Thursday, June 23, 2011

First Days in Cameroon!

Hi All!
This is Allyson writing from the lovely land of Cameroon! The night before last I and my travel buddy Mike arrived in Douala, Cameroon to begin my Open Mind for Africa learning and volunteering experience! Stepping off the plane I was met with mild chaos and extreme humidity. Soon however I found our driver from United Action for Children and made my way to Buea, the place I will call home for the next two months. The people of Cameroon are incredibly hospitable and my first two days have been fantastic. We live with a group of other volunteers in a little house next to the Director Mr. Orock's. Mr. Orock left yesterday for Germany so I have not gotten to know him well yet but his family has been very nice. We were fortunate enough to arrive just in time for the primary school graduation and spent Tuesday watching Class 6 be praised and awarded as they graduated. They length of the graduation would definitely rival any university, but included fantastic dancing and singing by the children. The children also looked adorable in their purple and gold robes. Today was our first day of volunteering for the summer program. Each day we take a van to a different rural village outside of Buea to provide educational enrichment. They age from babies carried by older siblings to middle school aged students. The kids are great and to me seemed very well behaved. I worked with the oldest students going into class five or form 1 (middle school) because I really enjoy older students. We read a book about air (donated books can be pretty random and worked on some vocabulary building. We learned and acted out billowing, sway, swirl, tug, among others and the kids were very attentive. After a "spelling quiz" I took them outside the one room community building for some fun. I taught them the "banana song" that CSSP ( a Penn student group that works in Philly schools) does with our kids and they absolutely loved it and proceeded to teach the younger kids. Afterward, we returned for lunch at Mr. Orock's house with the other volunteers all of who are incredible people. We have also made friends with the local soccer team who are teaching us pidgin and dancing. I successfully took my first bucket shower and ousted a cockroach so I'd say I'm fairing well so far!

Thursday, June 9, 2011


“Abaraka” means thank you in Jola, one of the tribal languages spoken in Gambia. Thanks to the Open Mind for Africa Travel Grant, I will return to Gambia for two months this summer! After I volunteered there the summer before starting college four years ago, the Gambian people left an indelible mark on my heart, and I resolved to return. My lifelong dream is to root myself as a medical doctor for the poor and underserved in two communities, one in the US and another in Gambia.

Power Up Gambia provides reliable electricity and running water to healthcare facilities in Gambia through solar energy. After volunteering at Sulayman Junkung General Hospital in Bwiam, Gambia, Kathryn Cunningham Hall founded this nonprofit organization while she was an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania! Kathryn, who is currently finishing her third year at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, worked tirelessly to provide the hospital with reliable electricity.

At the end of my sophomore year, I received an email about Power Up Gambia through Penn’s pre-med listserve. Michael Reiche, an intern with Power Up Gambia, wanted to start an undergraduate chapter to support the organization’s efforts! I remember thinking, how cool is this! Gambia is a small country located on the west coast of Africa and surrounded by Senegal on three sides. It’s about twice the size of Delaware. At that point, I had not met anyone at Penn who had been to Gambia! In fact, other than the Americans from Maryland who I went to Gambia with in 2007, I did not know other people in the US who had been to Gambia! I had the privilege of helping to start the undergraduate chapter in May 2009, serving as vice president for two years, and coordinating fundraisers. Participating in Power Up Gambia has been incredibly meaningful to me since it enables me to help Gambians even when I am not physically in Gambia.

I am ecstatic to volunteer at Sulayman Junkung General Hospital (SJGH) in Bwiam, Gambia this summer. Before Power Up Gambia provided SJGH with solar panels, the hospital had unreliable electricity, which created challenges to providing care. At SJGH, I will help with medical records, conduct follow-up evaluation, work on energy and water conservation projects, and shadow medical staff. I will also volunteer at the hospital's trekking clinics and collect information from community health workers and locals to ascertain if the clinics are meeting people’s needs and how they can be improved. I leave for Gambia in just eleven days, and I am delighted to wholeheartedly serve the Gambian people! My heartfelt thanks goes to the Christian Association for providing funding! Abaraka!