Greetings from Gambia

Rina Sacco sends us an email about her current situation in Gambia

Hello Everyone!!

Greeting from The Gambia! I am writing a general email this time to try to catch up on all my news for you all! I am having a wonderful time and am meeting so many beautiful people. Everyone here is so polite, friendly and welcoming….absolutely everyone – men, women and children!!! I am keeping extremely busy – there is definitely lots of work for me to do here which is terrific because that is what I am here for.

I must apologise for my lack of communication to date because it we have not had any electricity any night since I have been here barr three nights. During the day we have tried to work with generator power but this has been very unreliable also…they thought it might improve after the elections but this is yet to be seen. I have decided that if any fundraising can be done in australia then the first thing to help them with their work here would be to buy and install a new generator. I have never gone to bed as early as I have done here and then I have been getting up very early in the morning…my whole routine has changed. I have a ceiling fan in my room which is a luxury but I cannot use it if there is no power…the nights are very difficult to sleep with the heat but I should not complain because at least I have running water!!! Most people have to get up early and walk to a town well to fill their buckets and then take them back to their family homes. I see them every morning queued up and I feel guil ty that I was cursing that morning because I had to wash my hair in COLD water!!! Yes, I have become accustomed to the cold showers every day….it is not as bad as you think especially with this hot and humid weather!!! I know that I am very lucky being able to live and work in the compound because I have some basic luxuries that most of the gambians can only dream of!!

I am working and living on the G.P.I. compound which is the premises of the Gambian Pastoral Institute. The only other people who live here are the Director, Sr. Philomena Barry and Sr, Calixte who teachers at one of the schools in Kanifing nearly. There is alo a Gambian lady who is affectionately known as Auntie Chris who is the matron of the place and does all the cooking for us and the student groups who come to use the premises for retreats and workshops etc. My official title at the Institute is The Adult Education Coordinator. The other main departments are The Communications department. the RE departments, publications dept and hospitality dept. We are all busy preparing for a week long celebration of the Silver Jubilee of GPI – 25 years of existance in the Gambia. It is a big thing and is taking up lots of time – I have had to do lots of research to prepare for the exhibition, have had to prepare an Historical document of the institute, have interviewed all the employees who work here and have done s taff profiles on them. I have virtually had to motivate all the staff to get moving as time does not seem imiportant to them…Sr. Philomena – The Director was panicking but the staff have been terrific and working great as a team. It was my idea to do the staff profiles and this was great for me because I have really got to know everyone on a different level and took all their photos etc for the souvenier newsletter which is being prepared ( it is actually a brochure but it is taking the place of their monthly newsletter. Have had to do a lot of computer inservice with the secretary to help her use the computer and teach her publisher to produce the monthly newsletter in future without so much drama. This newsletter is sold all around the country and is a big communication tool to spread the good news and all that is happening in the christian community.

Even though the Gambia is 90 per cent muslim I have not felt this at all. I have been totally surrounded by christians as I work amongst them and I have never seen so many people with such a devote faith ever in australia. Even in all their poverty and hardship they still find time to pray and worship God. I love their singing and total commitment. It has really inspired me and helps to explain why they are such lovely people. The inter-racial conflict that you hear about all around the world between muslims and christians is definitely not the case here. There is total respect for each other and they work harmoniously together. Even with what is happening everywhere else it is not here – it so peaceful and I admire the way they respect and work together. We know a little about the usa and afganistan issue but because there is only one tv programme we do not hear much about it. Only through radio broadcasting etc and newspapers but they do not devote much to world news especially since we have just had the e lections. Everyone was very worried about these because the lead up was a little violent as on the night before a man was shot and another minister politician had his house burnt down. However, despite this they had the most peaceful elections ever…Jammeh got elected again and everyone seems happy about it because he introduced tv here three years ago, he has started to improve the roads, computers were introduced two years ago and he is working on the health system etc so in a short time has done more than the previous president who was in for 30 years. I must say that the one and only tv station is absolutely appalling tv viewing.

