slide into the second year of service

Passed my one-year in country mark a few weeks back, and excited to begin my 2nd year of service…since I got back from America in January I’ve had quite a few work projects going on, but most importantly, I just found out today that my grant for the refurbishment of my health post and training of health workers has been fully funded!! So exciting – THANK YOU so much to everyone who donated! The funds will be arriving in a few weeks and I will then go with one of the health post staff to buy the beds, as well as finish planning the health worker training, which will probably occur in May.

In other news, back in January, I organized a one-day girls’ camp  together with another volunteer for each of our middle schools for 20 students, 9 of the scholarship students and 11 additional girls. I was really proud of this little program and think that the girls enjoyed it too. The themes for the camp were planning for the future and the importance of education, as well as sexual health, since girls dropping out of school due to early marriages and pregnancies is a big problem in our region. Our resident gender and development expert, Awa, who is also the cross-cultural trainer and homestay coordinator on Peace Corps staff, came down to Kolda to host the camps. She was amazing at helping the girls think about their potential  and how to navigate tricky situations with family, friends, and boys. We also invited the girls’ parents to participate in a session mediated by Awa, which led to some really interesting discussions such as a father saying “I don’t want my daughter to wear pants” and Awa replying “Pants are not the problem here”, to another father telling the other parents “I gave two of my daughters up for [early] marriage, and I regret it every day. I know that my daughter Fatou is very intelligent and will go on to study at university, and I will not marry her off.” At another volunteer’s site that Awa visited, during a similar discussion Awa asked the girls what their parents could do to better support them at school etc., and one girl answered, very bluntly but unfortunately true: “Don’t sell us for cows.” That sentence has really stuck with me.  Just a few weeks ago, a former middle school student in my town who had dropped out due to pregnancy gave birth at the health post. My host family’s compound is basically next door to the health post, so her piercing screams during labor were heard all afternoon, and served as a sad reminder of just how real the problem is.

Here’s a video of a new documentary that’s coming out called “Girl Rising” that really highlights the issue and here’s another of “Tall as the Baobob Tree” about a Pulaar girl who saves her 11-year-old little sister from an arranged marriage. 

I am excited to take on the role of Scholarship Coordinator for SeneGAD, to organize volunteers throughout Senegal in administering the scholarship program at their local middle schools. In my area this year, I plan to do the program at two additional middle schools as well as at my school. I also hope to start a way to track past and present scholarship winners to show school attendance v. drop-out rates as compared to overall for female students in each region.

Anyway, here’s some pics of the Dabo Girls’ Day Camp!

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Awa play-acting a scenario with a student

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Community health worker Wopa presented on reproductive health, condom use, and the different kinds of birth control available at the health post

dabo girls camp 5Group shot!

dabo girls camp 6Girls acting out a “sketch” scenario

dabo girls camp 7Awa mediating the discussion between the girls and their parents

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Through the camp at my neighbor’s site we ended up meeting a former scholarship recipient from Dabo middle school from years back, Aissatou, now 27 (pictured here with her son Mohammed) who went on to finish high school and now works for ChildFund in Kolda, a organization which help rehabilitate malnourished children. A great anecdote to show the scholarship program works!

In other work project news…
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Computers being installed at the middle school, with the middle school principal looking pretty happy about it!

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Middle school kids at their new computer class, which I registered all the scholarship girls for as well

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Here’s one of my fave bean sandwich ladies Djenabu, with some moringa powder at her sandwich stand – I’ve been trying to push for use of moringa powder in food in my town – brought a bunch of salt shakers back from America to package moringa powder I make from the tree in my backyard, and distribute it to the bean sandwiches ladies and elementary school snack sellers to us in their beans etc. It seems to be catching on a bit, although a lot of the moringa trees in people’s compounds are dead/dying because of excessive cutting (to use the leaves for leaf sauce, which, when boiled do not retain much of their vitamin content)- so am also trying to educate about proper tree care and also when seeds come in, think I will also do some trainings on how to make intensive beds that can be harvested regularly.

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The school for the deaf in my town recently dug a new well which I checked in on periodically since myself and another volunteer want to help them build a garden there – here’s one of the workers being lowered into the well to manually dig it out – it’s a long process!

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And here’s all the students and teachers rounded up for a photo with the finished well, which I helped the school director e-mail to the French donor who had helped fund it – you may be able to see some of the kids have little signs that say “Merci Patric”, the donor’s name

DSC03121 Here’s a crazy bug I found on my moringa tree flowers, like a white praying mantis with crazy design on its back

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Me and my host brother/nephew Alassane hanging out outside my hut

DSC03137Mango flowers  which I tried to arrange ikebana-like in my hut – my old ikebana sensei would be proud I think!

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I’ve been making a lot of friendship bracelets in my free time (thanks for the embroidery thread, mom!)  Here’s my host brother Moussa working on one – he was pretty good at it!

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Bracelets I made for me and my host mom

DSC03153George vs. the giant cricket

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Some mango leaf creations Alassane  made for me for the front of my hut

DSC03170Teaching how to make cereamine, a nutritional porridge for babies made form local ingredients, to a women’s group with Katie

DSC03173Cooking up some cereamine

DSC03174Babies love cereamine – proof!

