Job Shadowing in Senegal

Bio

Salaamaalekum! Maa ngi tudd Ndeyedounia Fall! Back at Lithuania they would call me Virginija, but for 3 weeks I had a chance to live as a Senegalese.

Originally from Vilnius, Lithuania, but have spent most of my ‘grown-up’ life abroad, traveled from Shanghai to Marrakech and admired places such as the Eiffel Tower or Sarajevo’s Baščaršija as my lovely neighbourhoods sites. I finished International Politics and Development studies at Vytautas Magnus university in Kaunas, Lithuania, which paved the path towards my activities in the ‘developing world’. It also gave me freedom to gain experiences through non-formal activities: I participated in numerous youth exchanges, NGOs, later on I joined Young European Leadership as Communication officer, facilitated and co-organised a youth conference in Tunisia and worked in Departmental Council of the Ardennes as Interreg Reporter.

Report

Wars, genocides, famine, barbaric traditions, plagues… were reasons to study Africa and the image that development studies had shaped of the continent.  As Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver, wrote, Africa is a pessimist’s paradise that need to be governed by an absolute sovereign, or else life for its people will be nasty, brutish and short. Stereotypes and prejudices were one of the main motivators to take the challenge of spending 3 weeks in Ziguinchor, Senegal as a participant in Job Shadowing within S.U.R.F. project.

Opting out the prejudices, I decided to make my opinion myself and at the same time explore Senegalese NGO. In general, Senegal rang a bell in my head just because of two famous French-Senegalese: rapper Bouba and actor, comedian Omar Sy. Hence, I had a secret mission – to discover their motherland and find them, since the best stalking application – Instagram – showed that Omar Sy was in Dakar at the same time as me.

Senegalese for 3 weeks

How often can you get a chance to live as a Senegalese? On 9-29  April I was lucky enough to live with with the locals and act as one. On the second day of my stay, I already was ‘adopted’ and given a Senegalese name – Ndeyedounia Fall. On the third day I was already at the tailor’s to get my brand new, personalized dress. 3 weeks were enough to get the surface of the mentality and shallowly understand the customs. I still remember vividly, how I forgot to close the kitchen doors and my ‘sister’ panicked, but promptly remembered of ‘medicine from thefts’ left in the house that apparently would paralyze the intruder once he tries to steal. The sort of ‘magical’ spells and ‘medicines’ are common in Senegal. It is also usual to go see sort of ‘shaman’ who can cure illnesses and help in various lifelong problems e.g., lack of love. Senegalese believe in the effect of love potions or spells, which have only one drawback – ‘it’s not real love and it will eventually cease to exist’.

Carrot and stick or traditions vs rules in school

By far the cutest and funniest moments were from the encounters with African children. I was mesmerized by their feel of rhythm and crazy dances. From early age they challenge each other to dance-offs and get crazy when they see a white skin. I had a pleasure to assist several times to classes for the youngest kiddos up to 5 years old.

At first it was all fun and joyful, rainbows and unicorns, children were cute and excited to play. Thus, I was more than shocked when some ‘teachers’ supported physical punishments to either control the pupils or penalize for mistakes.

Imagine a scenario: a child stands up in front of the class to demonstrate what (s)he’s learnt, child makes a mistake, teacher smacks him/her in believing that fear will teach him a better lesson. The practice has been outlawed, however some teachers still use it to ‘make order in the classroom’. As everywhere, children can be devilish, sometimes out of control and physical violence is never an option, but the tradition in Africa is always stronger than rules or laws. In some cases, ethnicities in Africa have bigger influence than rule of law, which makes it difficult to demolish such practices as genital mutilation, etc. Considering the historical context, the numbers have been decreasing and step by step Africa will come to a state of realisation that physical violation and punishments are not the way to go.

As part of the project S.U.R.F. we also had a chance to meet teachers and give some material to continue education for children. With the colouring books, crayons and pencils youngsters will be able to paint and draw, focus and learn. Overall, seeing the reality, is painful, but realising the successful efforts that are proceeding, is hopeful.

By far the cutest and funniest moments were from the encounters with African children. I was mesmerized by their feel of rhythm and crazy dances. From early age they challenge each other to dance-offs and get crazy when they see a white skin. I had a pleasure to assist several times to classes for the youngest kiddos up to 5 years old.

At first it was all fun and joyful, rainbows and unicorns, children were cute and excited to play. Thus, I was more than shocked when some ‘teachers’ supported physical punishments to either control the pupils or penalize for mistakes.

Imagine a scenario: a child stands up in front of the class to demonstrate what (s)he’s learnt, child makes a mistake, teacher smacks him/her in believing that fear will teach him a better lesson. The practice has been outlawed, however some teachers still use it to ‘make order in the classroom’. As everywhere, children can be devilish, sometimes out of control and physical violence is never an option, but the tradition in Africa is always stronger than rules or laws. In some cases, ethnicities in Africa have bigger influence than rule of law, which makes it difficult to demolish such practices as genital mutilation, etc. Considering the historical context, the numbers have been decreasing and step by step Africa will come to a state of realisation that physical violation and punishments are not the way to go.

As part of the project S.U.R.F. we also had a chance to meet teachers and give some material to continue education for children. With the colouring books, crayons and pencils youngsters will be able to paint and draw, focus and learn. Overall, seeing the reality, is painful, but realising the successful efforts that are proceeding, is hopeful

International training course

Games with the children and activities within the international training course ‘Step up for the rights of females: Women poverty and vulnerability in Senegal’ were sometimes inseparable. International partners and participants were based in the school to learn and work for the improvement of the local community of vulnerable women. However, after working sessions, we all had to lay some steam off and play with kids.

During the trainings we initiated a project ‘Braided culture’ that aims at promoting crafts and services provided by violated young moms in the Kullimarroo center. We had multiple meetings with the employees and girls to discuss our ideas, where my main responsibility was to translate and mediate discussions. It was a great success! Girls were happy to be promoted, center was happy with additional finances and tourists were joyful of supporting a good cause (plus getting a beautiful bracelet). After the training, my main mission was to finalise next steps with hotels,  where the crafts would be initially promoted and sold.

Negotiating with hotels

Once the partners were gone, ‘Braided culture’ was planned, I was left to negotiate and talk over the proposal with the hotels. The most memorable meeting I had was with the owner of Hôtel Le Perroquet. The owner was  originally a Parisian, who lived for several years in Moscow, Russia and now ended up living 10 months a year in Ziguinchor, taking care of his hotel! He already had a small exposition of items produced by local NGOs. Hence, our proposal was right on time and in the right place!

Let’s talk gender equality!

Finally, my last major mission was to facilitate workshops for local youth and youth workers.  Can you Imagine having a workshop on gender equality in a country, where majority still perceive woman as a housewife? Where some believe in magical ‘medicine’ from thieves or witches hiding inside a cat? With shy and quiet audience, half of whom spoke only wolof (their local language), I had my proper doubts, but it ended up being an experience to remember. With a few ice-breakers and encouragements, youngsters managed to discuss openly, support one another and most importantly, connect with the elderly.

Overall, Africa is not to be scared – I don’t even remember how many frightened looks I had once I announced of going to Senegal or how many bizarre comments I received. Judging from African community (there is barely such) in Lithuania – we’re only scared of what we don’t know, right? Books and rules remain a theory, media and history become a subjective truth but the stories and these people are what truly counts.

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