It is just like watching the worst ever home movie that you have seen….well is actually just a whole lot of people who contribute home films made and put together….the only thing I have watched is the news which is so bad…they only ever talk about the rest of the world for two minutes. Then on sunday they have a programme called The Day of the Lord….we have been on it a few times…this is where the communications dept have videoed a mass or church feast day and then it is viewed on sunday which is the limited time that christians have been given to television. I have been invited to go on a tv panel on the 26 October to discuss the Silver jubilee and I have been trying desperately to get out of it because i am camera shy and do not want to go on national television. GPI’s communication department are really aiming to set up their own radio and tv station in the future to add to the one and only one available at the moment. It would be great but I do not see this happening soon. The Silver Jubilee is on 5 Nov to 9 Nov and the Bishop Michael J Cleary has invited all GPI supporters and many others to come along and we have a big Thanksgiving Mass celebration and then a big formal dinner. an open day, a documentary about the work of GPI, planting of a tree, symposium on youth, marriage/family and parish work then finish off with a big fundraising concert. This is all extra to our daily work and jobs. I don’t know when I will be able to start on my adult RE programmes.

As well as the above I held my first teacher’s workshop at St Therese’s Upper Basic Secondary college with 55 teachers on the second saturday that I had arrived. The topic was on Teachers’ Role and expectations and Student’s rights and r esponsiblities and teaching strategies. The first weekend that I was here I met an english girl and her husband who were visiting the city and usually live up country in a village called Bulok. Back in England she was involved in health eduation and had been doing a little bit of teaching in the village. Sr. Calixte roped me into doing this workshop and I invited my friend Theresa to join me….it was terrific…we made a great team and people did not believe that we just met a week before. It went so well that the principal of the school invited us back to do another workshop with the prefects of the school on leadership. Word also spread around and the principal of St. Catherines’ school has asked me to go to do a workshop with her teaching staff also.

So besides GPI work, teachers workshops I have also been attending meetings at the Education Secretariat and Bishop’s office where I have been asked if I could run computer inservices for all the staff on an individual one-to-one basis. This will be interesting because they are all at different levels and there are about 60 of them in total including all the staff at GPI who are lined up for computer classes. I don’t think that I have enough hours in the day to do all this but I will do all that I can.

I am then supposed to be going up country soon to visit all the villages and see the way the true gambians live in their simple life and try to contribute in their schools there. but at the moment there is so much to do in the city here I am not sure when I will get there. I have not even done my orientation course yet but Sr. Phil says that I have settled into life here so well that I probably won’t need it!!!

I have not yet seem many native animals…just a few monkeys and heaps of geckos and these huge monitor lizards which are like fat goannas. We have loads of them on the compound and they are about four froot long and have fat stumpy feet and a long tail…they are definitely not attractive and I have had a few run ins with them and I hope and pray at night when there is no power that I am not going to get out of bed and step on one…I think that I would have a heart attack!!!

Sr.Phil and Sr. Calixte and Auntie Chris are lovely and have really made me feel welcome. I share a meal with them once a day and we always try to spend some time together like going for a walk along the beach or just sitting and sharing our stories. I get up at 5.00 am every morning and go to mass with Sr. phil and Sr. Calixte in town at 6.30 am and then return to start work at 8.00 am. It is good to get up early because it is cooler and you get more work done. I am gradually getting used to the heat…it gets easier every day….they tell me that it gets better and cooler in Dec when the dry season begins. I will believe it when I see it.

I must apologise for this long letter…but I have so much to tell you that I do not know where begin but I think that it is enough for today. I hope that you and your families are all well and happy. I think of you all often and wonder what you are all doing…please write often to tell me what you have all been doing. I have been away for a month and have still not received even one snail mail letter…it is so depressing….that is why I wanted to get my email up and running!! I cannot thank my dear friend Bernadette and Tech rentals enough for helping me by donating this laptop…it is the only way of communication for me at the moment with my family and friends. Thank you Bernie and Ashley!!!

Even though Mum and Dad want me to call and reverse charges this is not possible. I cannot make a collect call from the gambia to oz…and since I do not get paid a telephone call is a real luxury as it is so expense to call and would take up all my living allowance. It is quite frustrating and the mail here is appalling but please do not stop writing ….I will get it eventually even if it comes all at once!!!

Hope to hear from you all soon! Will try to reply individual emails soon! Miss you all and thinking of you! Take care and don’t worry about me because I am in a safe place and with good people who are taking good care of me!! God knew what he was doing when he brought me here!! I know that I am helping these people and this gives me a great sense of satisfaction…helping others by using the gifts that I take for granted that he has given me. I have been doing a lot of personal reflection and I really value and cherish what I have at home we just do not know or realise how lucky we are!!! I will not go into that now but in my next update I will share some other thoughts and observations with you.

God bless!!

love and hugs to you all

Rina xxxooooxxxx

PS Have not told you about my best friend Rory who is my constant companion and true protector…he is the compound dog and he is gorgeous…the best temperament ever…we have fallen in love with each other…he follows me everywhere and sleeps in my office all day!! He is terrific!