Sunday, May 19, 2013

     I honestly do not know where to begin...this blog can only do so much, but I strongly urge you to listen and ask questions of your children and family members upon their return as they have stories which not many people can claim to experience. As you may have heard, there has been sickness in our group, of which the cause still remains unknown. Some of us surmise that it may have been due to the plumbing of the bathrooms, the lack of supplies, or an adverse reaction to the food, but we are all thankfully improving and getting some much needed rest. Thank you ever so much for your prayers and support.
     Yesterday was the weekend celebration put on for us by the school; a surprise which the entire village kept for nearly a week. I have never seen preschoolers and elementary students keep a secret so well. It was an African extravaganza. Upon coming down to the courtyard, we found everyone waiting for us and chairs placed out front for our "seats of honor." The celebration started with the children and staff performing traditional dances for our team. The girls dressed in beautiful flowing gowns with headdress wraps and the boys struck up a fancy beat with a myriad of drums. I felt like I was living inside of a National Geographic special. At the end of every dance, they would twirl over to our chairs and pull us into the fray, teaching us to twirl and sway in rythmn with their impeccable motion. And guess what!! I would like to proudly say that our team has officially learned how to dance! Not possible you say? Well, I have first hand video which shows otherwise :)
     The children followed up their dances with plays put on by their drama team, perfomed with such enthusiasm that they had us both crying and laughing simultaneously. My favorite part of the play was a younger boy who had been lucky to obtain the role of "the king" and was clearly having a grand time swinging his "scepter" around and ordering about the other drama team members. Yet, the festivities did not end there. It had come to our knowledge that Nyllan Fye, our illustrious and pretty awesomely fantastic team leader, would be missing her graduation back in the states, due to facilitating our trip. Seeing as this simply would not do, we determined to give Nyllan her own graduation...African style. Creating  an "almost official" diploma out of extra paper and sharpies, we then made our own college president/spokeman to present the document. This consisted of Dr. Jarvis wearing a scarf wrapped notebook tied to his head for a graduation cap....we now fully understand the phrase "Necessity is the mother of invention." Equipped with the diploma, "graduation cap," traditional wrap, and a terrible French accent, Dr. Jarvis presented Nyllan with her well deserved diploma.
     I would like to put out a congratulations to Lori Vaugn on the celebration of her 27th wedding anniversary, which, like Nyllan, she missed due to her asisstance in this Gambian project. We celebrated by bringing a cake over from Banjul, the capital of the Gambia, and watched in delight as its chocolate surface was revealed. After a few mores dances, many more smiles, and a myriad of laughter, the celebration ended with an aura of contentment.
    Thank you Barra Village for your awe inspiring desire to give and show the world what is truly necessity. Thank you Nyllan Fye for your impeccable leadership and giving us the confidence we needed to pursue this task. And thank you everyone back home, for reading this. These stories and memories would be simply words if it were not for our readers. I wish you a goodnight here in The Gambia...don't forget your bugspray :)

--Sarah A.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dear Friends and Family, The internet cafe in the village closes very soon so the team has written up a few words of wisdom and funny memoirs by which we have come to know The Gambia. We hope you enjoy them :)

  • Wild boars charge you from the underbrush and you scream, thinking it is a pack of wild crocodiles. --Kathryn
  • A baker's father pays for his small daughters eye medication with six loaves of bread. ---Dr. Jarvis
  • You take a shower our of a bucket while still in your clothes in front of a bunch of villagers.---Traci
  • Alll articles of clothing, including underwear becomes communal, because your airline decides to go on strike and not transfer your luggage.--Amanda
  • The ocean is a five minute walk away, but you have to walk through a chest high river to reach it.---Luella
  • All of the children are waiting outside the school gate for two hours before school starts just so they can be the first to see the "two bobs" (white people), even though they may have a several mile walk to school.---April
  • You sleep with a bat in your room, but its alright because you have a mosquito net.---Katherine Zarbano
  • You shower with a blanket taken from the airport and find it normal to see a kid drinking water from a windex bottle.---Sarah
  • You get carried into a canoe to cross from Banjul to Barra and a bird poops on you.---Amanda Yoczik
  • You wash your hair with bar soap and dry yourself with a t-shirt, but are incredibly grateful for the shower.--Lori
  • When your heart is filled with more love than you thought possible.---Lori
  • When you have to wait 40 minutes to flush the toilet.---Olu
  • When you start using blankets as clothing because you havent changed in five days.---Courtney
  • When you become a pro at hand washing your clothes.--Tori
  • When you are trying to dance and all the children are laughing at you.---Ziana
  • When regardless of all this you do not want to leave.--Ziana
  • You teach nursery children how to play Simon Says and they are all laughing at you because you look ridiculous.---Amanda
  • When a bat nose dives your mosquito net and almost hits your face.---Chelsea
And thats not all....nope. We look forward to telling you the rest of our stories....after we shower off the stink of nearly a week :)

--Sarah Azevedo

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

We Learn to Live Like Those Who Welcome Us Here . . .

