Last spring, a group of 29 B.C. francophone students travelled to Senegal for a learning experience. What they got was a life experience.
The students were part of a grade 10 to 12 course program called Global Perspectives/ Perspective Mondiale. The goal of the program is to develop students’ global citizenship through international and development studies. The course culminated in a volunteer aid trip to Senegal.
They named the initiative Yaakaar, which means “hope” in Wolof, the dominant ethnic Sengalese language.
“When we actually went to Senegal,” said Raymond Lemoine, the Port Coquitlam school principal, “the students said, ‘I know we talked about it, but I never expected it to be as different as it is.'”
About 70 per cent of the population of Senegal, a coastal west African nation of 11.7 million, lives in rural areas and farm for a living. It’s a stable Muslim country that has made good progress in development, however, just 30 per cent of its citizens are literate and unemployment runs as high as 48 per cent in some areas. At least 57 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line.
Their projects involved partnering with three schools, a women’s small business program, an orphanage and a clinic.
At the schools, the students’ fundraising went to purchase library books, soccer balls, basketballs and sports gear, six laptops and 20 scholarships to support 660 students over three years.
In the village of Back-Seck, the group purchased a millet grinder to help the local women earn income. The group also sponsored one woman’s higher education. Their goal is to help provide income-generating programs for the women, who under Senegalese law are unable to own land and therefore have to find other ways to make a living.
The students volunteered at the 130-child Madesahel Orphanage in Warang, where they donated milk and children’s clothing.
The delegation also donated three Physician Travel Packs from HPIC, containing medicines and medical supplies worth $18,000, to a free clinic in the village.
“Kids today have access to the Internet and TV, and they see so many things and they become desensitized. But it really struck them when they were there. Some of them were really shocked by what they saw and by the impact of what they were doing,” Lemoine says.
“Some of them were in tears. Our students realized that it takes so little to do so much over there. I am convinced that out of those 29 kids who went on this trip, for more than half of them it will have a lot of influence on what they are doing later on.”
Gabriel Lessard-Kragen, a Grade 10 student from Quadra Island was one of the students on the trip. He said the experience left a lasting impression.
“Creating something and helping people who aren’t as lucky as you, it kind of gives you a really good feeling and you could tell the people were extremely grateful,” said the 15-year-old student.
“I found the whole country fascinating,” he said. “There are a whole bunch of myths about Africa that youth have, so getting a good grip on these things was really at the forefront. I really enjoyed seeing different cultures and how they live out their lives. I thought this course and the trip to Senegal were a fantastic way to see more of the world, to learn more about different communities and expand my horizons.”
The B.C. school district is determined to forge long-term connections to these Senegalese communities. They are offering the course again next year and make the trip once every two years.
from Elaine O’Connor, The Province
for full story see: www.theprovince.com/borders