Recent projects: (2018)

Previous checks by our supporting medical doctors (MD) showed that the Buntung population is suffering from too monotonous food.  They live on a diet of cous (made from pearl millet), peanuts and their side products and some rice (occasionally as they have to buy this).  Buying is not the way we are used to as they barely have money.  They pay in bags of peanuts (same as they pay for school fees).

The kids are very small and not very well nourished.  Apart from that a lot of them suffer from lactose allergy and are not aware of it.  As one of our board members, Vicky Jacquemijn is a registered nurse (RN) she wanted to do something about this unilateral feeding by introducing vegetables.  There was a wish from the villagers to start a vegetable garden as in their neighboring village Lebba, but this was virtually impossible as the current water well was barely producing enough water to feed the people and the animals.  Apart from that, it was in very bad shape, even after a repair 3 years ago the walls were again starting to collapse.  Building materials especially concrete are not to our EU standards.  So before thinking of starting a vegetable garden we had to do something about the water supply.

In order to get better water it would be necessary to dig deeper to get real good fresh ground water that was filtered by lots of meters of savannah ground.  This is done by a socalled ‘borehole’, a thin but deep hole holding a tube with at the bottom a special tubular pump operated by electricity.

These boreholes are mostly digged by complex and expensive machinery, costing up to 10.000 Euros of digging expenses, especially so far inland where there is virtually no supply, so all has to come from the coastal area.  We asked for several price offers, but again this is not like in Europe.  Most offers are just a number, and you have to guess what you will get for that money and if it will be done properly.  Out of 5 requests, only 3 replied, but all were far out of budget.  We are not Doctors without Frontiers, we don’t drive expensive jeeps and we do not stay in expensive lodges 😊…

We looked on the Brikama market and we saw that the offers we got were as expected far exaggerated.  This often happens when white men ask for pricings.  We even went into some quarrel in the Gambia facebookgroup as we laughed at the prices other organizations paid for such boreholes.

Finally we got a far better offer from a guy called “Joof” that used to do borehole projects for Abdoul Gaye, the man we helped to start up his own lodge long time ago.  He had already realized several boreholes not using machines but local manpower.


The borehole project:

So after some back and forth phone calls (you have to be patient in Africa…) Abdoul gave some travel money to Joof to go and inspect the site in Buntung.  Joof returned with an offer that fitted our budget and included a complete key-to-the-door (read: water out of the tap) project, that included manual drilling, tubing, pump, wiring, solar panels.  Another local welder from Bintang was contacted to construct the tower to support the water tank.  The expected delivery time was around two weeks.  The original plan was to have the borehole finished during our Eastern Holiday stay but this was no longer possible.  We trusted Abdoul with the money and gave him the authority to manage the project, what he did very well.  Soon we were getting pictures of men drilling in the dark (too hot during daytime…) and after some 18 meter drilling and tube mounting there was water flowing.  The tower was mounted and painted yellow with the remaining paint from the poles of the garden fences, and the solar panel mounted next to it.

Water well MKII: at the end of the borehole we got a message from this “Joof”-guy telling he could fix the existing water well for a very acceptable amount of money.  While we expected only to get some concrete repairs in return for the cash, soon we saw a picture of a tap mounted next to this old well.  No idea how he did this but it was a major upgrade probably saving lots of effort from the women fetching water all day long.

Thanks Joof for a job well done…

The vegetable garden project:

Visiting Buntung on a yearly schedule the Smilegambia CEO and CFO brought some sponsor money to invest in the fences necessary for establishing a vegetable garden.  Free running goats and cows are likely to eat any piece of green within reach, so this fence is necessary.  In the past the locals used to make fences with bamboo sticks and stuff found nearby in nature, but there no longer is such supply.  A metal fence is  the best solution but out of reach due to the high cost.  So a few wealthy Europeans helped to pay for 5 rolls of 25meter aluminum fence and some 6m lengths of irons sticks to hold them.  The guy in Farefenni selling the metal was even so kind to cut them in to 2 meter pieces at no extra cost, with a handsaw in 30 degrees temperatures while we did our other shopping…   We added a few bags of cement at 10 euros each and some paint and loaded this all on our already overloaded Nissan patrol SmileGambia company car, setting off for Buntung.

