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FRONTLINE: Doing Good

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What started out as a two-week vacation to visit family turned into a three-month “radical sabbatical” in West Africa for Homa Tavangar and her daughters. The original plan was to serve as reading coaches in alliance with the Greater Philadelphia Cares program in Banjul, The Gambia. But they quickly learned that the program didn’t fit the audience and struck out on their own. “Appropriate teaching is important,” says Tavangar. “Each program doesn’t always work everywhere.”

Monday through Friday, 4-year-old Sophia, 12-year-old Anisa and 14-year-old Layla attended an international school with their cousins; Saturday mornings were dedicated to tutoring at public schools. Among other things, the family was inspired by the book Breezes of Confirmation, which teaches literacy and moral education. “It empowered the children to think about their future and start planning it,” says Tavangar. “It’s more rich than just reading; it showed them how to pursue and achieve their goals.”

Although the Tavangar family’s stay in The Gambia was far more safe and comfortable than expected, their skin color suddenly mattered. “Toubob, toubob” (“white person, white person”) was a chant they heard often. “The girls have gained a wider perspective of the world,” says Tavangar. “They complain a lot less and realize how trivial some things are.”

Tavangar plans to write a book on her experiences in The Gambia, focusing on how we can raise our children to see themselves at home in the world. “This was a unique window in our lives to do what we’ve always wanted to do,” she says.

To read more, visit Tavangar’s blog at athomeinworld.blogspot.com.

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