History of Les Amis de Gambie

I got to know The Gambia while on holiday in 2000 and was struck not only by its beauty and the friendliness of its people, but also by its poverty, the lack of facilities and the limited access to education and health services.

Once back in Europe, I decided to try to help the children in The Gambia. This decision ultimately led to the creation of our organisation in 2002. As a Dutchwoman who has been living in Luxembourg since 1992, I decided on a French name: ‘Les Amis de Gambie’ (meaning Friends of The Gambia).

Since then I have learnt more about The Gambia, have worked as a volunteer on various projects and have fallen increasingly in love with the country. On returning with further supplies in 2004, I realised that I was not offering the long-term assistance that would give people a better life. And that was precisely what I wanted to do. 

I went back to The Gambia for four weeks, immersed myself in the culture and customs and found out what was really needed: facilities to look after orphans. 

At the time there were 66,000 orphans in The Gambia and only three orphanages. It was heartbreaking. 

At the very least I wanted to open a fourth orphanage and went in search of a location. In a small village I came across an old school building: this was it!

Together with my parents I first refurbished the school for the children in the village and then built the orphanage next to it.

The building work took over four years and it was a tough time. 

I invested all the money I had in the construction, and once I had run out of funds, I returned to Europe to try to raise new money from sponsors. In 2008 Gert-Jan came to spend a week working as a volunteer on the building project. One year later we got married and together started focusing our efforts on the orphanage on a full-time basis. 

The orphanage opened on 14 January 2009 and we were able to take in our first orphans. We started out with six, but are now already pretty full. This is all thanks to the contributions received from sponsors and the hard work of all the people who help and support us every day - in The Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom, Belgium, Luxembourg, France and….The Gambia.

Sia Jongeneel

Chairwoman ‘Les Amis de Gambie’

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