On June 9, 2015, 16 eager students and six trip leaders from Lick- Wilmerding took to the skies. Flying at 600 miles per hour towards Dakar, Senegal, they were prepared to embark on a three-week service trip: finishing a school building in the village of Santhiou Mane Gor.
12 hours, 6,382 miles and two planes later, the jet-lagged but nonetheless excited group landed in Dakar, Senegal. They loaded into a bus to take them to the village of Santhiou Mane Gor, where they would be working for the next three weeks.
From the hostel in the village Keur Moussa, a half hour’s drive from the village, Maia Shwarts ’17 immediately logged onto the Senegal trip Tumblr blog and updated anxious parents – “Hello world! All of us are safe and sound at our little abode in Keur Moussa! Today we were received by the village of Santhiou Mane Gor under the blazing sun. There was dance, music and festivities, then we met our designated families. After a long lunch and tea, we regrouped with all the village children in tow for a tour, then began our ride home. Said ride was accompanied by a rap-battle by Royale (Privitte) ’15, Seiji (Oda) ’16, Isaiah (Baluyot) ’16, and Julian (Holmes) ’15. We are looking forward to the coming day, and the memories we have yet to make.”
For the next two weeks of the trip, the group of sixteen students and six teachers spent nights in the beautiful hostel, and days in the village of Santhiou Mane Gor. Caitlin Murphy ’16 describes a typical day, “We would start around eight or nine, have breakfast at the hotel, and then take a half-hour bus ride to the village, which was really cool because we got to go through the larger town…Then we would work in the village for a couple of hours and then take a three-hour lunch break with our families, which was the highlight of the day… We’d get to spend time with our families, cook, and they would serve us food and they would always insist we stay for lots of tea.”
The typical lunch was filled with laughter and music. We ate Ceebu Jen, a fish and rice dish served in a large bowl and eaten with one’s hands — Lick students had spoons. Time was spent conversing and laughing with each of the students adopted families, which were often large — several generations living in the same house. After family time, students returned to work for several hours, and then capped off the day with a friendly soccer game.
The students work in the village centered around furnishing a school—painting the walls and building desks and furniture. The building was started three years ago when students from Lick and Drew sent designs to the village. After both sides had agreed upon one, the villagers poured the cement base and began the brick work. Students built desks, chairs, and benches and helped construct the roof and walls.
The project was the opposite of imposing themselves on the village. When asked about the difference between being unhelpful outsiders and supportive community-builders, Shwarts replied that “The school we built was a Quranic school. It fits into the ideals of the people in the village, not necessarily outsider ideals. This is something that they had asked us to build for them, not the other way around. So I think that is the real difference.”
In addition to work in the village, students took shifts in the village’s medical clinic, led by doctor Katerina, an OB- GYN. The clinic operates year- round, generally staffed only by volunteers. Its biggest job is supplying painkillers and hygiene products to the villagers. To get supplies for the clinic, Lick holds a medication drive in the spring for sealed bottles of painkillers including Ibuprofen and Tylenol. Murphy describes work in the clinic, “a lot of the things that people came in with [were] hygiene- related, especially the children, and so in the end we gave out boxes of soap and laundry detergent to everybody. A lot of it is really just education.”
Through the last three summer visits, Lick students built lasting connection with Santhiou Mane Gor, and the leaders of the trip will be sad to leave it. But there are always new projects; this upcoming summer Lick students will be building a school in Niokhob Gedg. This new village tried to build a school recently out of straw, but it blew over due to summer winds and rain. The village was referred to Lick as a possible project by the Senegalese Department of Education. Once the school is finished, the local government will supply the school with teachers, one of which was previously making a 30 kilometer commute to a school in another village.
The trip was a success. Annika Salmi ’17 enthusiastically summed up the trip “You should go! It is a life-changing experience- it is the best thing that has ever happened to me!” Shwarts gave advice to those applying for the trip: “Music is the best way to communicate. Bring your iPod, play your music, they want to hear it, they want to dance with you, don’t be shy- it’s the best time of your life!”