Saturday, April 20, 2013

Travels, goats and cheese

As most of you know I left The Gambia in March, which was quite a difficult transition. Anyway....

I spent a week in Barcelona going through a 'slight' culture shock... I found Barcelona beautiful but very touristy and not much interesting (blaming the same shock and transition:)). Here are some pictures:;postID=4713945090775558645

Then I traveled to France and spent last three weeks on a goat farm in Loire Valley (WWOOFing). The farm is owned and run by a young couple, Alexandra and Francois. They have about 50 milking goats, 31 billies, around 40 young goats, around 10 mother goats with 22 babies. So there is enough work for everyone. The daily activities included: taking care of animals (hay, water, straw), milking and producing cheese. Yes! Cheese! They are making organic goat cheese right at the farm. And it is amazing! So I got to see and participate in milk processing, cheese making, tasting and selling activities. I also got a bit to travel around, see some villages, towns and castles. Here we go:


Thursday, February 7, 2013


So I wanted to share a successful project that we spent a lot of time working on with other volunteers. However, I was feeling lazy to rewrite and used the project summary that we have already developed...Enjoy:)  
“I love Camp GLOW because you taught me to become a good leader in the future and you made me more aware in life.”

Camp GLOW (Girls and Guys Leading Our World) took place January 6-12, 2013 at the Regional Education Office in Janjanbureh, Central River Region (CRR). Organized by U.S. Peace Corps-The Gambia, in partnership with the Nova Scotia - Gambia Association (NSGA), the camp aimed to equip young Gambian women and men with leadership skills and build their confidence. In addition, students were encouraged to work together as equal partners and become active leaders in their communities.

Twenty four Grade 10 students and five teachers were invited from the six Senior Secondary Schools in the CRR region: Armitage (in Janjanbureh), Bansang, Niani (in Wassu), Niamina (in Jarreng), Brikama Ba, and Kaur. Students and teachers represented the four major tribes, coming together from different villages and economic backgrounds to work together and form lasting friendships.      

The U.S. Peace Corps - Gender and Development Committee (GAD) wanted to organize a leadership camp after the success of Camp GAGA (Girls About Global Awareness), an environmental education and leadership camp for girls that took place in September 2011 in Basse, URR. A group of GAD Committee members started discussing the idea of the camp that would include both genders - girls and boys- which had never been attempted in The Gambia before.  The traditional roles of women and men in Gambian society do not allow for much cooperation or collective decision making, with men taking on most leadership roles and women submitting to them. 

Within the setting of Camp GLOW, Peace Corps Volunteers envisioned an environment where both male and female students and teachers could collaborate and learn to respect each other’s opinions. The camp was modeled after “Camp Girls Leading Our World”, which was initially developed in 1995 by Peace Corps Volunteers in Romania and has since been successfully replicated in 22 other countries around the world. The Peace Corps Volunteer in The Gambia kept the acronym “Camp GLOW” but included boys in the title – “Girls and Guys Leading Our World.” 

 Peace Corps and NSGA gang

The Central River Region (CRR) was chosen as the camp location due to the high prevalence of teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and STIs among youth and lack of educational opportunities.  Camp GLOW received support from the CRR Governor’s Office, the Chief of Janjanbureh and the CRR Regional Education Office. The Regional Education Director of Region 5, Mr. Bah, as well as the Senior Principal Officer, Mr. Camara, welcomed the idea of hosting the camp and provided unwavering support throughout the planning and implementation process.

Camp GLOW was fully-funded by PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief). Local businesses within The Gambia - including GAMCEL, J-Fin Money Transfer, Prime Stationery and Kairaba Stationary - contributed in-kind donations to supplement camp materials, such as t-shirts, umbrellas, and stationary supplies.  Peace Corps Volunteers also donated crafts supplies, sports equipment and prizes.

The planning of the camp was lead by two Peace Corps - GAD Committee members Jen Vitello and Lina Kelpsaite, who serve in the West Coast Region. Volunteers placed in the Central River Region, Stephanie Starch and Joanna LaHaie, organized the logistics in Janjanbureh. In collaboration with other CRR-based volunteers, they helped to identify Senior Secondary Schools in the area and coordinated with the schools’ administrations to select active students to attend camp. 

 with Abby and Steph

Throughout the planning and development stages, twelve Peace Corps volunteers also worked alongside NSGA to develop the camp curriculum and individual lesson plans. Four curriculum topics were selected: Healthy Lifestyles, Leadership/Life Skills, Gender Equality and Community Engagement.

During the camp, both students and teachers actively participated in sessions - asking questions, debating amongst themselves and performing role-play dramas. In order to promote gender equality in the camp environment, students encouraged to mix instead of segregating themselves to their own gender. Boys and girls prepared and performed dramas together, played sports together and took part in games and activities together.

Haddy is leading a session.

  Circumcision dance by Isatou.
In one activity, the “gender-role game”, students were split up into two teams– the “orange” team and the “purple” team. The rules were simple: the “orange” team was automatically inferior and had to bow down to “purple” team members when greeting them, sit in the back of the room during sessions and take their meals last. By participating in the game throughout the day, students learned on their own that gender roles are not absolute, but are rather learned or imposed by society. This lesson helped them to become more open-minded during sessions and critically think about the issues facing their peers and communities.    
 Students taking notes.

