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

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Fish is one of the main staples of a Gambian diet, and one of the most remarkable experiences to behold in The Gambia is seeing the fishermen bring in their catch along the beaches of the small town of Bakau. Many thanks to Ebrahim (aka Lincoln) for showing me all the wonderful aspects of the fish market. (For added effect, turn the speakers all the way up)

Music Credit: Symphony No. 6 in F. Major, Pastoral by Beethoven

Friday, July 22, 2011

By Gosh By Gelly

Need a lift? Here are your options – a tricked out van with faux-leather benches, a two-wheel, donkey-drawn cart, an old ferry (pray you get the fast one), or a bicycle. Welcome to the colorful world of transportation in The Gambia.

Music credit: A Fifth of Beethoven by Walter Murphy

Friday, July 15, 2011

"Why" On The Fourth of July

It’s the most-asked question a Peace Corps Volunteer hears: why did you join the Peace Corps? There are as many reasons as there are volunteers serving today, if not more. Using the Fourth of July festivities as a backdrop, I decided to ask volunteers at their most relaxed and carefree their reasons for choosing to serve in the Peace Corps. The answers may surprise you. Or make you want to fill out an application.

Featured Volunteers: (From Left to Right)Mark Bosso, Blaine Byers, Lindsey Green, Nick Greene , Josh Johnson, Scott Jorgensen, Xander Kent, Kelsey Lyle, Jeremy Mak, Etienne Marcoux, Kane Mason, Kevin Pasquaretta, Beth Payne, Shawn Reed, John Rozmus, Leah Spare, S, and Seth Williams

Special Appearance by Pamela White, U.S. Ambassador to The Gambia

Music Credit: We Are All Made of Stars by Moby

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Return to Innocence

There’s nothing quite like the experience of going through Pre-Service Training, the eight-week stretch of intensive culture and language education that precedes a volunteer’s two years of service in The Gambia. It’s like a return to childhood, in many ways: you are given a name, you’re looked after under the watchful eye of your (host) parents, you learn to speak, eat, and use the bathroom, and most if not all decisions about your life are made by people other than you.

That being said, the memories you make with the people around you and the growth you experience as a human being by the time you’re sworn in as a full-fledged Peace Corps Volunteer make the process of awkward integration a bit more rewarding. As today’s video will show, the journey is as colorful and exhilarating as the final destination.

Music credit: Vagabond by Wolfmother

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Welcome to the Next Two Years of Your Life

You’re right. It’s insanity. Giving up everything for two years – the people you love, electricity, Starbucks, Facebook, hot showers, a typical nine to five existence – seems ridiculously impossible. Unless you’re one of the more than 200,000 Americans who have experienced the Peace Corps over the last 50 years.

In January 2011, I and twenty-nine others joined the ranks of those Americans when we landed in The Gambia, the smallest country in the continent of Africa. For the next two years, we are strangers trying to fit in and learn. It’s like high school, without the prom. Between now and 2013, You Are Here Only is where the ultimate overseas volunteer experience gets a makeover. Using a FlipVideo HD camera, a MacBook Air, and any current (aka electricity) I can get my hands on, I’ll present short clips each month on topics ranging from cultural happenings to volunteer experiences and everything in-between.

Forget what you thought you knew about Africa, the Peace Corps, and being an American. The real deal is just a click away.