**Background on Esther**
I went to school with an undergraduate focus on health. My degrees are in Kinesiology with a minor in Nutrition. I was always interested in traveling and being abroad outside of US; I started thinking of ways to make my dream of being an expatriate (expat) a reality.
During my time at Miami University, I visited the career center and I spoke with a Peace Corps advocate. This got a little more interested and in the spring semester of my senior year, I applied for Peace Corp. I chose Senegal because I wanted to be in West Africa. I’ve traveled to Madagascar in the past and maybe I’m biased and no offense to anyone who may disagree but the food wasn’t really hitting it; there’s a lot of rice in Senegal but Madagascar is a different story, they drink rice! The fashion wasn’t hitting it for me either – I felt like the cultural fashion was lost in the colonial era.
West Africa is so vibrant to me- I was born in Nigeria so I wanted to maintain the familiarity. Little did I know that Senegal would be SO different – every country is different I learned. I still think Nigerian Jollof is better than thiebou jeun (haha). But in all seriousness, I’ve learned a lot about Senegal and the culture so much, it’s been great. The traditional music and dances – I’ve tried so many times to copy – the footwork is amazing to look at. So yeah, I would just say the culture here drew me and has kept my attention during my time here.
I plan to continue down this path of being an expat and learning about new cultures!
**Volunteer experience in Senegal**
I am a health volunteer here. I was assigned to a village and you work with a counterpart (someone from the village) and health post in the village. I’ve gone through different projects, some failed, some succeeded. My current projects include working with different mothers who have malnourished kids and hosting a health club at the middle school; my main goal is to reduce deaths due to preventable diseases in children under 5 and pregnant mothers; In the States, people have the option (and privilege) to choose weather to vaccinate their kids while it’s needed so badly here but not readily accessible – the contrast is stark.
**More specifics about Peace Corps**
So Peace Corps is a 27-month commitment. My time in Senegal as a volunteer will come to an end in April 2020 so it’s right around the corner.
The process to join requires some clearances and training. Once accepted, you’ll gone through the medical clearances. For me, this was followed by a trip to Philadelphia for Peace Cops introduction. This is a one day session where I got to meet fellow Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) who would be in country with me. Then we flew out to Senegal. This might be specific to Peace Corps Senegal but we got to stay at a training center for 2 months; we learned the language we were assigned (based on village assignment), learned about topics related to your area (I did health while others did business, economic development, etc.); what you learn during training is what you will use for the next 24-25 months; it’s a good foundation and then you learn on the job. There’s no schedule – you are a self-motivator. For example, if you look at your health post and notice a lot of cases of diarrhea, you might host a session on proper hand washing or proper meal preparation. So you look at what your village needs and flex your project plan.
A big component is integrating yourself into the community. You can’t come in as an outsider and look down on the people. You have to do your best to not be that foreigner that’s coming in and be the savior. There are Peace Corps volunteers who have gone out of their way to build a health post – but once they leave, it’s basically an empty shell, there is no one to maintain it because the proper steps weren’t taken to ensure it would sustain. Health post is one level below hospital. The setup is led by sage femme/wet nurse – the ICP is the head nurse – they work together (and they’re typically not from the village, they go back home on weekends usually) and below them are matrons who help out around the post.
**Overall opinion of Senegal**
While living in Senegal, I went to The Gambia on a trip and what I noticed was that pollution wasn’t as prevalent. There was more regard for using less plastic, following certain traffic laws, etc. I remember thinking “this is so beautiful and different from Dakar.” In Dakar, you have the plastic ban but it’s not heavily enforced. Water sachets is a big contributor of this pollution but I would say, outside of this observation, I’ve seen equal parts positive and negative.
I’ll talk about the health system since that’s what I’m most familiar with. The way it is set up is smart in my opinion, it helps to reach communities in rural areas who may not have ability to reach district hospital in a big city. You have your primary district hospitals, centers, health posts, etc. – just multiple ways to make healthcare accessible. Now, this is in theory; in practice, it’s a little different. Because of so many breakdowns in the system, the money may not trickle down to the communities.
When I first arrived to my village, the health post was on strike – I kept hearing “dafa greive” – I heard it all of the time and I was wondering why. Turns out, the personnel wasn’t getting paid so they went on strike. Unfortunately, this is common.
Senegal has so much potential and I want to see this potential live through in my lifetime. There has been a recent discovery of oil and I’m so scared about the outcome of that (i.e. the oil curse); there’s been so much good that I’ve seen but there’s room for improvement; it’s so peaceful (except for robbery, I’ve not had a big issue). The economy is not the best but it’s pretty stable from what I’ve seen. I just wish the development and positive aspects were widespread. Like Dakar is such a beautiful place! If you leave, you wonder “what happened?” and that’s just because there’s disparity and that’s unfortunate.
Favorite part – the experience overall. The other day, I had a taxman that I had a good conversation with throughout the trip and at the end, he pulled out his guitar-like instrument and started playing for. Where else are you going to get that? The small but meaningful interactions will be what I miss the most.
Least favorite part – the pollution! It’s everywhere and just so hard to miss. Also, the creatures I’ve seen in my village, I’m not a fan! It’s just soo creepy sometimes when you see them haha.