Saturday, April 27, 2013

Soccer Tournament and Earth Day

My youth project has officially started, even though we have not received funding yet but that is another story, and I must say our soccer tournament last week was a success; the tournament was programmed for seven youth groups in Velingara to be held over a period of three days. The tournament started on Sunday, April 15th with a series of three games, six teams included for the day’s festivities. The program was intended to be simple and low budget, which I think we pulled off quite well. The first two days of games, the second being on Tuesday, April 16th, required no funding besides a soccer ball that was budgeted but had to be purchased early due to the ball splitting open when someone kicked it shortly after the game started, obviously hindering play. It was a lot of fun watching the soccer games and it was great to see some competition amongst the youth while letting loose and having fun. I would have loved to have music, beverages or something to make the tournament more tournament-like but I didn’t want to come across as the rich American throwing money around for things that aren’t needed. I already have a hard enough time convincing people that 1) I don’t have thousands of dollars in my bank account, 2) I can’t afford to fly you to America 3) I am not going to marry you so you can get a visa and live in America and 4) I had to work hard to have what I have and be where I am today. Even with the lack of showy things the first two days of the tournament it was still fun; we had a turnout of about 60 youth each day. The third day, Sunday, April 21st, was not only the day of the final match but also the day before Earth Day; we arranged a little city cleanup project amongst some of the youth organizations in celebration. Considering how last minute and how things-will-just-fall-into-place people are, things went pretty well. The plan for the clean up project was to have a youth association sweep a section of their part of town where we would then have a dump truck come around to the sites to pick up the waste and dispose of it at the site where our waste management project dumps our waste. The morning of, Abdoul, the guy who is the president of youth activities here who had helped me with writing the grant, called me to tell me that sweeping had begun at École 2 (a school in town) and that I should head over. Upon arriving at école 2 I was both surprised and excited that Abdoul had paid for a DJ and sound system with his own money (I think and hope) to build excitement amongst the youth and community for Earth Day. I spoke a little bit with everyone helping, expressing how much I appreciate them participating in both the tournament and the clean up and since this particular youth association was in the finals they were more than happy to help! After a few minutes I left to go to the center of town to check out the other sites where the youth organizations were sweeping. There were six sites in total; école 2, the garage (transportation hub), the main road through town, in front of the big mosque and the two other sites were random streets located in the sections of town where the youth groups lived. The group that was located on the main road is a truly amazing group, with a great organizational president, who actually do clean ups in their neighborhood every Sunday because they want to. There receive no money or recognition, they just appreciate the way their neighborhood looks after sweeping; a great example for the community, of sustainable development and what a community can and should do once they receive needed skills and tools. A dump truck was supposed to come around to each section of town but since we didn’t have any tools to put the garbage physically into the truck my work partner Amadou, as well as some
association leaders, thought it would be a better idea to just go with the usual approach to disposing of trash, burning it. While I suggested throwing the trash into the dump truck with hands, forks, shovels, well anything that we had access to, I was overruled and burning it was. This is about the point where I should have put my foot down because it was in fact a project in celebration of the earth and the fact that we are sending hazardous fumes into the atmosphere was not exactly sending an honorable example. I was already mildly overwhelmed running around town, in the hot sun, visiting each of the sites while also, by spending my own personal money, buying tea and sugar as a thank you to the teams that I did not have the energy to pick this fight about burning trash and to also come up with a better solution other than what I had already stated. I figured that next year I would have a better understanding of the situation and what exactly is needed to effectively do a clean up without actually doing more harm and I could make it up then. Inshallah. The final match, between the youth groups Boku Jam and Kamikaz, was scheduled for 4pm and when I arrived about a quarter after I was one of 8 people. Having faith that people would show up, at least the two teams would because they both wanted the bragging rights, it was a waiting game with me, the DJ and his crew who were apparently sticking around for the finale, which I was honestly a little excited about. Normally events that have speakers, the large ones that are usually as tall as I am, are always annoying because they either blast the music too loud to even hear ones own thoughts, play songs with crappy sound quality or play one of three artists on repeat (Rihanna and Akon of course are two of the three) but I was excited to have some sort of entertainment at my event since everyone not American seems to enjoy the speaker spectacle. The game stared around 5:15 with me kicking the first ball in the center of the field to signal the beginning of the match, about as much fun as it sounds. Wilma and Jordan arrived shortly after the game started to watch and honestly, I think they were just bored and this gave them something to do. With the music playing and someone clearing excited to be holding a microphone (commenting on everything from the game, who was in the audience, singing the song that was currently playing or, of course, trying to get the white
girls to say something) the game was off to a good start. I must say, I was proud of the work that Abdoul and I had put into the project; everyone was seemingly having a great time. As sort of a half-time show we decided to hand out the tea and sugar to the youth groups that helped out with the clean up earlier that morning. Abdoul was working with the DJ announcing the youth groups and as a representative would come up I would shake their hand and then hand them the tea and sugar. I am not sure if I have ever explained this but making tea is a large part of the Senegalese culture. It is an excuse for people, mostly men, to hang out, talk and debate while the tea brews- since the tea is prepared over coals it takes much longer to boil than if over a fire ensuring that both the men gather for longer periods of time and that the tea will have a better flavor. I myself don’t drink the tea since the Senegalese are incapable of drinking anything that does not have pounds of sugar in it, my teeth rot just thinking about it. And this is not a generalization, it is a fact! The game ended in a tie, 1-1, resulting in a shootout. Each team had five shots against the opposing teams goalie but I am pretty sure this went longer as well but I can’t say for sure. As nerve-racking and dramatic as it was watching the shoot out (people almost crying, screaming and jumping on those that made the shot and falling to the ground with those that missed) team Kamikaze proved victorious. They celebrated by rushing the field, running and chanting as a group and when I took a picture with them and the trophy I was greeted with a small stampede. It was great seeing how happy everyone was. The day was finally over and I was pleased that the entire soccer tournament and clean up event went smoothly, with only minor bumps in the road. Working on this project proved to me that I am capable on planning, organizing and managing a project and I really enjoyed it. I wish there were more things that I could be involved with that didn’t require money or portray me as only a dollar sign. My struggle with aid in Africa is still present but I am learning how to execute projects without loads of funding and how to have those conversations with people who just want funding. Sorry not going to happen. The training sessions with the youth leaders are the next step in the project and I don’t even know where to begin with the problems I am having with my waste management project but I will save those details for another date. Take care and talk to you soon. Cheers.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Health Fair in Sare Coly Sale

