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TRY Oyster Women Organization

Learning New Techniques

My name is Fatou Janha Mboob. I am 56 years old, and I have four children aged 25 to 32 years. Being married to a diplomat gave me the opportunity to live in different African countries, Cameroon, Ghana, Tanzania, to name a few; as well my training as a social and agricultural extension worker allowed me the opportunity to do a lot of charity work mainly with women groups. I have been affiliated with several international women associations all of which have been working for the uplifting of the African women and their emancipation from abject poverty and low social status.

I returned to my home country, The Gambia, in 2006 and established my own business as a fashion designer. However, I could not help but notice the plight of the hard working Gambian women harvesting and selling oysters and cockles. These women are classified as the poorest in Gambian society and their hard and often dangerous work has remained unnoticed as far back as my early childhood days. These women, despite being illiterate and poor are the bread winners of their families, responsible for clothing and feeding the family, paying school fees and medical bills. Many of them are widows. Those with husbands have to contend with the reality that they earn more money than their husbands who are mainly menial workers (night watchmen and labourers). The young teenage girls in the family usually work as house-helpers to supplement the family income instead of being at school.

I took the decision to venture into their world to get a more accurate impression of their situation and conditions of work. I found out that the women harvest, process and sell cockles and oysters using rudimentary technologies and they lack basic essentials such as boats, protective gear such as boots and gloves, and life jackets to curb the number of deaths by drowning. In addition to harvesting safety issues, there have been reported incidents of attacks on women at work, rapes, murder and serious injuries requiring hospitalisation. This unfortunate state of affairs spurred me on to get involved with the women.

We agreed to work together and form an association to address the issues confronting them. In 2007, TRY Association was established and registered as a charitable, non-profit community-based organization. The mission of TRY Association is: “to improve the welfare of the members of the Association thereby improving and adding value to their product, and consequently improving the social and economic conditions of its members”. TRY Association was first established in one community with 40 members and within four years the Association has spread to 15 communities and membership now stands at 500. The Association has elected members of its Executive Committee and has a Board of Directors. The Association has now gained national attention and recognition and is receiving support from an internationally funded project.

From individuals eking out a living with their bare hands, under this Association, the women organised fund raising activities and bought boats and safety gear. The women are now more aware of the environment and, for the first time in history of the Gambia, they have voluntarily decided to desist from oyster farming for a four-month period to avert the looming spectre of oyster extinction. To crown it all the women have travelled to Senegal to learn about oyster cultivation using the “hanging method”.

Much more work lies ahead. There is still an urgent need to improve harvesting technology and shift from chopping down mangrove forests to conserving them; developing oyster culture; improving the harvesting areas which are unhygienic and devoid of water and sanitation facilities; establishing a market for oysters and cockles and product development to meet the requirements of the hotel industry and for export.
Work has already started to develop and implement a co-management regime for sustainable oyster and cockle fisheries. The primary stakeholders are the women oyster and cockle harvesters, local government agencies, and government institutions.

Newly Acquired Boats - No More Renting!
Tough Work Conditions
Oyster Women at Independence Day March
Oyster Women with their New Bank Books - Savings!

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Comments

jadefrank's picture

Dearest Fatou, What a joy -

Dearest Fatou,

What a joy - that you have found our community and shared you incredible work with us! Reading your essay gave me chills - to hear about the ways in which TRY has empowered women oyster farmers to advance their work, step up productivity and efficiency, create safety measures, educate themselves, and most importantly - take pride in their work and become a valued group of society.

I hope that you will continue to share with us your work and the growing successes of TRY. I am moved beyond words!

In solidarity and friendship,
Jade

JaniceW's picture

Inspiring

Fatou,
I was so inspired by the work that you are doing to improve the social and economic conditions of the oyster harvesters, as well as advancing their work by increasing awareness of the industry, and generating additional funding and support. There are so many areas you touch upon here that excite me – from the environmental impact to creating sustainable solutions to developing programs that can be replicated in other regions.

I look forward to reading more from you about TRY and hope that you will continue to share your work with the PulseWire community. Best wishes,
Janice

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