Testimony – September 2009

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LEAVE EVERYTHING AND GO TOWARDS THE UNKNOWN
By Laura S.

Leave everything and go towards the unknown in order to discover a new culture in a new universe. That’s what Laura decided on a February morning when she packed her belongings to experience a new life style in Foundiougne, a town in the west of Senegal situated in the Fatick’s region. Her wish to share the life of the deprived ones, taking school equipment and face the reality of an environment totally different from hers, made her actually initiate this experience.
Living in the country, experiencing daily people’s lifestyle and spending time with them made Elsa grown and enriched by the different people that she has met during her stay. Beyond her desire to help this lacking population of Foundiougne, she lived a great human adventure. She is sharing her experience with us in this interview.

Why did you want to leave everything and go teach in Senegal?

I had an opportunity with the “IUFM” (University institute for the training of master). International exchange have been put in place between the IUFM of Alsace in France and some countries like Senegal, Morocco, Finland, Canada and Russia. It was a good opportunity and I knew that this experience would be very rewarding in many aspects. I was curious to see how teachers prepared their lessons and especially how they were teaching with so little equipment. It seemed interesting to me to be able to compare our teaching methods and exchange our know- how in order to be mutually enriched.

What formalities were necessary before your departure?

Two trainers of IUFM were in charge of organizing our stay. They informed us on what we were supposed to expect. They talked about the living conditions of our hosts to avoid a big surprised on our arrival without telling us too much, so we could make our own judgment and discover the country by ourselves. We knew that our hosts were teachers and that we would do our internships in their classes. Teachers were responsible of dividing us between classes. With regards to administrative procedures, we had to make sure to have a passport valid six months after the return date to avoid problems. We had also to have yellow fever vaccine and hepatitis. Typhoid vaccine was only recommended, but I would advise to discuss this with your doctor before hand. He would certainly recommend taking treatment against malaria.

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Was it difficult to adapt yourself to a way of leaving with lack of comfort and so different from what you are used to in Europe?

It was not so difficult for me to adapt myself as I had already travelled to Mali a few years before and knew more or less what to expect. Senegalese have a gift for hospitality and made us feel very comfortable. This new way of life is of course quite different of what we know in Europe, but we surely get easily used to shower uisng a bucket of water.

What was the material you brought used for?

The material has been given as school supplies. We came with about a ton of materials. All teachers had collected materials to bring as much school’s equipment as possible for the classes. Books and pens are very expensive and only a few families can afford them. The students write most of the time on slate. We also brought sport equipment, which is almost nonexistent in schools.

What should someone who wants to do a similar experience expect?

Before thinking about this type of experience, I think that it is important to be well documented about the country, to know about the living conditions of the people and not be surprised by their lack of comfort. One should know about local traditions and way of living to avoid hurting people because of wrong behavior. Besides, one should take the time to observe people and let them helping you discover their country.

What memories do you retain from this experience?

The experience has been full of learning whether personal or professional. From professional viewpoint, I will remember the exchanges we had with the teachers. We have compared our teaching methods and shared our knowledge. But most important, it made me realized that teaching could be done with very few teaching aids or equipment. Once back in France, I have decided to use the black board in many occasions (in addition it saves some paper) and have emphasized on oral teaching.
These experiences have also helped me thinking about what is important in life and take things easier. It made me realize that we can have little and be happy.

Would you do it again?

I would definitely do it again.

[Interview done by THIERRY DIME BOLLA]
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