The Independent - Letters: The causes of 'radicalised' Islam

Read Nick Maurice's letter, published this week in The Independent. Letters: The causes of 'radicalised' Islam

"Your editorial of 11 June points to the threat posed to Cameroon by the Boko Haram insurgency. As you say "only regional governments can finally defeat the grisly Boko Haram".

From our 33 years of involvement round the corner in The Gambia we have learnt an important lesson.

In common with most international development agencies and governments the focus of our work with our predominantly Muslim partners has been on women's empowerment through education and literacy programmes, loans for small businesses and support for traditional income-generating activities such as vegetable gardening, tie and dye and hairdressing.

Three years ago it became apparent to Gambian colleagues and ourselves that we have a major problem, namely unemployment and disaffection among young men.

We estimate that only 15 per cent of men are in employment five years after leaving school. Gambian friends tell us that there is an increase in drug taking. They express real concern that this group of disaffected youth without purpose in life and whose social standing, as they see it, has been undermined by the change in the gender balance, will be targeted by Islamists, who will give them a purpose, albeit a malevolent one.

It raises the question in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Nigeria. Has our focus on women's development upset traditional social norms and been to the detriment of young men. Surely we must redress the balance. Yes, let's absolutely discuss the rights of women, but we must engage men in that discussion and move forward together."

Dr Nick Maurice
Director, The Marlborough Brandt Group
Marlborough, Wiltshire

Student Summer Visit 2014 - a reflection

On the 18th July 2014, nine others and myself left for The Gambia on undoubtedly the most challenging, yet life-changing experience we had been faced with. The first few days of our time in Gunjur was something I won't forget, the preconceptions we all filled our heads with, in the months building up to our trip, had been completely swept away. The people of Gunjur treated us all as family the minute we arrived and made our stay the most enjoyable experience they could.

During the first few days of our 3 weeks there, we were greeted by many of the locals during our tour of the village. It was overwhelming to see the excitement which our arrival had created, especially among the children who found great joy in showing off any English, which they knew, or testing out our attempts at Mandinka.

The first Monday in Gunjur, brought the first day of work. We had visited the Women's Garden the day before where we were not only shown what we would be doing, but also told of the difference it will make to the females who grew their crops there as well as the community as a whole. Over the 3 weeks of our stay, we cleared the area, dug out the trenches where we would be placing the concrete pillars of the fence and feed barbed wire through the pillars to finish it off. The most time consuming part of the process was the cement making, all the water we used was collected from the nearest well in the garden and the cement was mixed with shovels. On our last week on the project we were joined by the nearby orphanage, this was made up of young people of similar age to ourselves (16-20) so it was a great chance to compare their way of living to our own.

During the times when we were not working we got to be apart of many other amazing events, such as the end of Ramadan, we all got the opportunity to wear the local dress and be a part of their ceremony.

Our time in The Gambia wasn't all hard work; we went to a monkey park and a crocodile farm, as well as having a weekend away from Gunjur and taking a 5-hour trip up country to George Town where we had a weekend of card games and boat trips, not to mention the proper showers!

All in all, I think that any one of our group of ten would say that our trip to Gunjur, run by Marlborough Brandt Group, was something that will never be forgotten, and is something which we will always be grateful to have been given the opportunity.

Lauren Horwood

VIBE Challenge Winners

Pewsey Vale Team

On 8 May, the final of the WGEC VIBE challenge competition was held at Abbeyfield School in Chippenham, supported by the Arkleton Trust. You may remember that this was a 2 stage competition for secondary schools. The second stage, which followed Gambia workshops in schools, invited the teams to pitch to a team of business 'dragons' for £500 worth of notional funding to set up an environmentally friendly and sustainable small business in the village of Gunjur.

We were so impressed by the presentations by the four teams from Abbeyfield, Nova Hreod and Pewsey Vale who had clearly worked extremely hard, done amazing research and thought very critically about how their business ideas – which ranged from bike rental to a village tourism enterprise and a 'Bags for Life' business – could be put into practice in the Gambia. In the end, it was a team of 5 (Year 10!) boys from Pewsey Vale who walked away with the amazing prize of a week's visit to The Gambia to try and turn their business idea 'Poly-Silica Solutions' into reality.

Their idea of collecting the plastic which litters the village and turning it into roofing and floor tiles was astounding – they even brought us along some samples they had made to prove how it could work. So brilliantly well done to them and to all the other teams that took part. We are hoping to repeat this amazing competition in 2015/6 so look out for information in future eBulletins. Expressions of interest now will ensure your school gets to take part - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Read the article in Gazette & Herald Pewsey Vale pupils head to The Gambia after winning competition