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Volunteer Review: Noah N., Microfinance in Senegal

Noah sharing a meal with his host family

I went to Senegal for two months in October and November, as the country’s summer was ending, to work on the Micro-finance and Teaching Projects. It was an amazing experience, I met so many incredible people there and my biggest regret was not staying longer.

My chosen projects

While I was planning which project(s) to join, I was torn between the different opportunities. Instinctively, I’d thought that I would find myself most useful on the Teaching Project, as I could teach my native language. Since the schools in Senegal only start in mid-October, I had to choose at least one other project as well. The Micro-finance project seemed fascinating. You would be able to see the influence on the talibés almost most immediately as we would be helping them create and grow their own businesses. I also decided to work in the Talibé Center, where I looked after the younger boys and gave medical care to those who came in with injuries. I also taught English and French to the older talibé children.

My Micro-finance Project

One of Noahs students in class

The Micro-finance Project involved working with our project coordinator who was incredibly hard-working and cared a lot about helping the talibés build their businesses. We would visit many of the current beneficiaries on the project to see how their businesses were faring. We would also visit potential beneficiaries and assist them with business planning and to see what could be improved. These businesses were mostly kiosks. However, they also ranged from a woman selling her sheets to two brothers wanting to set up a chicken farm. I also led classes in maths and accounting to some talibés, so that they had sufficient understanding of business and profits/losses before being given a loan. I really enjoyed this project and working with my coordinator. I only wish I had thought to join this project for longer than a few weeks.

Teaching at the Talibé Centre

Noah teaching his students in Senegal

I then spent five weeks at the Talibé Center, which was amazing fun. Any talibé is welcome at the center. The older boys would be learning English/French or learning to write, and the younger boys would be painting, playing games or singing and dancing (which I strongly encouraged!). The more volunteers there were at the center, the more attention and teaching time the boys received.

Occasionally I was alone at the center, so the younger boys would watch television (which was often educational and taught the alphabet and basic French). During this time, I would try teach the older talibés English and French in one lesson, which was quite challenging. It was much easier when there were more volunteers, as we could divide up into team. Some would teach the older talibés, others would look after and play with the younger boys, and a few would provide medical care to everyone who came in with cuts and bruises (mostly from playing football).

The woman in charge at the center is completely charming and very efficient at organizing everything. Some older talibés returned every day, and getting to know them was really special. They were always attentive, hard-working and eager to improve, as well as being charming themselves. I have very fond memories of seeing one of the boys almost every day in the mosque near where I lived, and another outside the center drinking coffee with his friends and learning the grammar I’d given him before our lesson.

Teaching at a local school

I had eight classes of boys and girls aged between 10 and 13, each of which I’d teach twice per week. They were always very enthusiastic and teaching them English was a total delight. It was a little intimidating at first, since the average class size is 60. They were all very competitive students, which led to some fun language games where they wanted to be the best. My classes were never afraid to ask questions, which helped me teach. They’d all take notes and studied for the test when I left.

Life and free time in Senegal

Volunteers enjoying their free time in Senegal

Adapting to life in Senegal was at first a total culture shock, with the 40+ degree heat and different cuisine. I was constantly being called a ‘toubab’ (white person) and being approached in the street. My host family were perfect hosts and very welcoming to myself and another volunteer throughout our stay. They even invited us to the gym class led by my host father. We always ate together, sitting on the floor and eating out of one massive bowl, which was often a big squeeze! There were on average four other volunteers during the two months I was in Saint Louis, whom I saw regularly and spent time with on weekends. We also had some excursions with our wonderful guide. On the first weekend, we went to the desert outside Dakar and spent the night singing and dancing, after jumping around in the dunes all day.

Final thoughts

Each project was a pleasure in its own unique and challenging ways. However, my five-weeks at the Talibé Center was my favorite. I loved my time in Senegal, and will certainly return when I can. I delayed my return flights because even two months felt too short a time to spend there. I miss the amazing people I was lucky enough to meet during my time there. I dearly hope I will see them all again one day.

Noah N.

This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.

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