Heavy Metal: Welding, Cutting and Fabricating in Gambia


One of the things we heard when we were new PCVs was that “you’re service is your own” and “you can make your service whatever you like.” This is definitely true. There’s lots of freedom and time to pursue whatever you like.

Do you want to head to the garden 8 hours a day and teach people to grow huge amounts of vegetables? You can do that. Do you want to master your local language and spend your days chatting with village elders and religious leaders? That’s a possibility. Do you want to form a youth group soccer team and tutor them in math and science each night? You can start that tomorrow. Do you want to write 200 letters and read 80 books in 2 years? That’s ok too. Or, do you want to write grants, buy tractors and wells for villagers and give them something that will last when you leave. That’s up for grabs too.

Your ‘service’ is really what you make it and, maybe for the first time in your life, nobody is going to tell you what to do and when to do it! This much freedom can be a real dream. It can also put you in the empty room face to face with your motivations, ideas of helping, intentions behind serving, habits and procrastinations. In a funny realization about happiness, when you finally get what you’ve been asking for all along you may be shocked and mismanage it! It’s weird, but being told what to do provides a source of comfort, in that it removes the responsibility and uncertainty that comes along with deciding for yourself. I’ve ran into all of this during my service and luckily come through with a bit more insight, humility and understanding. It’s a relief to laugh with yourself and realize that when given the chance to do anything you want, you don’t really know exactly what you want :). But, you go on with your best fleeting ideas and, thankfully, peace corps service allows the space for those ideas.

So….I saw a welding shop and walked over to talk with the guys. I thought “I want to learn how to weld.” The pictures below show some of my efforts over the last year.

This is one of my best creations so far. It’s a stand for a ‘jibida’ that helps keep water cool. I got some help with the welding but I did all the cutting myself. This was the first time I ’rounded’ a solid piece of rebar by hammering it on a curved surface.


Another one of my latest big projects. Some shelves for the kitchen in my house. I decided to spray paint these shelves and 6 cans later I thought it was a bad idea! These shelves, and I quote, “are very beautiful!”


In the kitchen. This was a big help because I had all my stuff on the floor in boxes up to this point.


A quick craze of ‘canning fever’ lead to the creation of this canning rack. I think without a lot of refrigeration out here, canning could catch on for food preservation. Another avenue for a project…


Cucumbers ready to turn into mushy pickles. This rebar is 6mm and really easy to work with.


My welding teacher and mentor Mr. Janha helps make the sugar cane press. We found the old stand and fabricated the press for it.


Finished and ready to press sugar cane and sweet sorghum. Looks a lot like a gun.


The press works well and we enjoy some fresh pressed sugar cane juice. Many smiles and business ideas were born in this moment.


This shade house was one of the first things I built 100% by myself. By 1 year into my service I was able to do most things but my welding was still a little bit behind. This shade house is now helping us grow pumpkins and swiss chard.


An earlier picture when I first started helping at the welding shop. We got a ‘job’ to replace the grill in this mercedes bumper.


Cutting flat bar to fabricate a new grill.


Mr. Janha welds. You can get an idea for the style of work: in the dirt, fast and furious and lots of people in tight places. It’s a blast to work at the shop, but I wouldn’t call it ‘safe.’ I do better than most with gloves, glasses and a slow pace.


The grill is welded and ready to be installed.


I cut some flat bar using a hammer and chisel. This is difficult. My counterpart Momodou laughs in the background and says “you can’t cut!” Haha, he’s right! Gambians are very honest ๐Ÿ™‚


Cutting some sheet metal to build a carbonizer to make biochar with.


Holes are drilled 1-2″ apart to allow heat to radiate from the inside of the carbonizer. Again, check out the Gambian work style – flip flops and a ram!


The carbonizer chimney is welded on the base. Almost done building it. This metal was 0.9mm and took a lot of careful welding and filler rod.


Alaghie, one of the best workers at the shop hammers a flange at the bottom of the chimney.


Cutting angles with my friend ‘Pa’ supervising.


This was a new generator brought to the shop. It was brought by donkey cart and offloaded by hand onto tall stacks of tires. It eventually came to rest here but not before it sent one guy to the hospital with a split open finger.


Well i’m not sure why there’s a ‘shaka’ on the top of this generator but I enjoyed it. Thank you topland generator company!


Although the settings and equipment may be basic these guys can make some really nice stuff! This is a gate for the front of somebody’s compound.


When your ring gets stuck you can come to the metal shop and we’ll remove it for you!


Learning to weld. It’s definitely tricky to get the right feel. I was channeling my sister Stephanie here – wish she was around to help give me tips.


This shot came out really good. Looking official and for some reason reminding me of the movie T2.


I get to practice welding things like garden hand tools. Their ugly welds but I learned a good amount welding old junk.


A digging tool used to loosen up the soil. I got the idea from those garden claw infomercials i used to see. Plus, I wanted a tool that was tall enough for me.


Here’s the finished digging tool.


Book end prototypes – this was the first job that somebody else asked me to do. We later made 20 of these to go in another PCVs school library.


Completed biochar machine. Ready to carbonize some coos husks.


Cutting square rod for book ends.


The completed pieces for the bookends.


My welding apprentices :). These guys helped me cut and stand around saying funny things like “O, you are very strong!” or “this is not my job!”


Some shoe welding done by my local shoe doctor.


The jig made to weld the bookends.


Welding the book ends together.


After Mr. Janha did the welding I had the job to grind them smooth.


Completed and ready to go to the library!


Good application photo for future welding job.


A good moment between the welding master and student. Mr. Janha is such a good guy and hard worker. He keeps saying great one liners like “soon, you will be the big boss!”


Rake support…(this broke the first time I used it – did I mention it’s been difficult to learn how to weld things strong?) Janha had to come in and weld it the right way.


Ugly hand fork welded together. Umm, yeah, this broke the first time I tried to use it!


Cutting flat bar for a van bumper and getting ready to brew attaya (see upper right).


The ladder to be welded on the van so people can climb up to the roof and load things.


One of the first things I welded and painted. First folk art. I took this back to my sister and gave it to her as a gift – she was the one who first started welding in our family and inspired me to try it.


The crew at the welding shop! Gotta love that pose up front! ๐Ÿ™‚


So, that’s been my time welding and learning to do metal fabrication. Post comments and suggestions below and as always, thanks for following along with my service. Now, what do you want to do next with your service!?


13 thoughts on “Heavy Metal: Welding, Cutting and Fabricating in Gambia

  1. Bernard Holcroft

    Could someone contact me concerning a project I have been asked to plan for Gambia that involves cutting the sides out and later welding them together on site. there will be various other smaller bits to do including ducting for aircon chimneys,

    • Bernard,

      I can try to help you with any project you’re planning for Gambia. Send me another message on here with your email or let me know your phone number and I will get in touch with you asap. Thanks -stephen

  2. hello can someone help me out I am coming to Gambia to establish my welding work, specialized on Welding and fabrication of fuel trailer tankers,oil, and water vessels. I need a site or shop I can rent and some wielders to start up with. pls if u can assist me with information or you are currently residing in banjul Gambia I will be glad to connect with u, here is my mail address judechinedu38@gmail.com or u can whasapp me on +2348063211219.

    • Jude,

      that’s great you’re going to be starting your work in Gambia, i think you will be in good hands wherever you go as there are lots of welding shops and people you can talk with for ideas and equipment rental etc. I stayed in Farafenni, halfway up country, but Banjul has a lot of opportunities too i’m sure. I’m not in country anymore however. Ok, will email you with more details. Thanks for your comment -Stephen

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