“We Never Gave Up: Stories of Courage in Gambia” – Amnesty International Documentary

“We Never Gave Up: Stories of Courage in Gambia

A Louise Hunt & Jason Florio Production for Amnesty International

the trailer

At the end of last year, we were commissioned by Amnesty International, West Africa, to make a documentary about the human rights defenders, and activists, who worked tirelessly, and often at their own risk, to stand up for those who had been abused and tortured – including working for the families of those who had ‘disappeared‘ – under the 22-year dictatorship of President Yahya Jammeh.

Screen-grab from documentary: Dec 2016, Yahya Jammeh goes live on air to rescind the recent elections, whereby the majority of the country voted him out
Screen-grab from documentary trailer: Dec 2016, Yahya Jammeh goes live on air to rescind the recent elections, after the majority of the country voted him out

 

Director of Photography/Co-Producer, Jason Florio, with Foroyaa newspaper editor, Samuel Sarr, at his printing press
Director of Photography/Co-Producer, Jason Florio, with Foroyaa newspaper editor, Samuel Sarr, in his printing press. Image ©Helen Jones-Florio (2nd Camera)

 

Having traveled, lived, and worked, over the last 20 years, on various assignments and personal projects, in the Gambia, Florio and I were always aware of its dark underbelly. We heard ‘the stories‘ of abuse, torture, disappearances, murder even. And, in a country which depends largely on tourism – the pull of beautiful sandy beaches, year-long sunshine, languorous boat trips on the River Gambia, technicolored sunsets – you’d be extremely hard pushed, if you only visited for a holiday, to have any notion at all of the graveness of what was going on, in the small West Africa country.

Jugana, one of the victims of Jammeh's torturous regime, being filmed by Jason Florio ©Helen Jones-Florio
Jugana Suso, a victim of Jammeh’s torturous regime, being filmed by Jason Florio ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

For 22 years, we documented Gambians living in a climate of fear. Their rights were denied and many were subjected to torture, arbitrary detention, and widespread surveillance. But even in those dark days, there were people brave enough to stand up and challenge the abuse of power.” 

Screen-grab from the documentary #GambiaHasDecided, Bakau ©Jason Florio
Screen-grab from the documentary trailer #GambiaHasDecided, Bakau ©Jason Florio

“Whether they were journalists, human rights lawyers, community leaders, young activists or victims of abuses, they never gave up. Our film portrays their stories, showing the world a lesson that what happened in Gambia is proof of the power and change that human rights defenders can bring about.Alioune Tine, Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa Regional Director.

Preparing to interview Imam Baba Leigh at his home ©Helen Jones-Florio
Preparing to interview Imam Baba Leigh at his home – a former prisoner and victim of torture – with sound man, Pa Ebou Sossey ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

Jason Florio filming at the Foroyaa newspaper print shop ©Helen Jones-Florio (2nd Camera)
Jason Florio filming at the Foroyaa newspaper print shop ©Helen Jones-Florio (2nd Camera)

 

Human rights lawyers: L-R ©Helen Jones-Florio
Human rights lawyers, with their client, Jugana Suso: L-R: Hawa Sisay Sabally, Rachel Yvonne Mendy, Juguna Suso, Yassin Sanghor © Helen Jones-Florio (2nd Camera)

 

The facilitators of the #GambiaHasDecided campaign ©Helen Jones-Florio
The inspiring people behind the far-reaching and incredibly influential #GambiaHasDecided campaign – Lamin Saidykhan, Gilleh Thomas, Asta Jobe, Salieu Taal ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

Filming human rights lawyer, xxxx, in her home © Helen Jones-FlorioFilming human rights lawyer, xxxx, in her home © Helen Jones-Florio
Filming human rights lawyer, Yassin Sanghor at in her home © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Car bumper sticker '#MyTribeIsGambian © Helen Jones-Florio
Car bumper sticker ‘#MyTribeIsGambian © Helen Jones-Florio

 

To have all those stories,  Jammeh’s reign of fear and terror,  Florio and I had only heard whispers about over the years (until April 2016, when Gambians came to the streets to protest after the death in custody of activist Solo Sandeng), our Gambian friends only ever spoke sotto voce about what was going on, confirmed by those who had actually lived them was both incredibly disturbing and humbling. Now, with a new president, they have the freedom to speak out, have their voices heard.

