The biggest challenge for me during my volunteer work was feeling like I fit in at my host organization, ImagiNation Afrika. Although it was run by an American and most of the other people who worked there spoke English, I felt like I should speak French, and most of the time I was really shy so I didn’t talk to people as much as I would have liked to looking back on it now with some 20/20 hindsight. I think I was especially self-conscious of my French-speaking abilities because many Americans are often not very nice to people who go to the US and don’t speak English very well. I doubt people here would have been equally as judgmental but I finally realized that that was the reason I felt so shy.
Things got better when I started working with the Americans at University of Michigan who are helping with the Men na Nekk multimedia project. Feeling like I had something that I was contributing to the organization (there wasn’t very much work to be done towards the beginning) and feeling like I had a reason to be there gave me a better sense of belonging.
Since the Men na Nekk project is still in its beginning stages and there aren’t any visible results yet, it’s hard to say that I feel particularly proud of any accomplishment so far. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep contact with some people at the organization and hear about how the final project turns out. Once I see ImagiNation Afrika start making a difference for real kids in the Casamance, then I’ll definitely feel proud that I was able to at least have a small part in that work.
...continue reading "Final Thoughts"
During the second half of my time here in Senegal, I have been working with an NGO called Jeunesses et Développement (Youth and Development) to help them design a website. The NGO was founded in 1988 with the intent of improving living conditions for individuals as well as the collective in areas such as environment, health, education, and community development.
Jeunesses et Développement is similar to a scout organization like Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, and it uses this aspect to help protect at-risk youth in Dakar. Jeunesses et Développement also works along side many other NGOs and organization, including UNICEF, to promote and instill values like gender equality, social justice, human rights, human dignity, and reproductive health. When kids have nowhere else to go, they can go to Jeunesses et Développement, which also - when necessary - takes responsibility for feeding and educating their participants.
Previously Jeunesses et Développement only had a Facebook page. I hope that the addition of a website will help them get their name out to more people and organizations so that even more kids can participate in their programs. I’m looking forward to getting to know more about this cool NGO as I work with them more during my last few weeks in Dakar.
ImagiNation Afrika recently received a grant from the Tran-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership to begin a new, year-long program, called Men Na Nekk, which I was able to help lay the groundwork for. The project is aimed at teaching multimedia skills to students in southern Senegal, an area below the Gambia called the Casamance Region. Because it is one of the poorest regions of Senegal, the area is prone to youth radicalization, which ImagiNation Afrika is trying to prevent with Men Na Nekk.
When it begins, the project will reach several hundred students in three regions of Senegal through a variety of 15-day intensive camps. One camp focuses on leadership training and the promotion of moderate and tolerant ideologies. Two other camps will teach basic photography and film production skills, and they will allow students to make short films talking about what Islam means to them. There will also be a film festival where student’s films will be showcased.
...continue reading "Men Na Nekk"
I feel like I'm settling in well at ImagiNation Afrika. A great group of people work there and I've really enjoyed starting to get to know them! The organization just ended their summer session summer camps, and for the past several weeks, they’ve been closed in order to transition to the fall trimester. Each trimester has a theme; this one is all about transportation.
I’ve been helping where I can during the transition, painting big posters of cars and trucks and trying to think of ideas for new play area designs for the kids. I’ve been working mostly on creating a “message house” for the organization, which is basically a clear way of stating three key messages to go along with a blanket statement, which are then supported by evidence. The blanket statement in this case is “play is the best way for children to learn”. I’ve been doing a lot of research into how play affects brain development and learning, and the three key points I come up with will then be incorporated into brochures and pamphlets for donors to learn more about the organization.
...continue reading "Settling In"
Asalaamaalekum from Dakar, Senegal!
I'm just finishing up my first week at the CIEE Development Studies program. I was attracted to this study abroad program for several reasons. First, it gives me a really unique opportunity to immerse myself in the culture of a country I might not otherwise get to visit, and since I'm living with a host family, I feel like I get a very authentic immersion experience. I also get to study development in a country that has been the subject of many types of development projects throughout the years, giving me an awesome and rare up-close learning opportunity. (I'm looking forward to the weekly field trips we get to take around the city for class!) Senegal also lets me work on my French-speaking skills (which definitely need work!), and I get to eat delicious baguettes for breakfast every morning!
...continue reading "Asalaamaalekum from Dakar!"