Friday, September 11, 2009 - 11:38

Acclaimed photojournalist Jason Florio and his partner Helen Jones are to trek the length and breadth of The Gambia to highlight the work of Eden’s Gardens for Life schools project.

The couple’s odyssey will begin with visits to the five participating schools near the western coast and they will then complete an arduous 700-mile circumnavigation of the West African state.

The Gambia is the latest country to join Gardens for Life, the Eden initiative which links 20,000 pupils in schools in the UK, Africa, India and the USA, encouraging them to create gardens, grow food and share stories with others across the world.

The five Gardens for Life schools in The Gambia are all within the Makasutu area looked after by the Makasutu Wildlife Trust. The Trust’s Chief Executive Malang Jambang coordinates the schools programme on the ground and keeps in close touch with the Eden Project.

Jason and Helen’s “A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush” aims to raise awareness and funds for the schools taking part. Money donated will buy vital equipment such as hoses to connect school gardens to water pumps and wells and fences to keep animals from eating the crops.

Jason and Helen's trek is supported by tour operator The Gambia Experience.

Operating for over 22 years, the specialist is accredited with 5-star AITO Responsible Tourism status because of its commitment to this small West African country.

Bristol Airport has also put forward its support for this charitable endeavour and will play an important role in transporting resources and manpower out to The Gambia.

Jason says: “Gardens for Life is already starting to do great work in The Gambia. Supporting the project will help the schools in many ways – from providing good quality seeds to buying tools to tend the gardens.

“It will also enable skilled workers to teach more children and their families about composting, crop rotation, organic ways to increase fertility of the soil, planting orchards and traditional medicinal uses of plants and herbs.”

Accompanied by local guides from Makasutu Culture Forest Abdouli Janneh and Mohammed Njie, Jason and Helen will follow the course of the River Gambia, keeping watch for crocodiles and hippos along the way, and visit remote rural villages.

British-born Jason, who splits his time between London and New York, has spent many years photographing the people who live and work around the sacred Makasutu Forest in The Gambia and with Helen’s help has produced an award-winning book Makasutu – Mecca in the Forest, and exhibitions from his travels.

Helen is also a frequent visitor to The Gambia and has studied natural nutrition there. The couple’s most adventurous journey so far starts in early November and is expected to take two months to complete.

As well as supporting Gardens for Life, they also aim to preserve through photos, film and tape recordings a modern account of the people and stories of The Gambia, to be published in a new book and on an interactive website where Gambians can share their personal histories and stories for posterity.

Jason says: “Many of the places we will visit in remote rural areas will be well off the tourist track. We will be relying on Abdouli and Mohammed’s deep local knowledge to help us navigate through the bush and to introduce us to the people we meet along the way. We’ll being staying with villagers and in tents and we’ll be taking a couple of donkeys with us to help carry the gear.

“These remote villages often hold a wealth of history and folklore, relayed through storytelling and traditional celebrations which are rarely documented through visual or written means. This rich cultural history is at risk of being lost. We aim to help preserve some of it by documenting it as we go.”

Rob Lowe, co-ordinator of Gardens for Life, says: “Going round the entire country on foot promises to be a great adventure for Jason, Helen, Abdouli and Mohammed and also an effective way of highlighting what Eden is helping communities achieve through Gardens for Life.

“Our work supports the most fundamental kind of food security by establishing community gardens were children are taught how simple it can be to grow healthy food.

“Often as countries and communities aspire to develop, so the skills used in tending gardens and looking after land are being forgotten. The aims of Gardens for Life are to remedy this.”

For more information on Eden and Gardens for Life, go to

For up-to-date information on Jason & Helen’s adventure, please visit:

For more information on The Gambia Experience and Makasutu, please visit: