To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story.
--Barbara Kingsolover, The Poisonwood Bible

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Camp à la Senegalaise

The voyage from Dakar to Kedougou is very long and even more uncomfortable.  Twelve hours is the minimum amount of time, and that's if you take a night bus direct Kedougou, which we are discouraged from doing for safety reasons but do it anyway to avoid the even more cramped and hot sept-place ride that necessarily involves a stop in Tambacounda and an unsure connection.  Why then, you ask, would   I undertake that voyage to only be at site for 6 days after In-Service Training and turning right back around for Malaria Boot Camp?  One reason only: summer camp.

This summer, USAID sponsored a "Camp de Vacances" in Saraya that brought over 100 middle school kids to the school for a) remedial lessons in French and Math, and, b) fun!  The Senegalese school system does not often encourage things like creativity or learning through doing (it's all memorization and repetition), so this was an incredible opportunity for the kids.  Originally there was supposed to be a small fee for participation (like $2), but they ended up making it free so that everyone could come.  They also got t-shirts, which is pretty much the most exciting thing that can happen around these parts.  Some kids walked every day from neighboring villages, and more and more showed up each day.
2012 Camp de Vacances participants!

Check out their t-shirts!
We met with the principal, who is absolutely fantastic and in charge of overseeing the camp, the the day before everything started, and he basically told us that if there was anything we wanted to do with the kids, we were welcome to do it.  In training, when learning about all these issues and getting ideas for lesson plans, etc., a concern I always had was how to get a captive audience.  It turns out, getting the green light from the principal to do whatever you want with 100 middle schoolers is a very easy way to get that captive audience.

Having worked for three summers at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp, aka the best place on earth, I came to USAID camp full of ideas for fun games and activities.  It was so interesting to see what concepts of game playing were easier or harder for the kids to grasp.  Simple tag games are not so simple if you didn't grow up playing them.  Each game took a while to get used to, but fun was had nonetheless.  For any FLBC-ers reading this, we started with Senegalese Flag. (This was, of course, adapted from American Flag, a tag game where you call out categories of people to run across the field, and if they are touched, they become a star on the flag.  Fortunately, the Senegalese flag also has a star.  The funniest part was the differences in categories between Senegalese kids and American kids.  There is not very much variety in last names, so when "Les Danfakhas" was called out, about half of the kids ran across the field.)  We also played Lion, Monkey, Mosquito (a variation of Montana's own Grizzly, Trout, Mosquito, a glorified, full-body tag version of Rock, Paper,Scissors), Blob Tag (which I chose because I thought it would be easier than the first two...not the case), and had some good old-fashioned relays.  It was so incredibly fun to see these kids play!

Pat sounding the djembe to start a game

  We also did health talks on handwashing, which is absolutely neglected most of the time because of the lack of water at the school.  Fortunately, for camp, water was brought in, and since I had talked to the principal beforehand about doing the demonstration, he said, "Well I guess we better get some soap!"  Something as basic as handwashing is so important in a place that people eat with their hands!  I don't care about the left/right hand designations.  After the demonstration, Pat said, "I feel like such a Peace Corps volunteer."

On one afternoon of camp, I led a discussion about gender equality in education and gender stereotypes.  It ended up being a really good conversation with students and teachers, boys and girls.  I started out defining gender, equality, and stereotype and then had them do an activity that showed the disparities in educational attainment by using ten male and ten female volunteers that each represented ten percent of the population (we also had to define percent).  For example, “59% of boys in Senegal  are literate, and 41% of girls are literate.  Is that equality?  How about 24% of boys starting secondary school and 18% of girls?”  They all seemed to agree that these percentages did not look like equality.  Why do these inequalities exist, I asked.  Silence.  Then one boy timidly raised his hand.  I expected a two or three word answer, but out came a flood.  “Parents are busy working and they need the girls to stay home and help.  They think that if the girls go to school, bad things will happen.  Like early pregnancy.  They think that girls don’t need to go to school to do their work in the home.”  Around him, everyone nodded.  It led in perfectly to a discussion about gender stereotypes, where they made hand motions to represent the continuum of agreement to disagreement with statements I read.  I explained that there were no right or wrong answers, but we needed to know what we thought in order to start to think about why we might think it.  “It is easier to be a man than a woman.”  “Women are better parents than men.”  “Men are stronger than women.”  Good conversation was had, despite the inevitable giggles and battle of the sexes that emerged.  Critical thinking isn’t a much-engaged in activity, and I just hope the wheels got turning.

Got my facilitator hat on.

Visual representations of gender inequality in education

 As we were sitting with a group of the teachers during a session of singing and dancing led by the "monitor" (basically someone who gets camp-counselor like training), one of the teachers asked, "Doesn't Peace Corps have some kind of cream that keeps mosquitoes away?"  So the next day we made neem cream, a natural mosquito repellent made from leaves from the neem tree that possess a natural insect repellant and are also great for keeping flies out of your latrine, water, soap and oil.  No one can afford store-bought insect repellent, so this is a great way to protect yourself, especially at between dusk and going to bed (where hopefully you have a bednet!), when the malaria-transmitting mosquitoes are biting.

We had to make a lot of neem cream so we could give out samples, so we  enlisted help from the teachers.

So ended my four days of camp before Pat and I went to the waterfalls to celebrate our anniversary and I got back on a bus to come to Malaria Boot Camp, an intensive malaria training for volunteers across Africa that I'll write about soon.  I was so invigorated to be a part of it, and it made me even more excited for the Peace Corps sponsored camp that will be coming up in March.  USAID only funded camps for two schools in the region of Kedougou, so lots of kids don't get to have this experience.  Peace Corps volunteers around the region are coming together to put on a region-wide leadership camp for the best and brightest middle schoolers.  I have been part of the planning team for the camp, and cannot wait, especially after last week reminded me of my love of camps.  We will be doing classic team-building, life skills, environmental education, career talks, health education, and just having fun with kids selected from their schools during their spring break.  It should be excellent.  One of the things that doesn't come to mind automatically when thinking of the privileged life I was born into in America was the ability to do something like go to camp, or really even to have my childhood level of fun thought about.  This realization makes it even more exciting to give kids this opportunity.  We are funding this camp through what's called a Peace Corps partnership grant, which involves a contribution from the community and then volunteers fundraising the rest of the money.  If you're interested in helping out, check out the link:


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