December 17, 2004: Headlines: COS - The Gambia: Grand Island Independent: Chrissy Rerucha is a health care worker in the Peace Corps in The Gambia

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Gambia: Peace Corps The Gambia : The Peace Corps in the Gambia: December 17, 2004: Headlines: COS - The Gambia: Grand Island Independent: Chrissy Rerucha is a health care worker in the Peace Corps in The Gambia

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Chrissy Rerucha is a health care worker in the Peace Corps in The Gambia

Chrissy Rerucha is a health care worker in the Peace Corps in The Gambia

Chrissy Rerucha is a health care worker in the Peace Corps in The Gambia

Grand Island students donate books to send to west African country

By Harold Reutter

To Shoemaker students, it may be only "a buck and a book," but to the children of The Gambia, their Christmas gifts from America will represent an unimagined fortune.

Inspired by third- and fourth-grade teacher Pat Rerucha -- whose daughter Chrissy is a health care worker in the Peace Corps in The Gambia -- Shoemaker students have donated more than 400 books to send to the west African country.

Students also have contributed a dollar to pay for the mailing costs.

Rerucha said 400 books represents a literal treasurer in a country where three separate Christian Children's Fund nursery schools share seven books, passing them back and forth between the schools.

Rerucha said one village that has a school with 800 students in the first through the seventh grades has just 21 books.

When the Grand Island teacher visited Chrissy and saw the conditions there, her first thought was, "I have more books in my basement than they have in their whole country."

That thought was reinforced when Rerucha took a few books with her during her trip to Africa. She said people would visit her each night and say, "Explain this or explain that" as they viewed things in her books that they had never seen before.

Rerucha said people in The Gambia did not know what a modern scale in America looks like. They might use rocks -- which they already know the weight of -- and a balance scale to weigh a baby.

To show the students where the books are going, Rerucha showed slides of pictures she took when she visited Chrissy in The Gambia. She gave her presentation Thursday morning during a schoolwide assembly.

Up on the screen for just five seconds each, Rerucha's slides showed a beautiful land with stunning sunrises over towering trees and sweeping vistas and equally stunning sunsets over the Atlantic Ocean.

The students oohed and aahed as they saw pictures of baboons, a hyena, pink bugs gathered on a branch, various lizards and large, beautiful butterflies.

They also saw Rerucha touching the tail of a "holy crocodile," which has healing powers for those who touch it.

Rerucha noted that there are numerous baboon species in The Gambia. The ones in her slides are notorious thieves, haunting restaurants.

"If you turn your head, they'll steal the food right off your plate," Rerucha said after her presentation to students. People are actually hired to shoo the baboons away, but tourists sometimes defeat those efforts by feeding the baboons, which only encourages their thievery.

Rerucha and Chrissy also ran into baboons as they took a "shortcut" on a path in the wild. Chrissy immediately sat down and told her mother to do the same. They were on the baboons' territory and did not want to invite aggressive behavior.

As it was, the mama baboons would swat their babies and send them rolling like a ball if they got too close to either of the women, Rerucha said. They also would pick their babies up by the scruff of the neck if they got too close.

After 45 minutes, the baboons finally went on their way, allowing Chrissy and her mother to continue on their journey, Rerucha said.

While she was in The Gambia -- natives always call their country The Gambia, not Gambia -- the temperature routinely reached 120 degrees. Once, the temperature rose to 130 degrees and Rerucha said her body felt as though it was being cooked.

Although beautiful, The Gambia is a land of poverty: 100 daleeshis equals just 45 cents. But Rerucha said most people aren't paid in The Gambia. Most of them make a sustenance living, raising what they need to eat. When crops are harvested, men, women and children all work because the food is what they need to survive.

Anyone can tell the home of a rich person: it will have actual doors instead of openings and a metal roof instead of a grass roof.

One-third of the children die before reaching adulthood because of malaria, yellow fever or malnutrition. While in The Gambia, Rerucha took malaria pills and several slides showed mosquito netting used to protect people while they slept.

Yet the people Rerucha met were incredibly friendly and generous. She ate meat twice during her three-week stay, and both times, the meat was a gift. (Rerucha noted that she had to kill her chicken to eat the meat).

Rerucha is pleased that she can repay such generosity. She noted her daughter asked if they might expect 100 books and she said she'll be eager to see Chrissy's response and the response of her friends when they see 400 books from Shoemaker.

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Grand Island Independent

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - The Gambia



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