Youth volunteering for Environment: Active and Healthy lifestyles in The Gambia

Duration of the EVS Service

The Service started:    01 / 07 / 2014
The Service ended:    30 / 06 / 2015
Total duration of the Service (in months):  12 month
Venue: Gunjur, the Gambia West Africa

Part II.  Project implementation

The points below are intended to serve as a guide for your description of the activities undertaken within the context of your EVS project. Do not hesitate to mention difficulties and problems you have encountered and other matters that you consider helpful for other volunteers or organisations, which would organise similar activities in the future.
If more space is needed, please extend boxes.

Description of your Service

My Service was focused on three domains, namely Environment, Education and Health. Concerning Environment, I had the pleasure to undertake activities such as tree planting; cleaning exercises; collection of plastic, glass, metal and harmful items (e.g. razor blades); waste separation and sensitisation about the dangers of indiscriminate waste dumping; creation of a horticultural garden; assisting some women working at the community vegetable garden with weeding and watering.

Furthermore, I carried out programmes about formal and informal education. As for formal education, I taught basic English and maths in a nursery school, I gave physical education lessons in another nursery school and I cooperated with the coach during the athletics training of primary school students. In addition, I held two workshops about irregular immigration and engaged in informal education events, specifically the Summer Scheme and Summer camp organised respectively by the Gunjur Project Lodges and President International Award association, during which we discussed the presentations about environment, values and emotions and health that we had elaborated.

Finally, I involved myself in administrative work at the health centre and other health facilities, where I learnt how to check and establish the weeks of pregnancy through patient’s belly palpation. There, I could observe the advancements made in TB prevention, care and control, the persistent challenges and difficulties daily encountered by the Leprosy and TB Inspectors and the other personnel; I also outlined an article on this subject. Another of the health-related activities that I fulfilled was to support the Eye Specialist in the eye examination of students in different age.

Training and Evaluation – Before the Service

Not only I received early suggestions and support both from my Sending/Coordinating and Hosting organisations, but I also obtained prompt replies to my questions since the first days of March 2014. Moreover, I complemented the preparation with an online pre-departure course given by Miss Linda Bonfante from YouNet Long Term Mobility Department; this training took place on 19 June 2014 and it lasted 3 hours. The pre-departure training was very comprehensive and helpful to clear my doubts up.

During the Service – On-arrival training

Please indicate the dates, the venue and who carried it out (National Agency…).
The on-arrival training was carried out by Eco-Travel Gambia (ETG) and AMAIDI Gambia Foundation staff: Mr. Momodou L. Fatty (AMAIDI Country Team Coordinator), Mr. Lamin Sawaneh (Project activities Coordinator), Mr. Bubacarr Saho (President and Finance Manager).

It was held from 8 to 11 July 2014 at the Gunjur Project Lodge.
Mid-term evaluation (only relevant for Services of 6 months or more)

The mid-term evaluation took place at the Gunjur Project Lodge too, between 24 and 26 march 2015. Mr. Kadubah Bojang (Gunjur Community pre-school Head Teacher) was the facilitator of some workshops and led a specific seminar, Mr Lamin Sawaneh was the Meeting Chairperson, Mr. Bubacarr Saho coordinated the mid-term evaluation activities.
Ongoing volunteer support

Mr. Sawaneh not only committed to supervise the project activities, but he was also always present in every programme and provided me with task-related support.
Mr. Fatty was the responsible of the project and the hosting organisations in loco, he offered administrative and logistical support, and cultural mediation.
Mr Saho was in charge of giving Mandinka classes. Anyway, Mr. Fatty and Sawaneh provided me with linguistic support anytime I needed, even out of the formal language lessons.

Another form of ongoing support consisted in the monthly meeting I regularly had with ETG and AMAIDI personnel at the end of the month.
Additional training and support

Especially Mr. Sawaneh and Mr. Fatty supported me beyond the issues strictly associated with the project activities, by additional intercultural training in order to clarify some attitudes of the neighbours and project stakeholders in light of the fact that those behaviours were influenced by their socio-cultural background and, sometimes, by their customs and beliefs.

They also showed me how to perform some tasks at our horticultural garden such as planting, transferring the seedlings, tilling and preparing a compost pile; in this way they taught me how to farm and grow a number of vegetables.
Contact with the Sending Organisation
The Sending Organisation used to supervise the development of project activities, monitor the skilled gained and progress made and ascertain my wellbeing through a monthly report that I had to submit to them.

Furthermore, they worried much about the only case of a person infected with Ebola in Senegal, which entailed the earlier departure of the other EVS volunteers, and they were very concerned about the safety of my choice to stay and continue the project alone. For this reason, we exchanged some emails, by means of which we agreed and concluded that my decision was feasible.

Finally, the Sending Organisation got in contact with me both via email with the purpose of booking my return flight with adequate advance notice, and by a skype call during the mid-term evaluation when we discussed my impressions about the project performance and some practical arrangements to be completed before or immediately after my return home.

After the Service – Evaluation of the Service

Firstly, the Evaluation after the Service will be conducted by filling in the final evaluation questionnaire. At a later stage, probably in December, I will be also invited to take part in the “Annual EVS Event” that is carried out by the Italian National Agency and gathers over 200 Italian volunteers.

Overall evaluation of the project

Actually, I had not so high expectations given that the person in charge of the pre-departure training warned us that things were different and slower there so we should not imagine that we would have worked at a hectic pace since the beginning of the project and immediately been able to achieve the goals. Following this advice allowed me to live this experience in a serene way and to enjoy every small improvement that we brought about in beneficiaries’ life. Nevertheless, I must admit that in some fields the outcomes that I had anticipated were exceeded. For instance, the local people were more welcoming and the neighbours became closer than I expected and carrying out some activities was easier than I had foreseen.

I evaluate the overall success of my project as more than satisfactory. In fact, although I faced some challenges that often induced the Hosting organisation and me to modify the programmes envisaged in the project master plan, in the end we managed to adapt to the new circumstances and obstacles and we proved to be flexible. Anyway, I think that the project could have been far more successful if there had been other volunteers, because I would have mutually learnt from them, exchanged more ideas and jointly suggested further actions to be taken, and there would have been more funds available to accomplish the objectives set before the launch of the project.

Practical arrangements

Unfortunately, I encountered several difficulties that however neither have undermined my opinion about the overall implementation of the project, nor jeopardised my stay and the continuation of my EVS in the Gambia.

Concerning the accommodation, the house had not “all necessary facilities” and it was not as “well-furnished” as it was mentioned in the Volunteer’s Agreement. In reality, I have not had running water for my whole stay and I had to fetch water from the well every day but, at the end, I became accustomed to that.

Moreover, in the first four months we had electricity for just 4 hours per day, because of the solar power; nevertheless, in October our building was finally connected to the public electric power service. Therefore, having electricity 24h a day, I could buy a refrigerator that anyhow was supposed to be part of the home furnishings since the inception of the project.

Some months I experienced extra expenditures that forced me to withdraw money from my personal savings because the allowance did not result to be enough to cover those expenses, including the purchase of the refrigerator, medical examination or food shopping (I received a food allowance rather than the board).

Regarding the insurance card, the integration into the local community and the language training, I did not meet any problem. Indeed, I felt part of the local community also because I had the chance to participate in several celebrations, my female neighbours invited me to join them in wearing “Asobee”, that is to say to buy their same fabric and go with them to the tailor to have sewn a dress so that all the women of our neighbourhood, me included, could be identified as belonging to the same group. In addition, the local women considered me as one of them because time to time I used to go to their horticultural gardens in order to help them with the tiring and burdensome task of irrigating.

As for the language training, I would have preferred if it had been longer and conducted sometimes also by people other than the Hosting organisation members who can speak both English and vernacular; at any rate that didn’t affect the possibility for me of learning Mandinka, because I could practice it through an informal method.

Initially I confronted some problems with the mentorship because the persons appointed didn’t want and couldn’t be mentors given that they were busy with their work and, especially one of them, was always unreachable, didn’t reply to the emails that either the Hosting organisation and I had sent to him and he didn’t pick up the phone. Nonetheless, after a couple of months the situation was solved by designating new mentors. Sometimes my new mentor read my report late and thus our periodic meeting was delayed because she was overwhelmed with work but, apart from this, she was usually available to listen to me and advised me on possible ways to tackle the few hurdles that emerged.

It was the Hosting organisation to take care of visa arrangements, work and residency permits. Therefore they relieved me of this task and I am grateful for that; anyhow I would have preferred if Mr. Saho had gone earlier to collect my resident/work permit that I received after a month and a half that it had been issued.

Achievements

I succeeded in learning basic Mandinka that allowed me to communicate with those people and children who could not speak English, to make them understand me and to integrate me quicker into the local society. Specifically, I became comfortable with speaking about daily routines, with asking for directions and doing the shopping. I also improved my knowledge of English as working language.

Thank to this EVS I attained personal enhancement by gaining both practical skills, social and civic competences. In particular, I acquired manual abilities, such as whitewashing; farming; planting trees to foster the reforestation; collecting waste and reusing plastic garbage by chopping it to make pillows.

I also developed hands-on capabilities that may turn to be useful for my professional future. For instance I became familiar with paperwork related to project management (e.g. preparing the monthly agenda and work plan, and writing reports for the project coordinating organisation and for my mentor); handling administrative work at health facilities and belly palpation, assisting in examining eye and vision; elaborating and publicly debating presentations with a heterogeneous audience; holding workshops about current burning questions (as irregular immigration); teaching different subjects (English, mathematics, physical education, music and art) at nursery schools.

Furthermore, I saw first-hand what are local population’s needs, I observed how projects related to environment, agriculture, health, formal and informal education are realised and should be drafted, and how budgets should be drawn up. I also experienced the repercussions that unforeseen events such as Ebola can have on the continuation of a project; therefore, I realised how risk analysis should be performed and why it is useful not only to evaluate the feasibility of a proposal, but also to be prepared in case some adverse hypotheses occur. All this knowledge gained could be helpful to make my dream of working in the field of international development cooperation come true.