DSC03181George Michael and friends playing in the hay

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DSC03189Me and George being cute

DSC03192Some moringa-seasoned french fries that I made for my neighbors, very delicious

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A weird but pretty plant growing in my backyard

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In February, after our all-volunteer conference in Thies, Peace Corps volunteers participated in WAIST (West African  International Softball Tournament) which was more about the dressing up in costume and eating hamburgers and drinking beer than the softball, but was a very fun gathering – each region of Senegal competed as a team, Kolda’s theme was superheroes and mega-villains

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Captain Planet and Wonderwoman in the outfield

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Me as Rainbow Brite

DSC03226Quailman at bat

DSC03232One of the best parts of the tournament was that Dakar area ex-pat families invite volunteers to stay with them for the weekend. I lucked out at a house with not only a pool but also a bunny (and a very nice family too)

DSC03230Erandy with the bunny

DSC03290Chips I found at a random gas station on the way back – thyme-roasted chicken flavor, yum!

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The secretary at my middle school and his new teacher schedule. As you can imagine if you know me well, I was bored one day and started making this for him. He’s so nice and helpful when I need stuff, so figured I’d return the favor! Next up: teaching him to use excel on his new office computer.

DSC03299One day a lady came around to our compound selling lettuce and I was inspired to make a giant salad with homemade dressing for my family for dinner. Salad is kind of considered rich people food and my family never makes it so I was happy that they liked it!

DSC03301Mother and baby at a vaccination day in a neighboring village

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Me helping the nurse record vaccinations

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Babies getting vaccinated

DSC03311A poster I made at the health post of community members with their bed nets “I sleep under my bed net, DO YOU?”

DSC03312I started an HIV prevention curriculum at the high school in my town as part of their English classes – here’s one of the students Kamiya, standing in front of his “mind map” of future plans – he wants to be the minister of foreign affairs. He also has a great t-shirt, reminiscent of the wedding scene in Romeo + Juliet

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Me teaching about malaria prevention with a women’s group in a nearby village, talking about bed nets using visual aids provided by NetWorks. Kolda will do another universal coverage bed net distribution later this year so am excited to help with that.

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Sanji, the community health worker, helping to demonstrate how to make neem cream (mosquito repellent)

DSC03321Ladies making neem cream

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Sharon and I giving a talk on nutrition to women in Kandiator village with the amazing local community health worker Sambel and a WorldVision rep as well. Another volunteer came up with a way to explain the food groups as part of a women’s complet – the wrap skirt being the grains/carbohydrates, the shirt being the protein, the head wrap the fruit and vegetables, and your jewelry is the oil and sugar(as in, nice but not necessary), which I thought was a cool  and easy-to-understand concept so I made a visual aid for it, which was pretty well-received.

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Kids from my compound and neighborhood doing homework by the outdoor lamp after dinner.

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I started a “Nightwatch” curriculum developed by Malaria No More at my middle school, teaching about malaria to 4eme students, here is one of the teachers I work with talking about vectors and plasmodium.

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Girls showing how to correctly set up a bed net in their Nightwatch class

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Ladies sifting millet couscous in my compound

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Bed net mural we painted at Christine’s village’s health post, with Chelsea, Cibyl, Christine and Julia

DSC03363The edge of Kandiator village

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On a day when I visited Kandiator to help the community health worker with their monthly baby weighing, I found out his daughter was getting married and having the ‘going away’ party at her compound, so I offered to take pictures since they offered me yummy food. The bride-to-be, Kajatu, is standing in the middle with the patterned complet

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Kajatu with her dad, moms, and other family members, and her “baggage” of about 20 plastic buckets and various cooking bowls that she will bring to her new husband’s compound

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When I got back from America in January I discovered one of our huts missing, and in its place a pile of bricks – they had finally started building the batiment they had been talking about for so long! Here’s its progression:

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Most recent look…

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DSC03371Typical alham (public transport mini-bus)’s chaffeur photo collage – marabouts, wrestlers, soccer players, and a girl cousin

6 responses to “slide into the second year of service

  1. Loved, loved, loved reading this. What a fantastic job you are doing, Sophie! Great photos and activities. Super that you are working on sexual health with teenagers- we had a program like that at my school but the new principal nixed it- felt too uncomfortable with the content. It is so important for kids to be informed…

    • Thanks Ms. Jay! Really appreciate it! I agree that the sexual health knowledge is so important – luckily there are some teachers here who agree as well!

  2. Great photos Sophie!
    We’re proud of the work you are doing.
    Fantastic Rainbow Brite costume.
    Dad

  3. Looks like George Michaels is having fun in the hay with fellow dog friends! How many people in your village use the bed nets? Percentage of population? It’s the easiest and cheapest way to prevent malaria, right?

  4. Pretty much everyone in my town has bed nets and uses them for at least part of the year, during rainy season, because that’s when there’s the most mosquitoes, because they did a universal coverage net distribution a couple years back. We try to remind people to use them year round. Yep, they are the easiest and cheapest way to prevent malaria.

  5. Oh Sophie is are so proud of all the work you do there. You are really are making a big difference in so many lives! I love that you are enjoying yourself and rainbrite brings back memories xoxxoxoxo Aunt June and Uncle Pete

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