My work in Senegal

So after about 17 months at my site I have finally got some really great projects going. I am helping to build a compost facility, I am working with the chamber of commerce on adult education classes for current entrepreneurs and those looking to start a business, and I am teaching businesses classes at the technical high school. These businesses classes are the most challenging project I have had so far. I am working with a group of students who attend the technical high school to learn a specific trade, such as metal working, masonry, carpentry, etc, then they work in the community as an apprentice in hopes of having their own business. These boys are a challenge because not only do they have little formal education, which means that they speak basic French and not all speak the same local language, but half of them cannot read or write. I have been working with them as to what an enterprise is and I am trying to get them to look at their local businesses in a different way, I want them to try and see if they can improve upon the local businesses and possibly differentiate themselves among all the other metal workers, carpenters, masons, etc. It’s been a challenge and it’s still a work in progress but I have resigned myself that if they can just stop and question current businesses and start thinking outside the box than I have succeeded.
Working with these high school kids has opened my eyes to the education system here in Senegal and why they are having problems developing. First, these kids are not taught to think, they are only taught to regurgitate what the teach tells them and never question it. For example, since arriving in my host family I have been telling my brothers that we have 50 states in the United States, for some reason they are taught that we have 52. I have told them on several occasions that there are 50 and yet when I asked one of them last month he said “Well there’s a discrepancy because you say there are 50 states, but my teacher says there are 52.” Even though they know that I come from the U.S. they take what their teacher says as the final word. When I assured them there were 50 states and got out a map, they agreed with me and I asked if their teacher said there are 52 states would they now correct them, they said NO! Another example, my one brother is an English teacher at the local high school, he once asked me to help him type out his English exam for his students because he knows I’m more familiar with Word then he is. I sat down and started typing out the exam at the end the students were given the directions “Choose one of the two following questions and write a response.” I then proceeded to write:
1) Blah, blah, blah
2) Blah, blah, blah
When my brother, the teacher, saw this he said “No you have to write Question 1)
Question 2)
or otherwise the kids won’t understand what they are supposed to do.” I was shocked that kids in high school wouldn’t understand directions that were so basic, but if their whole lives their teachers have been hand-feeding them information why should they be expected to think for themselves? Also these kids are not supported in the educational endeavors by their parents or their parents don’t see how important education is. For example, if the family doesn’t have enough money to send all their kids to school they pull the girls out and have the boys continue even if the boy is not the better student. Another example is when wast week I was supposed to come in early to teach my class, I showed up at 8am to start, by 8:15 I was asking the teacher where were the students, he just shrugged his shoulders said he didn’t know and hopefully they’ll show up soon. I have also seen boys walk into my class and hour and a half late (it’s a 3 hour long class) or just not show up to class at all, it’s always a guess every week as to how many people I’m going to be teaching. I’ve had conversations about kids being tardy or absent and I ask what the school does or the parents do to combat this and he told me there was nothing they could do, the parents just don’t seem to care. I have seen this in my own host family that is by comparisson well educated, I have a brother, Joey, whom I see studying all the time, he wants to suceed and works hard in school. When I spoke to my older brother if Joey was going to go to university after he was done with high school this year he said that he probably won’t go because his father doesn’t want him to, he wants him to start earning money and contribute to the family. They don’t see that the investment in those few extra years of education will give him a high earning potential in turn providing more for the family, his father just sees his education as something Joey should do until he can make money. I have spoken to his father and will continue to talk to him in hopes of seeing Joey in university next year. However, it saddens me to see someone who’s trying to make their lives better not given the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately this lack of education and motivation from one’s parents is one of the reasons that Senegal is having problems to develop.

Below are some pictures of my students coming up with local businesses in Kedougou.

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3 Comments on “My work in Senegal”

  1. Swade says:

    I am so envious of your work, my dear! You’re doing exactly what I want to do if I were to set up a nonprofit. In Cameroon, there were no trade schools or opportunities even close to what the Senegalese have, and I would like to introduce trade schools/community colleges (that are either free or at a low cost) worldwide. It’s a damn shame that the Senegalese and other African nations don’t get the value of an education and that the same thing is regurgitated over and over in the classroom. How can one think outside the box when their classroom and teachers are and will always be in a box…

  2. Swade says:

    I noticed that there are flat screens in the classrooms. There was not a flat screen to be found in Cameroon when I was there!

    • olap82 says:

      They may be present but that doesn’t mean that they work. Also this school is funded by the international mining companies that are currently mining for gold about 60km away so they do get some nicer things


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