By El Hadji Faly Seck (YES 2019-2020, Senegal, placed by PAX Organization in Hope, AR)
At this time of year, Muslims all around the world, including those in Senegal, are fasting for Ramadan. The fasting starts at sunrise and continues until sunset, when it is time to break the fast. Senegalese people often break fast as a family and share the joy and excitement of eating together after a day of hunger. But this year, the alumni of Senegal decided to break their fast with a different group of people.
On April 23, three alumni, including Matar Sow, Dame Sakho, Mouhamed dit El Hadj Seck and I broke our fast with 15 junior high school students at the National Institute of Education and Training of Young People With Blindness (INEFJA). INEFJA is the only state school in Senegal that provides free education and housing for visually impaired students in the Thies region.
The dinner was at INEFJA’s campus, where we met with fellow alumnus Matar Sow who studies at the institute. Matar was an incredible help in the organization of the activity; he was the bridge between us and the students at INEFJA. He chose the 15 students who participated in the activity based on their academic results, led us to the room where we held the dinner, and introduced us to the students.
To break the ice and make the students feel comfortable, we started very casual discussions with them in our native language. We asked them about their favorite subjects at school, what their hidden talents were, etc. I was surprised to hear that one of them could rap well. After 30 minutes, everybody seemed to be a bit more comfortable.
We then presented in English about what American Councils for International Education and the YES program are and that the goal of the event was to encourage them to participate in the program and to bond with our community.
As YES alumni, we aim to be useful to our community, but before that, it is necessary to get to know them, to mingle with them. We consider the dinner our first step towards connecting with INEFJA among the many others we hope to help in Senegal.
After that brief introduction of the program, it was time to break our fast. In my family, we always make sure to eat together in a happy and positive environment. So, before serving the food to everybody, I told a funny anecdote about my exchange year. Thus, our first meal after a long day of fasting was accompanied by a wave of laughter.
After the meal, myself and the other alumni shared with the students why they should participate in the YES program. Matar Sow shared that his exchange year allowed him to be more mature and responsible. After spending a year in United States, he also wanted people with disabilities like him to have the same opportunity as him and enjoy it as much as he did. The activity mattered to him because he built such a different personality thanks to all the experiences he had from living in a new environment and playing sports in his school at U.S. He would not have had the same opportunity in Senegal because the way sport is included in the education system in America is different in Senegal.
The two other alumni and I also shared how impactful our experiences were to our lives, but we made sure Matar shared his experience more because it was important for them to know what it was like being an exchange student with disabilities in the United States.
After our sharing, we let them ask questions about anything related to the YES program. I was happy to see how interactive they were. They asked us a lot of questions about how we adapted ourselves in such a different environment with an extreme culture difference. We reassured them by letting them know that they will be trained before going to their host communities, and that they will be given support if needed during their journey.
Matar Sow (YES 2019-2020, Senegal, placed by S4-H in Jacksonville, IL)
Dame Sakho (YES 2014-2015, Senegal, placed by PAX in Dewer, OK)
Mouhamed dit El Hadj Seck (YES 2017-2018, Senegal, placed by AFS in College Park, DM)