“We may come from different experiences and backgrounds but we share one common goal, and I love that”
For the past 6 weeks, I have been living in The Gambia, in a little village called Lamin with a bunch of people I’ve never met before. In these 6 weeks, I’ve interacted with so many different kinds of people, who have had different experiences in life and have had different backgrounds, but one thing I’ve really enjoyed the most is that despite all our differences, we have one thing that brings us together, which is girls education.
During my stay here, I think my most interesting interactions have been with the other volunteers. Coming here, I knew that I was coming with 4 other girls from my school and I had heard that there would be other volunteers but I had forgotten by the time I arrived. We came to meet 5 other girls, 3 students from Berea College in Kentucky, 1 student from Oberlin, and 1 student from Lexington, Kentucky. One of the first things I noticed was how different we were because oh the states we came from. 4 of us were from California, 1 from Wisconsin, 1 from Ohio, 2 from Kentucky, 1 from Tennessee, and 1 from Alabama. Everyone had different mannerisms and slangs. We would always compare how things are done in our states. I never realized how different California was compared to other states (no one eats as much kale as we do haha). We compared grocery stores, fast food, restaurants, favorite foods, stores, activities in our schools, and activities around our towns. Through the Saturday Talk Shows and Multicultural exchange, we shared out opinions and how we do things in our respective cultures. I saw that even though we live in America, we all have lived life differently, some more difficult than others. However, going through those experiences equipped us with the tools we needed to come here and serve.
Coming to Starfish, I had heard a lot about the mentors and how great they were. I was looking forward to meeting all of them and joining them to work. I was struck by the differences between all the mentors. They all have different religions, all live in different areas, and they all came to Starfish in different ways. Most of them are former Starfish students so it was really cool to see how they came from being students to practically running the organization. They are perfect examples of selfless service. They spent every waking moment doing things for the girls. They don’t focus on their needs and give all they have to the girls.
They’re all pursuing different things in school and all have different goals but it’s beautiful seeing how they use whatever spare time they have to do things for the girls, while asking for nothing in return. We are different in that they are Gambian students and I am an American student. We are all studying different subjects and we are all from different religious backgrounds and different family backgrounds, some Christian, some Muslim, some from polygamous families, some from monogamous families, but the thing that brings us all together are the girls.
I’m so used to working with people who have the same religion as me, who are from the same country, and who are from similar backgrounds so coming to serve here was different. Knowing that Gambia is a predominantly Muslim country, I knew I would be interacting with them a lot. Throughout my life, I have not had a lot of interaction with Muslims. Islam as a religion has really influenced the culture of The Gambia. A lot of things that are done culturally are loosely based on the religion. Dressing is more conservative is normal, hearing the call to prayer coming from loudspeakers around the village is normal, and seeing people washing their hands and feet in the street is normal. All these observations I have made just around the village has made me relate to the students more. A majority of them are Muslim. We arrived during Ramadan and basically the whole country was fasting. The students would come to the library distracted by their hunger but they had to ignore it and do their best to focus and learn. One thing I really loved was seeing the girls in their various headscarves. I personally think that the head coverings made the girls more beautiful. There was just something about it that I can’t describe with words.
My time here at Starfish has come to an end. I’ve had the greatest learning experience and I am so grateful to God for allowing this to happen. I have learned to be more open and accepting of others and I truly feel like I have grown to fit into the shoes of a Global Citizen. To be a Global Citizen is to be in the world and understand different cultures, not just by observing, but also by immersing yourself in the culture and playing a part by working, playing, and learning in that culture. I truly feel that by coming to The Gambia, I have embodied the role of a Global Citizen. I want to thank Auntie Yassin and Tanya for giving me this opportunity. Thank you mentors and volunteers for supporting me from the time I stepped off the plane to the time I stepped off the library grounds. Thank you mommy and daddy for letting me have such an experience and supporting me every day of my life. And finally, thank you Starfish girls for giving me a reason to come back to Gambia and for teaching me so many priceless lessons.