The Wood Carver's story

Amady Gagigo’s Story

For years, Amady Gagigo made a living carving wooden masks, animals and sculptures at his workshop in Banjul. Elephants, rhinos, birds, bowls, large masks, small masks, you name it, he made it. He took special pride in the quality of the work. Wood carving remains one of the most common local arts in The Gambia, and craftsmen like Amady can be seen at many of the local markets.

Amady sold most of his carvings along the coast to visitors and tourists. The beach offered a guaranteed set of customers and more than enough free space for him to show off the products of his craftsmanship.

For Amady though, it was more than a job. It was his livelihood. His passion.


One of Amady’s grandsons, Ousman, age 4, plays in the streets outside the family home.

Most of his family live together in Banjul, including several grandchildren, his 21-year-old daughter, Daba, and his 25-year-old son, Malick, who followed his father into the carving trade.

Just 50, Amady expected to continue working for years.

But that took a serious turn when he began to lose his sight. His eyesight began to fog, almost like smoke as he described it. The problem only became worse during the day when he tried to work outside in his workshop. Eventually, he could no longer recognize faces or make out many of the details in a carving.


Amady developed severe cataracts in both eyes.

As his sight declined, his carving did as well. He lost a large part of his income, and his daughter, Daba, began to spend most of her time watching after him. She didn’t think twice about that responsibility.

"My dad is my best friend," said Daba.


Unsure if her father’s condition could be treated, Daba began to look for care. She dropped out of school when her father could no longer work to support her education. Helping him full time after he went blind, she traveled with him to the hospital and to clinics.

Eventually they were referred to Sheikh Zayed Regional Eye Care Center, where he joined the long list of patients waiting in line for cataract surgery.


A HelpMeSee staff member registers Amady for surgery with the HelpMeSee Reach app.

Community screeners from the HelpMeSee campaign visited him at home the week before surgery. They interviewed him about the effect of the cataracts and gathered the initial information needed for the hospital. Using the HelpMeSee Reach app, the field staff was able to upload the information directly to the hospital system instead of the more time-consuming process of paper forms.

When HelpMeSee launched its campaign in partnership with Sheikh Zayed, Amady was one of the first patients treated.

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The wood carver, Amady, with his daughter Daba at home (left) and at Sheikh Zayed Regional Eye Care Center just after surgery (right).

Just hours after surgery when we checked on him, Amady had just one question:

"When can I return to work?"

Several days later, we caught up with Amady and his family again to see how he was recovering. His family was ecstatic, and the results from the surgery were already clear. Once he returns soon to his workshop, his daughter Dabba already has plans to go back to school to finish her diploma.