In the summer of 2019, I spent five and a half weeks in The Gambia, West Africa. Three of those weeks were spent studying politics and culture with 19 other Juniata students, and two and a half were spent working for the Gambian Art Coalition.
As a sophomore at Juniata I became the co-founder of the non-profit organization known as the Gambian Art Coalition. Exactly one year later, (as of November 18th, 2019), I am knee-deep in organizing sales and presentations, working with interns and business professionals, and coordinating buying trips and budgets. Being the co-founder and Director of Communications and Marketing of an international non-profit organization was not something I thought I would be doing while earning my undergraduate degree at Juniata College.
At the Gambian Art Coalition, our goal is to promote sustainable development in The Gambia through partnering with local artists and investing in their communities. We are working towards providing a platform for the Gambian Artists to sell their art here in the United States and generate a sustainable year-round income for them.
If you scroll back through these blog posts, all the way back to April of 2019, you’ll find my last blog post before I left for West Africa. It was pre-funding, pre-travel, and pre-experience.
While we were in The Gambia, we pitched for seed capital funding through JCEL. We received an initial $3,000 and were given the opportunity to receive more after completing some further business steps. That $3,000 plus the $1,000 we won from the student start-up showcase were the funds we used to make our initial purchase and fund start up business expenses.
We spent months in advance prepping for the trip. We got our shots, got our passports, coordinated travel planes and flights – but it didn’t feel like it was really happening until we were in the airport. The flight was eight hours long and landed in Dakar, Senegal. We were then going to drive across the border into the Gambia.
It was a tough ride, squished in a van gross after a full day of traveling plus sweating from the heat. We stopped for breakfast and lunch and eventually made it to our guest house. Spending three weeks, exploring the city and surrounding villages while learning about politics and culture was a chance of a lifetime. We met some incredible people who welcomed us into their homes and invited us to celebrate Eid with them and their families, which is the celebration of the end of Ramadan.
After the group and Professor Nagengast left to return to the States, my business partners, Evelyn and Sarah and I began the process of meeting our artists. We met our nine incredible artists in the local craft markets. Each artist has a stall with their own creations, made from wood, silver, cloth, paint, and beads.
We learned how to make batiks (painted wall hangings) with Karamo, watched Samba weave his table runners on his home made loom, listened to Pa Momodou explain how he creates his silver pieces in his shop, and watched Yankuba and his apprentices sew sweatshirts, pants, scrunchies, and dress shirts in his storefront on the beach.
Traveling to The Gambia was an incredible opportunity and I am so glad I decided to go. Juniata provided me the resources to not only expand my cultural knowledge but to co-found an international non-profit that promotes sustainable development in West Africa.
If you’re interested in learning more about our artists, visit our website: www.gambianartcoalition.com
Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @gambianartcoalition
–Julia Newman ’21, Professional Writing POE, Co-Founder of the Gambian Art Coalition