The villagers could not believe what they saw, the expensive metal fences and poles.  The same evening we had a meeting about where to set up the vegetable garden.  I liked it to be close to Kerr Pedro so we could share a side using these fences and it would be convenient to have the water supply borehole in the middle of the garden so also close to Kerr Pedro.  The tank tower could be handy to use to hang up short wave antennas for the C5WP base station 😊.

The next early morning we were already digging holes for the poles.  I used my one and only leftover 6mm drill to make holes in the poles using the old battery powered drill machine of my mother whose built in battery gave up long time ago but still usable with a wire to one of our famous VABO-sponsored sealed lead-acid solar powered accus.  No fun working in temperatures reaching 50 degrees in the shadow in the afternoon.


Future projects:

During our last visit we found out that the battery we installed with the first solar system back 5 years ago is as good as dead.  It will be necessary to replace this one on the next visit.

Also the last 230V inverter died in these harsh conditions so there is no spare left.  So the next sponsor money will be used for buying solar batteries and inverters.

Apart from that we have an ongoing project to design street lights that are maintenance free and solar operated.  We tried some commercial designs but they all die within two years due to mechanical or heat issues.  The plan is to design in cooperation with the electronics department of a technical school in Geel, KOGEKA, a stand alone street light using state of the art LiPo energy sources and highly efficient LED lights.  This development will also need some funding.

We welcome your gifts: is a private small scale initiative with the sole purpose of helping the village of Buntung

Donations are more than welcome:

Keytrade Bank BIC: KEYTBEBB  IBAN BE56651151813288 is a private owned NGO – Summary

Smilegambia originates from a tourist holiday trip of a Belgian family, that was confronted with the limited resources of the Gambian people they visited during their trip.  At the end they asked the guide to bring them to a secluded village so they would be able to start up a limited aid.  That village was Buntung, 300 inhabitants, mostly kids, located 5 km south-east of Njau, in the Upper River region in central Gambia, on the north bank of the river.

When visiting for the first time they were confronted with a collapsing water well.  The family decided  to sponsor some money to fix this well, as it was the source of life for the village.  The next year they went back to inspect the works, and they installed a 100W loar panel system to charge the cellphones of the village.  Surrounding villages also came to charge their phones, thus creating a micro economy.

Cellphones are important as they provide the one and only link between families, when daughters are send away to marry in other villages.  They are very cheap and wanted.  But there is no electricity.

The next year a flatscreen TV with parabolic dish was bought and installed, to improve language skills and give the villagers a window view to the world, so they could see that if they study they can become something apart from farner, as currently the only income is from ground nuts and pearl millet, exchanged with other vilages for other items.

Another visit the family brought a European Medical doctor, that provided free healthcare.  Most villagers never visited a doctor in their entire life.

As a thank you the Chief of the village offered a piece of land, to built houses where philantropists could reside during their visits.  These 4 houses were built by the locals providing some extra income.  One building was used as a nursery school, and a local teacher was sponsored to teach basic English to the toddlers.

An amateur radio station was installed as well as some extra solar panels, and the money generated by this project promotion over radio was used to buy 10 solar powered radios.

Currently we are building a local community radio FM station, also solar powered to be installed on one of the cellphone towers providing music to these people too far away from coverage of public radio, only serving coastal touristic areas.

We hope to receive more gifts, both goods and valuables to continue this project.

Mission accomplished….

After more than a week and a half working in Buntung we were able to meet most of our targets.

Due to very limited internet resources I was not able to give any updates.  All three operators only offer EDGE internet, what basically means you just have anough capacity to send text messages over whatsapp, and even that with a few users becomes a problem, not to mention what happens if some friends send us pictures or Kurt uploads 5 pictures…

After arriving in Buntung after a 9 days trip of 6200 km with no technical issues or other things apart from a serious border incident at the Senegalese entrance in Diamma where they tried to rip us 250 euros, we started dismantling our trailer.  To our surprise NONE of the 9 panels got damaged, even not in the very rough last 100 km before the Gambian border.

