Friday, April 21, 2017

Busy Day in Dakar

Today is our last day in Dakar before traveling to our host communities. Our day was busy and filled with trips to the US Embassy, the market and the West African Research Center. I would post pics about the Embassy visit - but we weren't allowed to take any - none outside or inside. HOWEVER, I did end up seeing a high school friend of mine who worked at the Embassy in Dakar (totally random, I know) - and he took a picture that I can share with you later. While at the Embassy we learned about the Ministry of Education in Senegal and some of the challenges they are facing in the Senegalese education system. One of the challenges they are facing is teacher training.
Right now, only approximately 1/3 of the teachers are formally trained. Another challenge is class size. Class size can average anywhere between 40 - 90 students (in some rural areas). Having a class of that size poses a lot of challenges - other than sheer bodies in a classroom. It is difficult for teachers to assess all those students - imagine grading 90 essays!??!? Another area of challenge is making sure the assessment is aligned with the curriculum. They have a national curriculum along with national exams the students have to pass after elementary, middle and high schools. Yet another area of challenge is making classrooms STUDENT-centered vs. TEACHER-centered.

There is currently a debate happening in education right now in Senegal about reading instruction. Right now, students are taught in elementary school to read in French. However, French isn't the mother tongue of most students. There are three predominantly three languages that are the mother tongue of most students: Wolof, Pular, and Sere. However, students are taught to read in French. The argument has been whether students should learn how to read in their MOTHER TONGUE or in the LINGUA FRANCA (which would be French). The problem with students learning how to read in their mother tongue is that there currently aren't any resources (books, etc) in Wolof, Pular, or Sere. Assessments would need to be aligned and materials would have to be created. At least it is opening
the lines of conversation about language acquisition and best practices in teaching reading.

After we left the embassy - we headed to Little Buddha for lunch and had traditional Yassa Poulet. Ohhhh man, it was delicious! It has been my favorite food item so far out here! It is chicken and rice, made with a yummy onion sauce! It was the BEST! Mmmmmm!

After that, our group went on a walk (to walk off some lunch) and took some pictures at an outdoor gym. There are tons of pictures outside on the cliff overlooking the ocean. It's beautiful. At night, there are tons of people working out and using all the free equipment. We had fun with our
two in-country hosts (Ibrahima and Assitou). We also spent some time at the West African Research Center. There aren't public libraries in Senegal. This is an area that has a wide collection of books about West Africa and Senegal that students can come and use in their center. It is a fully functioning library, in addition to a research center. Students can come and use their computers and wifi. There is also a meeting room where conferences and meetings are held.

Tomorrow we leave for our host community - Nioro Du Rip. I am anxious to meet our host teacher and get to see the host community we will be staying in for a week. It's about a 4-hour drive from Dakar and we leave at 9am. Hopefully, I will be able to post (if we have wifi). :)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

First Visit to a Senegalese School

Today was a very busy day. VERY. We started off the day by visiting a Senegalese school in Dakar called CEM Ousmane Diop Coumba Middle School (OCDP) de Soumbedioune in Dakar. A teacher named Abdoul Aziz Niang spent a few hours taking us around the school and letting us visit classrooms. It was amazing to see the students hard at work! Some were taking tests. Others were learning French, or about geography or history. All of them seemed engaged in their learning and were attentive and responsive to their teachers. I learned so much today about the Senegalese school system - much more than I could ever write in a BLOG post. I took over 100 pictures today, too - much more than I could ever include on a BLOG post either. So I will just start with highlights of the day.

First of all, our trip to the middle school was indeed a highlight. I enjoyed seeing students in the classroom as well as at break time talking, hanging out and being "kids" together. I was able to see a Senegalese "lunch lady" of sorts selling bread and bean puree or eggs for the bread. Kids would bring her coins and she would take out a baguette and make them a sandwich. Then, she would wrap it up in paper. Not just any paper - school papers, like old homework papers. I wish I had a picture of that. Students handed her some old school work paper - and I kept thinking - is she checking their homework? Then I saw that she wrapped up their sandwich in the paper!

