Juliet Raperport - General Care Projects in Senegal
Stepping off the plane at Dakar in the dead of night was an extremely daunting experience, and so I was very grateful to see Papis, one of the local staff, standing amongst the throngs of people, holding a Projects Abroad sign. We spent the night in the capital due to my late arrival and embarked on the four hour car journey to St Louis the next morning. The journey passed extremely quickly as I spent the majority of it staring out of the window awestruck by the people, animals and landscape.
I was quite nervous to meet the family who would be hosting me for the next two months but was immediately put at ease by my wonderful host mother who was the friendliest woman I met throughout my time in Senegal (and that is saying something!). The rest of my host family were also exceptionally welcoming and very tolerant of my rusty French and I soon felt like one of the family.
The house was absolutely beautiful with a plant filled courtyard surrounded by many rooms. My bedroom was very comfortable and had a wonderful view out onto the street. Another volunteer joined me in the room half way through my stay, but I appreciated the time alone with the family for the first month as it gave me a great opportunity to grow closer to them. My host mother insisted I speak only in French whilst in the house and I noticed a vast improvement after only one week. By the end of my trip, my French was better than it had ever been and I greatly miss speaking it every day!
I had chosen to do a Care project for my two months and I was taken to my first day at Fonk sa Wadiour kindergarten by Nicole, another Projects Abroad staff member, who introduced me to Grandpere (the school’s headmaster) and to the two teachers whose class I would be helping in. I observed for my first morning, and from then on was expected to run games and activities for the children who were all aged four or five.
A usual day for me would start at 8:30 when I would arrive at the school on foot and help Tata Aminata sweep the classroom and set out the chairs and tables (Tata is the Wolof for “Auntie” and I was called Tata Juliet by all the children). When all the children from all three classes had arrived, we would sing songs in the main courtyard before splitting off into separate classrooms. La Grande Section (as our class was known) would then run through some more songs including English songs taught by me and French songs which had been taught by previous volunteers.
Due to the lack of resources, we only had enough tables for me to take four children at a time to run activities at the back of the classroom but I really appreciated being able to work in such a small group as I had the chance to get to know each child individually and I had learnt almost all of the 45 names within my first week. I tried to vary the activities from arts and crafts to coloring in to basic French exercises but the children were always keen and eager to participate in any task given to them.
The children in my class had not yet started to learn French and so could only speak to me in Wolof which proved rather tricky at the start but I soon picked up enough words and phrases to get me through the mornings. I was especially grateful to Tata Aminata who taught me Wolof in return for some lessons in English. The children would have a snack time at eleven o’clock and then continue their activities until one o’clock when they would be taken home. I have to admit that I did enjoy only working in the mornings as it left my afternoons free to explore Senegal and to meet up with other volunteers.
All Senegalese schools broke up for the summer vacation half way through my placement, so I worked in a summer school alongside other volunteers for my last month in Senegal. This was a very different experience from my first month as the children ranged from age 2 to age 12, and we soon found out that it is almost impossible to find activities that can be enjoyed by the whole spectrum of ages. The eight volunteers working at the summer school would meet weekly in the Patisserie to plan the activities for the next five mornings.
We would spend the first half of every morning doing arts and crafts activities, then after a snack during break time we would play games with the children until the school day was finished. Having the input of other volunteers was fantastic and we all learnt many games and songs from each other. Two of the most successful activities were bowling (using tennis balls and empty bottles from snack) and Pictionary which both kept the children enthralled.
However, my favorite part of the summer school was the trip to the beach every Friday. We would squeeze all the children and volunteers into a Car Rapide (a St Louisian form of bus) and drive down to the local beach where the children could take advantage of the vast amounts of open space. We would play endless games of ‘Mouton, Mouton, Chien” (our French version of Duck, Duck, Goose) and ‘Stuck in the Mud’ until we had tired all the children out. Although the work was extremely tiring for us too, it was worth it just to see the smiles on the children’s faces as they ran over the stunning white sand without a care in the world. I was extremely sad to say goodbye to the children at the end of my stay as I had built a very strong bond with many of them.
The Projects Abroad staff in St Louis were absolutely wonderful and really made me feel like part of a team. We were welcome to drop into the office at any time and I enjoyed nothing more than relaxing on the sofas with a cup of Senegalese tea and the electric fan at full blast. The staff organized events for all the volunteers every week, ranging from our weekly quiz to pool parties and ‘speed meeting’ events. They also organized some great weekend trips; we spent one weekend visiting Africa’s largest Mosque at Touba, one seeing the Desert of Lompoul where we slept in Mauritanian style tents and rode camels and one sailing across the river to stay in bungalows on the beach, just to name a few.
For me, Senegal would not have been Senegal without the other volunteers who were there at the same time as me. Everyone was extremely friendly and we became very close very quickly. We would meet up most days after work and either munch cake in the Patisserie (definitely a favorite haunt), browse the material markets on the Peninsula or head down to the beach to relax for the afternoon. It was truly a fantastic experience to meet people from all different corners of the world, and having only French as a common language only gave us all more opportunity to practice. I will, without doubt, stay in contact with some of the friends I made in St Louis for a long time to come, and we have already had one reunion since I have been back!
Overall, I had an invaluable experience during my two months in St Louis. The city itself is always busy and bustling with culture and the people are by far the friendliest I have ever met. I could not walk into town without bumping into at least ten people I knew and everyone would always stop to say hello. I met some truly fantastic people in Senegal and had many unforgettable times with them. St Louis will always seem like a home to me and I cannot wait to return there in the future.