We first installed a single 190W panel at the Kerr Pedro main building to supply power to the radios and computer/phones.  The new chinese made 30 euro charging controller with 2 built in USB ports turned out to be very helpful.

Then we assembled a set of two 190W panels with a MPPT controller and we did some charging measurements to compare with a traditional PWM controller.  The difference was huge.  More than 50% more charging current coming from the MPPT system.  The panels were mounted under a 30 degrees angle an the remaining ciment from the outer shelve of the houses was used to fix them firmly into the hard soil against wind and theft.

During the visit to the nearest (70 km) town Farefenni we bought a new wheelbarrow as the old (also chinese) one got damaged.  We also bought a few Mahoganey wood sticks to make an assembly for the other solar panels.

The 9 panels on the trailer were divided into two groups of 4, and the remaining panel that already got slightly damaged in Belgium was installed on the roof of the Alex residence to privide light during the night inside.

Twe first group of 4 x 80W panels was installed next to a traditional house close to the well in the form of a Bantaba sun cover, on 1,7 m high sticks.  Temporarely only led lights was attached as we still need to bring a multi USB charger from Europe next time, to provide more charging points that are not behind locks, as we found out the Chief is misusing the power of the fact that the very first 100W system is behind a door.  We wanted to break this so the Kerr Pedro 2x190W system is in the open and available to all.  Next time we will also install the second 4 panel system will be installed on the very other edge of the village so in future they all will be able to draw wires to the individual homes for light.

I would like to end by mentioning we still need support to buy two more batteries and led strips to  be able to accomplish this.  If you want to contribute please make use of the paypal button on the website.

5T0WP nighttime operation on 80m !


Everybody advises strongly against wild camping in Mauretania.  But we did not have much of an option as we found out 100 km past the border (where we spent 6 hours)  that the handling agent had forgotten to return our passports.  In order to avoid more hassling in returning these to us via intermediary persons on the Senegales car convoy, we decided to return ourself, wasting 30 liters of costly fuel and two hours of costly time.  So we ended up at te same place with no campuing spot around. So we parked in the desert (see picture) next to the police checkpoint.  During the evening I made grate contacts on 20m with VK Australia a nd during nighttime on 80m with several European and American stations, all very happy with this very rare activity from 5T0WP Mauretania.

(this article was fastly written and not edited at all from our Nouakchott lodge)

There is no internet in 3th world…

I promised to use a blog to keep you guys up with our progress, unfortunately after a week of travel this is the very first spot where we have ‘some’ wifi with Neanderthaler speed…

We had a good trip accross Europe staying at 4 nice Couchsurfing hosts that all had a lot of respect for our operation.  We were able to use showers at these places till tuesday.  Since then no more showers, so the Nissan smells like hell.

No technical issues.  Only being scammed by all payed motorways, France being the king.

France border looked like Afghanistan but we did NOT need to stop ?

Spain motorways were cheaper, Extramadura was a great scenery.

Ferry was catched more than in time so we had an early crossing.  Ceuta was very disappointing, eating Boudin/pensen on the beachside while dealers were selling dope from there cars next to us.  Fuel was NOT cheap in Ceuta.

Border crossing to Marocco was acceptable, first getting through some pile of refugees, then one hour of negociating.

Almost ruined the car clutch when having to drive steep uphill after the customs to tanger.

Tanger traffic was worse than hell.  We ended up driving straight through the Soukh in order to reach our host.  parked our car there in despair and went on by feet.

Our host was 1 km from the Medina where we parked so we decided to move our car to this more secure area.  But getting lost in Tanger is difficult so we replaced Pedro by Nadia to show the way in the narrow streets.  Pedro used his android gsm with Locus and Openstreetmaps to navigate to the appartment.

Sleeping in Tanger is ok till 5:00 AM.  Then 35 Mosques start calling for prayer.  So we left early to find a car with a dead battery…fridge left on all night…

After half an hour Pedro could stop a taxi to use his battery.  Some firework and 5 euro later we were again up and running.

