In the past two months I've had a couple of successes and failures. I guess that both are bound to happen when you start trying to get something done.
1) The Global Awareness Club that I tried to get started at the high school crashed and burned. The first week 30 kids showed up, the 2nd week 5, the 3rd week 0. I waited in the classroom for an hour until it became obvious that nobody was coming. It was pretty disheartening because I was really excited about getting the group going and I thought the first two meetings went fairly well. I realize now that there were a lot of things that I didn't understand going in to it and that I should have done differently. For one, I think the students had a hard time understanding my English since the English they are used to hearing is in an African accent with its own set of vocabulary. Second, the meetings were held on Saturday mornings at the headmaster's suggestion, but I realize now that no student is going to want to come to school on a Saturday morning. Third, my expectations of what the students were capable of and how much work they would be willing to do was unrealistic. I assumed that students in Grade 10 and 11 could at least read a newspaper article and write a simple paragraph for comprehension. I later found out that is not true.
I'm thinking of trying again and using a new approach. The headmaster at the school says that this time he'll find another teacher to help support me. The failure of the first time still stings, so its hard to get as enthusiastic as before. But last week I went to observe another high school club led by three Peace Corps Volunteers and it was so amazing to see the students debating about current events and thinking critically about issues. They were smart, engaged, articulate and confident. So I think I will give it another go, but this time I'm going to take it slow.
2) My garden was a little bit of a success and failure. After dealing with rats eating all my plants to stubs, caterpillar invasions, disease, and extreme heat I managed to keep my garden alive and for awhile it actually looked pretty healthy. But in the end, I'll I harvested after 5 months of work were 5 eggplants and 6 rats. My host family ate the rats (I would have tried it, but I wasn't around when they ate them) so they ended up getting some extra protein and that turned out the biggest output of my garden. It was a good learning experience, though, and my first attempt at gardening so I know next year will be a lot better. I never really expected to have a beautiful garden anyway; I just thought that it would be good for me to try gardening on my own before I try to tell other people what to do. And as it turns out, most of what I learned was from Gambians who knew how to do things much better than me in this harsh climate.
1) I helped organize a training on a special kind of compost called bokashi. It's a labor intensive compost, but its cheap to make and really strong. Together with Malick, one of the field workers I work with at AVISU, we had a full day training where we trained 10 community members and 8 AVISU staff. I was nervous beforehand, but everything went really smoothly and everybody seemed to absorb the information and enjoy themselves. We even had a couple of breaks for singing and dancing. And at the end of the day we had a big pile of compost to leave at the community garden. Bokashi compost won't save the Gambia, but if nothing else one of my counterparts was empowered to lead a training, the community members felt involved and valued, and the AVISU staff were motivated and interacted as peers with one of the community groups.
2) We are finally entering a new era at AVISU with a new director and new management staff arriving soon. I am very excited about the new direction of the organization and that some of my suggestions for improving the organization are being implemented. I spend most of my time working at the office, so its really rewarding to see things moving in a positive direction.
3) I have helped create 5 tree nurseries, 4 in community gardens and 1 at the upper basic school totalling over 1000 trees. It was difficult to get the ball rolling, but now that things have started my work is done and I can just sit and watch the results. I'm hoping next year to try the same thing at a much bigger scale.