I haven’t written in a little while probably mostly because the past 2 months have been about the busiest I’ve yet had here in Senegal. To update everyone, the predisential election passed without any trouble or any surprises – the incumbant, Abdoulaye Wade, won pretty easily. My parents also visited for 10 short, fun-filled days. I’ve asked them to write up their experiences here because I thought it would be interesting for people to read some different perspectives, so if you happen to see or talk to my folks, encourage them to type something up so I can post it soon. It was great to be able to show my parents my Senegalese life and the people they met are still talking about their visit and probably will be for the next year. They got to meet most of the people that are a part of my life here in Senegal, and though they didn’t really speak the language, communication was managed. They got to see Dakar and Kaolack (where I live) as well as some of the naturally beautiful places like the mangroves of the Siné-Saloum Delta and the largest colony of Great White Pelicans in the world at Djoudj National Bird Park.
Since they left I’ve spent a few days at the pool, forming relationships with the swimmers and the people that work there that will hopefully lead to a stroke clinic for the national team... eventually. I’ve also been starting the process for the Michelle Sylvester Scholarship that is awarded by SeneGAD to girls of middle school age who do well in school but may be at risk of dropping out of school to help their families or even be sold into early marriage because their families can’t support them to attend school.
I have chosen 5 schools since Kaolack is so large and 6 girls will be chosen to apply from each school. The process involves a short application, an essay about how they see the next 10 years of their lives panning out, an interview and before I choose who I will send on to the final selection committee, I will do some home visits. For the interviez, I ask some questions like “What do you do for fun when you don’t have work to do?” Probably about half of the girls I have posed this question to have a hard time understanding it. After some explanation (sometimes a lot of explanation) the girl usually says she hangs out with her family or with her friends, reads, watches TV or does extra studying. One reason they could be having a hard time with this question though, is that girls between the ages of 8 and whatever age at which they get married, do not have liesure time. My host family is weathly enough to have a maid so Maguette (younger sister) is lucky to not have to do all the work around the house but for families with no maid, the daughters fill that roll. They sweep and make sure breakfast is ready in the morning, during the day they cook lunch and may do the men’s laundry, then in the evening they prepare dinner. A couple of the girls in my girls club have mothers who are disabled and unable to do any of this work, the girls end up doing all this work whenever they’re not at school and I know that because of this strain, their grades have fallen since last year. Another question that these Senegalese students answer much differently than their American counterparts is the one that asks if they could travel to any city in the world, where would they go and why. About 90% of them say they would go to Paris or New York, and about 90% of them say they would go there to work – these are 14, 15, 16 year-old girls.
I’ve actually been having a really difficult time thinking about who I might choose to send on to the selection committee because of the guilt having to tell some of them that they won’t be getting the scholarship. Principals tell me that everyone in their schools could use the scholarship, everyone is in dire need. In the end I’ll just choose the students that fit the criteria best and the rest will get a pat on the back, “Keep up the good work and try again next year.” And I’ll keep my fingers crossed that their families will continue to scrounge up the money to help their daughters go to school.