A starfish is a sea creature, it is shaped like a star with normally 5 arms. If it loses one arm, a new arm will grow out to replace the former. At the end of each arm it has an eye with which it can see the difference between darkness and light. What an amazing creature! About 1,900 species of starfish occur on the seabed in all the world’s oceans from warm, tropical zones to frigid, polar regions. Some of you might have seen it, when it has been washed ashore by the waves. With their appealing symmetrical shape, starfish have played a part in literature, legend, design and popular culture. They are sometimes collected as curios, used in design or as logos, and in some cultures, despite possible toxicity, they are eaten.
A starfish can survive in various surroundings, and it adapts to its environment without losing its beauty. A Starfish learns to survive in various surroundings, and she adapts to her environment and shares the beauty of her personality and her work with her fellow human beings. I am not speaking about a sea creature anymore, I am speaking about the students of an amazing non-profit organization called Starfish International. It is placed in Lamin, The Gambia, and is founded by Mrs Mam-Yassin Sarr and her husband David D. Fox. Mam-Yassin is yet another inspirational person I have had the privilege to meet in The Gambia. In my article last week I wrote about Dr Ismaila Ceesay and Professor Pierre Gomez. It is an honour to meet such people and it inspires me to move on in my own efforts to serve others.
Starfish International has a website, and those of you who want to know more about them, please read about them and become amazed of what is possible to do if you really want to make an impact. Mam-Yassin has studied for several years, and she always had a goal for her studies: to be able to educate others, to inspire and to serve. I was fortunate to be invited to Starfish International, to participate in what was called a naming ceremony for the volunteers. A group of young women, from abroad, had stayed for a while and the last evening of their stay the girls got to know their Gambian names. The ceremony was so filled with joy for everyone, and it was impossible to not take part in the dancing and clapping. A small group of musicians filled the large room with music and the floor became quickly filled with dancing and laughing girls.
During my last week in The Gambia, I was invited to Starfish for a whole day of lecturing. I spoke about domestic violence, non-verbal communication and leadership. The participants were both mentors and mentors-in-training. We had very interesting discussions about various matters. Everytime I am fortunate to be lecturing in The Gambia, I learn so much and I get inspired to write about my experiences. During the last part of the day, I met a large group of students, I got the opportunity to hear about their dreams and goals and they could ask me questions about myself, my life and my work.
For those of you who are curious about Starfish International, I will provide you with a cut from their website. It is so well expressed, so there is no need for me to re-write it and perhaps mess up the message for everyone.
”Our mission is to uplift Gambian girls by providing them with a world-class education that is focused on service to humanity while at the same time providing international service-learning opportunities for our volunteers.
Our vision is to establish a state of the art Academy of Excellence that will provide the Gambian girl-child an exceptional education from pre-school to graduate school. Every participant in this endeavor, including administrators, teachers, volunteers, and students, will be motivated by the end goal of service to humanity and challenged to find effective ways of infusing service to others into their daily work.
Our values and the 5 Qualities highlighted in Starfish International are Nobility, Independence, Courtesy, Knowledge, and Service.”
Isn’t it beautiful? It goes straight into my heart, and as I have been fortunate enough to meet Mam-Yassin, her mentors, mentors-in-training and a lot of her students, it is an experience I will never forget. There is such love and consideration behind every part of the activities at Starfish. I hope and pray that this will spread among all the places the Starfish girls come from. I hope and pray that the sense of pride the girls feel, will spread to other girls who are not fortunate enough to participate in the activities at Starfish. I hope and pray that the community is proud of Starfish and does everything in its power to support the organization. Unfortunately there is a lot of envy that fills people when they hear about something they don’t know much about. People tend to base their opinions on hear saying, not on facts, that is the sad truth.
I wish that representatives from the Government should visit Starfish International and become inspired by the work Mam-Yassin and her co-workers do there. The help and the knowledge the girls receive there is invaluable. During the school terms the girls have different kinds of after-school activities and they get help with their homework. When schools are closed Starfish provide different kinds of activities and every summer they have a theme. Last year the girls were taught for example to play different cultural music instruments and also learned about fashion. The goal is to educate the girls and evolve their skills so they will be able to support themselves through life. Why isn’t that the goal for the whole education system in The Gambia? It seems like the focus is only on theoretical exams and if someone fails there, it is a disaster for that person.
The genius Albert Einstein was once quoted “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by the ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” We can’t measure intelligence only by someone’s grades in mathematics or science, because there are several different kinds of intelligence. At Starfish the girls are encouraged to find out at least 3 different skills they have and to evolve these. Sometimes it can be a bit tricky to find out what you are good at, if no one has encouraged you before. If you get some time to think about yourself, you might find at least one area which you are good at and the rest will follow with time. If we encourage our children to become independent, and to evolve their skills, their self confidence will grow.
The Gambian society is still built on an oldfashioned way of how to raise children, and that is sad. We should give our children opportunities to evolve themselves so they will become strong and independent individuals. These individuals will one day give back to their society and make sure that the coming generations will have more and better opportunities than the generations before them.
The old way of raising children is to demand obedience, but blind obedience creates blind people who are unable to see the opportunities in life. This blindness is also allowing a corrupt system to continue, because if you never have been allowed to question anyone then you turn a blind eye to the faults so you, yourself, will not be in trouble. Let us follow the lead of our dear Starfish girls (and boys) instead, let us walk in to the future with our heads raised high.