Wednesday, 17 April 2013

On coming home

After a Friday morning in a market near Saly, where we were staying, we all drove to Dakar, and said goodbye.

I had had an amazing two weeks away. I had missed my children and husband more than I thought I would, partly because I kept seeing and thinking things that I desperately wanted to share with them. "Angus would love to be seeing this," "What would Ken think about this?", "I wonder how Isla would react to this?"

I am glad to be home and have been far less culture shocked on returning from a developed country than I have been previously. I don't know why. My main reflection was whilst cutting the grass on Monday. I found it absurd that there were cattle in need of food; hungry goats, donkeys and horses in Africa, and here was I cutting and throwing decorative grass. The imbalance of resources seemed so unfair. I am not even going to mention the relative sizes of our house versus those we saw in the villages in Africa, or the abundance of resources and colour in Angus's and Isla's school and nursery.

While I am trying to work all this out, here are a few random photos from Africa that didn't make it into my other posts.
A pile of letters for the sponsored children. I had never really thought about what happens to the letters I send to Aloyse.
Dakar from a rooftop.

The bathroom at our hotel. Isn't it beautiful?

A group of school boys waiting for a lift to school. Hitch hiking to school seems to be normal.

World Vision gifted an ambulance to an ADP in Senegal. Basis isn't it?

Bullet cases being worn by a musician lady being used to create pleasure and music instead of pain. But where did they come from?

A group of children with Jane checking out a photo she had taken of them. This was very popular.

Sheep? Goats? Anyone know for sure? Makes you understand some of the biblical imagery of confusion over sheep and goats.
How to embarrass British women -  make them dance! But honestly, we didn't care how silly we looked. The pleasure in us dancing was far greater than any embarrassment we may have felt.
This is a Scout and Guide meeting area. Seriously, scouting has reached Senegal.
The greatest amount of teaching resources I saw in any school room.
Spot the chalk boards and lack of anything on the wall.
Off to meet her sponsored child. Spot the lady on the left carrying water on her head, and a baby tied to her back.
These girls had a small bouncy stone and were playing a kind of marbles game.
Group photo orchestrated by the girls on the back row. Sharon our group leader on the back right; Tricia an Ambassador on the left.

Another Fiona, a WV staff member with a tiny baby goat. It was very sweet.

Chasing bubbles.

A beautiful painting about child sponsorship in a WV Office.
Motorbikes are the best way for WV staff to get around.

African countryside out of the car window.

Against child Marriage. A Poster in a school.

WV have been encouraging irrigation and market gardening. It has been very successful.

A WV well. In the rainy season the water would be up to the shelf.

Close up of mud huts.

African Cows in the shade.

A compound

In Dakar we saw a lot of road side plant nurseries. A welcome splash of colour.
More plants in the nursery.  
 So all in all, I am very glad that I went. Would I go back? Definitely. And the children want to go next time.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Ambassodor Trip Day Four - In Brief

Today I am just going to share one story with you. I really don't think it will need many words. I was nearly in tears.

The school

Their classroom - they share it with snakes, scorpions, have to close for 5 months in the rainy season and no books or equipment can be left in overnight as the goats break in and eat the books.
After the rainy season the pupils and staff rebuild the classrooms before they can restart school.

The teacher has to duck.

Tomorrow they will start school here. With a roof. No scorpions or snakes. Toilets. The teachers won't have to carry everything home each evening. The no long holiday during the rain.
But even in a new school building, lessons and teachers can still be quite dull. Maybe they have heard they won't have five months off each year?

This is what child sponsorship achieves. A new school. A new start. Fewer holidays.

Meeting Aloyse

I awoke quite anxious this morning - today I was going to finally meet my sponsored child. When I innocently filled out my direct debit form all those years ago filled only with a sense of "doing something worthwhile," little did I realise that it would eventually lead me to Senegal and meeting my child personally. And here I was, checking that I had all that I needed: new school bag, football kit donated by Angus's school, pens, pencils, rubber, some World Vision bits and pieces, pressie for Mum? Check, all there.

Off we went in the van, firstly to a local primary school to collect a boy
The welcome group shelling peanuts.
sponsored by another lady in our group. She left with him and went to his family's compound where she was greeted by the entire family and extended family and a few friends thrown in as well. The rest of us stayed at the school and looked around the village. After a while the children came out of class for playtime. Out came the football, out came the child in all of us. I don't know if the school has ever had such a crazy game of football: four middle-aged (should I really call myself that? Help!) white women with about 60 small children, no clearly defined teams, a swing set goal at one end
Hunt the missing child. What can you do? Not much but stand around and feel a bit awkward.
and two canes at the other. I am not entirely sure what the rules were. It appeared that you decided what goal you wanted to score in and tried to get the ball there somehow. Anybody getting the ball in any goal was cheered enthusiastically and the main risk appeared to be kicking too much dust at other players. Children were falling over, being tripped over, kicked, all good naturedly and no body seemed to get hurt, maybe as only half of them were wearing shoes, and those that were only had flip flops.

With mouths full of dust and loud waves goodbye, we left and drove to Aloyse's compound. We had already driven a long way off the main road and now we went even further into the scrub. The road my this stage was just a dust track. It would be impassable in the rainy season. There were dusty areas being ploughed in preparation for the rains, numerous Baobab trees, wandering cattle, goats and donkeys.

Best clothes but not sure what to say or do. Neither of us do. Smiling is good though!
Finally we turned down an even smaller track and came across and rickety fence: Aloyse's compound wall. It was clear that his compound were quite poor. We walked between some huts and came across the centre of the compound: a tree under which sat some women and small children shelling nuts. They were poorly dressed and clearly had to make choices on the priorities of water usage. They were expecting us but nuts still had to be shelled. The WV staff went to Aloyse's hut but at first they couldn't find him. We waited for a bit and then he walked over: he had gone to the well to wash and change into his best clothes. Judging by the way the rest of his family were dressed I would suggest that they had bought or borrowed his clothes especially. He had clearly made an effort to look his best.
The welcome group grew bigger.
The official photo with his family
He loved his football kit. Ben, he got yours!
Foundations of the new house.
Needless to say, he was very nervous and shy. He didn't know what the rules and expectations were of this visit and neither did the adults. He had no agenda. Other compounds had planned what to do - this group were unsure. I just went blank. I hadn't planned what to do if the expectation lay on me. We stood there, greeted one another, he couldn't look me in the face. I was flummoxed. Writing letters a couple of times a year doesn't build enough of a rapport to meet in person. Some adults brought chairs over and more women from the community came over. I was introduced to his parents, brothers and little sister who had been standing back watching. One of the ladies poured the peanuts out of her bowl and into another, turning the empty bowl over and making the inevitable drum. The singing and dancing began. I tried to talk with Aloyse asking him about school, friends, his family, but it was all a bit too much for him. We exchanged presents and his face lit up with a beautiful smile at the sight of the football kit. He loved his pencils and the new bag. His Mum was cheered by the other ladies as she unwrapped a shawl I had bought in Gambia. I was presented with a lovely piece of fabric to wear as a skirt. One of the elder ladies in the village thought that she ought to show me how to wear it, miming how to put it on. Okay, I thought, lets break the ice a bit. I stood up, handed her the fabric, raised my arms and presented myself to her. She rose to the challenge wrapping the fabric around me and tucking it in much to the delight of the other ladies. The drumming began and she danced for me so, naturally, I had to join in. To my surprise, Aloyse did too! A huge beam of joy across his face and we danced with each other. Wonderful.

Into his house past the cement pot.
He then told me that his Dad was building a new house. Could he show me? Of course. We went through the village and I saw where he lived. His hut was of rough mud bricks with a thatched roof. The space between the two was filled with old clothes and fabric. We went through the fabric door into their entire house, a room smaller that my son's bedroom. In there was a double bed with a mattress made of, what? Straw? Dried grass? I am not sure but it was hard and lumpy. The mat on the floor next to the bed was where Aloyse slept with his brothers and sister and probably the two small goats that were in there too. There was one chest of drawers. That's it. I don't know where they cooked. No bathroom. No toys.

Their new house being built after a long time saving and some good harvests, is about the size of our lounge.

This is about the sum total of Aloyse's current house
With the village elder.

We left after the village elder greeted us thanking me for helping Aloyse and praying for my family. I was honoured and humbled to be spoken to with so much respect, to be elevated to a status of benefactor. How do you deal with that change in role? How do you deal with the material differences? How do you go back to "normal life" knowing that normality is so relative? I am going back to a house which has spare rooms and a garden with so much space we can play at growing crops and still have space for the children to play. We have so much and he has crops his family depend and rely on and 4 goats meaning that his family are better off than some. And yet in many ways his community is so much richer than many families in Britain. The children have so many adults who care for them, love them, spend time with them, keep them company, involve them. They aren't sat in front of a t.v. for hours and ignored; they aren't treated as an inconvenience or bought off with material possessions disguising the lack of attention and priority. They may own little, but I bet they don't spend evenings or even days feeling alone, bored, unwanted. Richness comes in more ways than money can buy.

"Do  not store up riches for yourself where moth and rust destroy and theives break in and steal. Instead store up riches in heaven... for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

If you ever see my heart moving let me know.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Ambassador Trip Day Two

“Okay,” you are saying, “but what happened to Day One?”

