Senegal – Breaking ground on our 2nd school
Two weeks ago our team came back from Senegal, where we helped build another school. It was one of the most surreal and rewarding experiences of my life. It almost feels impossible to distill the week I spent in Senegal, the feelings, and the impact it had on me. Thankfully, images are universal and convey more about an experience than words can ever do. I’m going to share lots of photos in this post; hopefully you can get an idea of how amazing our experience was.
Senegal is one of those places that shake up your beliefs and worldviews; Anthony Bourdain said it perfectly – “it takes your assumptions and prejudices and turns them upside down. ” A colony until 1960, it is not the typical state that has gone through grievous post colonial periods. It’s a country that peacefully emerged from colonialism without ever experiencing a coup d’etat or a particular authoritarian government. Senegal is hospitable and tolerant; its culture, music, dance, cuisine, and colors are simply dazzling. It is also a country whose people face some of the toughest realities of the world, especially those related to crumbling poverty.
I loved my time in Senegal so much, that I decided to go back next year and explore the country more. Senegal, vous etes extraordinaire! ❤
Here is our story narrated through pictures taken by all of us. Thank you everyone for sharing your photos and videos with me.
I’d like to thank few people first 😉
Team Senegal!! ❤ From left: Kiki, Lori, Maya, Kiana, me and Paul – thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support. You left your loved ones back home, courageously hopped on this journey, traveled to another part of the world, worked hard under extreme heat conditions, and selflessly spread kindnesses and love with all the people you met along. I am forever grateful to you. ❤
Thank you, Celestina and Jean!
Celestina, you made this journey unforgettable. Thank you for making us feel safe, comfortable, loved, and taken care of. You are an amazing young woman who will go far in life. I can’t wait for our next trek and school in Burkina Faso. ❤
Thank you Jean for being so cool and kind to us all! You are wonderful.
Thank you, Naafi! To me, you are the best chef ever with the sweetest smile in the whole entire world. Thank you for cooking all the delicious meals for us. ❤
Thank you, Benedicte and Fakhary for all the translations and coordination on the work site!
To the community and all our host families, thank you for your hospitality, kindness and for working along with us on the school.
To all women – YOU ARE MY HEROES!
Your grit, support and love for each other was awe inspiring. You got each other’s back!
Thank you for showing me again that women are SO MUCH better off when they lift each other up. There are plenty of obstacles and challenges on the road to gender equality, we don’t need to create another one by getting in our own way. Thank you for working so hard on the school despite all the household responsibilities you had to take care every day. You truly are AMAZING. ❤
And finally, thank you to my family, friends, donors, buildOn and everyone who has supported my dream. Thank you ALL for your generosity, kindness, encouragement, and love. ❤
We started our journey by exploring a little bit Dakar, the capital, before we headed on to the village. Dakar is far from dull. It is packed with diversity, vibrant markets, colorful colonial architecture and amazing restaurants by the water.
I love this picture. This is in Dakar; we were so excited to be there. Kiki is missing from the team, she arrived the next day.
We visited Goree Island – painful and heinous memories of the Atlantic slave trade are captured in this small island off the coast of Dakar.
The House of Slaves and its Door of No Return – a symbol to the slavery’s barbarism and one of the greatest tragedies in humans’ history.
Children were taken away from their parents, stacked next to each other into dark rooms with one narrow “window”. They were kept for days until sold into slavery.
The image of men, women and children being held in horrific conditions until they were sold as slaves made me feel sick to my stomach. I felt numb and ill at ease.
This experience made me reflect on the importance of defending with everything we’ve got the human rights laws that allow people to live with dignity, freedom, equality, justice and peace without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, or social and birth origin.
It also made me think of the racist division that sadly still exists in our country. 😦 Michael Dyson eloquently writes in his book “Tears we cannot stop” – “Slavery casts a long shadow across our lives. The spoils we reaped from forcing people to work without wages and treating them with grievious inhumanity continue to haunt us in a racial gulf that seems impossible to overcome.”
I love this book.
It is emotional, fierce, profound and an insightful call for change. I humbly recommend it to all my friends no matter where you stand on the spectrum of confronting privilege and systemic racism. I hope from the bottom of my heart that we all find a way to redeem our nation and work together towards a better, more tolerant and just future.
After spending a day and half in Dakar, we drove to the village, called Tanguish Peulh.
