This summer I spent 3 weeks in Senegal with the Breton association Jeunesse et Développement and I can say with no hint of hyperbole that it was the best three weeks of my life. I found out about this opportunity through the JOA’s visit to my school’s careers fair. Although I was not old enough to apply, I thought it was too good of an opportunity to pass up, so did so anyway. The head of the association Tahir Thiam travelled to Jersey and Guernsey to give a presentation to the volunteers outlining the goals of the trip and welcoming us to the association. After sorting out the necessary paperwork (whoopee!) and getting my jabs, I headed off. I travelled with the guernsey volunteers from England before meeting Tahir again in Senegal. We met the French volunteers, and then we set to work.
We spent the first part of the trip in Pikine-Ouest, a suburb of the capital city Dakar. Our time here was split between 3 projects. The first was the regeneration of boko-jeff football field. This area is vitally important to the community of Pikine-Ouest as it provides a hub and safe space for the local community, young and old. Our work here was done in four actions. 1. Flattening the pitch. The pitch is made entirely out of sand. This is hard to walk on, and even harder to play football on, by flattening the pitch we were not only making play easier, but also reducing the risk of injury through trips and falls. 2. Repairing the football goals. 3. Planting trees around the outside of the pitch. Members of the community gather around the pitch sitting on old tyres which have been cut in half. Planting trees will not only provide shade, but also reduce air and visual pollution. 4. Holding a football tournament for the local children following the completion of our actions. This tournament lasted multiple weeks involving 400 local children playing in matches, from both Pikine-Ouest and other areas such as Pikine-Nord and Guinaw rails. At the end of the tournament we gave out trophies and prizes to the winning teams and best players, we also gave the teams that made it to the final football kits.
The second project was improving conditions for the disabled community of Pikine-Ouest and Guinaw rails, we did this in conjunction with the local disabled association. This project involved visiting the homes of local disabled people to gauge, then act upon, their needs as well as assembling, sorting and allocating mobility aids such as wheelchairs and crutches.
Our third project was centered around a shipping container sent from France by the association containing 2 ambulances, which caused a minor dispute with the port authorities, clothing, household appliances and tableware, medical equipment and hospital gowns as well as the already mentioned football kits and prizes.
Whilst we were based in Pikine we stayed with the family of Tahir, this meant we integrated more easily into the community and were able to make friends with the locals. It was amazing to be absorbed into Senegalese life in this way and we were able to celebrate many traditional festivals with them such as Mardi Gras, birthdays and baptisms. This gave us a better insight into the daily life of people in Pikine. On rest days we went on cultural excursions to île de Gorée and le Lac Rose. Visiting the maison des escalaves at Gorée was particularly poignant as we learnt about the horrors of the slave trade in Senegal. It was fascinating to see the marked contrast between these tourist-oriented areas vs. the reality of Senegalese life in areas such as Guinaw rails, the poorest area in the Pikine district. It is often said that the Senegalese government prefer to invest in tourism and football than in infrastructure, education, and healthcare. The extent to which this statement is true will vary depending on who you ask, but from my experiences, I believe it hits the nail on the head.
For the second part of the trip we travelled to Faoye, a small fishing village with 1,700 inhabitants in the Fatick region, around 150km from Dakar. Here we ran another series of football tournaments including one boys tournament and one girls tournament. The latter had proved challenging to find any teams in Pikine, however the girls of Faoye were ready and eager to compete! Another project here was establishing a ‘boutique solidaire’ which translates to ‘solidarity shop’. This involved sorting through the ceramics and glassware brought on the container, which is going to be sold by the women of the village. When we spoke to the village chief, he was incredibly supportive of this initiative as it is an ongoing project which will continue to benefit the economy of the village. The chief also suggested that this would reduce the need for villagers to travel long distances to purchase these goods. The third project in Pikine was the replanting of a mangrove forest 2 hours downstream from the village. For me this was the best day of the trip! The mud in which the mangrove saplings are planted in are incredibly thick, sticky and difficult to walk through and by the end of the day we were all thoroughly caked in the stuff and our bellies ached from laughing. On the way back from the mangroves, as we had discovered on the way there that the water was too shallow for the fully laden pirogues to sail around it, we yomped across an estuarine island, before meeting the pirogues on the other side. Whilst waiting for the boats we quickly realised that areas of the beach were covered in a slurry mix of water and sediment, meaning it was essentially a massive slip and slide! We had heaps of fun throwing ourselves across the beach and seeing how far we could travel whilst the older villagers looked on laughing.
We also spent a day in Sarkhor, which we were told was the poorest village in the region and is around a 30-minute journey by pirogue from Faoye. We delivered supplies to the medical centre there which came from the container in Pikine. I was quite shocked by the primitive nature of healthcare in the village, as well as the logistical difficulties of treating more seriously ill patients due to the village’s isolation. It was interesting listening to the doctor in the village talk about the responsibility he feels for the community. In both Faoye and Sarkhor we observed that the disabled population was significantly higher as a percentage than in Jersey. When we delivered a man in Faoye a wheelchair I noticed that the majority of people in the house appeared to suffer from at least one visible condition. I would be interested to find out more as to whether this is the case, or whether disabled people are more visible in Senegalese society due to the heightened sense of community and social mixing as opposed to our sadly more isolated, insular society. We also held another Football tournament here, with seemingly the entirety of the village coming along to watch.
Whilst in Faoye we hosted a Channel Islands evening, which can only be described as disastrous and hilarious in equal measure. We were asked to make a meal from the Channel Islands, so settled on fish and chips as, given we were in a fishing village, fish was hardly in short supply. If Wally’s chippy was given a zero-star food hygiene rating, I shudder to think what we would’ve gotten. Halfway through cooking the meal we were attacked by a swarm of lake flies, which isn’t ideal when cooking and dining al fresco! However, I think we were able to redeem ourselves with the Jersey wonders we served the following day, which are actually very similar to Senegalese beignets.
We returned to Pikine a couple of days before the end of the trip to hold the final of the football tournament, and to attend the baptism of Tafa’s daughter. Tafa is a pillar stone of the association without whom much of our work would not have been possible.
The entire trip was an incredible experience and I am sure I have made friends for life. Thanks to the help and generosity of the JOA I was able to experience an entirely different culture, improve my language skills, help those in need, and see the world in a new light, for which I am eternally thankful. Jeunesse et Developpement hope to deepen their links with the Channel Islands in line with Jersey’s new attempts to build a closer relationship with France, and have some exciting projects in the works for Channel Islanders, such as spending an extended period of time in Faoye with 2 other volunteers from France and Guernsey and a separate project to build a centre for disabled people in Pikine, which will be more accessible, reduce worries of flooding, and ensure they are able to receive the help they need. I would fully recommend applying for a JOA bursary.
‘Avec la volonté de proposer des séjours solidaires aux jeunes de Jersey, ce projet est le début de nos actions à Jersey. Nous sommes très heureux d’avoir Lucy comme représentante et grâce à son investissement, nous avons réussi à réaliser différentes missions à Dakar et à l’intérieur du pays. Prochainement, nous envisageons d’organiser une soirée sénégalaise à Jersey.’ – Tahir Thiam
(Slightly dodgy translation: We hope to offer solidarity trips to young people in Jersey, this project is just the start of our actions in Jersey. We are very happy to have Lucy as a representative and thanks to her commitment we succeeded in carrying out various projects both in Dakar and further in country. Soon we plan to organise a Senegalese evening in Jersey.)
For more information about applying for a JOA bursary take a look at our Get Involved page.