(Picture – These children deserve a decent future too, not just poverty and deprivation)
“Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. At the moment
of commitment, the entire universe conspires to assist you.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
This is one of the most fundamental truths that has mysteriously guided my life, even though only recently a friend sent this quote to me. Moving to The Gambia 4 ½ years ago was a quantum leap of faith, and there have been changes and transitions taking place in my life as I have adapted and learned many lessons; some not for the first time.
This magic and mystery were evident on a Sunday three weeks ago, when Nyima’s father, Baboucarr, who was visiting from Norway where he now lives, came, and took three of us out for the afternoon.
We went to a beach where there was a restaurant and an alligator pond. We were all sitting at an outside table having a drink when I noticed a couple with a baby about two years old at the next table some distance away – the baby was looking at me, I could sense this as well as see her.
After a time, the man obviously noticed as well and brought the baby and his wife up the walkway to our table. As they approached our table the baby held out her hands for me to take her, which I did, and the man said to his wife, “this has never happened before”. The baby meanwhile sat comfortably in my lap still looking at me while we introduced ourselves, he was Swedish and she a Gambian. He chatted to Baboucarr and me and asked about the two children with me; the baby never stirred, sitting quite comfortable in my arms
As the father reached for the baby, she hesitated but went to him and they returned to their table. We finished our drinks and departed waving goodbye to the couple and the baby. I was too astounded even to get a picture of them. The magic of attraction was evident; the mystery of the baby’s interest in me may never be solved.
I recognize that magic has been happening from the time that I came here, but it has been evident to me since I began this journey into community and life so many years ago. When I look back at our accomplishments, they were always made with community support of some magnitude, always a team of interested, determined, and committed individuals, albeit some issues had to be worked through, and in most instances, perseverance was an asset. Of course, there were always naysayers and doubters.
The list has been long, the adventures many and lots of magical innovative happenings, such as our local and international community telecasts before there was internet (in one instance we used five satellites). There were many new and innovative concepts at the time, an industrial incubator for instance, which took seven years from inception to the start of construction. Then there was the development of an entrepreneurship course, utilizing school children as the developers, and locally made videos as tools, back when entrepreneurship wasn’t even a buzzword.
These efforts, and others, led to international recognition and invitations for sharing in many countries – this was all from a small community in Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada.
Eventually these initiatives spawned international assignments for me as I moved on which led to new learning and awakenings. Some even were paid assignments which initially started as a short-term gig but lasted for four and even five years.
None of this would have been possible without many wise local people who believed (although some had to be convinced), and a cadre of brilliant, willing, and committed educators lending their time, knowledge, experience, and a locally based team with whom to work.
It certainly would not have happened without, as Professor Christopher Bryant used to say, the mystery of (the spirit of) community. The significance of the magic appears in timing, coalescence of people, places, and ideas, some of which at first appeared untenable. The magic itself may not have appeared without the stamina, persistence and belief that is vested in our human spirit.
I first came to Gambia by way of invitation from the UN and The Ministry of Finance so all the elements from before were in place: people, project (Economic Plan) and support. It was similar as before – a one-year volunteer contract, that might have lasted longer, but the UN in Gambia was reorganizing and I was sent home, despite the pleas of the Ministry. So, a bit ofthe magic was obviously missing. A second stint as a volunteer with a small private company petered out after 19 months as the company was struggling.
This time, I took the quantum leap and came by myself – there was no project, I did have somewhat of a support base, and I knew many people – but it was different. The first six months, I supported (voluntarily) The Ministry of Finance create a new economic plan, while building a small house. My time here been a phenomenal run with loads of work supporting and feeding and dealing with people issues.
There are and have been many challenges and adjustments as my own money supply shrunk more rapidly than expected, and the consulting work through my friend Dr. Gaston Gohou, CEO of Development Solutions Institute (DSI), dried up because of Corona.
Then mystery has been very evident as I meander my way through a much different culture, with different beliefs and often people who have little evident ambition or direction. But the magic is around because I am still here despite the financial challenges.
This has stretched me and created many crisis points, and sometimes my future appeared very uncertain, and even bleak with dark clouds surrounding me. Adjustments have been necessary, and tightening up my offerings was imperative, especially my medical and dental support, and some other aspects of my personal assistance, such as paying rent for people.