Most of the teachers in Senegal are men. We got to meet the principal of the middle school, who was a woman - and she was a teacher for over 20 years. Her vision is to get girls more interested in
STEM-related learning, especially science. They are trying to have computer science classes available for students - but the internet connectivity seems to always present an issue. We asked the students what would happen if they took out their cell phone in class - and they said they would get in trouble. They are not allowed to use their phones in class. I did notice as soon as they were on "break" - they ALL took out their cell phones. So, they HAVE devices, they can't USE them in class.

Their school days go Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm. They take an hour break from 12-1. During that time, students can leave campus if they want to go home or go get food from a street vendor. They don't have to stay on campus. On Weds and Fridays, they get out at 2pm.

Their middle school had about 400 students, with approx 40 students per class. I noticed that all of the students were extremely respectful. They all stood when they spoke and, as a class, stood when the teacher entered the room. They primarily learn in French - but many speak Wolof, in addition to learning English at school. Some were shy about asking questions, some wanted to know what we liked so far about Senegal, where we came from, and what we all teach. The classrooms were modest, with long tablets that sat 2-3 students in a row. Although they sat next to each other, they worked independently. The teacher had a long green chalkboard to write notes for instruction. One interesting fact to note - the classroom belongs to the STUDENTS, not the teacher. The teachers are the ones who rotate through the classes, while the students stay in that room. Typically a class lasts an hour, never more than two hours.

We visited a market after the school. I noticed SO MANY things. First of all, every piece of fabric in Senegal is BEAUTIFUL. I am not typically a "fabric person" (I know many people who are, I am not one) - HOWEVER - after seeing all the amazing fabric in Senegal, I think I have become one. There are so many bright colors and fun patterns. Some have gold or silver. They are ALL stunning. I found a woman who was able to take a skirt she had in the shop and alter it for me on the spot. It was too long and the waist needed to be resized - she literally did it in 5 minutes. Five minutes! I can't wait to wear it!!! I also found that many of the men's shirts (and some of the women's clothing) had a waxy type feel. The fabric has a waxy coating. Not all fabrics, but many of them.

I also had a unique experience at the market. There was a young man who I saw carrying around a cage FULL of little birds (they looked like finches). When we asked him (through broken French) what he was doing - he said we could pay him 100 CFA (about $0.16) to liberate a bird. Yep. He wasn't selling them as pets, or selling them for any other reason - just to liberate them. It took me aback. I was immediately intrigued. He wasn't begging for money. He wasn't selling chachkies. He caught and "jailed" these birds and people could pay money to free them. At $0.16 per bird - I was in. I wanted to free some of these birds. I handed him 1000 CFA (approx $1.67) to free 10 birds. He reached in and grabbed a bird and handed it to me - and I happily watched it fly away. It was an incredible feeling. I can't put it into words. It was a completely different feeling than handing someone spare change on the street. I felt drawn to the helpless birds and felt good freeing them. I'm not sure how many customers this young man has on a daily basis - but if I see another man walking with a cage of birds, I would pay money to do it again. In my head, I know he will go catch
more birds. But the $0.16 I paid per bird to release them was worth it. And I can't imagine how he goes around catching all those little tiny birds. It is definitely an experience I won't ever forget.

After we left the market (with lots of gifts in hand) - we went to NGO called Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE). There, we met with the president of FAWE and learned about women in African culture. Again, there is no way I could put into this BLOG all that we talked about and all that we learned today. This organization is trying to help increase the success of young African women in schools (especially in science and STEM-related fields). They try to help girls graduate from high school (and pass the BAC, the exam they have to pass to go to University). We talked about how women need to be empowered to feel like they CAN do the same things as men/boys in society and can be just as successful. FAWE has worked to provide some empowerment supports at schools by having "cells" where girls can learn and get support in many different ways.

After FAWE, we had a traditional Senegalese lunch of "chep-bu-jen" which is rice and fish at a restaraunt called Little Buddha.

Finally, after our full day - we went to Musee de la Femme Henriette Bathily- which is a museum about African women. It was originally open in 1994 on Goree Island - and is a tribute to all women. This museum encompasses all aspects of a woman's life - from rituals and rites of passage around pregnancy and birth to household duties/chores to sports and science achievements. This museum was the first of it's kind on the African continent. Now there is one other museum like this in Mali. This museum was since moved from Goree to Dakar, which is where we visited. If you are interested in learning more click here for the link. I am super tired and off to bed. Tomorrow we visit the US Embassy! I can't believe the time is flying by so quickly!