In addition, the social and civic competences I obtained are worthwhile to facilitate my job-search. First of all, I got to know how human rights are applied with reference to minorities who are discriminated (i.e. homosexuals and political opponents), how women and children are treated and how far women and children protection has come in the Gambia. These pieces of information derive from private conversations with some local and educated people that I could trust, because some of those topics are taboo in the country, or they derive from the simply observation of local society.

Secondly, I developed an inclination to dialogue, active listening, respect for other people’s standpoint, tolerance and a high predisposition to cope with uncertainty, stressful situations and frustration by expressing them in a constructive way. To this purpose, I used conflict avoidance, my ability of putting myself in other people’s shoes, arguing and bargaining by means of intercultural dialogue, which entails the problem was not ignored and the disputes arose were settled peacefully and crises managed.

Thirdly, I improved my capacity to live and work in multicultural contexts, to work in team and interact with different social groups, by valuing diversity, building mutual trust between people who have different socio-cultural backgrounds, employing a positive and collaborative attitude, which implies that I have been willing both to overcome prejudices and, when possible, to find a common ground. Fourthly, through mutual learning, I got to know some traditions, values and lifestyles of Islam and few local different ethnic groups, and my acquaintances familiarised with mine.

Additionally, I meliorated civic skills such as active citizenship and social responsibility, by attempting to satisfy some of the local community’s needs and laying the foundations for further interventions intended to contribute to sustainable development and tackle local problems, by partaking in initiatives of some grass-roots organisations that promoted a bottom-up change. Besides, I was involved in making decisions regarding the course of action to choose to maximise the potential impact of my EVS and leave a mark in local beneficiaries’ life.

Gaining an understanding of a new country, its inhabitants’ beliefs, customs and value system, I was more able to meditate on my national and European identity and principles, whose I became more aware by comparing them with those of a different culture. Specially, I recognised the importance of democracy and of human rights (such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly-including right to protest, religion, freedom of the press), which is something that in the EU we sometimes give for granted. By revaluating my sense of belonging to the EU and my being an EU enthusiast, I also became more cosmopolitan and sensitive to some global issues (e.g. water supply and the shortage of clean drinking water, poverty, illiteracy, the prevalence of deadly but curable diseases, etc…), which I could experience at first hand during my stay in the Gambia. Consequently, my international awareness has increased.

My neighbours were very friendly and I became especially attached to the women and the children. The first often invited me to attend some traditional celebrations with them and sporadically I went to the community garden to work side-by-side with them. It was also for this reason, along with the fact that their kids came to my compound every Saturday afternoon to play some games or sports with me that I earned the respect of my neighbourhood and that of the other inhabitants of the village I met both during and outside my service hours. The people of the local community made me feel like one of them. That’s why I will try to keep in touch with the local community either directly and through the Hosting organisation’s members, and they will be among my priority target group if one day I can find a way to help out.
Throughout my EVS I have pondered on my future. Before my departure, I wanted to become a development worker at all costs, while in the course of time spent in the Gambia, I came to the conclusion that probably I could follow my dream of working in the field of international development cooperation in a different way. Actually, I saw with my own eyes  that even to do voluntary work in a developing country it is necessary to have some funding to cover several types of expenditures that I didn’t expect to be so frequent and high (compared to the cost of living). Moreover, to be hired as a development worker, project manager or project designer (which are the kinds of professions I am passionate about), it is often required to have 3 years or more of experience in the field that unfortunately it is not so easy to obtain, unless through opportunities as the one opened by the EVS. Hence, I decided that in my immediate future I might apply for programmes similar to EVS in order to keep on with what I started to learn in the Gambia and increase the expertise I acquired and, at the same time, look for a job that can guarantee stability and independence, which could permit me to pursue my vocation towards promoting sustainable development in my free time, by either collaborating with no-profit associations or setting up my own NGO.

Would you recommend EVS to others? Why?

Yes, I would definitely recommend EVS to other youth, because it enables to cherish more what we have and complain less for what we lack, obtain on-the-job competences, become more self-confident and open-minded, make young people feel useful by helping out other people, travel to another state and discover other ways of life from which drawn inspiration.

Conclusions, personal comments, recommendations
Give any additional information, observations, comments or recommendations that may be useful for future projects as well as to the National Agency, the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Agency or the European Commission.
I have really appreciated to have had the opportunity to undertake the EVS project in a developing country as the Gambia because, thanks to the cultural differences and the diverse living and working conditions that exist there compared to EU member states, I could learn much and probably more than what I could learn in a European country. For this reason, I think that fulfilling the EVS in a developing country can have a bigger impact on the youth personal enhancement and it would be thus advisable to offer a higher number of placements in those countries.

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Comments

3 Comments. Leave new

  • Through environmental and educational volunteering and active involvement of volunteers YEAH aims to foster a more aware and motivated participation of youths in the society using the positive experience of the EVS and sport as a lever.

    Reply
  • csgo-dep.com
    21. July 2017 11:26

    Volunteers lead grassroots efforts to protect the environment and strengthen understanding of environmental issues.

    Reply

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