Area: 11,300 sqr. km.
Population: 1,735,464 (July 2008 est.)
Official language: English
Ethnic groups: African 99% (Mandinka 42%, Fula 18%, Wolof 16%, Jola 10%, Seruhali 9%, other 4%), non-African 1%
Religion: Muslim 90%, Christian 8%, indigenous beliefs 2%
Human Development Index ranking: 155/177 (UNPD 2008)
Literacy rate: 40.1%
HIV/AIDS: 1.2% (2003 est.)
Total orphans as a percentage of all children: 10.5% (Unicef 2006)
SOS Children’s Villages in The Gambia:
Due to the impoverishment of many families and the break-up of traditional family structures in the Gambia an increasing number of children had to fend for themselves on the streets. This situation induced SOS-Kinderdorf International to become active in the country in 1980 and to send Otto Brönnimann as the first SOS Children’s Villages representative. In 1981, the first SOS Children’s Village was established in Bakoteh, approx. 18 km from the capital Banjul. At the same time an SOS Kindergarten and an SOS Hermann Gmeiner Primary School were established.
During the course of subsequent years, many different additional facilities came into being on the neighbouring properties of the SOS Children’s Village, their focus being on youth work and rendering youths independent, education and medical care. So, among others an SOS Vocational Training Centre came into being in Bakoteh, which offers three-year technical training courses.
Due to the poor educational system in North West Africa, the students in this centre also come from the SOS Children’s Villages in Liberia and Sierra Leone. In addition, external youths from the Gambia also follow this training. Due to the very poor medical care facilities in the Gambia SOS Children’s Villages also established an “SOS Mother and Child Clinic”, which provides medical care and counselling especially for pregnant women and mothers with small children. In 1998/99 the SOS Vocational Training Centre for future SOS Children’s Village mothers and SOS co-workers came into being as a regional SOS internal training facility.
In June 1994, the street in which all the SOS Children’s Village facilities are located in the Gambia was renamed into “Hermann Gmeiner Drive High Way”, as an official recognition for the SOS work. As in the entire North West African region, the political and economic situation in the Gambia had also been turbulent several times over the years. Time and again, the SOS Children’s Villages supported the surrounding population during emergency situations, for example by building houses for impoverished families.
At the end of 1998, the SOS Children’s Village Bakoteh also provided assistance for the “SOS neighbourhood” and took in children from the SOS Children’s Village in Guinea-Bissau, who had to flee from their country due to the war. After about nine months of living together in extremely close quarters, the SOS families from Guinea-Bissau could once again return to their homeland. Starting with 2004 SOS Children’s Villages the Gambia contributed towards the set-up of two community centres and the construction of transit homes for sexually exploited girls in the surroundings of Bakoteh.
At present there are two SOS Children’s Villages in the Gambia, one SOS Youth Facility, two SOS Kindergartens, three SOS Hermann Gmeiner Schools, one SOS Vocational Training Centre, one Regional SOS Mothers and Adult Training Centre, one Social Centre and one SOS Medical Centre.