My Research Question

My students wanted to know if and/or how students in Senegal were similar to them or different. They had an idea that their hopes were probably going to be the same but wanted to know if they would manifest differently. So I chose it as my research question for my TGC Field Experience in Senegal. How are my students in an urban school in Chicago similar or different from students in an urban school in Senegal? Are their hopes the same? Do they see their futures differently? I felt that it would help my students understand that creating a new and just world meant that we needed to share and understand who we are and what we value.

Since there was going to be a language barrier, I had my students create small posters that would show students in Senegal who they were. They had to create collages about their families, their school, their city and also what being an American meant to them.

I shared these with the students in Senegal and they in turn created amazing collages for my students to see who they are. It was one of the most touching experiences of my life.

When I returned, my students and I parsed through to see what major trends emerged about the similarities and differences and also about what my students found most surprising.

Here is what we discovered:

Academics:

School is important for the students on both sides. Most of the students see education as the key to a better life. Since both the populations of students are urban and not really part of the middle class in their respective countries, they all saw it as a means for social and economic mobility. On both sides the aspirations were high. Senegalese students however, more often seemed to see education outside of Senegal as a key to success.

Role of Women:

While researching about Senegal, my students learned that it is a predominantly Muslim country. They did read that it was a peaceful and tolerant society but were curious to know how teenage Muslim girls would be. To my student’s delight they saw that the women in Senegal enjoyed a lot of freedom in school and in society. Although many of the girls were wearing head scarves, it wasn’t symbolic of any great restriction. It was eye opening for many of my students. They also saw that women in Senegal had careers and roles in all levels of society.

Expectations of Family and Society:

Most of my students belong to ethnic minorities within the US and have very strong ties to their families and their communities. The expectations of the family generally supersede that of the individual. This was something they found to be similar. For many of my female students and for students in Senegal, the expectation for girls especially is to help out with family and child care. So there were many ways in which my students felt they understood how families functioned in Senegal. The polygamy aspect of family life was something my students felt was very different and complicated.

Social Media:

Students on both sides were comfortable with communication through social media and inhabiting an online life. Most students have smartphones, and all of them use them extensively. My students were extremely happy that many students in Senegal were using the same type of social media they were. They had been unsure if this was something they could expect. The students in Senegal were excited to share their favorite media stars and their online life.

Providing this opportunity for all the students to share this experience was one of the best parts of this entire experience. My students were so excited that they could connect with students across the world on social media and that they could continue to keep in touch. I’m glad that this question, although not an in depth analysis, provided an opportunity for such a life changing connection for so many.

A few thoughts….a few months later

I wanted to write my reflection on my experience a few months after my trip. I wanted to see what would stay with me. I didn’t expect so much time to pass before I wrote, but so much has stayed.

First of all...Senegal is the land of Teranga indeed. I have never been more warmly welcomed to a place, not even in my own native country. There is a generosity from the heart that was spontaneous and expansive; students would draw pictures for us, teachers welcomed us into their classrooms, everyone shared. There was a sense that everyone was in it together.

Second…what a wonderful little school Abdoulaye Mar Diop is. Every teacher was doing an incredible amount of work despite political pressures and inconsistent resources. They cared, they improvised and they taught. I was very impressed with the level of the curriculum and the knowledge of the students. The classrooms were crowded but the students were so well behaved and on task. They were also seemed happy to be at school, which is not something I get to see very often. It motivates me so much to stay connected with the school and to help in any way I can.

Third….there was a sense of purpose. We met so many people who were doing so many good things, from the educators to the people in the Education Ministry, university students, NGOs, USAID and the US Embassy. It was so wonderful to see that most of the time hope and excitement seemed to win out over frustration. To me there was a sense that they were purposefully creating their country. Of course, the path would be messy, but there were a lot of people working toward what is good.

Towards the end, it was one of the most difficult goodbyes I’ve ever had to say. It was hard to leave, and I do hope I get to go back and that I get to see everyone again. They found a place in my heart. I will forever cherish the poem a Senegalese student wrote of the TGC fellows.

And I hope the trees that Shiona and I planted grow.

CEM Abdoulaye Mar Diop

"All and nothing" - that was what Madame Sarr, the principal replied when we asked her what she liked about teaching. I laughed out loud because it was so comforting to know that educators across the globe find it a rewarding, exhilarating and frustrating experience all at the same time.  

