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Posted on 2009.04.06 at 10:35
I am home. Sorry for the delay in updates. Still waiting for finished pictures of the blood bank….stay tuned. Thanks everyone for your support while I was away. Hope to see everyone soon!


Posted on 2009.02.02 at 17:02
Our funding has been received for the Blood bank and we will begin construction very soon. I will not be returning to the capital for close to two months until I leave which means the pictures will probably not be posted till then but be patient they are coming. And you are all AWESOME for helping The Gambia thanks you!

Two Years Yesterday

Posted on 2009.02.02 at 16:59
Here it is suddenly. I remember arriving after twenty four hours of travel and experiencing disorientation at a level I could never have fathomed. There it was. In a land that I had fantasized, feared and questioned for so long. Africa. A land exploited by celebrities, abused by the developed world and formerly destroyed by arrogance and ignorance. As the plane touched down insecurities overtook my enthusiasm. What was I seriously going to do here? Had my mere four years of nursing experience prepared me for a career in completely unfamiliar environment? Thoughts of escaping back to my comfort zone, back to my world immediately flooded my mind. Had I really just dropped everything I knew, dismissed my previous achievements, and left everyone I ever knew for what seemed to be something I was completely naive to?

Here I sit trying to take it all in. To remember what it was like in those moments, when my Dad drove me to the airport, when I stepped off in DC, then in Brussels and finally Banjul. My initial thoughts on the country, the ideas I had on my next two years. The promises I made myself and others back home. Trying to take it all in one last time……

As my two year anniversary in country came and went yesterday I realized what I thought would never happen, has. I remember looking at my group initially and wondering who I would grow close to. It was so bizarre in that moment to look at twenty people and realize I would know individuals like family, and others would disappear before we were given a chance to be more than acquaintances.

When I left my village I feared the moment when I wouldn’t be able to see all of these dynamic people again. The day when I open my front door to a quiet and vacant America. For two years I have been surrounded by a culture that does not allow for privacy only because there is nothing you wouldn’t share with anyone. A village, a family, where communal living took on a new meaning to me. When you sleep past seven and everyone in concerned that you may be ill, when you don’t finish your entire lunch and it is assumed that you are upset with something. Being aloof can not be conceived. Being in a rush is never respectful, and saying less then three words to each and every person you pass by in a day is unheard of.

As I ride my bike through town and try to count how many times I have passed by the same people I also choke up at the thought of this being one of the last times. I embrace to lifestyle of a small town where everyone really does know everyone. A place where I so sorely stuck out when first embarking on, and now pass through with only friends identifying my presence. I don’t know if I will ever feel as welcomed to a community for the rest of my life, and I fear that entering an old land, my home land, will be an adequate replacement for the void this place will leave inside me.

As I went for one of my last runs and a small boy ran up next to me and reached out to hold my hand as I jogged through his village I couldn’t help but try to freeze the moment in my mind. I never want to forget the love that is dispensed here so freely, and the hospitality that can never be understood by anyone that hasn’t experienced it.

I hope that I can bring home some of the traditions of this world. I don’t want to lose the ability to see the uniqueness inside everyone and embrace the similarities that exist globally. If I have learned anything here it is that the world is misunderstood. Taking time to know people, and understand each other is the only way we can ever live with each other. More then the tangible work I have completed here, I know that I have accomplished an understanding for myself of who these people are, and who I am.


Posted on 2008.12.29 at 10:08
As many of you know, I work at Bansang Hospital, a rural,
underfunded hospital about 10 hours by bush taxi from the capital in
Gambia, West Africa. One of the projects I am working on is trying
to increase volunteer blood donation. Blood is not kept in supply in the hospital due to lack of electricity-
causing the deaths of many new mothers and their babies. The hospital is running
on a B.Y.O.D. (Bring Your Own Donor) system which, as you can imagine,
is not effective. We have begun a program of trekking to nearby
villages and registering people as donors. We have also begun a blood
donation and support group at the local high school. Once we saw that we could
actually get blood we decided we needed to do something
about the blood bank and storage facilities. Along with two other volunteers and
the staff of the hospital we have decided to build a basic
blood bank facility, complete with a 24 hour fridge. We are seeking
donations to cover about 75% of the cost and the hospital will provide
the other 25%. Donations of any size are highly welcome. If you would
like to donate or find out more please visit the Peace Corps website
and click on "donors" - "donate to volunteer projects" or click on
this link:


Thanks for taking the time to read about our project. Please send
this email on to anyone you think may be interested in helping and
remember, by donating you are saving babies :-)


Posted on 2008.11.09 at 16:38
Because last week a woman was admitted in labor with a hemoglobin of 2. I have never been more scared for a patient, and since she was the host-mother of another volunteer here it was an emotional case. She looked so sad and helpless as they carried her onto the delivery bed. The doctor rechecked her blood levels and it was true. Is this even possible I asked? I flashed back to my days as a nurse in the US-what was the protocol for a hemoglobin of 2? Have I ever even seen that? The patient here was told the same thing as any other patient needing blood-you will need to find your own donor. If you need blood, you bring your own donor-and you hope they are a match.

The hospital doesn’t have the ability to keep blood on hand because there is not 24hour power. There are also many taboos that avert local people from wanting to donate. Our project is to sensitize the community, encourage them to donate blood, and build a blood bank with solar power so that blood can and will be kept on hand. Along with the sensitization, we will begin a trekking system where the hospital will go out into different villages and collect blood. This will help solve another problem which is getting people to come out and pay for transport to get to the hospital in order to donate blood.

How can you help? We are writing a Peace Corps Partnership now, what will happen is hopefully within the next month it will be posted online with a link and you can donate. What is a partnership? It is a way that people from home can donate directly to a Peace Corps Project, and in trun the host country is asked to match 25% of the raised funds. For our project that means they will provide labor and some materials for the project. The funds are going to purchase a solar refrigerator, and the construction supplies for the actual building. We are just getting the budget finished and with the approval of PC Washington hopefully the partnership will be up very soon.

The woman at the hospital delivered her baby and received one pint of blood. It was a small miracle that she lived. She was discharged from the hospital with a hemoglobin of 4 and given iron pills as the only other treatment option. She could hardly stand and was too weak to even hold her baby up to her chest. She was one of the luckiest and strongest women I have seen in awhile. The #1 reason for death among pregnant women here in The Gambia is anemia. Lets change that! Keep posted for updates thank you-

Long Time!!

Posted on 2008.09.17 at 13:14
Yes, I know! It has been months and months…..But I am still here. We unfortunately lost our internet up-country where I live so there probably will not be too many more updates before I leave. I am in my last 6 months now (give or take a couple weeks).  So projects and work in general is taking over my time and my life. As is turns out my replacement will be coming to site in January so there will be some overlapping time. This should be a great chance to work together and get everything handed over properly.

So what am I doing now?
Still helping and teaching at the nursing school daily. The students are currently in their community practicals so they are spending 6 weeks in remote villages and learning to practice their nursing skills where there is no hospital or major medical facility. The school’s library is coming along great, we are working to get everything organized, and getting a database up and running so that the books will stay accounted for  Unfortunately computer work is limited with the power supplies so it will be a computer program backed up with paper…..Maybe a little extra work but just want to make sure that once the library is fully stocked it stays that way.
Just want to also send out a thank you to everyone that has helped in gathering and delivering books here. Mainly Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Northern Illinois University School of Nursing, Xavier and Project Hope. To all my friends also you have been great getting books here and to my parents who have continued to help and go out of their way to get things here.
Hopefully the last large shipment will be coming in the spring before I leave with the assistance of GambiaHelp.
With the help of The Gambia Red Cross we are working to get a functional blood bank going at the hospital. Right now we are trying to train Red Cross volunteers to collect blood, and planning treks to remote villages where we will inform people about blood donation and encourage them to be volunteer donors. The Laboratory at the hospital currently has three qualified people that take blood so our goal is to first get more people trained and to sensitize the surrounding villages on volunteering to be donors.
The hospital is now running a malnutrition project with a formula (F75). At this time the
Government cannot supply this product or provide training. So we are making new charts, instructional guides and informative posters to help introduce the formula. We are also working to train the nurses on how to prepare, administer and store the formula. Since there isn’t any formal training right now we are working to create standards for admission to the hospital as a malnourished patient. Also creating and reproducing growth charts and monitoring forms that can be used to properly monitor the patient’s progress. Proper diagnosis of malnutrition and its cause is an ongoing project but I definitely enjoy working in the hospital and don’t get much of a chance to be there so this has been really fun.
Introducing some new vegetables and trees to the hospital garden, also planting some flowers to beautify the hospital grounds.
Since it is rainy season it is also Malaria season. So my village life is usually going to see people and helping them get to the hospital. As peaceful as the rain is……the mosquitoes are killer, literally and I am ready for it to be over. It is also the month of Ramadan so most everyone is fasting from sun up to sun down. Makes the village a very lazy place to be. Most people relax most of the day in an effort not to collapse from dehydration and then celebrate and eat in the evenings. Not too much sleeping. But this just adds to the problem with mosquitoes and malaria since they are worse at night and people are spending more time out and about and less time tucked into their mosquito nets 
Planning for another 5K race for the nurses this time it will be in the town where I live. We are trying to get enough supplies so that everyone who enters will get a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff. Plan is for late January or early February.

