Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Age of Technology

I know three-year-olds who can surf the web and download games off the internet.  I now also know 16, 17 and 18-year-olds who have never clicked a mouse.  I have had computers at school and in my home for as long as I can remember.  I spent hours in elementary school searching for the missing gold coins in Jumpstart 2nd Grade as I used my computer to improve my math skills.  I rely on Google to answer just about everything and Wikipedia is my best friend.  I haven't turned in a hand written paper since the 5th grade and coming to Africa without my pink laptop was completely out of the question.  But what I have quickly learned as I've spent the last few weeks teaching these 16, 17, and 18 year old high school students how  open a word documents or right click a mouse, is that I am so privileged to be part of the technological world.

I wasn't too keen on sitting at a computer everyday and explaining over and over how to open a folder or make a capital letter.  But each time I see a student's face light up when they discover their document is inside the folder with their name on it or their excitement when a click of a button turns the text from black to blue, every second has been worth it.  It's something I never thought about as I powered on my laptop, so many people in this world grow up using pen and paper to write their term papers. It's not just my parents or grandparents generation; here children younger than me have never had the opportunity to type their name.  My eyes have been opened to what I will call the age of the technology-less.  How in a world where we can start cars with the touch of a button are these children just learning how to turn on an out-dated computer?  How does the developed world expect the rest of the world to "catch up" when everything is now on a screen that they don't get to look at.  Its just another way we leave the "third world" in the dark. 

My hope is that by showing these students how to copy and paste and open a document they will be able open doors to new opportunities, to a whole new world that was kept hidden from them, from those who didn't have the chance to spend their early years banging on a keyboard.  These students are brillant and talented, but in this age of technology your options are very limited when you are computer illiterate.  I feel lucky that I have had the opportunity to spend a few hours each day with these kids sharing something that, for me, was second nature, and hopefully I have left them with a little wider veiw of this great big world that they have in turn opened my eyes to.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

River Gambia National Park

Alex and I spent our weekend upcountry at River Gambia National Park enjoying the calm and quiet of rural life.  I think I speak for us both in saying it was one of the most amazing weekends of our lives.  Surrounded by bird chips and chimpanzee howls things slowed down and we really got to breath in life.  I don't think words can adequately describe our experience so hopefully these pictures will provide some idea...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Crocodile Pool

A short drive from home brought Alex and I (accompanied by Mustapha and Muhammed) to Kachikally Crocodile Pool.  Kachikally is home to 80 Nile crocodiles that have taken up residence in the middle of the small community of Bakau.  The wild crocs have become so accustomed to visitors that you can go right up and pet the scaly skin and according to the guides no one has even been hurt. I, however, still kept my distance.

Journeying to the pool with Muhammed and Alex.

Alex thought it was so funny when I discovered I was standing on biting ants.

Alex was the only one who willing went close to the giant reptiles

Muhammed was not a fan and clung to me the whole time.  He preferred observing the pool from afar (as did I).
Mustapha did not help ease Muhammed's anxiety, he was ready to run and hide.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Voice of the Young

When children speak, we should all listen.  Gambia's Child Protection Alliance (CPA) believes this.  So much so that they created a youth group called The Voice of the Young.  A group that strives to empower  young people to use their own voice.  CPA's mantra is that children make the best advocates for themselves because they are the ones experiencing the hardships that face them. It is not adults but children who understand what is really like to get hit at school for acting out (corporal punishment is not illegal here), and it is children that really know what the problems are.  This mantra has become the cornerstone of CPA's Voice of the Young where young people advocate on their own behalf and on the behalf of the children of The Gambia to improve the conditions they face. 

I was fortunate enough to attend a monthly Voice meeting, and I was  blown away by the passion and dedication of the members.  These are the kind of kids that could be told "no" time and time again but would never stop.  Kids who will change the world.   I was awestruck by the organization of their meeting, run entirely by the youth themselves with officer reports from the governing body.  I felt more like I was sitting in my sorority chapter meeting with 80 twenty-somethings rather than in an outdoor tent with 40 Gambian children.  And whats more, Voice's projects and activities and campaigns are astounding!

Every week Voice sends a panel to the local radio station for their own radio show allowing all of the nation to hear, loud and clear, what they have to say.  They discuss the real problems they face everyday as children growing up here.  Issues of abuse and sexual exploitation and trafficking, issues of violence, things that I know very few of my friends had to worry about at their age.  And these children, who are clearly victims in a world that should protect them from such evils, face them head on ready to combat them and pave the way to a better tomorrow for their own children. 

Voice works to make changes on the issues that are important to them.  Their plan for the next year consists of the following: secure free airtime for Voice broadcasts on the radio, review the child act in the constitution and ensure that it is being fulfilled, and campaign for a Ministry of the Child.  They hope to spend the next year meeting with government branches, all the way up to the president, to ensure that the protection of children is a priority.  They hope to push the president to establish an independent Children's Ministry whose sole focus is the rights of the child.  They are real movers and shakers who, I have no doubt, will accomplish all they set out to do.  Children are powerful.  We should all stop and listen for a second and really hear what they are saying. 

For more information of The Voice of the Young and CPA:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Big Fat Gambian Wedding

I was only made aware three days ago that cousin Binta was engaged to be married,  who knew? I didn't even know she had a boyfriend, let alone a fiance.  But if you know anything about me, you know that I love weddings, absolutely everything about them! So it couldn't be more perfect!

Of course I began asking Bintou everything I could about it.  What would Binta be wearing? Where would it be held?  How many layers was the cake?  But, what I quickly discovered was that a traditional Gambian wedding was not your typical Cinderella fairytale complete with horse and carriage (although here, getting a horse drawn carriage of sorts could be done just by walking to the main road).  A traditional African wedding didn't even come with a white dress (good thing I guess since Kleinfelds hasn't made it here yet) and whats more, this traditional African wedding wouldn't even have a groom!  Binta's finace is off in the UK but the wedding would go on without him.   Apparently it's pretty common here for weddings to happen while the husband-to-be is over seas.

The morning of the wedding, I woke to a house packed with people.  The bride was off at the salon getting her hair done and her countless female relatives were busy preparing 15 crates of chicken for dinner.  Alex and I were rather clueless as to how the day would unfold.  Before I could even begin to speculate a stampede of people entered the house with megaphones, drums, songs and a film crew.  They had come to take the bride to a friends house where she would spend the day.

A short ride away, Binta's friends house was in full swing.  Children crowded around the courtyard and the whole house smelled like roasted meat.  Binta was the center of attention, the camera crews light shining on her face as she sat and met with friends.  Outside the street was blocked by rows of plastic chairs and children and women sat and listened to traditional drumming, occasionally someone would break into dance.

When we returned home the number of guests sitting around had tripled, fifty people had quickly become a hundred or more.  The ceremony would take place in the evening down the street but everyone had begun to congregate in anticipation. 

The bride, Binta, and her loyal bridesmaids
 The ceremony was a sight to see.  Hundreds of people dressed to the nines gather to witness a marriage.  There was lots of loud singing.  At certain points the bride would stand, followed by her gaggle of bridesmaids and would be engulfed by eager women.  Money would be passed from hand to hand, taken and then redistributed.  Words were spoken.  And as soon as it all began it seemed to end.  Food was passed out and people began to leave.  Alex and I sat confused.  There were no vows.  There was no first dance.  There was no aisle to walk down.  But it sure was a celebration, loud and colorful and joyous, as all weddings should be.
Alex and I with Binta