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Saturday, April 24, 2010

2010 Education Site Development Trek

PICTURES (in order from top to bottom)

1. Checking out a house being built for a volunteer.
2. Bidongs used to store drinking water.
3. A school meeting.
4. An ironic painting about environmental degradation in The Gambia.
5. The South Bank to JanjanBury ferry.
6. A classroom full of donated bikes for students.
7. Evidence of goats.
8. Our car at a school.
9. and 15. Use of rods and sticks in classrooms is an unfortunate reality in this country.
10. Kids waiting for a school lunch.
11. Kids in a classroom.
12. Our security coordinator.
13. Mangos.
14. A decorated truck.
16. The education sector director and assistant director.
17. A typical school entrance sign.
18. I think they meant "no HARD feelings."
19. Selling mangos.
20. Our security coordinator at the Basse ferry crossing.
21. Students looking out from a classroom.
22. A roofless classroom.
23. Our security coordinator.
24. "No justice for the poor." I think they mean something else.
25. and 26. Our security coordinator, our driver, and I at night.
27. A pull-across ferry at Janjanbury, which will be soon replaced by a bridge.

I just spent the last 6 days traveling the entire length of The Gambia, from Kombo to Fatoto and back. I bounced around like laundry in a dryer as our Peace Corps car took on the rough roads and sweated pretty much constantly due to the heat, even when sleeping outside. On the first day the Education Sector Director, Assistant Director, Security Corrdinator, and myself crammed into a Peace Corps car that was blessedly equiped with a functioning AC unit. We drove straight to Basse from Kombo and arrived late due to a long delay at the Banjul to Barra ferry. They use very small ferry's to transport lots of cars with very angry, impatient drivers across an expansive ocean inlet, so you can imagine what that's like. We stayed in Basse for three very hot nights and visited five schools in the surrounding area. Though we weren't always on time to each planned school meeting, we usually would arrive at a school and wait for the principle, vice principle, some teachers and some community members to gather. We would start with prayers, as you always do here in The Gambia, and then we would explain what Peace Corps is, what an Education Volunteer can do, and what Peace Corps expects of the communities that volunteers are placed in. We do not yet know if we will definitely send volunteers to these sites, so everything was very speculative. The Assistant Director and Security Coordinator (who are Gambian) often translated in Pulaar, Wolof, or Mandinka when needed. On the 4th day we left Basse and visited two schools on the road to Janjanbury Island, where we stayed the night. I slept like a baby becuase I was given a room with a ceiling fan that actually ran all night. On the 5th day we visited three schools on the North Bank road between Janjanbury and Farafeni, which is large market town way up river from Barra. I spent the night with a volunteer in Farafeni, where I slept outside in his back yard underneath a mango tree. I woke in the morning and found that five big mangos had fallen during the night. Luckily none of them had hit me. We visited one last school on the 6th day and then returned to Barra, where we once again waited three hours to board the ferry and cross to Banjul. Though I arrived back at the Kombo transit house exhausted and sun burnt, I had a blast on the trek. The communities we visited were very welcoming and were quite excited at the propsect of having a volunteer stationed at their schools. We even had women dancing and singing for us at one point to express their pleasure. We sensitized each village as best we could about what having a volunteer means; it's NOT going to be a white skinned bag of money arriving in the village, it's going to be a person of any possible race and age coming to join the community and assess their needs and use whatever skills he or she has to help the people around him or her. One of the only challenges I saw was the abundace of rods and sticks in the classrooms of the schools we visited. Corporal punichment is still used here, though it is banned by law. It's just impossible to predict how excessively it is used at a certain school and how a volunteer will react personally to seeing it. In my experience, it was very upsetting and very challenging for me to deal with. However, the use of alternative forms of discipline is on the rise in the country and I'm sure it will continue to overtake the use of sticks and rods in classrooms.

I'm now back in Kombo for the weekend, enjoying the cool coastal weather. It was unbelievably hot up country! Next week we have another Pre-Service Training planning meeting, during which we will finalize the training schedule for the incoming trainees and begin preparing for specific sessions. I'm very excited and I'm looking forward to July! I only hope I can get back to my site for a good amount of time before I have to move out in June.

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