Throughout the week, students also answered specific questions related to each session in journals. The questions aimed to encourage the students to think critically and relate what they had learned in the sessions to their own lives. Teachers were also given their own journals to complete, which contained questions about the interactive teaching methods and assessments used in each session. The teachers also served as coordinators of each school group and facilitated group discussions. Peace Corps Volunteers, Joanna LaHaie and Adrian Fields, met with the teachers daily to discuss and evaluate sessions, highlighting teaching methods that were most effective in the classroom.

One of the objectives of the camp was to equip the participants with tools and knowledge so they are able to share what they learned during camp with their peers and community members. Lessons on  ommunity engagement taught students creative ways to share information, such as dramas, visual aids and puppet shows. 

 Ebrima is making a visual aid.

 Anna and Yusupha performing...

School groups worked on creating puppets throughout the week Рusing paper mach̩ with baobob glue, oil paint, cardboard and local fabrics. They decorated the puppet costumes with craft supplies donated by Peace Corps Volunteers Рfabric paint, pom poms and pipe cleaners Рresulting in creative art pieces. This creativity and imagination also become evident in the dramas they performed during the sessions and talent show.


 Puppet making and puppets

Despite the busy camp schedule, both students and teachers still had time to play sports, from kickball to football, as well as team-building games, using the Armitage Senior Secondary School field. 


After dinner, everyone gathered for evening activities that included movies and popcorn (featuring “Shes The Man” and “The Great Debaters”), a bonfire with s’mores and songs and a final camp program with a DJ.  
 Let's dance!

Role models from CRR were also invited to share their stories with the students. The guests included Isatou Ceesay, an entrepreneur who started Women Initiative The Gambia; Fatou Jammeh Touray, a teacher from Armitage Senior Secondary School (who was also among the camp participants) and Salieu Kanteh, a Community Health Nurse whose determination to finish school and become a Public Health Officer inspired the attendees. 

 Guest speaker - Isatou Ceesay

On the last day of camp, school groups developed action plans, selecting one message to share with their peers and planning how they would disseminate the information in their communities.  Student representatives from each group had the opportunity to practice their public speaking skills by presenting their schools’ action plan to the entire class and answering questions and comments from their peers. Both Peace Corps Volunteers and the CRR-representative for NSGA plan to check up on each group throughout the school year and support them in their efforts.

 Aminata's address during Closing Ceremony

Camp GLOW ended with a closing ceremony, attended by U.S. Ambassador, Edward M. Alford and U.S. Embassy staff; U.S. Peace Corps Country Director, Leon Kayego and U. S. Peace Corps Staff and Regional Education Office staff. Students and teachers presented their action plans and dramas and were awarded certificates for their hard work.  Students and teachers celebrated later that evening with an all-camp talent show and program, which included school and individual acts such as songs, dances, dramas and puppet shows. Their talents and creativity had no boundaries! 
All gang with guests

Before the students returned back to their villages, they took a multiple choice test – the same test they had taken on the first day of camp – to quantitatively measure whether they had learned anything over the course of the week. The result? The average student score improved from 68% to 90%, and 9 out of 24 students received a perfect score on the post-test. 
 with Mariama from Armitage SSS and her puppet.

This is just one way that we can prove that Camp GLOW made an impact. Those who attended camp were able to witness the close network that formed among all of the participants, enabling them to support each other regionally in post-Camp GLOW activities.

As one student wrote, “Camp Glow has done a wonderful job, so now the improvement is in our hands – that means we should share the information with others who have not yet learned it.”

 with Jen, Haddy and Steph - camp is finished...

more pictures here:

Starfish Academy Water Project

The drinking water supply project for Starfish Academy, Library and Skill Center (I wrote a blurb about them some time ago) was finally completed in December:

 Starfish Community Library

 The project was funded by the Small Project Assistance (SPA) grant thorough Peace Corps and was similar to the one done at my village school, which was completed a year before. Even though it took a long time to complete the project due to contractor’s busy schedule and other unforeseen circumstances, it went pretty smooth. The solar powered water system consisted of tower for raised water tank and solar panels, soak pit, one tap and a borehole.  The most complicated part of the project was borehole drilling. It was drilled up to 30 meters to locate the aquifer with suitable water for drinking.  Equipment breakdowns complicated and delayed the drilling which took longer than planned, but I got chance to observe the drilling process, enjoy good company and the ataya. I would have been surprised if everything went smoothly!

The pump and tap are working fine and school has drinking water onsite in addition to toilets, funded by U.S. Embassy, and built last year. 

 Tower is being welded together at the site.

The team is putting in the gates for the Academy.

Kids are playing in the soak pit.

 Borehole drilling team.

 Work is in progress.

  Different sediments from the borehole.

Borehole is completed.

 Tap is in place (locked during non-operating hours).

 Contractor and library coordinator next to finished project.