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Teaching, General Teaching Projects in Senegal by Catherine Richards

On January 5th 2012, I found myself standing in line at Madrid airport, waiting to board my connecting flight to Dakar, Senegal. It was there, surrounded by Senegalese men in ‘boubous’ jabbering away in Wolof, that my Senegal trip started to become a reality.

T.I.A – This Is Africa

Voluntary teaching project in Senegal

Fans of the film ‘Blood Diamond’ will recognise this phrase, deeming it as a simple explanation for how things work in Africa. Don’t be scared though, St. Louis is a much calmer place than the Africa depicted in ‘Blood Diamond’, even during the Presidential elections and the drama over Abdulaye Wade’s running for a third term.

Culture shock is a big thing for new volunteers. There is obviously the big initial shock of arriving in a country very different from home, but also the daily dose of small things that you just don’t see at home. The 5am wake up call from the mosque, the goat running past you with an empty packet of cigarettes in his mouth, and a camel sitting outside a boutique watching a group of Talibés (street children) playing football.

You have to wonder is there any way to make sense of this, and the answer is yes - by simply saying ‘T.I.A’. For me it helped explain every odd thing I came across, which was a lot; and it is these simple, weird things that made life for me in St. Louis just that little bit more interesting.

My Host Family

Volunteer host family in Senegal

Family in Senegal is very important, which I quickly learned upon my arrival at my new home in Cité Niakh, one of the many quartiers in St. Louis. Not only had I gained a host mum and three new brothers, but also a grandfather, an uncle, his niece and a cousin or two. Figuring out the family tree took two out of the three months I spent there but one thing was certain, my new family could make a lot of noise!

The great thing about your host family is that they instantly make you one of their own. Within a few weeks you have your own Senegalese name which you will constantly introduce yourself by.

Dinner is a family event. My mum Coura was rarely at home during the day as she worked at her boutique all day long, however dinner was a time when all of the family would be gathered on the floor, around the dish that our maid Daba had prepared. Coura would often distribute the main pieces of meat around the plate making sure everyone had enough, including the toubab (white person) volunteers. This, as well as inviting us round to the boutique every now and then showed how Coura really cared and looked out for us.

Teaching at École de Sidi Ndiaye

Volunteer placement at a school in Senegal

My teaching placement was at the primary school École de Sidi Ndiaye, about a 20 minute walk from where I lived. For three months I taught English to 8 classes with children ranging from the age of 6 to 13. Each class I taught had about 50-60 students, a lot of children in need of English lessons!

As a novice teacher, a classroom full of 50-60 children is pretty nerve wracking, however from 3 months of teaching I managed to figure out a few things that really worked whilst I was teaching. To help break the ice, nothing is better than songs. From ‘Old MacDonald’ to ‘If You’re Happy And You Know It’ to a couple of Beatles numbers (‘She Loves You’ and ‘All You Need Is Love’), every song went down a treat with my kids. Unfortunately you can’t sing all the time, but it’s easy to get into the swing of teaching, and repetition is the main teaching method over there. I found it also helped to go over what we had covered the previous lesson in the first 5 minutes of each lesson, as there were always some who had forgotten what we’d learned.

Keeping their attention is also a challenge. If you don’t mind being laughed at, I found dancing around a bit and doing lots of actions helped keep all the children focused on me, although there was a bit of mocking involved as well.

Teaching at Sidi Ndiaye was an incredible experience; I hope future teachers will have as much fun as I did there. The satisfaction of giving out your first gold star for a piece of homework and seeing some of your students taking everything in with ease is incredible. It’s also lovely when you here ‘Miss’ in the street and look round to see your students beaming and waving over at you.

My Projects Abroad Family

Volunteer’s in Senegal

My time in St. Louis would not have been as great as it was, if it wasn’t for the Projects Abroad team. Everyone in the Senegalese office is incredible at their job, including having to deal with a lot of our problems, which they managed to solve effortlessly. I have to mention a big thank you to Joke and Habib for tracing my lost phone to Nice Burger! They were also incredible at organising our social life. I received daily texts saying what was going on in St. Louis. As I am hopeless at organisation, this was great, all I had to do was turn up at a specific place at a specific time, no thinking required.

With the other volunteers, there are a whole load of things you can do. There are the popular drinks nights every Friday, helping you build up your knowledge of St. Louisian bars, competitive quiz nights where each quiz is more creative than the last, and lazy weekends of sun, sea, and sand at Hotel Oasis.

Volunteer joins in a music show in Senegal

If you want to get into the culture then Mama Sadio concerts are a must! Quite often other volunteers play with the band as part of their project, and it’s great to watch them and cheer while they play. At these concerts you will also see their dancer, a girl who moves like nothing you’ve ever seen before! If you fancy learning some Wolof dance moves, the place to go is the Institute Francais on Tuesday evenings for dance lessons with a man called Bai. Fun, energetic and the best workout of your life!

Every other weekend you can take excursions, which provide a quick getaway from St. Louis. From camel rides in the desert to high speed quad biking drives through the African plain, these are definitely lots of fun and provide the perfect photo opportunities.

Leaving Senegal

My three months in Senegal were some of the best of my life. By the end of my time there it was a bit of a culture shock to return home. Arriving in Heathrow I discovered that my favourite Senegalese tribal trousers, and vest top were not enough in the cool English weather. Saying ‘Salam Malekum’ gained me only looks of bewilderment rather than smiles and eating with hands was a big no-no. My supply of ‘Biskrem’ didn’t last me long, and I even missed my daily dose of thiebou dienn. My host dad wasn’t lying when he said it was good for you.

Leaving Senegal was hard, as I really made a life for myself while I was there. All the memories I take with me are good ones, and I look forward to making more when I return one day.

Catherine Richards

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