Louise Hunt, write and co-producer, interviews Salieu Taal (#GambiaHasDecided), Saffy J's Restaurant, Bakau ©Helen Jones-Florio
Louise Hunt, writer/co-producer, interviews Salieu Taal (#GambiaHasDecided), Saffy J’s Restaurant, Bakau ©Helen Jones-Florio (2nd Camera)

We are truly thankful to every single person who shared their experiences, those who worked with us on the documentary, and Amnesty International for inviting us to make the documentary, in a place that we feel is a second home.

The Florios

Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio, The Gambia, West Africa
Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio, The Gambia, West Africa

 

Follow us on Instagram @floriotravels / @jasonflorio for updates on

when and where you can see the full documentary

 

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Looking back: River Gambia Expedition – 1044km source-sea African odyssey (youtube)

 

River Gambia Expedition – 1044km source-sea African odyssey’footage © Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio From the source of the River Gambia, in the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea, into Senegal, and onto The Gambia, West Africa, to the Atlantic Ocean’ (2012-2013) – See/read more at River Gambia Expedition 

 

Related: ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – 930km African odyssey’

#ThrowbackSaturday: 30th December, 2014 – attempted coup, The Gambia, West Africa

 

Quiet on the streets of Banjul, The Gambia, after failed coup attempt - image © Helen Jones-Florio
Quiet on the streets of Banjul, The Gambia, after failed coup attempt – image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

In 2014, Jason Florio and I were living in the small West African country of The Gambia, when we were woken by an early morning phone call, on 30th December, from a Gambian friend who advised us to ‘stay off the streets’ as the sound of gunfire had been reported, coming from the vicinity of the State House, in Banjul – the then President Yahya Jammeh’s seat of autocratic power – and talk of an attempted coup.

Not ones to miss out on the action, we got into our truck, cameras in hand, and drove around the unusually deserted streets. It was unnerving, to say the least, to see one of the main streets, Kairaba ‘Pipeline‘ Avenue – which is always teeming with people, traffic-laden, and noisy – virtually empty.

Quiet on the streets of Banjul, The Gambia, after failed coup attempt - image © Helen Jones-Florio
Quiet on the streets of Banjul, The Gambia, after failed coup attempt – image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

The conspirators were from different parts of the US and several may never have even met in person. A few had lived in the US for decades; a coup participant who was later killed in an attempted raid on the seat of government in the capital of Banjul on Dec. 30, 2014 had served in Iraq as a platoon leader with the Kentucky National Guard.‘ Read more: Business Insider

 

IRIN NEWS ‘2017: A year of humanitarian crises in photos’ – images ©Jason Florio

IRIN NEWS - a rubber dinghy, packed with over 120 migrants and refugees, in the Mediterranean Sea - image ©Jason Florio/MOAS
IRIN NEWS – a rubber dinghy, packed with over 120 migrants and refugees – image ©Jason Florio/MOAS

 

IRIN NEWS

‘2017: A year of humanitarian crises in photos’

IRIN NEWS - Ibrima Gaye, 17, from Gambia, on board the MOAS rescue ship 'Phoenix' as he waits to be disembarked at the port of Pozzallo in Sicily ©Jason Florio
IRIN NEWS – A young Gambian boy, on board the MOAS rescue ship ‘Phoenix’ as he waits to be disembarked at the port of Pozzallo in Sicily ©Jason Florio/MOAS

 

IRIN NEWS - The Gambia’s new president, Adama Barrow, received a hero’s welcome when he returned to Banjul after his makeshift inauguration in neighbouring Senegal at the end of January. Image ©Jason Florio
IRIN NEWS – The Gambia’s new president, Adama Barrow, received a hero’s welcome when he returned to Banjul after his makeshift inauguration in neighbouring Senegal at the end of January. Image ©Jason Florio    