Dear Family and Friends,

We have no luggage.  It is likely that we will have no luggage.  Word on the streets and among the desert dunes of Gambia says that the strike could last many more days. We may be home with you before we see our bags again.  We are talking about 36 large suitcases stuffed to the rim and brim with medical supplies, books, notebooks, writing paper, markers, teaching lessons . . . everything needed to run a school and a dynamic little health clinic in this far-off land.  Oh, and there are other things that we do not have, like a change of clothing, toiletries, shampoo, foot spray, nail clippers, dental floss, make-up and the like.  With a simple employee strike by baggage-handlers in the Brussels Airport, we find ourselves living very much like the people who we came to serve.  We all have one set of clothing, a few essentials, odds and ends that fell through the cracks when the world did not work to our favor.

And yet we are in good spirits.  We will go to the large village market tomorrow and stock up on the necessary things of life.  We should end up with more colorful wardrobes than the ones being held hostage in Brussels.  We will not have what we want, but we will have what we need.  There is more than a little irony in all of this.  We came to this place to bring things to people who have next to nothing.  We are being blocked in our effort by people in Europe who have almost everything and are determined to have more.

But our spirits remain high.  We are surrounded by people who have done without the things in our 36 suitcases up until now.  They will not miss what they never had to begin with.  And they seem to appreciate more than we could have imagined what they do have.

They have us.  We came.  We are here.  They see our faces.  They hear our laughter.  They laugh in return.  The children flock to us in welcome, not just on the first day but on every day that we are here.  To them, it is as if they dreamed a dream into existence and we are that dream.  It is not the bandages, the neosporin and the new supplies of paper, pencils, markers, and lesson plans that they dreamed of.  They dreamed of friends who would care enough to come to them.  They dreamed of the hope that they would see in our eyes and the laughter, theirs and ours, that would fill up this village and dance out to sea each new day of our stay.

So yes, our spirits are high.  Like the people, little and big, who surround us each moment of the day in this hopeful, resilient village, what we have to share must come from the inside.  The lessons that we will teach can only come from where we've stored them in mind and in heart.  We must learn to live like the people we serve and who serve us equally in return.  In truth, there is enough medicine left over from what we brought last year to see us through.  We will teach out of old books, but with new hearts.  We will learn better how to share the essential and we will leave with disgruntled baggage-handlers in Brussels things that are wanted more than needed.

In the end, it will not be only the children and teachers at Sajuka School who learn and grow in important ways this year.  We will match them step for step in our shared journey.  Please do not worry about us.  All things happen for a reason if you make it so.  We are making it so and we have very good help as we do.

--Dr. Jarvis

Crossing the Gambia River in a fast boat . . . !

Ship to Shore Delivery Service

Sajuka School Welcome Committee

New Friends

Holding up her half of the sky

We can work with you!

It's a new world and so filled with wonder.

Change your undewear, change your life.
Hello everyone, we are sorry for not blogging more frequently but it is proving more difficult to get internet connection here. We are now at Sajuka school and have made quick friends with the teaches and the staff. Our transporation to the school was via longboats in the ocean where we were ceremoniously carried and then politely dumped into the waiting boats by African fishermen. Once we had docked and starting walking towards the school we saw the children waiting for us in the distance....some of us started running. It was a reunion like no other. Hugs were exchanged and smiles were everywhere. We had finally reached our African family. Upon arriving at the school, we were treated to a welcome ceremony and we pulled into the middle of the courtyard where the dumbeats filled the air and the sand was kicked up a multitude of dancers. Now lets face it...many Americans are not exactly known for their dancing, and I will humbly put myself into the niche of having as much rhythm as Kesha (my apologies to Kesha fans). Anywho, I could not have been more proud of ou group who embraced the African culture and were swiling and stomping about like seasoned pros.
    We were then shown our rooms and happily settled in. It felt like home and I know that for some girls, it felt like we had never left. Making sure that my mattress was as far away from the dinosaur sized bees which we had seen from last year, we then went down and enjoyed a home cooked meal which puts such places as Delaney House and Chez Josef to shame. It included such delicacies as chicken yassa (which I highly suggest googling), homemade coleslaw and homesfries, paired with a Gambian soda called Vinto.
     Now...lets talk about our nightclub...and yes, you did just read that correctly. After our meal, the stars came out, the weather cooled, the local village boys brought our their drums and the women started dancing. You could hear nothing but the music, you could look at nothing but the dancers, and eventually we simply could not just stand by and watch...we spent our first night in Africa spinning and twirling our jet lag and luggage worries up into the stratosphere. We discovered a rhythm in ourselves which we did not know we had and it is experiences like that night which make for stories that last generations. Thank you for reading this and for your support. See you tomorrow!!