And that is what is keeping me busy these days. The time is flying and I will be home before I know it. Will try and do another quick update before I take off.
Thanks for checking in
Miss you all!


Posted on 2008.07.15 at 07:07
check out helpanurse.blogspot.com
this is where my and another Peace Corps Volunteer
that are working together on some projects
will be updating our work.

Little update

Posted on 2008.03.08 at 13:14
Not too much new, besides the ever increasing heat. We broke 120 in February so I have a good feeling this summer is going to be hotter then last. But all is well. And I am learning to manage the heat. I am currently sewing a hammock and will probably purchase another Bamboo bed for my back yard. Sometime in April it will be too hot to ever be indoors so I will start sleeping outside until the rains come………School is going well, we just finished two rounds of practical and theory exams with the students so this weekend I am grading papers fun-fun! Life is good though. I feel settled and at home here, I think the adjusting is finally over. The computers at the school are still up and running well also (which is what I am using right now) and is making my life a lot easier for the time being. The biggest struggle lately has been for fuel, the country runs on generators, and depends obviously on imported fuel. So last week when there was no fuel…..there was no power. But it is back now, and hopefully that won’t happen again. No that life is rather mundane I sometimes don’t know what to write about. Sorry if this page has become boring but if you have questions please email me and then maybe I’ll know more about what people want to hear about………….africa.sarah@gmail.com. OK thanks for keeping in touch talk to everyone soon!

Its that time of year

Posted on 2008.02.13 at 13:29
In then months of December through March is the time for circumcision in the villages. The ritual begins with the arrival of the “Kankaran” see picture below. This is a creature who is believed to be the devil. He comes out at night and carries two machetes with him. So sometime around Christmas this man dressed in a wooly mammoth costume started coming around banging his machetes into everything, scaring children(and me) and just being a nuisance. He is usually out from around 10pm-2am screaming at the top of his lungs. At first it did scare my a little bit, especially when he was chopping at the mango tree in my back yard, but after awhile it became comforting. And as the months went on he started to appear during the day, chasing children around the village and yelling…..So with the entry of the Kankaran comes circumcision. I was aware that this happened all at once, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to be all children or just boys and no one was really talking details with me so I didn’t know what to expect. Groups of boys would be taken out into the bush and would return a little surprised and I figured out what was going on pretty quick. But what I didn’t expect was when I came home one day to find the one year old girl in my compound wearing a special “diaper”. The babies mother brought her into my house and told me that a lady had come from the next village that day and had takes a bunch of the girls and circumcised them. I didn’t think it was going to happen and I guess I was being naïve. It only happened one day for the girls, and I didn’t know how exactly I wanted to handle it. I decided to tell people who asked how I felt about it, and to help anyone who wanted to clean and prevent getting infections………….It was very strange and definitely uncomfortable. Technically Female Circumcision has been outlawed here, but it is still happening throughout the country. The problem being it happens when no one is looking, and those who are know to look the other way. What I found to be surprising when I started talking with women is that they don’t understand why it is bad. Many women see it as their passage way into womanhood, the same way they look at the boys entering into manhood…… And not many women feel that they shouldn’t have it done, and are confused as to why “the people at the hospital” think that it is bad. There are some organizations working towards educating people more, and I will be trying to do my part in continuing discussions with women about it. Until then I will know when you see the Kankaran…….you know it is time, and next year I won’t be as naïve.