This wasn’t an easy decision as I had further expanded my network of support, as more people came to know of me, and requests for assistance were increasing with the growing needs of the pandemic. There were many times when the end appeared inevitable.Then magically, the kindness of friends and family provided support and got me over each hurdle.
I continue to feed people, many from my home, provide financial support to others, have students in school, and still manage to offer medical care to those who have serious illnesses. Besides this, I provide from my home basic medications to many and spend a lot of time bandaging and dressing wounds for children and adults alike. There are others whom I support in different ways with their specific challenges; in many cases money is not the real issue.
My life is far from dull, as now I have two children living with me, both are in school and overactive; people come every morning and evening for food. There is always an issue or a crisis that needs my attention, and very often I am “the go-to person”. Fortunately, my family and my many friends continue to lend a hand allowing me to continue many of the things I started back in 2011, expanded on when I came back in 2013, and again on my return in 2017.
While changes and learning have been taking place in my life, what is happening in the world is a little beyond belief with detrimental impacts of climate change from the misuse and abuse of the natural environment. This has caused untold damage to our ecosystems resulting in a mega-shift in our climate, and devastation though fires and floods affecting people in many countries.
Then to add insult to injury came the potential catastrophe that appeared out of nowhere, a virus with the potential to rapidly engulf the whole world, threatening life and living. These crises are a precursor to the massive transitions that people are about to experience.
In the Gambia, change comes much slower, and yes, we have been impacted by COVID-19, but socially little appears to have shifted. While it does not havethe advantages of most developed countries of programs to assist people facing poverty or change, most people have somehow justtogetthrough the loss of income and business closures that resulted from lockdowns on their own. Fortunately, up until now, there have not been a significant number of COVID-19 cases with their accompanying negative health effects.
Initially, because there was no vaccine available, I had been searching out others who may have had ways to get them into the Gambia, especially among the Dutch people; many of whom I know. Then the United Kingdom donated vaccines to the Gambia and several clinics were set up. It was a quite easy process to get inoculated, one just had to register, present your documentation, and you were injected. Both times that I went, there were no line ups, as it appeared that most locals were staying away.
So, while I was engrossed in my own life, and its challenges, the world itself was feeling and grappling with the impacts of change. These catastrophes, seriously damaging as they have been, are only symptoms of a greater human spiritual dilemma that has become rooted in most societies. It has brought forward too manyleaders whose only desire is to control and contain people for their own self-serving interest in gaining as much personal wealth as possible.
They recognize the spiritual void in peoples’ lives and the hollowness felt in their beings, just waiting to be filled, and play on this to gain power and control – we have seen this repeated many times over the centuries. They promise lots but deliver little – only more hardship and sorrow. Sadly, this message is disguised by the lies they create and the false promises they make.
When people selfishly retreat into themselves and their possessions or their “tribe” or “clique,” forgetting the overall inter-connectedness of all humanity and ourspiritual being founded on love and compassion, they find instead aloneness and conflict.
We are at a moment in human history when economic and human imbalances are at their greatest. A handful of mostly men now control all the financial wealth in the world and another handful have control of most of the countries in the world, or at least are trying to wrest power to gain control by any means – legal or illegal. Their end game remains the same – total power.
It could be said as well, we are at point in history when much of humanity is disengaged, feel helpless to resist or effect change in the direction that life is taking them, and are only concerned about self-preservation, rather than humanity as a whole.
The prognosis is not great for the survival of our beliefs, the values that were once held dear or even human life itself. So, most just despair and search for a savior; someone who will bring us back from the brink.
But we need not despair, we just need to reflect on history and the many humanitarian, and societal transitions that have happened. There is one element that stands out, that is the strength of the human spirit, its ability to change and the power that becomes evident when we connect, engage, and decide to come together. It is true human spiritual magic, and the essence of human life itself.
If we reflect on human history, we will find that there were no saviors, only people who came forward at great risk to speak truth to lie and found a small following who then began a process of informing and educating people to the realities of human spirituality and its basis of love and compassion.
The reality is that all such great movements which happened over history started from an exceedingly small beginning – a few people coming together and deciding to change their lives for the better and then share with others. The savior or prophet emerged from the group as the one best able to motivate and encourage them and newcomers who wanted to participate.
