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Monday, June 25, 2007

Honey, I Shrunk the Creature from the Blog

Heh, heh...okay I am running a bit dry on "Creature of the Blog" saga titles. However, this title does give the impression that this update is going to be shorter than the others. Sorry to get your hopes up.

Actually, this one is going to be shorter in words because I've got two - yes two - new videos! Since I'm spending all my time putting together a big presentation of the entire Project Gambia week for the school, therefore constantly neglecting my blogging duties to the public. So I said to myself, "Alycia, you good-looking fool, you could kill two birds with one stone!" Boy was I wrong! I killed no birds and broke two windows with one stone!

Then I said to myself, "Alycia, you stupid good-looking fool, put the videos on the blog!"


This first video is a compilation of our visits to three schools. During the training time, our group had split into three divisions: Teaching, Music/Art/Drama, and Sports. Throughout the day we ran all kinds of activities for the students who ranged from age 4 to 24. In The Gambia, most kids cannot start school until they can afford it, so in one first grade class you can have students who are six years old to students who are ten.

In the clips of the last school we visited on Wednesday, Half Dye, you can see that the classrooms are quite colourful and the desks are relatively new. It was really exciting for Danny and I to see this because when we first went back in November, the work had only begun. Half Dye is a school with four classrooms, at least 30 kids per class, and two teachers, sometimes three. We had just started to paint this place in 2006. Then a school in England moved to a new building and donated everything old to the ministry in the UK that built the schools in The Gambia. And boy, those people - Christians after my own heart!!! They didn't even let a paper clip go to waste! Let's see a quick before and after picture: (Note - If you're not seeing the full picture click on it to view it, then click "back" to return here.)


This was just after we'd painted, but you can still see the state of the desks and chairs. Most of them were broken with sharp pieces of metal sticking out.

This is what the classrooms look like now. Yes, that is me. I'm in the middle of doing something deeply educational and enriching for the children.

Now, without further adu...ROLL THE CLIP!!!!

Project Gambia - School Visits

This next video is of the team on Tuesday afternoon where they took on their a painting project of their own. Even though school had ended, many of the students stuck around wanting to play. This is not uncommon here as there isn't much to go home to, as you will see (an ominous hint of what is to come in future blogs, perhaps?). I'll just shut up now and let you watch the show.
Project Gambia - Painting Day

I hope you have enjoyed these videos. I do have a lot of fun making them (hair-pulling-sweat-staining-swear-wording fun). I just can't wait until the next blog, it is going to be sooooo good! I just can't hold it in, I have to let a little bit slip:

On Wednesday afternoon after school we took the group to Kotisilo village. It is a place where many of the young students from the New Life Schools in Kanefing and Half Dye live. All of the children were ecstatic when they saw the huge group of white visiters walking through their village to visit. And we had many donations of linen, clothes and first aid kits to give out. The entire village couldn't believe their eyes, and our entire group couldn't believe theirs. Of all the things they saw this week, that day was the most incredible...and you, too, will see why...

Well, I have to run. I have lot's of work to do with this still. Feel free to watch them again and again and again!

God bless and take care,
~Alycia DeLong

P.S.- I am so EEEEEEEEEEEEEVIL! Muu wah haa haa haa haaaaaaa!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Spawn of the Creature from the Blog

We now return to our previously scheduled program already in progress.

"Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?"

"Frankly my dear, I don't give a..."

OOPS! Wrong channel! Hey there, hi. Wow, that was close. Sorry about that. Is my face red! One might say its 'Scarlett'! Ha ha hoooo! Yeah, that was good.

Let's pick up where we left off in The Gambia - Sunday morning...
It was a beautiful morning. As the sun rose over the horizon, so did the temperature. Nevertheless, by 10am we were packed into the vans and off to our first destination of the day - church.

Now, let me just explain something about church in Africa. Right this moment, anyone who has been to a church service in Africa has stopped reading this and gone to make themselves a sandwich because they know this is going to be a long story and they better pack some sustenance before I take you all on this journey. You may want to grab something as well. I'll wait until you're back.

Welcome back. Church services in Africa are long. They are so long they will make a class on the history of Greece seem like a jog across the street. As well, African church services are very loud. They are so loud they make a crowd of Liverpool fans seem like distant bleating sheep. And lively! African church services are so lively, they make squirrels on an electric fence seem like...actually, that isn't a very pleasant analogy, is it? Maybe I'll just stick with the basics. It was pretty lively in there with a lot of singing and clapping and dancing and drums and more singing and clapping and dancing and drums and you get the point. Moving on.

Our entire group decided to come to the church service, even though we had made it optional. Since most of them weren't church-goers as it were, we didn't want to force them into it. But they were all eager to have as many experiences as possible! Well, we were all blown away by the singing and clapping and dancing and drums at the beginning of the morning's service. It was very exciting, and very moving. After spending the previous day with a local Gambian family, our group saw many families, who lived in the same conditions as Adam's family, but they were singing and dancing as if they had just won a lottery! Even the children were so excited and so sincere when they sang songs about Jesus' love and the hope they shared. The entire church opened their arms to our group. They had prepared special presentations of songs and dances. Our pastor gave a sermon, which was only about 30 minutes but it had to be translated so it doubled the time.

Overall, the service was only about two hours, which I think is a record in African church services. I've heard stories about services averaging at about four hours and peaking at seven hours! When we told the group that, they were pretty grateful for their two hour experience!