 Oh, and about the title "Change your underwear..." we still have no luggage!!! It has been almost three days and we are hoping beyond hope to finally retrieve our bags from the Belgian airport today. Your prayers are appreciated during this difficult time.

---Sarah and Dr. Jarvis

Monday, May 13, 2013

Hello everyone!
We are happy to report that we have safely arrived in Africa! We began our day bright and early packing tons of luggage and supplies into the bus, and headed to JFK. After what seemed to be a thousand hours in two airplanes (actually, only 12 hours collectively). The pilots and crew received a round of applause for the flawless flights! Upon our arrival in The Gambia, we were informed by the airline that there was a strike among the baggage claim employees and we would not receive our luggage until Wednesday. Oh dear, we will prevail! We have already started creatively thinking about ways to make due with what we all have in our carry on luggage.

Upon arriving, we were treated to a very warm welcome at the local beach! We drew quite the crowd and the locals brought their horses down to show, as well as local musicians who broke out their drums, singing with us and encouraging us to dance. And dance and sing we did! It was truly an extraordinary experience. Following this wonderful day, we were treated to a delicious dinner organized by Nyillan! Today is a day of rest and relaxation before starting our work here.

Some of us who did not go to the beach went to the local market to pick up necessities. Here they are:

Here is a photo of us at the beach.

One of the local horses, Romeo, was present during our photo shoot and graciously allowed our faculty member Tamara Blake and others to have pictures. 

Lastly, here is a picture of all the luggage we had brought with us! Wow!!!!

We are all incredibly blessed and grateful to be in The Gambia. This is a dream come true. Upon reflecting this evening the best parts of our day as a team, it was astounding to see all of the wonderful memories already made. Here are a few other photos from our journey. This one is all of us enjoying our first delicious Gambian meal (yum)!

Here is another photo of Courtney Baker, Sarah Azevedo and Tamara Blake enjoying the beautiful scenery!

We are heading to the village tomorrow morning! We will finally head to Sajuka School in Barra. We cannot wait to see the children and teachers who have so deeply touched our hearts back in the United States. We expect this week to be no exception! Our love and dedication to this village is continuing to grow.

We hope you will continue to follow us in our journey here. Please feel free to leave comments =)

With warm wishes,

Bay Path College Gambian Team 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Crazy, exciting, second go round

Here we go...again. It feels like we just landed, yet here we are packing medical and literary supplies to fly over to our second home of The Gambia. Like any other sequel, this trip will be bigger and better than the first, because our standards have been raised ever higher and we now have a clearer knowledge of the needs and desires of the Gambian people. I had been communicating with some of the children from the Sajuka school over the summer and ecstatically messaged them that our plane would be flying in less than a week. To this, they happily responded, "I know, we have all been waiting for you."

Our teams have been extremely grateful for all the donations and support we have received from companies, businesses, and the surrounding community. It is only through people caring for those outside of their intimate circles that trips like this can be made possible. We have all spent days and weeks planning this trip and it has been a test of organization concerning our limited schedule. Our teams have met repeatedly over the past few months and eventually grouped together to pack all of the donations and supplies we had gathered into numerous suitcases. Because we were blessed with hundreds of pounds of supplies, each girl will have to take nearly three suitcases a piece, just to transport the medical and classroom donations...a challenge we are blessed to take on. The stage is set, the players are ready, and the travel minis are flying off the shelves...lets go to Africa!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Final Reflections..

♫Now is the time, for us to say goodbye...♪  This song brings tears to my eyes as I write my final reflection. How does a person reflect upon such a life-altering event such as the one we all experienced together?  So, I will start with the easy question, will I go back.  This answer could not get much simpler than the yes I want to shout to the world.  One of the first things I said to my father when I got back was that I was going to come back as soon as I could.  But now, here is the hard part, explaining how much and in which ways I have changed.  I am a different person now, it is easy to see.  Every aspect about me has changed, from my head to my toes, mostly in my mind and heart though.  My heart has opened up to my new family and shown me a world I never knew existed.  It also opened my heart to the love, joy, laughter, and life of their culture.  This has helped me open my eyes and see that we are all not as different as we seem, and that no one should live in more poverty than others due to how they look or where they live, we are all equals. This has helped me change what I want to do with my life.  I always knew I wanted to help people and make them smile, I just didn't know in what way.  Now, I know I must reach out and help others, it is no longer an option.  Though, now the Peace Corp is an option, as well as learning French hopefully.  My heart is opened to the new friends and family I have, and my second home in Africa.  I cannot truly express how much I have changed, but I can assure you that this will not be my last time in my second home with my second family <3.
Stuck in the airport, goodbyes = sad.