Babette Shrimpton – Care & Community in Senegal
During the summer I spent two weeks with Projects Abroad on a Care & Community placement in St. Louis, Senegal. This high school special project was specifically designed for young volunteers, so we had more support and access to the Projects Abroad staff whilst abroad. This was perfect for me as it was the first time I traveled abroad by myself, and I was only 17.
Although there were so many projects available to me, I already knew I wanted to travel to Africa. Volunteering in a French speaking country would be a great opportunity as I studied French for many years and it would give me the chance to improve it. Many of the volunteers on my trip had a range of French speaking abilities, so although it was a great help to be able to understand and communicate with my host family, it wasn’t a necessity. You don’t have to be fluent in French to volunteer in Senegal!
I started planning my trip a long time in advance so I could raise money for the costs and to buy some basic equipment for the children I would be meeting. Although it took some time to work out all the details, Projects Abroad was extremely helpful, answering any questions I had and helping me during the application process.
Arriving in Senegal
On 17 July I left Jersey in the Channel Islands, and flew to Gatwick Airport in England. From there I flew to Madrid airport and took a connecting flight to Dakar. I traveled with a girl that I knew who was embarking on the same trip as me. We also met two other volunteers on the same plane as us who were going to be working at the same project, so when waiting at the airport for the Projects Abroad staff to pick us up we already felt comfortable. At first, the idea of traveling so far from home seemed daunting but I was immediately reassured when meeting Habib from Projects Abroad and the other young volunteers who were in exactly the same position as myself.
After staying overnight at a hotel in Dakar, we traveled to St. Louis by minibus, which was a luxury compared to most Senegalese cabs as it had air conditioning. I later realized not to take this for granted! When arriving at my host family’s house I was immediately greeted with smiles and invited to join them for lunch. This was not a meal I was used to, the family had four children living at home and we were joined by numerous nieces and nephews, so we ended up with 10 people sitting around a bowl on the floor sharing the same meal. At first the culture shock took some getting used to, but after a couple of days I was comfortably chatting and enjoying free time with the family, the children and the neighbors who lived next door. The one thing I will never forget about St. Louis was how hospitable it was. Every person I met on the street would greet me and say hello or shake my hand. I was amazed at just how welcoming everyone was to a stranger that they had never met.
My Care & Community placement
The following day we went on a tour of St. Louis with the other volunteers. We also visited the building site in the afternoon where we would spend the next two weeks building a classroom for young children. Since the classroom was going to be built by a group of 16-18 year olds we knew it would be hard work, but we were all motivated to do our best and get the job done. The work consisted mostly of carrying extremely heavy buckets of sand, water and bricks to the site. The most rewarding thing was looking at the finished project. It made me so happy to have been able to impact the children’s lives in such a positive way. Although the one downside was the heat! It was quite a challenge to do physical labor in the humid heat of St. Louis.
In the mornings we spent our time with our amazing mentors Amina and Omar at a centre for troubled youth where we would either teach or nurse. I would assist students with their English pronunciation, help them translate words they were unsure about, and work through exercises with them to help improve their French and English. The rest of the morning I would help out in the infirmary or visit the daaras. As I hope to one day study child nursing I found this to be an extremely rewarding and important activity. The children had little knowledge of basic hygiene and how to keep themselves clean, especially if they had injured themselves. We would visit the daaras where hundreds of children would occasionally sleep. We set up stations where the kids would sit while we attended to their injuries. It made me sad to see that many children did not even know their own age, but it reminded me just how important the work Projects Abroad and the volunteers there were doing.
It wasn’t all work though, we had numerous evenings planned out at restaurants with the other volunteers and during the weekend we visited the Lompoul desert! This was one of my favorite memories from my trip. In the day it was still too hot so we visited the beach along the way, went swimming and had a picnic. Later we arrived in the desert and unpacked our tents. After dinner we had a drum ceremony and bonfire, where we tried (and I failed horribly) at traditional Senegalese dancing and singing.
I will never forget the people I met on the trip, both the locals and the other volunteers who I have tried to keep in contact with. I made some amazing friends and didn’t want to come home. My host family were amazing, with their little girl, Jamilya, running out to greet me as soon as I arrived home and often wanting to play games with me. I didn’t get homesick one bit, my parents were quite annoyed that I hadn’t missed them when I got home! There were some trying times, as my stomach took a while to get used to all the rice and fish, and the shock of seeing just how little the children had whilst I was lucky to have so much at home. My trip was extremely humbling, I felt almost guilty to be leaving and it made me realized how important volunteer trips are. I will definitely be embarking on another in the future.