the funds. We are grateful to members of our community who have in the past supported the program and who continue to answer to our call in the hours of need. We would also like to acknowledge the role of our coordinators, Mr. Alieu Saho and Mr. Abdoulie Gaye who are both on the ground in the Gambia and who help us in taking care of matters related to the scholarship fund. Besides the education sector, the association has donated cash and material to the Gambia Football Association (GFA). We have also made generous contributions to disaster relief aid and the repatriation of bodies of members of the community for burial in The Gambia in collaboration with the Gambia Islamic Movement in Oslo. 

Any final words?

Wishing Gambians a happy tobaski in advance!


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