 

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Photo of the Day – Sunset over Kunta Kinte Island, River Gambia ©Helen Jones-Florio

The sun sets over Kunta Kinte Island, River Gambia, The Gambia, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio
The sun sets over Kunta Kinte Island, River Gambia, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

 

The sun sets over baobab trees and Kunta Kinte Island

Formally known as James Island (an important historical site in the West African slave trade), situated on the River Gambia, near to the villages of Juffureh and Albreda. Taken in 2009, whilst on a 930km African adventure – the first ever circumnavigation, completely by foot, of The Gambia, West Africa,  by award-winning photojournalist, Jason Florio, and photography producer, Helen Jones-Florio, three Gambians, two donkeys and a cart. Jason shot what was to become award-winning portraits of village chiefs (Alkalos) and elders: ‘Silafando – a gift to you on behalf of my journey’ 

 

Gambia expedition 2009. Portrait of Dadi Bah, Al Kalo of Tuba Dabbo with Jason Florio and Helen Jones.
‘930km African Odyssey‘ Jason & Helen with village chief – alkalo – Dadi Bah, Tubba Dabbo, The Gambia, West Africa, 2009

 

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#GambiaHasDecided – one year in

#GambiaHasDecided hashtag campaign founders, The Gambia, West Africa ©Helen Jones-Florio
#GambiaHasDecided hashtag campaign founders, Bakau, The Gambia, West Africa. L-R: Lamin, Gilleh, Asta, Salieu  ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

The Gambia – the smallest country on the African continent – has come a long way since this time last year and the beginning of what, doubtlessly, will be an incredibly long journey.

It’s always a pleasure to see these guys, the founders of what became one of the most important, impactful, social media campaigns to come out of West Africa.

#gambiahasdecided 
Inauguration banners for President Adama Barrow - image ©Helen Jones-Florio , 2017. — with Andrew Renneisen and Jason Florio.
Inauguration banners for President Adama Barrow – image ©Helen Jones-Florio , 2017. — with Andrew Renneisen and Jason Florio.

 

#GambiaHasDecided - Gambian boys wearing their t-shirts for President Barrow Senegal inauguration celebrations, at Westfields junction, in The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio
#GambiaHasDecided – President Barrow Senegal inauguration celebrations in The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Related posts – New Gambia
@floriotravels/Instagram

Dogs of The Gambia, West Africa – AKA ‘It’s a Dog’s Life’

Dogs of The Gambia, West Africa

 

White Tip & Wolf on monkey watch © Helen Jones-Florio Dogs of Gambia
White Tip & Wolf on monkey watch © Helen Jones-Florio

 

One of our favourite pastimes, when in The Gambia, is hanging out with the #9 pack of rescue dogs – and assorted random beach dogs.

Beach walks and making documentaries, with Jason Florio

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Each and every one of them has real character, which we also have A.K.A. names for too: White Tip / ‘It’s All About Me‘ (because she demands ALL the attention); Rascal/’Little Titch‘(the smallest, yet the feistiest of the pack!); Wolf/’Silent Bob‘ (the stealthiest dog I have ever met); Kalu/’Black Dog‘ (ermm…not a very inspired AKA…he migrated from the Indian restaurant across the street to #9, and ‘Kalu’ is an Indian word for black); Junior/’JuJu‘ (and, sometimes, ‘Teenager‘, because he can sleep for Gambia!).

 

Beach dogs - Wolf, White Tip and Juju © Helen Jones-Florio
Beach dogs – Wolf, White Tip and Juju, Cape Point Beach, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Follow @floriotravels on Instagram for daily travel, dogs, the occasional cat or monkey, photo updates, with a little of our documentary work thrown into the mix.

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Helen Jones-Florio Online Gallery - November 2017 Newsletter -Fine art photography prints from 7 incredible photographers   
Helen Jones-Florio Online Gallery – November 2017 Newsletter -Fine art photography prints from 7 incredible photographers

 

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