Once we got in the village, we were received with so much joy and happiness. The opening ceremony was filled with dancing, drum-beating, and lots of emotions. Children were holding little black boards with our names written on them. It melt my heart. ❤
I love Kiana’s happy smile.
At the end of the ceremony, the entire community signed the covenant – a solemn promise between buildOn and the village outlining their duties and contributions to the school project. Because of the funds we raise, buildOn is able to provide the engineering expertise, materials, skilled labor, and project supervision. The village provides the land and the unskilled labor to build the school. Additionally, the village promises to send girls and boys to school in equal numbers.
Maya and Paul.
Lori and Kiana.
Kiki and I.
Women waiting on line to sign their commitment to education for their children and themselves. In a lot of the rural areas, women don’t know how to read or write.
buildOn has a wonderful Adult Literacy Program that teaches classes for parents and grandparents in the same schools that children attend by day. 70% of the adult students are women who were denied access to education as young girls.
The chief holding the covenant.
Next day, we broke ground on our second school. ❤
There were three main jobs as part of building the foundation – digging holes, making bricks, and tying the rebar. We all took turns, learned and tried hard to do them well. Thank you so much to all men and women for teaching us how to rebar, how to hold the pick-mattock and dig canals, how to make concrete bricks and so many other useful things that made us more efficient. We enjoyed learning from you and working alongside you.
This is the current school, but not for long.
New school should be up and running by the end of this year.
We visited the school before we started our first day of work. How cute are the kids?!!
❤ ❤ ❤
The teacher – such a nice man. I felt his passion and profound appreciation for education. He told us that the village has tried to get a school since 1976. After 41 years, the community will finally get its school. ❤
Kids were so happy to see us and have their french class interrupted. 🙂 We took few pictures outside the school. I couldn’t find a photo in which we all look at the camera, haha. So sweet. ❤
Laying the groundwork for our new school right next to the old school.
Getting the ground ready. Haha, I love Kiki’s energy.
Lori, Maya and other women from the village were in charge of bringing water from the water well to the work site. We used the water to make concrete and later bricks that were used to build the foundation and the walls of the school.
You got this Maya!!!
Maya made a new cute friend. ❤
I love this picture so much. Maya, Lori and other women bringing water to the work site.
The village didn’t have clean drinking water. Thinking that children drank the water that we had hard time washing ourselves with has been keeping me up at night ever since I came back. I made a promise to myself that I will try hard to get a NGO in the village that can bring clean safe drinking water to them.
I already reached out to charity: water, waves for water, water for people, splash, and few more NGOs. It’s always hard and challenging to start new projects in developing countries; there are so may logistics and things to take care of, but I am not going to give up easy on this. I’ll try really hard until the community gets clean water.
Working in 100 degrees and Senegalese sun was tough at points. I actually got sick and had a little bit fever first day in the village. But Kiki figured it all out – she had a solar fan attached to her hat. Haha, brilliant and adorable! 🙂
Kiana and Jean having fun while tying the rebar.
Paul and I breaking big chunks of topsoil with the pick-mattock. Paul worked so hard on this and ended up getting some big nasty blisters on his hands.
I love Paul’s excitement!
Digging holes and canals is hard. You get some serious muscle work out. Both men and women were amazing at it though, and they all did it without working gloves and sometimes bare feet.
Haha, Kiki being silly! 🙂 She dug this canal on her own. Kiki is so STRONG. I was worried she might hurt herself, but she was just fine. The villagers called her “Strong Woman”.
Every day, the work site looked like a giant colorful party. Many women came along and helped after walking every morning 7km to the market to sell goat milk to provide food to their families. It was quite incredible, we were all stunned to hear this. Their strength was extraordinary.
Getting the sand ready.
Girls bringing water to make the concrete. I love this picture.
Kiana was an expert at making bricks! We made two kinds of bricks – one for the foundation and other for walls.
Paul learning to bend rebar. I like his shirt 😉
Thank you my dear friend, Kelly, for getting the shirts for us! ❤
You would think bending the rebar is easy, it’s not! As you can see, I needed a lot of assistance. 😉 Actually, there is no way, I could have done it by myself.
Children would come by the work site and keep us company.
We made over 600 bricks.
On the last day, we wrote our names on the bricks. It was quite an emotional scene. I was so happy to see the team writing their names and their loved ones’. ❤
Kiki wrote her grandparents’ names in Chinese. They were both educators and taught in schools for many years. It was so special to see Kiki writing their names and getting very emotional. What a beautiful way to honor your grandparents, dear Kiki.
