Learn and Teach Others

For 25 years now, the Nova Scotia Gambia Association (NSGA) has been working to create a healthy, equitable and sustainable future for the Gambian youths. NSGA’s projects emphasize the concept of learning through active involvement. They train, educate and empower youth in order to build healthy communities across The Gambia. Their motto “Learn and Teach Others” perfectly reflects the organization’s mission.

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The NSGA is like a little family. The camaraderie between every workmate is incredible. Everyday the office is full of laughs, hugs, energy and positivism. It’s impossible not coming to work in a good mood! Even me, who is not a morning person, it doesn’t take long before I’m smiling at my desk! ūüôā

For the last month I’ve been mainly working with the 15 drama troupers. The NSGA is¬†formed of three troupes of 5 young adults who go into schools and communities to promote health awareness. In schools, they will perform a short play on a health issue (they are presently focusing on water sanitization) during the morning school’s assembly. The performance is followed by a short discussion and a period of questions with the students. Then, the troupe will meet with the school’s peer health club and educate the students on various subjects (Ebola, HIV-AIDS, teen pregnancy, life skills). The purpose of the peer health clubs¬†is¬†to train¬†a¬†group of students who will then teach their friends, classmates and family about it. The NSGA peer health program has been going on for over 15 years now. Today, there are almost 200 peer health clubs in schools all over the country!

Afterwards, troupers will go into communities to do health awareness on Ebola, Malaria or water sanitization. Some days they will improvise a skit in the middle of the market (let me tell you it does attract a lot of attention!). After the performance, they will go around the market to talk about the subject and answer the public’s questions. Other times, the drama troupes will go directly into households to educate families about health. I am surprise, each and every time I go with a troupe, how welcoming and responding are the people and the students. Everyone loves and appreciates the work of the NSGA and I surely know why now! ūüôā

As for me, well I’ve been doing my best to use my drama skills and teaching experience to help them improve what they are doing. I must say they are all very talented but having an outsider observing and giving them feedback on a daily basis can be valuable. I’ve also given them a hand with different other projects like filming an educational movie on Ebola and putting on short plays about HIV/AIDS discrimination for Worlds AIDS Day on December 1st. They performed at the 22nd Arch in Banjul in front of a¬†massive crowd and they just simply looked stunning! I was really proud!

I’m enjoying a lot my time at the NSGA! As much as I’m doing my best to help them, I’m learning a lot myself! I think what they are doing is pretty amazing and very powerful. They are using nothing else but their drama skills to educate the society and therefore, save lives. Successful people think outside the box and I believe¬†the NSGA pulled it off!

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Living on the Smiling Coast

Sorry about the wait! I finally decided it was time to start this blogging thing to give you guys an update of my new Gambian life but also to keep you posted throughout my journey on the African continent!

It’s been almost a month since I finished my 424km fundraising¬†run across The Gambia¬†(you can follow my adventure on¬†love4gambia.com). I am now temporarily living and volunteering in the country until January. When I first decided to take a sabbatical leave from work, my plan was to come to Africa to travel and volunteer. In June, I attended the 25th anniversary dinner of the¬†Nova Scotia Gambia Association (NSGA) to meet everyone from the organization I was going to run for to raise money. During the evening, they presented a video about their drama troupes: devoted, talented, young adults doing drama to raise awareness on health issues in schools and communities… What an amazing idea! As a qualified drama teacher, I knew instantly that I wanted to work with the NSGA. I was very impressed by their work already. I¬†will write more about the organization and my volunteering in my next blog.

So, after the run,¬†I enjoyed a few days of well-deserved¬†rest and recovery. All I did was lay on the beach, eat anything but rice and sleep¬†like a baby. It was awesome.¬†Soon after¬†this little vacation, I was ready to roll again. Most of you know I¬†can’t stand doing nothing for too long!

After starting my 8 weeks contract with the NSGA, I moved into a nice house in the neighborhood of Old Jeshwang, in the region of Kombo (50% of the national population lives in this region). I am living with¬†‘Papa Mo’ (our landlord), Danielle and Aisha (two other Canadian working¬†for the NSGA) and Ismael (a Gambian working in the area). We also have the daily company of Ndey and Mariama, two young women working for Papa Mo. They take really good care of the house, but they also¬†are excellent tour guides, cooking teachers and clubbing partners!

My week days mostly consist of working (which means following the drama troupes around the region), running (yes, I’m already back on the road), going to the gym (22$/month for a personal trainer¬†is not too bad of a deal!) and doing my shopping¬†around the numerous markets.¬†Fruits,¬†vegetables, meat, bread, condiments, toiletries, clothing, everything is found at a different place. As much as I don’t like Walmart, I must say it has its advantages…

During my weekends, my Gambian husband (aka my bike) and I cycle¬†around the area to do all the touristic things (monkey park, crocodile pool, botanical gardens, beaches) and at night¬†I do the social stuff (drink Julbrew -the local beer, go clubbing, have tea and shisha, hang around with the housemates). One thing I know, I won’t get bored while I’m here! There is so much to see and to do. Everyone¬†is also very welcoming and want to make sure I’m making the most of my time in The Gambia. So far so good!

My key to happiness¬†(and to prevent homesickness)¬†is to keep myself active and busy by doing what I love and be surrounded by people who make me happy. I’m trying to learn as much as I can from this magnificent culture.¬†I would say that I’m adapting¬†pretty well¬†to this Gambian lifestyle¬†and I am enjoying very much my time on the Smiling Coast! ūüôā