The Istanbul-Gambia line
I was quite surprised to see a bowl of rice sitting in the middle of the table when I went to have lunch with İbrahim Betil, a former banker who has been working in a nongovernmental organization for a long time.
Of course, the meal we were to have with Betil and other journalist colleagues was not only composed of flaky rice.
Soon enough we understood what the rice bowl symbolized.
It was a symbol of the hunger in Africa, especially in Gambia where Betil had been going for three years for various projects.
“In Gambia people are satiated with just a few spoons of rice a day. I have traveled to many places in Turkey and in the world. I have never seen such hunger,” Betil said.
So how did Betil end up in Gambia?
After having left banking, one of the founders of the Turkish Education Volunteers Foundation, Betil is now funding the Community Volunteers Foundation with over 50,000 university students as volunteers.
Having presided over the foundation that has managed to reach 350,000 students in 123 universities, Betil learned what the foundation was working on through the Internet and met two Gambians who traveled to Istanbul.
“I didn’t know where Gambia was on the map until that day. Two Gambians who were members of an NGO found a fund from the World Bank. They had come to get advice on how to manage that money.” he said.
Eventually, Betil traveled to Gambia with his assets and experience to explain what can be done in Africa.
Gambia ranks 168th in poverty among 185 countries.
As a former banker, he knows how to efficiently use the resources he possesses and in his first visit, Betil visited some of the villages and determined the needs of people.
In February 2012 he established in Istanbul SenDeGel (Qualified change and development in social and economic life) for solidarity with Gambia.
What does SenDeGel do in Gambia?
It succeeded in touching the lives of approximately 100,000 people with sustainable projects like stockbreeding, fishing beekeeping in two and a half years.
With the support of TİKA (Turkish Cooperation and Development agency) and companies like Coca-Cola and Mogul textile, animals like chickens, sheep and goats were given to 795 families.
Wells were open to get water.
In 50 villages over five regions fishing boats have been provided to enable villagers to fish on the Gambia River.
A boat designer from Eskişehir who was following what SenDeGel was doing from the Internet designed boats suitable for the Gambia River, according to Betil.
This person even went to Gambia, paying his own expenses to teach villagers how to fish.
“We receive donations from places we don’t expect. A dietician with obese patients donated 25,000 Turkish Liras to help the hungry in Africa,” said Betil.
The amount of donations the association SenDeGel recieved from several companies and individuals is around $400,000.
It is really important to change the lives of 100,000 people with such a small amount of money.
I could not keep myself from asking “why Africa” when we live in a country where the gap between the poor and the rich is the biggest, with all the poverty and being multiplied with the arrival of millions of Syrian refugees.
His answer was as the following:
“I could not turn my back on Gambians when they came to ask for help. Additionally, working in a country like Gambia and getting quick results is much easier.”
PS: I understand that my articles published here have been a bit too inspirational for some of my foreign colleagues. I believe sourcing is among the rules of ethics in our profession.