Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Gem Sa Bopp- Believe in Yourself!

There have been times throughout my Peace Corps service when I’ve felt like I’m not making a difference over here. Then every once in a while, something happens that makes me feel like spending two years away from my friends and family is worth it. This past week was one of those glorious times.

About 17 volunteers from my Linguere area, and some neighboring regions, Louga and Saint Louis, (pronounced “San Louie”) all got together with around 44 middle-school aged girls for a week-long camp extravaganza. We spent the week at a university in picturesque Saint Louis. It was a week of tie-dying, campfire songs, educational lectures, sports, lots of theatre, and even a trip to the beach! I honestly don’t think I’ve been so exhausted.

I took two girls that go to school in my village, Aloucky and Comba. I’ve known these two for a long time now because they were both nominated for the scholarship program that I’ve worked on both years. Neither of them are actually from my village, but they both live away from their families to go to school there. Neither of their families have much money at all, but the girls are still in school! They are hard workers and deserved to have a bit of fun, and I think they had an AMAZING time at camp.

Hanging with my girl Aloucky

My other girl, Coumba
Getting our Education on...

As much fun as the camp was, there was a very strong educational component to it. The camp was entitled “Gem Sa Bopp,” which means “Believe in Yourself”. Each day of camp had a different theme. We started with Business Day, which included a session on banking, and a panel of university students who discussed what it was like to be in college in Senegal. Even though it seems kind of boring, the sessions were actually bit hits with the girls.

Girls getting seriously competitive in a banking game

PC Senegal employee Talla teaching about banking

Next came Environmental Day, in which the girls visited a local volunteers’ garden and learned about techniques such as compost, planting tree sacs (in which I’m a total expert now), container gardening, etc. Then, the big event of the day was that we took a trip to the BEACH!! We went around collecting garbage and explaining why it’s important not to litter (which is not a concept most Senegalese people understand). Most of the girls had never seen the ocean before, so it was adorable seeing their reaction.

Learning about compost! What fun!

Me looking like I know my stuff

Beach trip!

Holding hands to dip our feet in

Team Green getting wet!

Then was Health Day, which was eye-opening for us volunteers to see how little the girls knew about health. We played a nutrition relay game where the girls had to place certain foods in their respective food groups. Then, we had a female health worker come to answer the kids’ questions. They wrote down anonymous questions and the woman answered all of them. The girls lack of knowledge of health topics was astounding. It makes me appreciate the education that I received in school, as well as the more “open” culture in the US where children can ask health questions without being embarrassed or shamed.

Our fourth day was Gender and Development Day, which was pretty deep and focused a lot on the woman’s role in Senegal. The girls performed theatre (always a favorite over here), focusing on issues like abuse, girls leaving school, early-marriage, etc.

Our last day was Awa Day. I’ve mentioned Awa Traore on this blog before. She’s Peace Corps Senegal’s cross-culture expert and does AMAZING talks for Senegalese and American people alike. The girls absolutely loved her. She began by simply asking the girls questions about their education, life, family, etc. And then she delved deeper. She was talking about abuse and rape, why it happens here and how to protect yourself. She was even able to get the girls talking about these issues, which hardly ever happens. You could tell that some of the girls were deeply affected by the conversation (including one girl who began crying during the talk), which means that these kind of issues do occur in their lives and they have no one that they can talk to about things like this. As sad as it was, it was still great to see the girls opening up and talking.

Awa actually getting girls to open up

Such a celebrity

Getting our FUN on

Obviously camp was a fabulous educational opportunity for these young women; but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have a ton of fun too! They were able to tie-dye, play in the Fitness Olympics, dip their feet in the water at the beach, perform theatre, sing songs at a huge campfire, and have a talent show. All in all, they freaking loved it.

Obviously we had to have a water balloon toss

So much fun!

Jenn and I got soaking wet afterwards

Toubabs tie-dying like pros

Our beautiful tie-dye work

Girls playing b-ball

We got to see beautiful sunsets

Dancing around the campfire

Equipe Vert!! (Team Green)

V is for VERT! (green)

Me with Aloucky and Coumba on the last night

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!

Now that camp is over and I'm able to reflect on it as such a wonderful and inspirational experience, I need to once again send out a huge THANK YOU to everyone who donated and made this camp a possibility. Thank you all so much. We wouldn’t have been able to do this without our generous donors in the US.

