Care in Senegal by Juliette Chausson
I came to Senegal around mid September 2009 and stayed until the 21st of December. If it hadn’t been for Christmas and New Years, and knowing that eventually I would have to go home and this was an ideal time, I probably wouldn’t have left. Despite all of the struggles and adaptations, I felt like St. Louis had become my home, and I still feel this way now. I became part of a family, both at my host house, and at my work placement.
Before embarking on my journey, I had decided to do teaching. I taught for two weeks, and then, because the summer school I taught ended, I moved to a temporary renovation project, but after seeing the enthusiasm and passion of the volunteers at the Talibe Centre, I decided that Care was more for me. So, instead of going back to teaching, after having finished renovating the day care centre, I asked to transfer to the Talibe Care Centre. Talibes are children who beg on the streets.
Thankfully, Projects Abroad made the switch easy and painless. I began my work at the Talibe Centre soon after I requested the transfer and immediately plunged into it. I had never done any type of medical work before, but the other volunteers showed me what to do in which situations and would always help if I had any questions.
Every morning, we were split into work teams, and each team would go to a separate daara (and other daaras as well if time and amount of supplies allowed), to help treat the Talibes. [NB: Daaras are where the Talibes live and are taught the Qu’ran]. One group of volunteers would stay at the centre to do treatments there.
At the centre and in the daara groups, both Projects Abroad and Senegalese volunteers work together. This was an amazing collaboration and allowed for me to get to meet and connect with Senegalese people who were my age. Needless to say, we soon became friends. They were all really kind and funny, and I had an amazing time with them. On our long walks to the daaras, we would get to talk about Senegal, and it enabled me to learn about their culture and country on a deeper level. Sometimes, in the afternoons, if we didn’t have much work, we would sit around on the roof of the centre making Senegalese tea and joking around.
A couple of water fights also broke out, but with the Senegalese heat, we all dried off pretty fast. The day of my birthday was especially memorable, because the Senegalese volunteers decided that I had to be “washed” and then went on chase me around with a bucket of water, catch me, drench me with the water and cover my face in flour. Then they rubbed charcoal on me to make me “black.” It was hilarious and really made me feel like part of their family. My experience would definitely not have been as amazing without them. And quite honestly, they were necessary considering the Talibes didn’t speak any French, mostly just Wolof or Toucouleur (two local tribal languages), so treating them without the Senegalese volunteers would have been near to impossible.
The work in daaras was difficult because daaras aren’t exactly equipped for medical treatment. We sat on floor mats and carried with us a lunchbox full of medical equipment: scissors, gloves, cotton, gauze, band aids, betadine, Dakin etc, and we would do our best. The wounds we treated in daaras were more on the minor side of what we had to deal with. Our work there mostly consisted of treating infected cuts and ripping off scabies scabs in order to treat the open scabies wounds with medicine.
Occasionally we would also have shaving sessions where we would use blades to shave their heads because it was cleaner and stopped them from getting lice. It also allowed us to treat scabies if they had it on their heads. However, if the children had too much scabies, severe burns, or extremely deep cuts, we would send them to volunteers working at the centre where we had several rooms dedicated to treatment.
I ended up working quite a lot at the centre (instead of going to daaras to treat Talibes) when I had more experience with treatments and could treat wounds without outside help. We also had a playroom equipped with crafts so the Talibes could come and draw or play with puzzles. In addition, we had a large bathroom where we occasionally showered the Talibes to help keep them clean and prevent the spread of scabies.
On Friday afternoons, we had what we called, le goûter. All the volunteers would show up 10 minutes early to help prepare. Two designated volunteers would go to get baguettes, chocolate spread, and powdered milk that morning, and in the afternoon we would prepare snacks for the Talibes. Hundreds of them would come and we would have them line up and wash their hands and group them into 50 or 100 and serve snacks to one group at a time. Then, if we had leftovers, we would go to nearby daaras and give the leftovers to Talibes who hadn’t come to the centre to get snacks. I think that it really helped them to know that every Friday they have a guaranteed meal since they don’t always know for sure they’ll have food every day.
I’m not going to lie and sugar-coat the work; apart from all of the fun with the volunteers, it was very hard. Seeing the conditions the children live in and the hardships they have to deal with is not something that most people in the U.S. or other first world countries are used to. And it’s definitely not something that you can put out of your head when you leave the Care Centre. But the children have no one else to treat them, and even though our care wasn’t hospital quality, there’s consolation in knowing that you’re helping however you can.