The last subject I wrote about was the challenges many countries would face now that Donald Trump is our President Elect. Developing countries especially will have a unique battle ahead as Mr. Trump has made it quite clear that his sole focus is on “Making America Great Again”. Despite this upsetting news my friends, family, and colleagues came together to fight for a great cause. Our fundraiser was very successful and the money we raised will go a long way for the refugees. The money that each individual donated will make all the difference in the life of a refugee who wants to pursue his education or even just make it another day with food on the table.
While I am proud we raised money I am even more proud of the fact that we brought something new to the table. P.A.R.I had never before held a fundraiser, which is pretty astounding considering it is a non-profit organization. P.A.R.I has always relied on private donors or the church to support its mission. While this is great, P.A.R.I is really straining to reach as many refugees as possible. By using contacts from the community, it is surprising to see how many people will come together under a great cause (even in a country that frowns upon homosexuality). Then again, compassion is something Senegal has in spades.
The countdown has officially started. Three weeks left. I am completely astounded at how fast time has passed. Senegal has become my home, but in many ways I still feel like a foreigner trying to find her way. A few questions have plagued me throughout this semester concerning topics varying from cultural appropriation to wondering if my role at my internship was helping anyone.
My two fellow interns and I have had a wonderfully challenging and rewarding time at P.A.R.I without a doubt. We have perfected our interview skills, practiced our Wolof, learned about the refugee crisis in Senegal, and visited many homes of people desperate for our help. Still, we struggle with keeping our life compartmentalized. We wake up, go to our internships, listen to story after story of hardship (families who live off $1 a day), and then I return to my comparatively luxurious life as a tourist in Senegal. I struggle with guilt over the life I live even though I know that is neither productive nor necessary for me to feel. One of the lessons I have learned here is that using one’s opportunities to create impactful social change is the best way to combat any feeling of guilt.
With only six weeks left here in Senegal, I am awestruck by how fast time has passed. Still, there are points where time seems to completely stop which I attribute to the fact that doing things quickly is not the Senegalese way. This doesn’t mean that productivity does not exist. At my internship, my colleagues take a two-hour lunch break to eat, relax, and pray. At first, I thought that we were wasting time considering how many refugees came seeking help and were waiting on us. After sitting in on interviews I saw how thorough my colleagues were. They made the refugees feel safe and comfortable while discerning to what extent we were able to help. As I signed in the refugees to the center everyone would take the time to ask me how I was doing. Even more amazing? They genuinely want to know.
As my French is progressing I am able to communicate more with my coworkers, but also with the refugees. I have heard horrendous stories of torture and abuse, but I have also witnessed the lengths people go to survive in a society that turned its back on them. During home visits, we assess the living situation. Nine times out ten the refugees are living in cramped and unsafe conditions. The buildings are badly built and as many as three people may have to share one bed. Seeing these things every week has humbled me to no end because it has reminded me that people all over the world don’t have access to basic needs. When I find myself missing home or even the simplest luxury that I may not have in Dakar, I remind myself the unbelievable fortune I have just to have the opportunity to study abroad.
I have quickly realized that my favorite experience here is and will continue to be my internship at P.A.R.I. For those of you who did not read my first blog, P.A.R.I is a non-profit organization that helps immigrants and refugees gain access to healthcare, housing, micro-loans, and more. Most refugees have fled the Gambia because they get killed for their sexual orientation.
Upon arriving on my first day I felt very nervous. Looking around I realized that P.A.R.I was a Catholic organization that worked closely with the Vatican. I felt they might judge me for not practicing despite being baptized catholic. When we began the day by sitting down to prayer I panicked. I did not even know the prayers in English, much less in French!
Was I supposed to pretend to pray? Close my eyes? Oh my God I do not even know how to do thesign of the Cross. Jesus, I just said the Lord’s name in vain. Help.
It has been a week, folks. My strength, my will, my beliefs, and not to mention my stomach have been tested over and over. While I consider myself pretty adaptable, I believe I have found my match in Senegal. At my lowest point, when the electricity went out and my beloved fan bit the dust, I even questioned my choice in coming here. Why Senegal? Why CIEE? Why pick a country whose neighbor is the actual Sahara Desert? I reminded myself I chose this program and this country for very specific reasons.
Firstly, I have the travel bug and I have it bad. Thanks to Mom and Dad I have a passion for immersing myself in cultures and languages unfamiliar to me. In Cesar Chavez’s wise words: “preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.” My personal opinion on the tragedies of today’s world is that they stem from people’s inability to accept that our differences are not wrong, but fascinating. Our differences allow us to do the very thing we do best: innovate, progress, and survive.
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