A mistake was done with the next couchsurfing addresses that were only 100 km apart, one in Agadir the other in Tiznit.  We chose the furtest but smallest city regarding our experience in Tanger…  The disadvantage was that we had to drive during darkness.  Total crazyness.  Moroccans drive like total idiots. We were passed by by a small scooter with two people to find these 2 kilometer further dead in the middle of the road.  something had happened, quite normal there.

In tiznit we parked in front of the police station. some negociating with the gardian and off to our new guest.  In Morocco it is not allowed for a lady to host men, se we had to walk carefully to her place not to be seen by too many people.  How sad for a lady that is a respected professor at university.  There were two other guests, a nice guy from Spain and another Moroccan lady.  Conversations and exchange of Belgian and Morroccan food went on till deep in the night…

Next day off to Western Sahara, again afraid of some new border trouble.  No border…. so no trouble.  Marocco pretends the Sahara is their land so one country…

Checkpoints every 50 km, same dumb questions, from where are you, where are you going to.  Asking for “fiches” (prepared documents with everything from passport number till shoe size of your mother…)  I made like 100 and I am now in Mauritania slowly running out of these…

Nobody asked questions about the numerous radio antennas the jeep is carrying.  Ham radio communication with the world goes fine as S0WP and later as 5T0WP.  The pile up is huge….

Being just before dark we decide to look for a camping spot.  No camping spot so we find a smal road to a fishing vilage and set up camp halfway slightly off road.  Everybody advises against wild camping in Western sahara but not a lot of options..

Next day the same, arriving just before dark at border, asking directions at p;olice station about safe camping spot but this 17 km away looks not like what we want, so again wild camping next to a roadwork site.
 dinner break, more later…


creative transport trailer… solar panel recycling !

In order to get our 30 banana boxes of support materials to the Gambia we needed a trailer.  But upon arrival this would be useless for our purpose.  But our friend Abdoul from Abca Lodge wanted to buy a trailer.  So the deal was made we would buy a trailer and he would take it over from us afterwards.

We bought an open trailer but it would not be possible to transport the banana boxes in this one, unprotected from rain and theft.  So Kurt had the brilliant idea to use solar panels to enclose the trailer.

Some pictures of the early stages of building, and the empty weight of the trailer.  The corps below the lifted trailer is Kurt, our solar specialist always in for a joke…

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Last bits and pieces…

P1090606Yesterday we went to the Gambian embassy in Brussels to get our consignment letter that is an enormous help for crossing customs and checkpoints, and to get a good spot on the ferry.  The vice-ambassador Mr. Ebrima O Camara helps us a lot with this.

We also had to drive twice to the Mauretanian embassy to get our visa, a very costly affair, 120 euro for each, just for a simple transit visum.  A wast of money, we could do so much with 240 euros in Buntung.

Today I drove to Laakdal to buy two new tires for the trailer, another 112 euro, but indispensable, as we need good tires to get there safely.


packing for the big trip…

During the last days we were very busy upgrading/adapting the Nissan for this 7000 km trip.

We installed cupboards in the back and a platform to mount the fridge we carry along with food, running on the top one of the three panels we are carrying on the rooftop, together with 4 (in fact 5) spare tires.

The Njau health centre

During our stay in Buntu, we also made some visits to the local village of Njau. During one of these visits, we had the change to visit the health centre. While we were there, one of the people had a disease however, the health centre had ran out completely on their antibiotics. Luckily we had some with us and we gave it later to the ill one and at the end of out stay we donated the rest we had to the centre.

In the centre their was also a limited supply of materials to properly examine the patient and that is why we ask to hospitals or doctors who have eg. blood pressure meters,… that they do not use anymore to donate them to us so we can help the health centre there.

(to watch the images in the right orientation just click them.)

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Purchase of goats for the village

Each year we go to the village, we hold a party there.                        However instead of buying a large quantity of meat, we decided it would be better to buy 2 small goats, wich we could slaughter then for more meat. On our second day we went to Wassu market for the purchase of the two goats. Here it was very visible that the Gambia is suffering from the ebola crisis, since Pedro was the only white person in the entire city of Wassu. This is why we should watch out with these press releases wich can damage a country economically for a long while. One last time, there is NO ebola in the gambiaP1070324