Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bright Futures for Children and Youth in The Gambia

By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications

Following lunch we travel to Somita Village. The children are dressed in plaid green uniforms and greet us with several songs. They present a drama about the value of education. A father does not want his daughter to attend school but the mother begs him to allow the girl to attend so that she can have a better life. He finally agrees. The daughter jumps up and down and says, “I am happy my father lets me go to school.”

We visit several of the classrooms. The rooms are clean, bright, and cheerful. The walls are decorated with appropriate educational information. In the classrooms for the younger children, the colors are listed on the walls as are the days of the week. Blocks of paper are filled in with a specific color, showing that the children are working on learning their colors.

Several villagers are at work in the kitchen. The children eat at school because they often have to travel great distances to get there. At school children learn to eat a balanced meal. Again, they can take that knowledge home and share it with their family.
After visiting several classroom we also visit the Somita Health Center. About 100 people are treated each month on an out-patient basis.

From there we travel to Sibanor Village. The rains continue. At this point we are no longer on paved roads, but rather dirt roads that are now mud from the rains. Potholes and culverts must be avoided and the rain creates a layer that is almost as slick as ice. The driver is attentive and gets us to each of our destinations safely and without incident.

At the Sibanor Village we hear from the younger children who sing a welcoming song, “Wherever You Come From.” The older youth share their experiences with Junior Achievement. In this village 32 youth are participating. Hatab, one of the youth, says, “We are learning about disciplined money habits that we hope will continue into adulthood.”

Several commented that while they don’t have much money, they used to spend all that they had. “Now, we’re learning how to save and to budget,” one youth said.

They are five months into the program and are identifying opportunities. Their goal is to operate three businesses within the community. They are considering a gas station, herding of animals, and even a manufacturing enterprise.

Anne tells the group, “When trying to think of a business, think of what the people will buy.”

We then learn about the Water Pyramid. Sibanor is the main village in this part of The Gambia and for years there was limited healthy drinking water. Women had to wait in line at the few working wells. Then a few years ago, Ding Ding Bantaba Child and family Support Association and CCF The Gambia succeeded in getting a water project grant funded by World Bank through a Dutch organization. The system uses boreholes and rainwater collection techniques that provide up to 5,000 liters of clean water per day. It also provides distilled waters, which the villages are working to market and sell, thereby providing additional funds to the village.

This is the last program we are scheduled to visit. Throughout our visits, we have been shown great hospitality. Anne and I are both amazed and inspired by the dancing and joy of the villagers. We saw first hand how sponsorships and donations are changing the lives of the children and youth, and, ultimately, the villages. We saw children learning about how to lead healthier lives. They shared the messages with us, and we know they are sharing the messages at home where they also are changing attitudes for the better.

We heard first hand the importance of education. The youth talked about their commitment to staying in school. They also shared about the importance of learning skills that they can use throughout their lives and the importance of saving the money they earn. It’s clear that many of these youths will grow up to be leaders of the future.

Although there are obstacles to overcome, the children and youth clearly have hope and brighter futures. As Anne noted, “CCF has created a revolution in the community.”

I know we’ll be hearing more from these children and youth. I look forward to that day.

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