Carmen Guhn-Knight '08
First and foremost, I would like to thank everyone who helped plan and organize the J-term program in Senegal. I think the program included the perfect combination of educational group activities, fun group activities, free time, and family time. This balance of activities, and the fact that we stayed with host families, are the two aspects of the trip that optimized our experience. My favorite parts of the planned program were the “lectures” (such as by Ousmane Sène and Aminata Sow Fall) and the two nights spent at the “cultural tourism” resort.
I found the lectures, especially those given by Ousmane Sène, to be very intriguing and dynamic. Analyzing Senghor was a very appropriate academic activity to supplement our experience. Learning about literature from several distinguished Senegalese intellectuals and learning some African/Senegalese history at L’Isle de Gorée helped me to grasp an understanding of the region that was deeper than what I could experience myself in two short weeks.
However, I feel that I could have benefited even more from these experiences if I had more knowledge of the subjects prior to our arrival in Senegal. For example, had I known that I was going to meet one of the most famous female authors of Senegal, Aminata Sow Fall, I would have liked to read at least one of her books beforehand. I felt ignorant and disrespectful when I realized that I knew nothing about this renowned woman, especially considering how generous and hospitable she was to invite us into her home for a meal. Our visit with Aminata Sow Fall would have been more meaningful to me, and possibly even to her, if I had been more familiar with her work beforehand.
Along those same lines, it would have been nice to know a little bit more about Senegal in general before our departure. Of course, many of the students read the tour book from cover to cover and I looked up some Wolof on the internet, but this is still a very limited knowledge. I think the program would benefit from a longer series of pre-departure meetings that, along with discussing the necessary logistics, also would teach us some of the history, literature, and language of Senegal.
One of my most memorable experiences in Senegal was my “internship” to écopole and lL’école de la rue. I had mentioned that I wanted to work with an organization promoting social/economic justice, so I ended up going with Molly to a school in a poor quartier. The school, called écopole, has some wordplay with “école”, “economy”, and “ecological”. The school draws kids ages 9-15 from the surrounding quartier and teaches them how to create art out of recyclable trash. The art is then sold to visitors such as myself. The money from the sale of an item is split evenly between the school, the quartier, and the student who crafted the item. This school is an opportunity for a very poor youth community to spend their time in a meaningful and beneficial way. I found this school inspiring because, in the midst of this desperately impoverished quartier, someone implemented a good idea and created a remarkably helpful and successful program.
It was invigorating to see the extraordinary contentedness of the students, and even of the surrounding quartier. As we walked through the school and the quartier, everybody greeted us with smiles and “bonjour”s and “asalaa maalekum”s and outstretched hands. Younger kids, especially, would come up to Molly and me and grab our hands and dance around. One little girl wouldn’t stop kissing Molly’s hands. These people that I met at écopole and in the surrounding quartier were the absolute happiest and most outgoing people I met in all of Senegal. This internship offered me a very different view of Senegalese life that I don’t think I would have noticed otherwise. I am inspired and refreshed by the beauty I found in écopole and the surrounding quartier. If it is possible, I would highly recommend that everyone in future years have an experience similar to my internship.