This past Saturday, I started volunteering for Starfish International. I had the opportunity to do so last summer when I came over to The Gambia for holidays. However, given my internship and the many other activities I was involved with, I could not devote time to this laudable initiative. Starfish International, as you’d learn from the website, is a non-profit organisation that aims at providing advanced education to girls in The Gambia. The girls, mainly students of St Peter’s Technical School in Lamin, benefit from scholarships and extra training on various areas of concern. You’d agree it, indeed, is worth devoting time and energy to.
On that Saturday, the Starfish girls had their first co-ed meeting. Their male colleagues were invited to open dialogue between the two sexes in a bid to promote collaboration in the fight for women’s empowerment. A few blog posts ago, I posited on the necessity to involve the male folk in our crusade to raise the status of women in our society. Naturally, I was psyched to see about seven boys walk into the meeting, warmly welcomed by the Starfish angels. We proceeded to create two different groups: one for the girls and another for the boys. Each group was expected to raise 10 questions they had about the opposite sex. When this was achieved, the whole group met to discuss the questions and concerns raised. They took it in turns to ask questions and get answers from the opposite sex, helping them understand why some things are the way they are. A couple of the questions asked are tabled below:
|Questions For Girls||Questions For Boys|
|Why the love for funny hairstyles||Why take decisions that might affect girls negatively|
|Why the love for fabulous lifestyles||Why don’t they help with household chores|
|Why do they love showing off||Why always lead and feel offended when girls assume leadership roles|
|Why do they demand for lots of money||Why insult their mothers and not fathers|
|Why do they like gossip||Why do they always suppress their feelings|
|Why do they always talk about boys||Why do they love sagging their pants|
|Why do they often act superior||Why do they feel intimidated by a successful woman|
|Why do they like to look good at all times||Why have more than one girlfriend at a time and find pride in it|
|Why think of themselves first||Why do they hit girls|
Each group gave interesting answers, some of which led to short debates as they tried to defend their responses. I stared in awe, pride, shock and hope at appropriate times, given the nature of the responses. From this, each group went back into session. This time, they were supposed to identify four gender-related problems in their school and develop short- and long-term goals to solve them. At the end of the day, both teams bemoaned the lack of understanding between them and resolved to address the issue. A series of meetings and workshops are scheduled for when school resumes. I was tasked to provide a list of young men in The Gambia who could serve as mentors for the young boys, who wished to start a school-club to discuss ways in which they could improve their relationship with the girls. I already have a couple of names that clicked in immediately, but would appreciate pointers from you if you know of anyone who could be useful in this area. The day ended with photo shots and new partnerships built between the Starfish girls and the boys of St Peter’s Technical School. The journey back home was quite eventful and if you follow me on Twitter, you would already have seen my short rant, which I choose to exclude from this post. 🙂
Today, our Starfish day started at midday, when we received kids participating in the American Corner’s Summer Camp. I’d met them earlier when I accompanied Sana Sarr, who gave them a lecture on Leadership and his participation at President Obama’s meeting with Young African Leaders in 2010. I even got to present and explain the basic leadership qualities he had put together for them. At the Starfish meeting, the kids asked questions ranging from the inspiration behind the creation of the organisation( that sounded cool. hehe), sources of funding, to the different activities organised etc. Some of the Starfish girls recited poems for their guests and I must say I was pretty much impressed by their presentation. Little did I know that the best was yet to come and I was going to be completely blown away when the whole group came in for class at 2:30pm.
The highlight of my day came when Mam Yassin, co-founder of Starfish International, called me out to do some poetry mentoring with one of the girls. With no clue about what awaited me, I followed her and was introduced to Mariama, who was set to recite a poem from me. Asked what the title of her poem was, she shyly responded ‘Immortal Beauty’.The title was familiar but I didn’t want to jump into conclusions just yet. She started reciting the poem and by the time she was done, I had the biggest smile on my face. Ironically, I also had tears in my eyes as Mam Yassin clicked away on the camera. She had actually managed to capture my different facial expressions as Mariama recited. I couldn’t get a hold of the pictures before writing this post, but I’ll put them up as soon as I do. Dear Linguerites, you wonder why the emotions at the ‘mere’ recital of a poem? Well, that poem Mariama had selected out of a whole book because she ‘loved it and it spoke to her’ was my very own Immortal Beauty. This is one of the few poems I have written and feel a special connection to due to the inspiration behind it, which you’ll find out when you click on it. As such, my chest swelled with pride as Mariama recited words she had chosen, never dreaming that she would meet their smith. It felt good to know I could work miles away and have people appreciate it, find joy in it and give it the life it deserved through excellent performance. I ended our meeting with a hug and later coached her and four other girls on poetry recital.
We went through the poems they’d selected and memorised weeks ago. I had them improve their introductions, stage work, pronunciation, tone and gesticulations in one hour. At some point, one of them got frustrated by my constant demands for a repetition of her act. However, I wasn’t very much bothered, as I was aiming for perfection with her, in preparation for a competition they were to hold after the hour’s coaching.The persistence paid out and I was extremely proud as each one of the five ladies in my team went up the stage and delivered amazing performances. I kept snapping my fingers, in respect of the invisible laws of poetry recitals and spoken word events. The great show of talent, the excellent choices made by the girls and the energy with which they performed only went further to strengthen my resolve to invest more energy and resources into the education and empowerment of the girl child.
The day ended with a farewell ceremony for three volunteers that were set to leave this evening. The girls shared their farewell messages and gifts in a solemn atmosphere, filled with tears, hugs, songs and smiles. The departing volunteers performed two songs and presented local dances they had learnt during their five-week stay in The Gambia. As more tears poured, prompting Sana to tag the ceremony ‘The CryOlympics’, yours truly silently withdrew to a corner to avoid joining in the fest, for reasons known to the regular Linguerites. In all, it was an amazing day filled with inspirational activities. I was so thrilled and excited that I gladly walked home from WestField under the rain, with a smile on my face. Tomorrow promises to be a wonderful day too. Catch y’all soonest! Much love from Me!