The amazing part is always meeting the kids. They were warm, welcoming and beautiful.  

Computer class

Computer class

A future engineer

A future engineer

Peace signs are universal  

Peace signs are universal  

Bienvenue a Saint Louis

So we arrived in the very charming and lovely city of Saint Louis. We were so warmly welcomed by our host teachers and given a tour of island by carriage. It was beautiful and illuminating. What struck me was the difficult balance between honoring the past while moving into the future.

These images stayed with me today

Arriving in Saint Louis through the beautiful Faiderbhe Bridge

Arriving in Saint Louis through the beautiful Faiderbhe Bridge

Children at play

Children at play

An intense game of street soccer

An intense game of street soccer

Riding a bike at sunset

Riding a bike at sunset

Lac Rose

So I obsessed enough about this amazing lake that my students were sick of hearing me talk about it. The pink hue is created by the Dunaliella Salina algae. They are spectacular little organisms that produce high concentrations of beta carotene to protect against intense sunlight and glycerol to maintain osmotic pressure. Apparently they are farmed in places to harvest the beta carotene. 

These algae are halophiles so they can survive in very high salt concentrations. The lake has up to forty percent salinity in places. Harvesting the salt requires intense labor. It is harvested by men and women by hand. They are often people that travel from Guinea to Senegal to work. They have to cover themselves in shea butter to minimize the damage to their skin. They have to harvest about three boatloads a day to make a living. A portion is given to the boat owner and the rest is split equally among the women and the men. The salt is also dried in large piles on the shore. And like the lake the salt changes color with the sun. 

Lac Rose

Lac Rose

Yes...it really is pink!

Yes...it really is pink!

Salt boats

Salt boats

Salt harvester

Salt harvester

Goree Island

I'm not quite sure how to begin this post. It was an emotionally difficult visit, a heartening one and a surprising one. 

Goree Island is an island off the coast of Senegal that featured prominently in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Twenty five million healthy slaves were shipped from there, many millions died there and it was an island that was a rest stop for many other slave ships that had set sail from other parts of Africa. Many slaves that weren't healthy enough were sold to neighboring countries. It is now a World Heritage site, home to 1800 people, and a living museum.

We saw the prison where the slaves were kept. There were separate rooms for men, women and children. And a special room for virgin girls. There was a special stone on the floor where they would be raped. If they got pregnant they would be set free, because the children who were of mixed race would have to be given the citizenship of the European father. 

It was difficult to see, difficult not to cry and difficult to digest. But I'm so glad it stands as a testament to our very dark history. As people I hope we never return to that dark place. And as the tour guide said, let this place stand as a testament to our collective tragedy and our collective reconciliation and hope.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FAWE

I met some very inspiring people today who are doing incredible work. FAWE is an organization founded in 1993 in Kenya to promote cultural and gender equality. It is now established in forty six countries; Senegal being one of them.  

Their focus is to help provide girls opportunities and access to complete their studies and achieve at all levels.  

They told us that many girls leave school between the ages of fifteen and eighteen. The primary reasons being poverty and early marriage. Often when a family can only afford to send a child to school they will usually pick the boy. 

So FAWE helps to incorporate equality education into pedagogy. They focus on improving awereness around issues of reproductive health, protection from violence, fighting poverty, good citizenship and conflict resolution.  

They have these wonderful projects: 

1. Boys and girls clubs so everyone can learn about equality. 

2. A club for mothers so they can understand and encourage their daughters. 

3. Scholarships for girls - often all the way to university.  

4. Promotion of girls in STEM fields, which I am personally very excited about.  

5. Connect them with mentors to encourage and inspire them. 

6. And my personal favorite, the competition for Ms. Mathematics and for Ms. Scientist. How lovely is that.  

I want to continue a relationship with this amazing organization - raise money, have pen pals with my students or even help pay the tuition for a girl. It's so encouraging and heartening that there are so many people making this world a better place.

 

 

The Ocean

It is our first morning in Senegal and a falcon just flew past my balcony. I couldn't have asked for a more auspicious start. We walked the beach. Here are a few of the things that moved me.

The beach of igneous rock...

The beach of igneous rock...

A hovering falcon...

A hovering falcon...

A very wary crab...

A very wary crab...

The cycle of life. Tiny barnacles on a cuttlefish bone.

The cycle of life. Tiny barnacles on a cuttlefish bone.