Things I Have Learned So Far

Our days have been jammed packed with learning, cultural visits and time to explore Dakar. I have learned so many things so far. Here is a quick list before I head out on today's adventures:

1. Yes, there were armed guards outside our exchange - but I was happy they were there. And - really - in the US we have armed guys who go with the armored trucks. Not that different, IMO.

2. Approx 600 CFA = $1 (lots of mental math on this trip!)

3. The average approximate beginning teacher salary is $150/month. There are three levels of teachers - that is for the beginning teacher. IT can go upwards of $400/month for higher level teachers.

4. Most teachers are men.

5. Bissap is wonderful (and even a MORE wonderful mixed half and half with Sprite) - see photo on the left

6. There are not many schools for students who would need special education services. There are about 4 schools in Senegal (for the blind or deaf) - other than that, they are not in school. Most parents keep special needs children at home.

7.The first schools in all of West Africa were in Senegal.

8. Senegal has 14 regions, each region has an academic inspector (except Dakar, which has 3 due to it's size)

9. There are exams after elementary school, middle school and high school which allow students to go on to the next level.

10. If students don't pass the BAC (after high school) they don't go to university.

11. The African Renaissance Monument is taller than the Statue of Liberty - and we were able to go all the way up into the crown (see the tiny windows in the picture below)
Off to our busy day! Will try to post more tonight!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Miles to Go Before I Sleep

Yesterday, as we traveled half way around the world to get to Dakar - I was reminded of the poem "Stopping by Woods On A Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost:

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

That was me yesterday - I definitely had "miles to go" before I slept. It took me 3 plane rides to finally arrive at Dakar. 

LAX to Atlanta (1944 miles) approx 4 hours 10 minutes
Atlanta to Paris (4389 miles) approx 8 hours 50 minutes
Paris to Dakar (2622 miles) approx 5 hours 40 minutes

I flew almost 9000 miles to arrive here in Dakar. Although I spent about almost 19 hours in the air flying - it took me much longer with layovers and time changes. I left my house at 9am Monday and arrived at the Raddison Blu in Dakar at 10:30pm Tuesday.
I had a super night's sleep and feel well rested and on the time schedule here (which is great considering we are 7 hours ahead here). I was able to talk to my boys on the phone last night thanks to Whats App (and wifi!) Woo hoo!!!! All is well and the hotel is stunning. I have a palm tree right outside my hotel door - which leads to a beautiful patio. It's time to grab breakfast and meet up with the #TeamSenegal crew. Today we have meetings at the hotel and will go exchange money to CFA. I'm looking forward to seeing Dakar in the daylight today!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Two More Days...

Just two short days until I head out for Senegal. My friend Christie gave me this bracelet to remind me to "Enjoy the Journey." It has already been quite the journey and I have yet to step foot on Senegalese soil.

A lot has happened in the world within the last few months, weeks - heck, even the last few days. Although I don't want to get into politics - I have been asked by many people, "Are you excited?" - then I get, "Aren't you scared with all that's happening in the world today?" First of all, yes. Yes, I am very excited. I am excited to travel to a place half way around the world to meet students and teachers and learn about their education system. I am excited to travel with my partner, Nan, and learn about globalizing education together as elementary educators. Nan is a STEAM teacher in Northern CA, and with my focus being on technology - we make an awesome team! I am excited about all that I will learn, the new places I will go, the new people I will meet and the new things I will experience. But the next question - am I afraid? Afraid? No. Every day that I get into my car, I COULD BE in an accident. Every time I step foot onto the street, I COULD BE hit by oncoming traffic. Every time I go into a shopping center, I COULD BE robbed, mugged or car jacked - right here in California. But have I been? By the common grace of God, no. But COULD I have been? Yes. Of course. Any of us could be, on any given day. Life is short, and we shouldn't live in fear.

There are certainly precautions to take when traveling. There are also general precautions of safety to take in everyday life. Nan and I are ready and have so far made a great team in terms of preparations and teamwork. We have had safety webinars and briefings, and are prepared with what we believe will make us smart, ready travelers. Those things are important- no matter when or where you travel - domestic or international.

