With my final days of work approaching I have started writing handover notes and packing up my house. It is hard to imagine the dark mornings and afternoons I'll be returning to. The temperature has cooled slightly here and I now sleep under a sheet. This whole experience has been interesting. Last week was a holiday for the Muslim Tobaski celebrations - rams are slaughtered and everyone enjoys a feast. So after a less than pleasant previous week at work, I escaped to the Kombo. On the day itself I managed to hide in Courtney's house and avoid all evidence of slaughtering, then joined the others for gin later on. Tobaski is a great example of what is good here. Richer families may give a ram to poorer families and everyone is included - even a houseful of alcohol drinking toubabs who have realtively more money than all the surrounding compounds, were brought foodbowl by two neighbouring families. With christmas approaching we will all begin moaning about commercialisation, but do we honestly look past the endless marketing and glitzy wrapping?
Although I don't feel like I have achieved much, I have learned a lot from this experience. VSO's pre-placement training is excellent and gives you a good grounding in the economic situation in developing countries, considers issues of power and control and looks initally at how corruption affects us at home before moving on to how it may affect you during your placement. You leave your home country with a very particular mindset, aware of the bigger picture and ready to work. I had certain expectations but found the situation on the ground very different and that is what you have to work with. Indeed The Gambia is more developed than I anticipated, in places. It is hard to generalise.
Teachers in the UK complain how excessive amount of paperwork leave no time to prepare lessons properly and it is true. Endless hours are spent assessing pupils so we can set targets we then spend the rest of the year harrasing them with. A child who needs a D-grade to get into college receives less attention than a child needing a C, it is equally important to their lives but makes no difference to our magic A*-C numbers. This shouldn't be what educaiton is about. The Gambia is steaming ahead of many places in terms of policy. Monitoring visits check that policies are in place, displayed and even created in a participatory manner. Weekly teacher and pupil attendance data is collected and submitted. Reports are generated left, right and centre. Even NGO's have to be able to justify their work; how many teachers have been trained, what percentage of lessons are child centred, what increase in the number of girls in education has there been? When there is so much focus on the quantifiable, we are in danger of creating a distorted picture and the qualitative judgements become overlooked. 100% of child centered lessons would be an amazing achievement and at least one of the education objectives would have been met and surpassed, but if we have a different understanding of what child centered means and children still fail their exams, where is the value?
Disregard for a moment trade sanctions, mineral depositis, the effetcs of global warming and what percentage of ministry positions are held by women. Above all it is people that make change happen, but they have to want to change.
Any views expressed are my own and are not representative of VSO.