My moods

Posted on 2008.02.08 at 22:29
I wake up in one of two ways. It really depends on the mood of the mosque caller. At the break of dawn the loud speaker at the mosque will send a friendly warning that it is time to get up, "It is time to pray," he proclaims in Mandinka. Some mornings this is nice and immediately orients me to what time it is. The mosque caller will go on to sing the morning prayers in a soothing melodic way and I will go back in and out of sleep peacefully for the remainder of the morning......Then other days it is more the fire and brimstone GET UP AND PRAY OR ELSE, and there isn’t really any singing involved with that call. It is more threatening, so on these days I wake up in more of a panic. I have started to use the mosque call as a predictor for my day. It seems to be pretty accurate, though I think that it has more to do with the psychological damage done when woken up by screaming Islamic demands.
But today the prayers were soft and comforting and so I remained in bed and relaxed thinking today is going to be a good day. I stayed there and read till almost 8am which is pretty late for me these days. I have yet to figure out why the people do not enjoy sleeping in here, but no one seems to. After the mosque call you will here the pounding of rice and coos throughout the village. Most women get up with the sun to start their daily chores. And I don' t blame them I wouldn't want to be out in the sun doing manual labor either, but then again getting up that early just seems impossible. So when I finally role out of bed and open my front door I already know what my host family is going to say...... "You slept late, ohhh you can sleep too much....." and then we exchange morning greetings and I go back inside to get ready. Not that I should even use those words since getting ready here involves even less effort then my routine did at home. And if you didn't know my routine at home......well I wasn't exactly high maintenance. So I throw on some cloths wash my face and grab my bag and my bike and head out. I have stopped having breakfast at home mainly because my host family cannot understand why I don't want to eat the reheated rice we had for lunch and dinner the day before. I use the excuse that I have to be at work before breakfast is ready............It seems to work though I think they are on to my developed hatred of rice.
Some mornings a nursery school child comes over for a ride to school, most mornings that is...........So as I round the corner there she is sitting with her 2 dalasi ready for school. The nursery school is next to the hospital, it is a small single room brick building that usually is crammed full of anywhere from 50-100 preschool age kids and one or two teachers. So I sit her on the back of the bike and off we go. Some days I love her company, other days she wants to tell me all about something that I cannot understand what with her 4 year old vocabulary and my lack of translational skills for even the best Mandinka. So on those days I just ask her to count something like frogs or cows to keep her occupied, and keep me off the hook of asking WHAT???every minute or so as we ride along.
So I drop her off and continue on to the hospital, today is clinic. So there are already 50 some women waiting with at least one baby a piece tied to their back. The clinic is outdoors under a pavilion; in the front are two tables, one for screening and weighing, and one for immunizations. Each child is weighed and then given whatever combination of vaccines they are due for. I help out with whatever they need, some days there is plenty of help so I can be a resource, and then other days like today there are two people, including myself. But I have gotten use to the system and we go on with the day. Sometime around 1pm the last baby is vaccinated and we can pack up for the day. I usually wonder across the street and grab a snack (probably a banana or a boiled egg) those are about the only options, or fried bread, sometimes a bean sandwich.......anyway before I leave I check in at the nursing school to see what the schedule is like for the week. Right now both classes of students are in clinicals and some are in the capital for a rotation, so there are only lectures on Wednesdays until March :) This has been a great break for me and I've had a chance to catch up on some other things I have been working on. Since the mother and baby clinic is only on Monday and Friday I take the other days to write lecture notes, or help out with the computers at the school, but for today I am heading home because there isn't much to do and the power has already gone off for the day. So I ride back to village grabbing the school child on the way.
After lunch (which is the only meal I am eating with my host family now)-once again my hate for rice- I try to work on language-I have been trying to translate stories into Mandinka to help with my language skills. It is nearly impossible since the direct translation for most words does not make sense in the context that I want to use things in. I cannot explain this language mainly because even now it does not make sense to me, but reading the stories gives me something to do with the kids, and even adults like to listen since nearly 90% of my village is illiterate. So this afternoon I am working on that for awhile.
Since the weather is still cool I go for a run most evenings, I run to a village that is maybe 4K from mine. There is a group of old men that sit under a tree about halfway to the other village, and they have learned my name so now I get chanted at "Fatty, Fatty, Fatty," everyday as I run past. Fatty is my local last name, along with about 75% of my village. Everyone here is Fatty, and every time you great someone you say their last name, so needless to say when old when are chanting Fatty at me everyday it gives me a little extra encouragement............in a good way, and most days I laugh a little if only they knew..........After my run I fetch water and bath, the cold season is great down to one bath a day and only having to go to the pump for water one time.......I love that. At night now we have been listening to (and occasionally watching) the African Cup. It serves as a great geographical lesson every time. I have put my National Geographic Africa map outside so people can find where the countries are that are playing each other. Gambia did not qualify this year.......but Senegal the country we are surrounded by is there. Most people have no concept of how large Africa is, or even understood that all of the countries playing in The Cup were actually in Africa. I had a long discussion the other night with my host brother who was certain Angola was in Europe. The confusion most people have is trying to understand how Gambia can be so small? Hard to get the concept of the World across to people who have never left this country.
Sometime around 9 I go inside and read a little bit before I pass out, but not before wondering what kind of mood the mosque caller will be in tomorrow............

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