Winners of the 2015 VIBE Challenge visit Gunjur

Over October half term, the brilliant winners of our 2015 VIBE challenge from Pewsey Vale School spent an exciting ten days in the Gambia, bringing their idea of making tiles out of waste plastic bags from invention to reality. Below is a report of that visit.

Initial contact was made with the plastics group on the second day of our visit and we were all hugely impressed with the amount which has already been collected – numbers varied between 2 and 3 million bags but whichever, it was a lot! The impact on the village has been incredible – in 18 months, the village has been completely transformed and parts of the village which were basically large rubbish dumps have been cleared, in some areas into productive areas for cultivation.

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 Alieu Darboe, CEO of the Nianitamba plastic collection group, talked to us about the effect of plastic on the ground in terms of soil pollution and as places to harbour stagnant water (and therefore breed mosquitoes leading to a higher incidence of malaria). The plastics group was hugely enthusiastic about the possibility of constructing tiles from the plastic – in fact, we felt it expedient to dampen down some of the enthusiasm on the grounds that we were not entirely sure that it would work in the Gambia and therefore it may not be a great idea to invite in the TV cameras at such an early stage!

It was decided on health and safety grounds to conduct the first tile making session at the back of a compound away from the village centre and which could be made safe from young and curious children. The boys explained their methodology and arrangements were made with a local welder to construct a suitable mould which could be used as a template.

Day 1 of tile construction was a day of some frustration and small triumphs. Initial attempts to melt the plastic in a large cleaned out paint tin over a charcoal stove led to charred plastic, an incorrect consistency and much experimentation; for the boys it was a brilliant example of how a process which worked on a kitchen stove in the UK with the ability to control temperature at will, weigh accurately etc would need to be adapted to different circumstances in a southern country.

At lunchtime, it was decided to purchase a heavy duty cooking pot and to change the charcoal for a wood fire and after some adjustments of proportions of plastic to sand etc, the first successful tile was produced at the end of the day to great celebration all round.

By Day 2 of the project, 3 tiles had been produced in the morning of different sizes (a further mould had been made out of wood) and the group was beginning to experiment with finishes, including painting one of them a lurid orange, not quite to our taste...

We were delighted to be joined that afternoon by Isatou Ceesay, the subject of a children's book called One Plastic Bag, accompanied by a group of women from the recycling group in Brikama who have been working on similar lines.

Isatou is a truly inspirational woman who originates from Njau on the north bank of the river. Over a period of 20 years, she has moved from setting up a small recycling project in her home village to working with over 2000 women in the Gambia, producing a whole range of crafts from recycled materials – necklaces and key rings from shredded car tyres, purses crocheted from strips of plastic bags and video tapes, and bags for life made from rice sacks with batiked interiors. Her women make a good living from their co-operative production and we felt that this could be a way forward for the women of the village; the ban on plastic importation into the Gambia now surely means that there is a gap in the market for bags for life, for example.


The plastics group has ambitious plans for the project and would love to go into commercial production. Step in our boys again: once a certain number of tiles had been produced in Gunjur, they have undertaken to fundraise in Pewsey Vale school for an amount to move the business onto the next level – in exchange for 10% of the company to be shared between the 5 members of the team. They have clearly been watching too much Dragons' Den!

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The boys' other task on the project while in the village was to introduce next year's competition to students at the Upper Basic School who are our target market. 30 students (at least half female) were selected from the school and showed great enthusiasm for the competition, coming up with some great ideas – the import and selling of waka waka solar bases, the setting up of a small restaurant in town, candle making and many others Plastics was only part of the visit and we managed to fit in a lot of other activities during the week: a student youth conference, a very memorable visit to a lodge up country (there is certainly space in the Gambia for some well qualified plumbers....), wonderful walks along the beach, visits to various eco lodges with different approaches to tourism (and cheeky dips in their pools time just chilling out in the house, meetings (endless), local dancing, some memorable Gambian food and much more.

 Read the boys Gambia blog

Making polysilica tiles in Gunjur

A short film by Pewsey student Robert Boyce

Drumming Workshop



boy band