I tried really hard to think of an introduction that would be an eye catcher, something to really pull in an audience, but I was left stumped. It is not that it was a boring day, it was actually really fun, but how could I make handing out condoms and ORS (Oral Rehydrating Salts) to high school students alluring?
My two site mates (Jordan and Wilma) and myself started out the day heading out of Velingara around 8:15am, Sare Coly Sale bound. Jordan and I always talk about how we need to take more bike rides since we don’t get to ride nearly as much as we want to; there are no rains at the moment it is nearly impossible to bike since most of the roads are just sand pits. Back to the story- Sare Coly Sale is only 10k outside of Velingara making it less than an hour to bike allowing us plenty of time to get a bean sandwich once we arrived in Sarah’s ville. Along the way we would catch up, and usually pass, other bikers in the road while dodging cars and the occasional herd of cattle. There was one particular herd that was thinking about crossing the road and, while Wilma was way ahead of Jordan and I (we found out later that she was racing another biker, unnoticed by him), Jordan instinctively chimed the bell on her bike trying to signal to the herd that now would be a good time not to cross the road. I started laughing immediately thinking about what Jordan was going to do had the cattle decided to cross the road. Just then I hear a man snickering, a fellow biker right behind us if you will, who apparently thought it was just as funny as I did. I’m sure he was thinking, “I can’t believe these white girls think that bell is going to move or scare these cows that each weigh a ton.”
Once we arrived in town we got a quick bite to eat, bean sandwich and tea with milk and sugar, and headed to Sarah’s hut to find the rest of the gang; Jessica and Adrian were already in town gathering materials for the fair. Once we arrived at the school where the health fair was supposed to be held we were welcomed with a DJ booth accompanied by those impossibly loud speakers with the worst part about the speakers is that they blare music that is usually one of five songs (Akon is always on the list since he is “from” Senegal) and of poor quality at that. Do we really need to be listening to this crap music at such a strong decibel? When did I start sounding like my mom? Is that what 26 does to you? Regardless, Sarah had some sorting out to do since there were clearly two events booked in the same morning. Though they apparently had a larger budget than our event, seeing the sound system that accompanied them, we were not going to back down
because Sarah reserved the space long before the other event. Also, the problem didn’t lie with just the space it was also the audience, both the events required the attendance of the students making it difficult for them to be at two programs at the same time. We ended up working something out where the students would come to our fair first and then head across the courtyard to the other event. It worked out well.
Our health fair (and when I say “our” I mean Sarah’s event, we were strictly bodies helping to execute the project) consisted of four tables where the students would visit each table, learn about a topic, and receive a little prize/momentum before heading to the next table. Adrian and Jessica, where they were educating the students about diarrhea and the importance of washing your hands and using ORS, manned the first table. The students received homemade ORS (7 parts sugar to one part salt) for visiting the table and answering basic questions.
The second table was with Wilma and she spoke about family planning. Here she talked about all the forms of both female and male birth control that are available, how much they cost and how to use them. Here, we soon found out, was the main reason for half of the male population that attended the fair, condoms were being given away. Everyone got one condom but those who stuck around after the fair got a few more since they were persistent. At least they are being safe.The third booth was with Diane who was talking about Malaria and the importance of sleeping under a net. There is an initiative within the Peace Corps titled Stomp Out Malaria that, according to their website, “… was built on the vision that through strategic partnerships, targeted training and mobilization of Volunteers, intelligent use of information technology, and radically efficient use of seed funding, Peace Corps will focus the efforts of over 3,000 Volunteers in sub-Saharan Africa to make an immediate and measurable impact in the fight against malaria.” The three goals of the Stomp Out Malaria initiative is 1) Fighting Malaria in Our Communities 2) Partnering to Defeat Malaria in Target Countries and 3) Building an International Malaria Prevention Community. I encourage you to check out the website with the link that I have provided above, there are some interesting while shocking statistics concerning malaria and descriptions on projects that volunteers are executing throughout Africa as we speak. Great work to those who work closely with the initiative; it is truly a great project.The last booth was with Jordan and she spoke about lacerations and first aid. She, along with a local teacher, emphasized the importance of using soap to clean cuts and scrapes while avoiding some of the other local methods such as grease or tree bark. Makes sense.

