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Via dello scalo 21/3 Bologna

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Via De' Carracci 69/6,
40129 Bologna
Tel. +39 333 68 46 684

Esther racconta la sua esperienza in Gambia

My EVS in the smiling coast of Africa

A life experience in the Gambia thanks to YouNet YEAH project












Given that it’s already more than 9 months since I started my EVS in the Gambia, it seemed to me that it was due to tell how I have spent the two thirds of my stay. First of all, I must admit that, differently from what my relatives and friends may think, up to now time has flown, despite there have been ups and downs, with the succession of memorable moments and other times when I faced several difficulties and setbacks. Suffice it to say that it is since October that I remained the only volunteer because the other girls went back to their countries when a case of a person infected with Ebola was confirmed in Senegal (subsequently he recovered and, given that no contagion has been recorded, after 40 days the state was declared Ebola-free). Furthermore, on December 30th there was a coup d’état bid and for this reason the Italian Embassy in Dakar, my friends and relatives advise me against moving from Gunjur, the village where I live.

Finally, another problem that I had to face concerns the activities agenda that it is not fixed but may vary according to the circumstances, changes or progresses occurred in partner organisations’ working conditions, local population’s need and living conditions. On the one hand, that allowed me to develop flexibility and the ability to adapt to different working conditions, on the other hand I can’t deny that, especially at the beginning, the excessive changeability of the work plan instilled in me a sense of instability. Nonetheless, now I have got used to this feeling of uncertainty and I am learning to live day by day and to appreciate even the smallest improvement that we can bring to the community we live in.

The acronym of the project that I am carrying out is YEAH and it focuses on three main issues, which are Education, Health and Environment. Concerning non-formal education, I engaged in conducting programmes such as summer camps, and workshops about illegal immigration, waste management and seminars to sensitise about the most spread diseases in the country. Instead, regarding the formal education, after attending some lessons at the Gunjur Community Pre-school to learn how to elaborate a school curriculum, conceive and give classes to children who are from 3 to 8 years old, I have collaborated with a nursery school where I assisted the teacher and sometimes I replaced him. We also organised a quiz competition between primary schools, based on their syllabus.

Unfortunately, I noticed that not all the nursery schools offer a standard teaching level and usually male pupils learn easier and quicker and they excel in studies more often than their female counterparts do. Moreover, the number of boys at school is frequently higher than that of the girls; therefore, a huge gap in the access to education between male and female students still exists and thus further efforts are required to ensure the attainment of Education for All (EFA).

Lastly, I observed that some parents neglect the importance of receiving an appropriate education; for example, sometimes it happened that some mothers forgot to wash the uniform and consequently their children the day after couldn’t go to school.

In the first months of my EVS habitually on Wednesday I volunteered at the Health Centre, where I handled administrative tasks such as checking the weight of the kids to ascertain whether they were malnourished or not, and taking note of their gender in order to obtain statistics about the number of female and male children visited. There I have also learnt how to determine women’s weeks of pregnancy through palpation of their abdomen and this for me –that I’m not talented at all at subjects related to medicine– was a little but great conquest. Anyhow, it’s some months that I don’t attend the Health Centre anymore, because of the alarm provoked by Ebola epidemics and to avoid the risk of contract several illnesses. Hence, currently the activities pertaining to health are mostly aimed at raising awareness on the prevention of some diseases at school and in my neighbourhood, and that is rather considerable since I realised that the local people often underestimate health disorders, playing them down and at times even attributing them to supernatural causes or to superstition. Few weeks ago, we have started to go to some school with the Gunjur Helath Centre Eye Specialist to check their sight and visit them to assess whether the pupils have eye infections; you should have seen the children of two nursery schools that pointed the directions of the legs of letter E, so cute! I hope that very soon I could bring this initiative to the community level in my neighbourhood.

Some months ago, I also promoted an active lifestyle by backing up the coach of a primary school in training the students who then competed at the national track and field meeting.

Finally, with reference to environment, together with the hosting organisation staff sometimes we participated to the “cleaning exercises”, namely specific days in which the shops remain closed for the whole morning and people clean their own surrounding area, and we contributed to reforestation by planting trees. Nowadays we are continuing a campaign to sensitise about waste collection, the reuse and recycling of plastic; in addition, we collect hazardous waste such as run down batteries or plastic (which is often used by the women to light the fire to cook more quickly), glass and metal items (especially blades, given that we worry about the kids who walk and play with bare feet in the middle of the garbage). I also try to support the short supply chain (products sold by the producer to the final consumer) and food self-sufficiency by buying fruits and vegetables directly from my female neighbours and from time to time helping them when they work in their horticultural garden. I am also learning how to make a compost pile that then could be used by them like natural fertilizer though not malodorous and I’m testing myself by cultivating my small horticultural garden.

Thanks to the affection that my neighbours have for me and the support provided by the hosting organisation, although it’s many months that I’m abroad, I almost feel at home. Specifically, the women of the neighbourhood consider me one of them and for this reason some months ago they proposed me to buy their same fabric and make the tailor sew a dress similar to theirs in order to wear Asobee. In this way anytime we go to Kullio (Name Ceremony) or other celebrations, the other people can identify us as belonging to the same group!

Here in Gunjur everybody knows me and call me by my Gambian name, Aisha, which was suggested by the staff, and I immediately liked because I believe that its meaning “vivaciousness, life, lively” fit well my personality. As surname, instead, I chose Ceesay (that in Mandinka means chicken) because is very common and for me it’s simple to pronounce, and I discover that it suits me a T because they say that people having this last name like to eat a lot… JA Gambian lady, colourfully dressed in traditional clothing and fabrics, balances a heavy load of firewood on her head as she walks home in the afternoon sun. Boboi Village, Gambia.

When I miss my family and friends or I’m down because of the different living and working conditions, it suffices to see the kids smiling to cheer up. The surprising thing is that the children always smile despite they don’t own many stuffs and they are not afraid of white people, but they run to greet them and shake their hand, even calling them from a distance “Tubabol! Tubabol!” that in Mandinka, the most spoken local language in the Gambia together with Wolof, means Whites. This entails that here people are not scared of white man, differently from the bogeyman that existed in the past in Italy where adults menaced the kids to give them to the black man if they misbehaved.

Another extraordinary thing of the territory where I am is definitely the weather, which is always mild or warm, considering that that the minimum temperature is around 15°C and in the hottest hours of the day the average temperature varies between 25 and 30°C even in what that corresponds to our winter season!

Another pleasant aspect that distinguishes villages like Gunjur is the possibility to live deep in the green and surrounded by wild and unexplored nature.

In spite of the distance, I feel backed by relatives and friends, who often compliment me, by making me feel proud of myself and that they appreciate what I’m doing,

My EVS not only is turning out to be useful to learn the ropes in the domain of international cooperation, in which I would like to work in the near future, but is also serving as a unique and once-off life experience, which is elevating me personally and from the human viewpoint. In particular my stay here has made me to be more grateful for all we have and often give for granted or underestimate (from the fondness of our dearest to more material things, such as running water, to have a supermarket in the same town I live, to have a fridge –that we lacked in the first 4 months–etc…). For instance, given that sometimes I couldn’t fetch water from our well because some women had used it to irrigate their gardens and the water had become dirty and muddy, now I can fully understand how precious water is and the reason why some scholars think that in future wars will be waged to compete for and obtain water procurement.

In conclusion, this experience allows me day after day to become more aware of how lucky I am for being born in a part of the world where peace and wealth reign, despite problems such as high youth unemployment rate etc…