Here are some pictures from our 12 day country wide trek to 15 schools! We traveled 400 kilometers (roughly 250 miles) from the end of the country (the bush) to the ferry port (the beach). 30 Peace Corps volunteers got involved along the way and we reached over 1,000 students and 75 teachers.
There are two aspects of this project that we really tried to focus on: budget and sustainability.
Our budget was $0. The Bush to Beach Marathon in 2016 had a budget of $3,500. Peace Corps volunteers choose to work through their service in different ways – some write grants, some do fundraising, some avoid big projects – and we all have an impact here. But by switching the program from a purely running trek to a run/bike, staying with PCVs along the way and buying our own food, we didn’t have any expenses. This was important to me because I think part of why we’re here is to harness local resources – mainly human resources – to address problems creatively. I don’t think the effectiveness of Peace Corps in The Gambia comes from grants or money, but from our numbers. In a country this size, 100 PCVs can have a large outreach in regards to issues like gender equality, which is what we were trying to tackle in this program.
Sustainability was our next concern. Coming in for one day and having a program on gender equality is not going to erase generations of gender gaps and sexism here. But oftentimes PCVs find it difficult to tackle these topics alone, as sometimes it feels like an uphill battle. By coming in with other PCVs, conducting an interactive and fun program to get people thinking about gender roles, it serves as a starting point from which PCVs in that community can go where they want. The indicators for each school to complete in the next 3 months include:
1. Have and support a girls football (or other sport) team that regularly practices at least once a week.
2. Meet with the school Mother’s Club (like a Parent/Teacher Association) and discuss gender equality at school and in the village.
3. Meet with teachers to discuss gender-equitable practices in the classroom.
4. Support the female community role model (who spoke during the program) to counsel students on issues like early marriage, teenage pregnancy, and dropping out of school.
5. Give a health talk through drama about the dangers of non-communicable diseases and the importance of girls and boys both exercising regularly.
By working with schools in villages with Peace Corps volunteers, we can follow up with the students, teachers, and administrators to make sure the conversations of gender equality continue.
While the trek across the country was one of the things I have enjoyed most in my Peace Corps service so far, it was really nice to come back to my village. Because issues like gender equality, early marriage, teenage pregnancy, and school dropouts are things we have to discuss not just in big programs but in one-on-one conversations. These are not easy ideas to change, as we still see in the US, but with the right community role models, family structures and friends, we can start to shift the idea of success for youths to something more productive and healthy.