Tuesday, January 3, 2012

One Goal

Football is serious business in The Gambia. If Peace Corps projects aren't being planned around religious holidays, they're being planned around football game schedules. When Peace Corps Volunteers Brian Bartley, Wells Brown, Jeremy Goldsmith, and Devin Wilcox-McCombs decided to bring important messages to the Gambian public about HIV/AIDS, stigmatization, and HIV testing, they decided to use football as a mechanism to bring people together just long enough to enjoy a good game and leave with a greater understanding of the virus and its causes. The process of planning and securing funding took well over a year, but as you will see below, the final outcome was worth the wait.

Music credit:

Up Around the Bend by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Around the World/Harder Better Faster Stronger by Daft Punk

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's here

Six months, hundreds of miles, and countless hours in front of a computer later, it's finally online. Pathways to Progress had its World Premiere to a packed house on December 5th, 2011 at the Alliance Franco-Gambienne, located in the Kombo region of The Gambia. Major shout-outs go to the U.S, Embassy Banjul for providing the grant that made the travel, lodging, and DVD production costs of the film possible, and to the national Gambian television station GRTS for playing the documentary and thereby increasing awareness of Peace Corps in The Gambia. Many thanks must also go to music artists Jalibah Kuyateh, the legendary Gambian kora player, and Moby, one of my all-time favorite composers, for their permission to use their music in the final film. And, of course, I can't forget the Volunteers of Peace Corps in The Gambia. Thanks to them, the people of The Gambia have better access to knowledge, new skills, and an enhanced quality of life. Volunteers also put together the many projects and activities featured in the documentary.

Alliance Franco-Gambienne Premiere 5 December 2011

So, without further ado, I present Pathways to Progress: Peace Corps in The Gambia.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Speaking Up and Speaking Out: HIV/AIDS Bike Trek 2011

HIV has been in The Gambia longer than most of its current twenty-something Peace Corps volunteers have been alive. The overwhelming prevalence of stigmatization and discrimination against people living with HIV (PLHs) makes the concept of getting tested unpopular. In America, the slogan “Knowing is Beautiful” has been used to promote knowing one’s HIV status. When it comes to getting tested for HIV in The Gambia, knowing is terrifying. Confidentiality is thrown to the wind by medical professionals, especially when it comes to an HIV test. Those who test positive run the risk of being outed to their family and friends, and are subsequently kicked out of their compounds. The fear of contracting the virus is so great for the uninfected family members and neighbors that they choose to distance themselves from their HIV-positive loved ones. The number of support groups is on the rise, but so is the virus, and the stigmatization shows no signs of fading.

In 2010, members of Peace Corps’ HIV/AIDS Task Force decided to do something about it.
Last year, more than twenty Peace Corps volunteers traveled to villages throughout the country for an HIV/AIDS Bike Trek that lasted one week. In the days that followed, hundreds of schoolchildren were spotted around the Gambia wearing red yarn tied around their wrists, a reminder for them to educate their family and friends about their knowledge on HIV.
In October of this year, the HIV/AIDS Bike Trek returned, this time as a two-day educational curriculum, taught simultaneously by four teams at four schools in the Lower River and Upper River Regions. The resulting video, Speaking Up and Speaking Out: HIV/AIDS Bike Trek 2011, is here.
Disclaimer: Speaking Up and Speaking Out: HIV/AIDS Bike Trek 2011 features discussions on HIV transmission and methods of preventing transmission, including a culturally-sensitive condom demonstration. While the rest of the videos posted on You Are Here Only are kid-friendly, this one should be reviewed by parents and educators who are thinking about sharing it with their children.

Music credits:
Lust for Life by Iggy Pop

Televators by The Mars Volta

The HIV Awareness Song, music and lyrics by Remy Long and John Rozmus

BONUS! By popular demand of the Peace Corps volunteers who got to see it first-hand, I’ve also included The HIV Awareness Song, created by PCVs Remy Long and John Rozmus. It’s kid-friendly, it’s catchy, and like knowledge, it’s worth sharing.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Work in "Progress"

In June of this year, I was given an assignment that seemed easy enough: create a documentary on Peace Corps in The Gambia on the occasion of Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary as an agency. Months later, on October 27th, a rough cut of the project was played at a major event in Kanilai for His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, the President of The Gambia.

The final cut of Pathways to Progress will premiere on December 5th in The Gambia, but in the meantime, for the Peace Corps Volunteers who got to see the rough cut and the rest of the world, here it is.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

In The Pipeline

October is the hottest month here in The Gambia, but that won't stop yours truly from continuing to put together new videos for the captive audiences of You Are Here Only. Currently, production on a documentary for Peace Corps: The Gambia is in the works, along with new episodes of This Old Hut and videos on the wildly successful Know Your Status Football Tournament in the North Bank Region and the recently completed Camp GAGA: Girls About Global Awareness in Basse. Know Your Status and GAGA dealt with spreading knowledge about sexual health and girls' education, respectively. I'm also hoping to produce episodes all about Gambian cuisine, fashion, and dance in the coming months. If you've got suggestions and feedback, post them here or send 'em to my inbox.

In the meantime, enjoy the latest episode of The Fatu Show from the Gambia Television and Radio Service (GRTS), the national television station in The Gambia. The Fatu Show has been The Gambia's only talk show for three years, and its gracious host recently highlighted the efforts of the volunteers of Peace Corps: The Gambia.

The Fatu Show appears courtesy of GRTS

Part I

Part II

Part III

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pretty (and Smart) in Pink

I’m not gonna lie – today’s video is very near and dear to me. It features a good friend and amazing Peace Corps Volunteer, Kelsey Lyle, and it features a very talented and inspirational woman, Miss Mariama Jallow, affectionately known as “MJ” to friends and colleagues. MJ is the owner of a successful hairdressing salon, which also trains Gambian women to be professional stylists. The Peace Corps connection comes in the form of life skills classes. For the unacquainted, life skills are a series of lessons that focus on empowering the individual through positive behavior. Topics can range from how to say no to drugs to balancing finances. In the case of MJ’s salon, the ladies are educated on peer pressure, sugar daddies, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and even on the female anatomy. A majority of the students are single parents and divorcees who married very young and did not finish their education, and are looking to help themselves and their families. MJ’s desire to empower women and the volunteers’ determination to break the language barrier and impart valuable life lessons are a match made in heaven, as the video showcases.

So, without further ado, I present the pink paradise of Brikama, MJ’s Hairdressing Express Beauty Salon and Skills Training Center.

Music credit: Lively Up Yourself by Bob Marley and The Wailers

Sunday, September 11, 2011

This Old Hut: Scott Jorgensen

You’ve seen television shows like MTV Cribs, which takes viewers into the ultra-glamorous homes of actors, rappers, and flavor of the month celebrities. Now, in an ongoing segment here at You Are Here Only, comes a look into the homes of the hardworking, heavy-sweating volunteers of Peace Corps: The Gambia. In the inaugural episode of This Old Hut, Environment Volunteer Scott Jorgensen (and his faithful feline companion, Carlos) gives us a tour of his hut, located in the heart of a Fula village in the North Bank Region of The Gambia.

Music credit: The Suburbs by Arcade Fire