Cara Monaghan - Care & Community in Senegal
Before we left
Last October I was lucky enough to be selected from 4 groups taking part in a bid at our school along with my two friends Kelly Crompton and Helen Mulligan to embark on a journey to our chosen country of Senegal in western Africa. Over the next 6 months we fundraised tirelessly inside and outside of school to reach our initial target of £8000. Through the local and school communities generosity we were able to raise an extra £700 which enabled us to bring over much needed resources to the kindergarten and talibé centre in which we worked. As we were all studying towards our A-levels we all found it difficult to balance the organisation of fundraising events with our studies as both placed huge demand on our time and efforts.
Arriving in Senegal
After 3 connecting flights and around 24 hours of travel we arrived in Dakar airport on 20th July 2014. We were greeted at the airport by one of our very excitable leaders for the next two weeks Cheikh. This was our first indicator of the cheery and friendly nature of the Senegalese people which we came to love to during our stay. We stayed in a ‘hotel’ in Dakar that night and met the 10 other volunteers we would be spending the next two weeks working alongside. We travelled for 5 hours to reach the smaller city of St Louis where our project was based. On arrival we met our host family which consisted of Mama Aida Fall and her 4 children Khady, Mamadou, Assan and Diarra. We felt immediately welcomed into their home even though there was a prominent language barrier as we could only speak basic French and they lacked in their knowledge of the English language, speaking only French and the Senegalese tribal language of Wolof. Throughout our stay the family made their best efforts to communicate with us asking us personal questions often using a French to English dictionary when we couldn’t understand each other, showing us family pictures and introducing us to the many guests and family members who frequently visited their lively home. We were lucky to experience the end of Ramadan with our family. The host daughters loaned us beautiful traditional dresses and we ate a range of delicious Senegalese dishes throughout the day including barbequed goat which they slaughtered in front of us especially for the occasion. The family laughed as we squealed at the gore of the goat being killed and it was clear to us how different our cultures really were!
We chose ‘care and community’ as the subject for our project. In the mornings we worked in a local kindergarten along with a number of other volunteers. Starting at 9am we greeted the teachers and sat down. The children would come in and sheepishly shake each volunteers hand but as the day progressed they all began to show their bubbly, loving and sometimes cheeky personalities. We started off singing French nursery rhymes (which was a bit of a challenge to us as we couldn’t speak French). Next on the agenda was games such as ‘chat chat chein’ which translates to cat cat dog and is their version of duck duck goose. Following lunch time the children were divided into groups according to their age and went into separate classes. At this time we were given the opportunity to teach the older children some basic English which they were so enthusiastic to learn! On Fridays we took the children to the beach for outdoor activities. It amazed us how happy and friendly the children were even with the difficult conditions they were living in. In the afternoon we joined the other volunteers to undertake a renovation project in a ‘talibé centre’ which was where young homeless boys went to learn the Quran and play games and it acted as a sanctuary for them to escape all the hardships of homelessness. We mixed and laid cement in the courtyard, filled the cracks in the walls and roof and also stripped and repainted the walls of the building. We decorated the wall in the courtyard with cartoons and paintings to make it look and feel like a much friendlier place. The boys were always keen to help us even though some of them were injured or incapable of carrying out the strenuous tasks. We donated football jerseys to the centre and the boys were ecstatic for the new clothes to replace their dank and ripped ones.
We will never forget this incredible opportunity and feel humbled that we were given the chance to help a very special community as much we could. We feel privileged that we were able to experience the unique and distinctive Senegalese people and culture and everything that came with this life changing experience.