Jen's First Blog

After being in the Gambia for only a week, I feel comfortable, welcome, and at home.  I have been most overwhelmed by the kindness of the people here.       

On my third day, I had the privilege of participating in what is called "A Day in the Life of a Starfish Girl."  I spent the day with Fatou Faburay, a starfish graduate who is now in medical school, going through the daily responsibilities and chores that the girls here do at home.  Although I was there to work with Fatou, I was met with the warmest hospitality at the door.  Fatou's family prepared breakfast for me and insisted that I make myself at home.  At the end of my day there, Fatou's parents would not let me leave the home without taking an array of fresh fruit they had purchased.  Most meaningful, Fatou's older brother said to me, "you are part of the family now; we hope to see you everyday."  The kindness did not end there; this weekend, Fatou brought a chicken to us as a gift from her father.  I have continued to spend time with Fatou, as I knew after one day that we will have a life long friendship.     

Doing the chores of a Starfish Girl was eye opening and motivating.  I swept the compound, mopped floors, went to the market, and spent hours preparing lunch over an open fire (scaled the fish, chopped vegetables, used a pestle and mortar, stood over oil burning on the open fire in the mid-day heat) for the entire family.  It is unbelievable that the Starfish girls manage to complete all of these chores, while fully dedicating themselves to their school work and the Starfish program.       

Meeting the Starfish Girls has also been exceptional.  The girls exude self-confidence, strength, and kindness.  Each girl walked up to me unprompted, with hand extended, to introduce themselves and to welcome me.  They struck up conversations, and were open to talking about their lives and the journey they have taken with the Starfish Program.  From these interactions, I have decided to profile one Starfish Girl every week in order to share their incredible stories and what Starfish has meant to them.       

Finally, since our arrival, Starfish has made leaps in the advancement of its programs.  The US embassy will be providing a grant for all materials necessary to build toilets at the Starfish Library, however, the Lamin community is expected to contribute by providing labor.  We recieved the news two days after arriving here, and since then have had two meetings with the Village Elders and the Village Youth Federation.  At the second meeting, Yassin took the Starfish girls to advocate for themselves.  Speaking both English and the local languages, they advocated so strongly, that the audiance broke out in applause and promised to provide their full support.     

Some funds raised last year are now being used to build a new kitchen for the benefit of the Starfish girls who will be working on a Gambian cookbook next month.  We have also discovered that installing solar panels to power the Starfish Library will only cost around $4000.00.  As power is essential to the functioning of the library, fundraising efforts by individuals who want to help will be very helpful in obtaining this realistic goal.       

After a week like this, I can only begin to imagine what my next week will hold.  Please continue to follow my updates!

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