After the fair we went to the boutique and bought entirely way too many bags of Crax (I think 19?), which are basically Cheetos with 1/8 of the cheese, imitation wafer cookies and Coca-Cola. Snacks of Senegal, know you understand why we request packages not only for nutritional purposes but also to get a taste of back home. We ended our day sitting in Sarah’s hut talking and her trying to get us to take some of the stuff that she was getting rid of. She has less than a week left at site so she is in the process of cleaning out all the random clutter that we somehow collect over the span of two years. Time sure does fly though; I have already been at site for eight months and around ten in Senegal, wowza! We sure are going to miss Sarah, she has such a great personality, always knows how to make you laugh and is from the great state of Wisconsin. The best of luck to her in good ol’ Amerik.
Our bike ride home was pretty uneventful other than the fact that my bike seat was feeling a little sassy and would not stay up so within five minutes of raising my seat I quickly became a BMX rider with my knees about touching the handlebars. As much fun as that was I was glad to finally be home around 6:30pm to shower and wait for Amadou who was supposed to come over to talk about a project, but never did. Weird.
Be sure to take care of yourselves folks, drink lots of water, exercise, wash your hands and always use protection.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Hot Weather and, Uh, Reading Material

Currently sitting in my room, drinking a Fanta, listening to Wham!, and sitting about as close to the fan as comfort allows. To say that Velingara is getting hot is a bit of an understatement. Now I am not going to say that things are unbearable because obviously people have seemed

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