Sunday, July 9th was our naming ceremony. We were taken to the alkala’s, or the head of the village’s, compound. As we were sat front and center, women and men gathered around and watched a man take a razor to our head. In normal naming ceremonies the baby’s head is shaved, but not to worry I’m still rockin’ golden locks.
I was the last to go out of the 5 volunteers stationed in Mariama Kunda. Many knew their names ahead of time, however my papa chose to keep it as a surprise. With much anticipation, my papa announced that I will now be called Isa Jammeh, after my host sister. Apparently, I was not the only one who had noticed our connection.
Isa is just the first of many people I am connecting with in The Gambia. Connections are one of the most important aspects of Gambian culture. It has been reinforced many times that if we want our work to be successful here we must first build relationships with the members of the community we live in. Speaking of… today I found out where I will be spending the next two years of my life! I will be living in a Sarahule community called Demba Kunda, about 10 km south of Basse. I received a site profile that gave me this information:
- work with teachers to develop more interactive teaching methods
- work with early grade teachers, in particular developing their skills in literacy, but with general
support to other subjects
- observe teaching and learning situations, give feedback
- co-plan and co-teach with counterparts
- organize staff development and teaching and learning aid development sessions
- promote positive discipline and classroom management methods
Comments on location:
A small, well kept LBS (Lower Basic School) located south of Basse in a large Sarahule community, although few children from this tribe attend school. The village is large but barely visible because it rests in a small valley. Basse is close by and there is a medical clinic with an ambulance in the village. The school has young, energetic and active leadership with clear direction to improve the school. The classrooms are full of teaching aids and they have some very good ECD (Early Childhood Development) resources. The DHT (District Head Teacher) is the ECD teacher, seems to be doing a good job, and could be a good counterpart. There is a library that the previous volunteer did a great deal of work to develop and showed teachers how to integrate the library and its resources into their teaching. The site development team noticed a few sticks in the classrooms, so alternative discipline is a topic that the PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) could work on with the school staff.
When speaking with Linda, my program manager, she told me that she knew my placement was not going to be easy. Education is not valued or looked at as a priority in the community, so it will be my job to encourage children to attend school and get them excited about learning. She also informed me that I was chosen for this community with another project in mind. In May, two 15-year old girls, who had been raised in the Bronx, were moved by their parents to live with their family in Demba Kunda. Experiencing similar culture shock, they are hoping I can reach out to the two. One is said to be having a much harder time with the transition than the other.
On a daily basis, I remind myself that this is not about me, and I hope that my family and friends understand that. If my life was about me, I’d be right next to you all. Going to lunch with my mom, taking fishing trips with my dad, visiting my aunt in Wichita, camping with my brother, rocking out at concerts with my cousin, watching movies, eating El Mez with Missy and Lex, playing beach volleyball with my friends in S.D., teaching at Central, sitting in air conditioned buildings, putting ice in my drinks, and how could I not mention sitting on a toilet rather than squatting over a hole in the ground. All of that sounds pretty fabulous, but I feel as though I have a duty to fulfill here in Africa, and it’s really nice to finally see that laid before me.