Thank you for your unwavering support to schools and education. Your grandparents would be so proud of you. ❤
Kiana wrote her name, her husband and son’s names. ❤
Maya just wrote her name on a brick. You think she’s happy?! 🙂
Lori’s son ❤
Paul writing his children’s names. ❤
My dream and I ❤
After work, walking to the lunch site was so much fun despite being pretty exhausted. 🙂
Sometimes we would get lucky and get a ride from the local people 🙂
Walking back and forth from our host families to the work site and eating spot, we met lots of children along the way. They were always so happy to see us and loved posing for us. How beautiful are these little girls?!!
On their way to school! ❤
Every breakfast, lunch and dinner, we got to see Naafi’s perfect smile! We ALL loved Naafi. Her food was out of this world. I think it’s fair to say that we all had some of our best dishes in our lives.
Here is one vegetarian dish Naafi cooked for us – look at all the love and care she put into it. Thank you, Naafi for cooking such good food for us. ❤
After lunch we would chill a little bit, have a shot of sweet traditional tea and take few pictures with the children.
Haha, these are hilarious!
Kiana brought nail polish and glitter for the girls. They LOVED it. So cute how this little girl has glitter all over her face.
After work and lunch we had cultural activities and play time with the kids. While waiting for the children to finish school we had fun jumping the rope. Maya and Celestina were so good. Look at Celestina, she looks like there is no gravity acting upon her.
Haha, I look terrified! I managed to go few rounds but I was pretty bad at it.
Kiki’s turn and she did good too!
On our last working day we got to take lots of group pictures and selfies with the children and local people.
Group picture with everyone on the work site!
Nothing stopped us – not the heat, not the tough living conditions, or the hard work –
WE DID IT, Team Senegal! ❤
I love this picture so much. I told the children “nouvelle ecole” which means “new school” and this is the joy I got! ❤
Aww, we miss you Jean!
Haha, so cute!
The closing ceremony was beautiful and so much fun! The community dressed us in traditional Senegalese costumes. We danced A LOT, gave few speeches, took pictures and I had the honor to give our donor plaque to the leader of the women.
Team Senegal dressed in traditional Senegalese costumes.
How beautiful we all are?!!! ❤
So pretty! ❤
Paul somebody is watching you! ❤
I love this selfie of Mariam and I.
I fell in love with Mariam from the first time I saw her. She was one of our host families’ daughters. We connected so well and I genuinely think we both fell in love with each other. 🙂 I am going back next year to see her!
Kiana is like a princess with all the little kids around her. ❤
Lori looking so beautiful!
A little smooch from my beautiful roommate.
Look how cool Kiana’s hair is! The girls in the village did it. ❤
Maya and Lori looking stunning!
Kiana and I dancing! We all got some serious dancing skills, haha. 🙂
But the women in the village were absolutely AMAZING.
I love Kiki’s energy and joy!
After my speech, I had the honor to give our donor plaque to the leader of the women. I explained how I raise money by running marathons around the world, and how people from all walks of life make donations because they believe that education is a human right and every child should have a school to go to.
Thank you Jean for translating everything! 🙂
She got very emotional. I don’t think she expected to receive the plaque. Celestina had suggested I gave the plaque to her, and I am so HAPPY I did that.
It’s the sweet simple things in life which are the real ones after all.
Closing Ceremony Group Picture, Tanguish Peulh, Senegal 2017
Next day we left the village. That was quite a heavy time for me. I LOVED the trek, the people, our team, Mariam, my host family, the children, buildOn staff…I can’t really explain it but I felt so connected with the community. I was gasping for breath and I felt a sharp pain in my heart last time I hugged Mariam. Once we got back home, I could barely function the first week. I felt depressed. I left my heart in the village.
I want to go back, make sure the village gets clean drinking water. I also want to establish some sort of communication with my host family and my little Mariam. ❤
One last selfie before we left the village with the best roommates in the world! ❤
Our host grandmother and I; we called her Mama.
She was so dear to my heart. Every morning Mama would pack peanuts for us to have snack on the work site.
All children loved Mama! She was so kind and gentle. ❤
I love you, Mariam!
I will NEVER forget you.
❤ ❤ ❤
Thank you so much EVERYONE for your support and love.
Alone we can do so little, together we can do SO MUCH.
You ALL are my reason to smile and stay happy.