Nicolo educates Gambians about deadly diseases during summer stay

By Brittany Such
September 29, 2006

Many people could only imagine what it would be like to live without a variety of materialism, air conditioning, the mall, the movies, and fast food/fine dining restaurants. The majority of the people in the world today, especially Americans, do not think twice about the luxuries we take for granted. Many are so caught up in daily routine, and hustle and bustle they never stop to gaze at deer or follow the sunset. There are many beauties that are easily ignored and a lot of manufactured goods taking the place of nature’s simplicities and God’s gracious beauties.

This is far from the case when it comes to senior sociology and criminal justice major Phil Nicolo.

Nicolo was a part of the Catholic Relief Services volunteers work over the summer, and had the opportunity to travel to Gambia in West Africa. The trip was intended for him to travel to various schools in Gambia and help educate the Gambian children about diseases such as, malaria, HIV, and AIDS. The experience was a total of 10 weeks and held much more than anyone could bargain for.

“I was excepted into the organization with open arms. I could have easily been treated as an outsider but instead, they included me as an active part in their project,” Nicolo said.

He explained how CRS did an excellent job incorporating him into programs and the trip let him experience many other aspects of life.

Nicolo lived with one other person whom was from Wisconsin during those 10 weeks. He attended work at 8:30 am and returned home for dinner around 6:30 routinely.

“It made it a little bit easier living at home, and he helped me out a lot, and really showed me around the country,” said Nicolo.

The Gambian children made quite a mark on Nicolo and he truly enjoyed learning about their culture. The children were in classrooms that were composed of cement and one window per building with weather 98 degrees and very high humidity. Nicolo stayed engaged with the children while he wasn’t touring the area.

“They really treated me like a part of their family,” he said.

“At all the schools the kids speak English, so that really wasn’t a problem,” Nicolo said. “Never under estimate how smart they are. Never think the children are inferior because a lot of the time they come back and teach you a lot of things.

Nicolo also spent a great deal interacting with the workers and engaging his interest in the Gambia Muslim religion. Although, Phil did not feel to compelled to actively participate. Phil explained how fascinating it was to watch the Muslims go to prayer five times a day and hear the five am wake up.

“I tried to keep myself separate from their faith because I didn’t want to seem as a spectator because I didn’t know Muslim prayer,” said Nicolo. “We both believe in a God and that he is loving and caring.”

The people generally do agriculture for a living and farm sesame seeds, and peanuts. There are not many factories or manufacturing facilities. The land is rich in wildlife and beautiful nature. Nicolo saw baboons, crocodiles, and interesting species of birds on a daily basis. In one incident he had an occurrence with a baboon that stubbornly sat in the road.

“He wouldn’t move for anybody, the animals know their territory and they don’t bother moving for you,” said Nicolo.

Some parts of Gambia are filled with beautiful vegetation. There are flowers as large as a human, and some as small as a cup. There is a unique mix of life and dessert. Some parts of Gambia are dessert for miles.

“There is sand as far as you can see ground level, and all the way to the horizon,” said Nicolo.

The Muslim religion and African culture is mainly mixed together in Gambia, and the Muslim religion and attire is not quite as strict as it is in other Muslim societies.

“One of the challenges I had was the specific gender roles in that part of the country,” said Nicolo.

The females in Gambia are considered assets or property of the males. The women do traditional female chores such as, Cooking dinner, cleaning dishes, doing laundry, and taking care of the children. The males primarily work and are classified as the breadwinners. The males also have the say on what the females does as far as work in the household.

“It was against my being to take a chair from a women.”” said Nicolo.

“I encourage all students to travel outside of your comfort zone to really experience something different, it will really make you appreciate what you have.”

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Brittany Such

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