Now I know I've gone on and on about church services in Africa being long, but they have something the majority of our churches in the "civilized" world are missing out on - community. Coming together on Sunday morning is a huge event to these areas in the week. People get up and share testimonies about the things God has done for them that week. They share their struggles and ask for prayer. They'll lead everyone in a song about God's faithfulness and promises to encourage each other. Every single one is struggling for survival, but every single one of them is thankful for the things God has given them in this life and the promise of the next. It goes so much deeper than just a weekly meeting and greeting. Sunday morning is a huge celebration: God has brought them through another week together.

That afternoon our group went to a quiet little place called Lamin Lodge for lunch and a time just to relax. We reflected on the morning, talked about the upcoming week, enjoyed a short boat trip and tour of the area, and tried to keep the monkeys from stealing our Cokes. They sure were cheeky monkeys! (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) By sunset we were back at the hotel, our skin various shades of brown and red. It would be an early night tonight. After all, it was our first day of school tomorrow!

And now...


This is of Saturday when we went to Adam's house. I was going to put pictures up, but I don't want to give away the rest of the story! Muwaaa haaaa haaa haaaa! I am sooo eeeeevillllll!

Take care and God bless,
~Alycia DeLong

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Return of The Creature from the Blog

I'm baaaaaaaack!

Miss me? Have you all been sitting on the edge of your seats, checking ever few minutes to see if I have written this update yet? Well, I haven't. I just wanted to see if you cared.

~Alycia DeLong

(Tee hee hee! Danny, come look at this! Everyone thinks I'm gone but really I'm still here. I'm just typing really really quietly! Good one, eh? Danny? Where are you going?)

Okay, I'm still here. And I am writing the update, or have written it. See, to me I am writing it because this is now for me but for you I already have written it because for you it is the future to me. It's now for you but to me, the past me who is writing this, it is the future.

Great Scots, I think I've disturbed the space time continuum. I'd better just get on with the update or else I might give the past me and the future you headaches.

Let's see, where was I? Oh, yes - the misty morning of April 20th. The 28 of us flew from Manchestor airport and about five hours later were greeted by the sweltering heat of The Gambia. We settled into our hotel and had our very first meeting that evening to brief everyone about the week. We had hit our first glitch in the schedule. Originally we had planned to go to the SOS Orphanage for infants, children and teens but our contact there had quit and neglected to tell anyone about our visit. With one quick visit though we had put a new plan together. We would spend the day with a local family only a few minutes from the hotel. It was going to be so exciting! In the morning we would take a few of them to the market to help buy groceries with our hostess, Adam (yes, Adam is a woman with a man's name. Incedently, one of our taxi drivers was a man named Sarah.) and then the rest of the team would meet us at her family's home for a meal that we would all prepare together. Everyone was excited about the new plan.

Saturday morning a few of the students and teachers came with me to Adam's and together we all went to the market. Soon after entering the market, I guided our group back to the road to wait outside. The combination of raw fish, sun-baked goat meat, and flies was aiming to turn their stomachs off from food for the week. (Oh well, cheaper week.) Unfortunately they didn't find much sanctuary even outside the market as open sewage trenches line both sides of the roads. I went back in to continue on with Adam. What a soldier I am, I know. I rescue my fellow troops and head back in to the battle. On a totally unrelated note, I wasn't hungry very much that day either. Must have been the heat...

The rest of the group joined up with us at Adam's and very quickly mingled with her family and many children who had also invited themselves into the party. Adam's family shares a small compound of one to two-room shelters made of concrete and coregated steel. Besides her own children and grandchildren, both her brothers-in-law and their families also live on the compound. Together they make various crafts and carvings that they sell to tourist's to support the family.

That day we all experience what life is like for a Gambian family. Repeatedly the students and staff made comments about how shocking the poor quality of living was. There was no running, limited electricity, they didn't even have the proper tools to use when they made their wood carvings. They were using kitchen knives! When we tried to help peel potatos for the meal there was only one knife. Eventually, some one was able to borrow a peeler from another neighbour. That was how it worked here. The community all helped each other. Being some one's neighbour meant a lot more than just sharing a postal code.

Everyone at Adam's and in the entire community welcomed our group with open arms, as if we were some long lost relatives! At first our team weren't sure what to make of all the attention and affection. By the end of the day they all saw that these people were sincere and in fact, very grateful to us that we would come and visit them.

We took a little detour on the way back to the hotel and stopped off at a place called 'The Crocodile Pool' and guess what we saw there? That's right! A pool! But we sure couldn't go swimming in it! Whatever film was left in cameras was completely used up on the many photo opportunities there.

That evening we met as a group again. We were all pretty exhausted from all the sights and smells we'd taken in that day. Everyone had had a fantastic day and already many of them were moved after seeing the poverty that Adam and her family lived in. It had been a shock to all of them. However, they were more shocked when we told them that actually, according to the norm around there, Adam and her family would be considered middle class. They'd been able to send many of their children to school.

The worst was yet to come...

And that is where I leave you for now! Muuu waaah haaa haaa haaaaaa!

I just love cliffhangers, don't you?

Until next time, take care, smile, and thank God for the many blessings He has given you! I know 28 people who are doing that right now (including me)!

God Bless,
~Alycia DeLong

P.S.- Get out the Popcorn! It's movie time! Does tea and popcorn mix?