This is a different kind of leadership that is less evident, not one of power and control, but one of informing and encouraging. As people come together, and ‘commit’ as Goethe says, “the entire universe conspires to assist” and they will realize that what they are doing is happening elsewhere. People know that there is enough power in numbers to balance the power of one who wishes to control.
People will eventually stand up for themselves when they feel that they have had enough, and they must become involved and engaged if they want, not only to live, but have a life that is better for all. As time goes on, they will see other groupings starting to connect, communicate and organize, and will reach out to them to do the same themselves.
The most important element of these movements is that people have an open mind and discover their compassionate heart, which has an inbuilt strong will to help each other. When they decide to commit, very quickly other people will gravitate to a cause that answers their longing, recognizes their abilities, and lifts their spirit.
Early on in my Community Development education I was introduced to the term “learned helplessness”. This was often used to describe communities that were reticent to change and difficult to organize, much less develop in a different way. Over time, I came to realize that there were variations of this phenomena, and much of it was taught helplessness for leaders to control the masses.
When I worked in Scotland in the late 1990s, I was informed by the Regional Council Officials
One of my issues since coming to Gambia is the reticence of people towards different ideas, concepts, even businesses. What I see is a different level of this condition in individuals across all spheres, which appears to indicate that helplessness has been taught and deeply ingrained in peoples’ psyche – perhaps due to colonialism, which never had a chance to be reformed before they were into a dictatorship.
Currently we are watching many humanist movements across the world trying to gain footholds, especially in dictatorships, closed societies, and even in some great democracies like the United States. Many have competing aims, but most are trying to bring some form of balance back into their lives and that of others.
There is much talk of racism and its dramatic impacts and influence on our societies. But this is only a symptom of the much bigger longing to be valued. For many, it’s much easier to have value if you devalue someone elsewho is even lower down the social ladder than you are.
It’s much easier to have influence if you can influence someone else’s life. Then, of course, for some it is the craven desire for power which usually means power over someone else. It’s not so easy to find value for yourself if you live in a society where a person’s worth is based on wealth or position.
I have felt different all my life, and it took me years to find myself and my place in life, and often paid a price for it. I am descended from an English Newfoundland dad and a Scottish mom, and always felt different, and still do.
When I was fifty an Arab doctor discovered I had a rare blood disorder only prevalent in the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia. Two of my sisters also have a lesser version of this disorder, butmy brother doesn’t, and my eldest sister hadn’t been tested for it. When I look at someone, I never look at their skin, I look into their eyes and that tells me who they are.
So, when we are born, we don’t really know who we are. We all need to find ourselves instead of finding fault with others and their differences. We all may have different colors within us, and so what? We are born human – how we define ourselves relates to what biases we develop in our minds; hearts don’t define color, it’s only the mind.
I am sure there will be many questions that will come to mind as you read this essay. I realize there will be those that doubt, and of course those who disbelieve. There may be many who will shake their heads and say these things will never change. But truth be told, change has happened most times in human history when change was needed, and people decided to take back the power of humanity which had been taken from them.
They came together, engaged, and included others and organizations unfolded, affording them the strength of many. Slowly real meaningful change started to appear, and society and the world evolved in a more meaningful way. It may be derailed in time, but with each cycle life became better for many, and new discoveries have been made that are real and permanent.
All it takes is some thoughtful refection, sharing with others and having the will to ‘commit’ and make a commitment to others. The power of the universe will then mysteriously provide the magic and all the support you will need. Magic is the gift that keeps on giving as long as the magic is shared. Overtime the truth will become known and what was considered a mystery will be clear to all.
Written by William (Bill) Pardy
August 10th, 2021
Note: A while ago many people expressed interest in helping with my work/mission here and it was so encouraging. One of my challenges, at that time, was a mechanism for people to be able to contribute. In Canada it was much simpler as people could just do an interact transfer to my bank there.
So, after some exploration I found that PayPal now has a mechanism for charitable contributions which can work from almost anywhere. So, I have set up and account to allow people to send contributions at no cost to you, and a very small service charge for me.
Thank you all for you continued interest and moral support to me and my families, which is much more important than even money. I try and share as much as possible the positive benefits of what I do but it goes beyond that as I learn every day.
So if are so inclined and would like to help, and as my young policeman friend here in Gambia told me a couple of years ago, “there are no small contributions here they are all big”.
This is the link: