Service visits to Kaolack and Grand Mbao

This is a season of transitions in Senegal. For a month the patterns of life have been largely determined by Ramadan. Muslim families get up very early in the morning – like 4:30am early — to eat breakfast before the start of the fast. They neither eat nor drink for the entire day (with exceptions for children, pregnant or nursing women, and those who are sick). Of course there is the regular schedule of work and prayers during the day. Then the joyous breaking of the fast together as families with the announcement over the loudspeakers of all the mosques about 7:40 in the evening, followed by the evening prayers and then supper together.   All of this is coming to an end this week with the end of Ramadan marked by celebrations and feasting and gifts. The weather is also transitioning too with each day bringing more clouds, more heat and humidity and, sometimes, RAIN. The coming of the rains will completely alter the daily life of people living and farming in the rural areas. And of course our students are in their last three weeks here in Senegal turning their thoughts toward their transitions home and away from places and people they have grown to love.

So all of our students will experience some transitions here in the middle of their SST service assignments,  some more than others. On Monday we visited Megan and Ardy in Kaolack. They have been working with APROFES – a woman’s rights organization that has programs in domestic violence and the defense of women’s rights, women’s health, microcredit and income generation projects like crafts or gardening in areas outside of the city. The organization was formed in 1987 by the Kaolack women’s soccer team and has generated many women’s associations that are doing all kinds of interesting work. Megan and Ardy experienced some of the amazing work that this organization does and the dedication of the women who work there. Megan has been working at a small private clinic whose clients are mostly pregnant women and children. They serve a poorer population, giving them access to reproductive health care. Megan has enjoyed learning about Ramadan and breaking the fast with her warm and welcoming family. Ardy has been working at the domestic violence center where women come in to report abuse and the organization helps to get them connected to whatever services that they might need. Her host mother is the main person doing this work. We are impressed with the number of women who trust APROFES with their stories as there is often a reluctance to speak about any of this outside of the family. Ardy and Megan have moved from Kaolack to join Ellen and Nate for the last half of their service in Ndem (see the previous blog). They have opportunities there to do fulfilling work and experience a rural setting in contrast to the busy city of Kaolack. So this day also included farewells and thanks.  Parents and friends may want to note that internet access is very difficult in Ndem so you may not hear from students there very often.

On Tuesday we visited Jacob and Malcolm in Grand Mbao – located between Dakar and Rufisque on the coast.  Unfortunately Malcolm was not feeling 100% so we only visited him at his home. Both work for an organization called, in rough translation, The Humanitarian Association, Friends of the School. This organization supports the public elementary school El Hadj Babacar Cissé with a library, after-school classes and a holiday recreation program. Jacob and Malcolm have been teaching English in the after-school program and helping out as they can in the regular classroom while school is in session. The boys have been learning a lot about how the education system in Senegal works and how programs like this can give students who would not otherwise have the opportunity an advantage in moving through a highly competitive system. They have had to figure out lesson plans, classroom management and approach to language learning when they are in charge of the English classes. They have also been teaching some English songs. School has been out for about a week now but the recreation program will not start until after Ramadan, since fasting is not conducive to strenuous activity. Malcolm and Jacob both live with warm and welcoming families who are making plans for big celebrations on July 6 for Korité, the end of Ramadan, including feasting, family and dressing up! Most of our students will get to experience this with their host families, which is a rare privilege. Malcolm and Jacob are gregarious and open to new relationships, spending time getting to know people in their neighborhoods and hanging out with young men associated with their families. All of this has enriched their understanding of Senegalese life and culture in an urban setting.

All of our students are doing well and we continue to be proud of the way they have found their own niche is so many varied settings.