I was far too tired to write anything, that's what happened. I arrived safely in Dakar on Sunday, as I said, and yesterday we visited with World Vision Senegal Head Office in Dakar, an easy five minute walk from where we are staying. We were invited to join with the staff for their weekly devotions and then informed about the work of WV Senegal: how it is organised, what projects they are running, and so on. It was fascinating and you could see us all gradually starting to realise the difference child sponsorship makes. We were all buzzing with excitement at the end of the various talks and eager to get started. After a quick site-seeing trip around Dakar, followed by lunch, we began the long and hot trip south to nearer the Area Development Project (ADP) where most of us sponsor our children. I must confess that I slept most of the way having not slept much the night before!

 We arrived up a bumpy track to the most amazing hotel – more like a resort. We each have separate rooms arranged to look like an African compound complete with thatched roof. There is a swimming pool and access to a beach. I must admit that my first thought was, “Oh my goodness, this is totally out of my budget. I need to stay somewhere else,” until I was informed that as a WV group they have slashed our rates. Phew. Check out the web site for the Saly Princess

Today we began the visit in earnest and I think we have all returned to the hotel emotionally on a high and physically exhausted. We left at 7.30 this morning for an hour's drive to the ADP where we were met by every dignitary in the area I think, including the village chief, Regional Council President and the MP. They all joined in a discussion with us explaining how they all work together with World Vision setting targets and implementing them. We were all particularly impressed with the sophistication of the area report produced by the council showing their development targets for the next year. The village chief explained how WV had made an impact on his village (“I like World Vision because when they say they will do something they always do. We can rely on them and we trust them.”) and the local Head Teacher who explained that as the school now has a roof and refurbished rooms he has a much greater pupil number of pupils staying on at school.
The Guard of Honour
The two boys on the right of the picture are the Prime Minister and President of the school council
Lots of bottom wiggling and drums. The ladies playing the drums get their noise by having empty bullet cases over their fingers. Yes, really.
 After this we were taken to a local preschool. To be honest, this is where it all hit home for us. Before we even got out of the bus we could hear drums and singing and there was a guard of honour of pupils at the school gate wearing Senegal colour sashes. We were paraded in and the singing reached an almost deafening crescendo. There was a large marquee full of women with the musicians; we stopped to watch the dancing for a while. Inside the preschool all the small children were sitting perfectly in rows. They sang for us, their teacher taught them a new song, we saw sketches and dances. The children do mostly rote learning and that was evident, but so was their joy at having us there although some seemed overwhelmed. The whole community had come out to honour us and the work that WV do. It was so humbling to realise that a small amount of my time to fill out a direct debit form leading to a figure on my bank statement each month helped to create this, life changing chances at education for so many small children.
Some of the children were a bit overwhelmed and bored by the lengthy displays of learning, but they didn't move from their places even a little bit. Impressive.
Sharon the Ambassador coordinator from World Vision being honoured by the mothers in the village and she hadn't even made her speech yet!
A lot of the children wanted to come and have their photos taken so that they could see them on your camera screen. As soon as they look at the camera they stop smiling and look serious.
Some children from the Secondary school proudly showing their school text books and exercise books to Jane, one of the sponsors and ambassadors on the trip.
After many, many speeches interspersed with more dancing, more singing, speeches about speeches and the presentation of a new ambulance to the area, we had lunch: a moment of calm. Afterwards we were taken to a health clinic where children are assessed and treated for malnutrition. There isn't a lot of that within the area, it is mostly due to early weaning and inappropriate food being given to small children. Nevertheless, they still need support and the mums still need educating. The programme works well and the health of the children improves.
A peer support worker demonstrating how to measure a child for malnutrition. The baby on her back has just breastfed and is now fast asleep, even upside down.
Naturally, the community had to come out and thank and honour us: more speeches (short), lots of singing and lots of drums and lots of dancing only this was different:

there was a man in the crowd orchestrating the whole thing.

His plan was quickly discovered by the women who co-operated enthusiastically. One by one a lady was pointed at and one of us was indicated. The lady stood up, the drumming increased, the lady danced over (dancing here involves leaning over, sticking out your bottom, rhythmical foot stamping and wiggling of arms and shoulders), then she made her way across the dance area, stood in front of one of us, danced for us and then we were grabbed and pulled onto the dance floor! Clapping, shouting, that strange tongue waggling cry, hands and arms waving and we were cheered. It was amazing fun and every body loved it.

First you are danced at and grabbed then..

You dance, much to everyone's delight!.
As I said, a busy day and emotionally charging. Two of our group visited their sponsored children today and both had tears in their eyes recounting their tales. Tomorrow I will visit Aloyse, the ten year old boy I sponsor, and I am a little teary just thinking about it. I will tell you what happens tomorrow night. Undoubtedly it will be even more emotional than today. Sleep well.

Sometimes the speeches go on a bit too long... but could you imagine this much colour walking down a British High Street?