So, as I pack my bags and get ready to leave my family for two weeks, I am reminded of two quotes that I'd like to share. Author of The Alchemist, Portuguese writer Paulo Coelho once said, "If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it is lethal." Coelho happened to be nominated by The Albert Einstein Foundation in 2017 as one of the 100 leading visionaries of our time and I love the dichotomy he draws between routine and adventure. My hope is that one day my own boys will grow roots with family, home and security - as well as have wings to soar and experience places around the world. Probably one of my favorite travel quotes has been attributed to St. Augustine, "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page." The world we live in is a big, beautiful, vast place. A far bigger place than I will ever be able to visit and see. I am so blessed and fortunate to be extended this opportunity to visit Africa. I'm not sure I will ever have another opportunity such as this in my entire lifetime. I am certainly soaking up every minute, every second - and am hoping to share it all with you along the way.

Below is our finalized day-by-day schedule for our time in Nioro Du Rip. We are so excited to have our finalized schedule!!!! Can't wait!!!!!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Land of Teranga

I have heard that Senegal is the "land of teranga" - but what does that mean?

"Teranga" is a word in Wolof (one of the primary languages in Senegal) meaning hospitality. I have yet to step foot on Senegalese soil, but I have heard this from the moment I found out I was going to Senegal. As we are preparing for our journey, my travel partner Nan and I are preparing also for the land of hospitality. 

We do not want to visit schools, homes, villages without bringing gifts. In fact, each of us are planning on taking two suitcases for our trip, one for our clothing and one completely full of gifts. We have learned some facts about the school we will be teaching at in Nioru du Rip:

Student population: 1,780
Number of teachers: 54
Number of students in the English class we will be teaching: 77
Number of students in the science class we will be teaching: 41
Number of students in the after school English club: 30
Language spoken at school: French
Language spoken at home: Wolof

We have our week organized to meet with administrators, teachers, students, and staff. We want to bring gifts to show our appreciation for their time and opening their doors to host us as visitors. Nan and I wanted to have silicone wristbands made that we could take with us to Senegal to hand out. I know personally, my boys LOVE silicone bands! They collect them and have them all stacked on their wrists! We decided on red, because that is the only color that the USA, California and Senegal flags have in common. On one side, it says California with a California flag on the left and right. On the other side of the band, it says Senegal with the Senegal flag on either side. We have over 1,000 of these to hand out. Hopefully, it will be a visual reminder of the bond and connection of love and respect between Californians and Senegalese.

I was also able to find some California items (since both my partner and I happen to both be from CA). We will be taking some California flags for the classrooms we visit, some keychains, window clings, and lanyards. I also found some California shirts that are super cute that I can hand out to our hosts and other teachers.

I have also been blessed by such an outpouring of love from people wishing to donate items to send to Senegal. I have received items from my school district to take as well as from individuals. I have received shirts, pins, flags, lanyards, luggage tags, pens and drawstring backpacks. My suitcase is already almost full because I also was able to find Disney lanyards at a local thrift shop. They had over 350 that they graciously gave me for $10.

I also have a few books entitled "G is for Golden: A California Alphabet" that I will be donating to classrooms we visit. They are alphabet books about California and each letter of the alphabet teaches something about our beautiful state. On the inside covers of the books, I have had two classrooms worth of students sign their name. Those classrooms are writing letters and postcards to students in Senegal. As part of our English lesson, we will be teaching letter format and will have Senegalese students read letters from their California penpal and write them letters back. Already, students in California can see the Senegalese school via Google Earth and can learn some Wolof phrases from my blog. 

We are anxiously awaiting our travel to the land of teranga. In the meantime, we are collecting gifts and mementos from California that we think our Senegalese friends will enjoy. In less than two weeks, we will leave our friends and family to visit a new land to meet new friends and those we will forever consider family. I am so grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity. I am grateful our students will be making new friends via penpals and letters. I am also grateful for the cultural exchange our students will experience through blog posts, photos, and presentations. I am so grateful for this opportunity to learn and grow as an individual as well as an educator. 

To all of those who donated, Jerejef. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart.