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Alexandra Van-Kirk - Building & French in Senegal

With children in SenegalIt started off as just being able to find something to do over the summer. I didn’t want to go to school this year without any new experiences or anything to show for my last couple of months of break. I knew I wanted to volunteer, and I DEFINITELY wanted to get out of Minnesota, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would end up in Senegal.

I actually ended up going on the trip with two of my best friends, Anna and Grace. We all shared an interest of volunteering and since we were all in the same French class, we thought, ‘why not do both?’ But little did we know, there aren’t many places that offer those two options as a pair. OR if we could find a program that had French experience AND volunteering, their dates wouldn’t work for one of us, and the program didn’t have any flexibility.

We were about ready to give up, when Anna finally stumbled across Projects Abroad. It was a match made in heaven. Not ONLY did it have French classes AND volunteering, but it was in AFRICA! We also had the option of picking our own dates, which was when everything seemed to fall into place.

Arriving in Senegal

Volunteer project in SenegalA couple of months later, Grace and I were finally on the plane to Senegal from New York (Anna was meeting us there from Europe). It was a REALLY long ride, but arriving there was amazing. It was so different from what we were used to in terms of airports and it was so hot! We quickly found Habib, who would escort us to St Louis, and met two other volunteers, Huxley and Katie, who we would be spending the next two weeks with. The taxi-ride, although half as short, seemed to take almost as long as the plane ride, (especially since there wasn’t any air conditioning). But when we finally arrived to our house, we met our family who greeted us with open arms.

Our Senegal project

Volunteering in SenegalThe next day was spent learning the overview of our program and of different things that would be going on as we were in Senegal. It was so exciting! My schedule was waking up in the morning for my 9:00 AM French class with my friend Shanna. We then would get off at noon and have a three-hour break until our work with reconstruction at 3:30. In the meantime, we would either go home and have lunch, or we would stop by the town to do some shopping, swim at the Flamingo, or even eat at Nice Burger! At work, we redid some of the walls in a local talibé center, and then painted it. Work was always really rewarding and we would get off at around 6:30 every day.

After work, Projects Abroad normally had a social event for us to attend – which were always very entertaining. Some examples would include: quiz night, glass painting, or even dance lessons! When there wasn’t an event planned, my roommates and I were able to sit at home and socialize (in French) with our family while eating dinner. They even taught us some Wolof, the local tribal language! Personally, I loved our family’s cooking. Everything was always so good. I’ve been craving some yassa and chirudjen since I’ve come back to the states.

Weekend trip

Camel rideOverall, one of my favorite experiences of the whole voyage was our weekend trip to the Lompoul Desert. It was a long ride from the Projects Abroad office, but it was so worth it. There were about 15 luxurious tents that could room 4 people each and they were all situated in the middle of the desert. Everything was so open and pretty, and we even got to ride camels while we were there! Then, that night, we all danced around the fire to drums. It was so different from anything I’ve ever done, and I absolutely loved it.

Now, sitting on my bed thinking back on all of my memories from Senegal, all I wish I could do is go back. It was such a unique trip and the experience of a lifetime. I made so many different friends from all over the world, and still keep in touch with them now. I’ll never forget my time in Senegal, and it has inspired me to volunteer more in the future. Jërëjëf to all of the Projects Abroad Staff for providing me with this experience, it was amazing!

Alexandra Van-Kirk

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