Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Long Journey is Worth It!

By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
What a day. We left at 7 a.m. for Mbour to visit the programs. What an incredible experience, but first getting there was equally amazing.

One road leads into and out of Dakar. It is crowded (an understatement). Every inch of road is filled with cars, buses overflowing with people hanging out the back door hopping on and off in traffic, mopeds darting in between cars, and pedestrians trying to sell their wares – fruit, phone cards, windshield wiper blades, you name it.

We finally make it away from the city and about 2 hours later we are in Mbour where CCF President Anne Goddard and the rest of our group (including CCF Senegal National Director Emile Namsemon and myself are greeted. First, though, she and I climb onto a horse-drawn cart and are carried to the village. We are immediately joined by others from the village and are surrounded by horses ridden by children who have put miniature flags in the bridles. One of the flags is Senegalese and one is American.

As we draw closer we are greeted by a popular folk-welcome with Bambara women and the Sereres women of Backeme and Ndiakhate. They dance and sing and play instruments. They are dressed in traditional colorful garb. One woman plays what appears to be a bowl with shells hanging from the rim, which makes a shaker noise – almost like a tambourine. And yet she can also beat on it to sound like a drum.

The village children line up to greet us and sing a song about human rights in which they sing “down with war” and “peace for all.” They also sing a song about malaria and how it is a bad disease. They sing in French, the national language of Senegal.

We visit the project’s library, which has a large selection of books in French, including Harry Potter. The books are arranged by age and general subject matter.

The vegetable garden of the Mbambara School not only teaches the children how to grow food, it also provides food for those children who live too far away to go home for lunch.

A visit to the health hut of Gawlombukha includes a presentation of the activities carried out in the hut and their impact. Details about how everyone has received vitamin A and how midwives now help more birthing mothers at the hut rather than at home are shared.

We visit the early learning center. Children enrolled in it are able to start school at age 6; those who don’t participate have to wait until they are 7 to begin regular schooling. Then we visit the classrooms, which each have about 50 students, and there are seven classrooms. The earlier the education begins, the greater the chances of success for the children.

The children of the early learning center present a skit about pregnancy and the importance of seeing a doctor at the health hut instead of relying on traditional medicine. They also sing about malaria and TB. They sing about the symptoms (fever, achy, tired) and solutions, including treated bed nets and anti-malarial pills.

As we depart we get a bit turned around. Once we are in the village we are not traveling on roads but rather on sandy lanes or paths surrounded by fields of millet or village huts. I see no landmarks but apparently they exist – at least for the villagers. Finally we stop for directions to the main road and are directed to turn at the mango tree. Now I know what a mango looks like but I have no idea what a mango tree looks like! I keep quiet only to discover that no one else in the car was sure either, so we ask once more and finally arrived at the main road.

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