THANK YOU, EVERYONE! Love and miss you all. I’ve been having major issues with my cell phone lately receiving any calls/texts from the US. But I’m alive and in peace only, so no worries. Love you!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Back in the Saddle Again

As usual, it’s been a while since my last entry… and quite a lot’s been going on since my little sister’s baptism in July!

Ramadan #2

July 21st marked the first day of Ramadan this year. Luckily for me, I was only in-village for about a week for my second Ramadan in-country. Not that I was intentionally trying to skip out on the holiest month of the Islamic year, but I certainly didn’t mind that my schedule only allowed me to be at site for a week of fasting.

For a little refresher, the Ramadan schedule goes a little something like this:
4:30am- Wake up, eat breakfast (usually leftover dinner, like rice and fish)
4:40am- Back to bed
Day- Wake up, lay around a lot, nap, read, watch movies on my laptop, basically do nothing
7:30pm- Break fast time! We usually had dates, coffee, milk, fruit juices, and COLD WATER!!
10pm- Dinner(standard Senegalese foods- rice and fish, rice and beans, etc.)

Needless to say, the going without food and water (though I would sneak water when I could) is difficult, but this year I felt like the sleeping schedule was even harder than the actual fasting. I was mainly just really sleepy the week that I was in-village.

BUT the good news is that (even though I feel like I can barely say I went through it, because it was only a week) that was my *LAST RAMADAN! Who knows if I’ll ever experience a Ramadan again, but I’m glad that I got the experience while I was here. I definitely wouldn’t consider it one of my favorite parts of my Peace Corps service; but it taught me a lot about Islam and I’m glad that I took part in it.

*PS- I’ll now start to obnoxiously point out when I’ve experienced my “last” things in Senegal, as I have about seven months left and things are starting to wind down.

Out of site…

I left my village in the beginning of August to head to Dakar for my mid-service medical appointment. I’m happy to say that I’m actually two thirds of the way done my service now, but I scheduled my appointment then because I was just about to fly out for AMERICA!

And it turned out that my timing was excellent, because the day my appointments started, Senegal was graced with a visitor. Hilary Clinton came to visit and PCVs were allowed to go see her speak. My photos of the event are pretty bad, but here they are anyway…

Mrs. Clinton being introduced

Sorry these pictures stink!

America the Beautiful

After a long almost-year-and-a-half, I got off a plane in Dulles airport on August 6th, and was greeted by my super-tanned Mama and my Dad rocking a “Peace Corps Dad” t-shirt. I had an unbelievable two weeks back in the U.S.

I’m so grateful that I got a chance to go home, and was so happy to see all of the friends and family that I hadn’t seen in such a long time. Thank you to everyone who took off work or traveled to come visit. I’m so glad that I was able to see all of you. And for anyone that I was unable to see- I’m sorry! It was a quick two weeks, but soon enough I’ll be home for good and able to see you.

My trip ended on a lovely note. I was able to see one of my dear friends, Kristin, get married. She was an absolutely beautiful bride and I still can’t believe that everything worked out and I was able to make it home for her wedding. Congrats, Mr. and Mrs. Kliefoth!

Kristin and Bryan's first dance

I wasn’t even sad getting back on the plane to Senegal, because I know that I’ll be back soon enough. Overall, it really was an amazing time!

Au Revoir, Amerik. Bismillah, Senegal

And now I’m back in-country. Spent a few days in Dakar getting my toe fixed up (the zombie toe of last year struck again), then went to Linguere to see all my friends that I missed while I was away. It’s funny, but we all talk so regularly here that even spending two weeks away feels like a long time.

It was really good to see my Senegalese family again too. I brought back a ton of American goodies (simple things like pencils, baby powder, a baseball cap, and photos), and they LOVED them. Here’s my new baby sis in a her new hat and socks.

Styling sister

She's not too happy, but Mom loves it

Right now, I’m in Linguere for the weekend because one of our wonderful Linguere volunteers, Abby, has decided that instead of leaving after her two years of service that she’s going to extend (yay!!). This weekend, she’s packing up and heading to bigger and brighter things in Thies, the city where we have our training center. So while we will be sad to see her leave the Linguere area, we’re definitely happy she’ll only be a few hours away, versus a plan ride away.

I’m really excited because the girls’ camp that I’ve been writing so much about is finally approaching! I’ll definitely write a good entry about the camp once it’s over. Thanks again to everyone who generously contributed to it!

Alright, folks. You'll probably be hearing from me next after girls' camp. Love you all!