Give Back Day #1: Senegal – The Hand Of Change

As I’m traveling a lot and being usually hosted by friends and warmly welcomed, I want to make sure to keep doing useful stuff with my time. Part of that is my new initiative called ‘Give Back Day’ which got inspired by Awesomeness Fest. In each country I go to, I spend at least one day volunteering with a local organization and spending my time mostly offline.

The 1st Give Back Day of many to come was wonderful and it got started in Senegal. In each country I go to, I’ll spend at least one day volunteering with a local organization. Because you can never give enough for people who are welcoming you in their home.

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The whole bunch.

With the help of Belinda, Talla, and Elhadji, we took ~26 kids from low income households and an at-risk district outside of Dakar to Gorée. A former slave island. For most of them, they were the first time on a boat and the first time seeing this historic island. It was part of a project called “FEEL Africa Academy” which is a 2-phase program that starts off with a 4-week summer camp and is followed by a 10-months mentorship. Belinda and Elhadji offer additionally education and opportunities that otherwise parents couldn’t afford for their children. Kids were chosen based on their background, origin, and availability (e.g. no sudden work for them to do in the household which would prevent them from participating in the program).

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View from the ship towards Goreé.

Not just was I deeply impressed by the work they had done so far but I felt that a project done by locals for locals has the biggest impact. I’m neither a big fan of donating money to big organizations where I can’t track where it goes to, nor of supporting non-African organizations. The latter ones usually come in with a mindset of helping ‘poor’ people and then carrying that image across the news to use to to get funds that in the majority of the cases don’t reach the people they are meant for.

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Elhadji, me, and the youngest one (6 years). On average, the kids are between 10-15 years old.

The main objective of the FEEL Africa Academy is to engage children from rural areas aged 10 to 15 years in experiential learning activities that will enable them to discover what they are passionate about in life, while developing social and life-long skills. Before we got on the boat, I got a quick intro of the manifold talents of the kids…we had the comedian, the super smart one, the leader, the entertainer, and many more diverse characters which made it a beautiful group.

Spider Knot

The Spider Knot activity of the picture above was just one of quite a few team building games done on that day. Aiming to teach the kids social & life-long skills, they also offer a good opportunity to develop their own character in a judge-free and harmless environment.

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On Goreé, there is actually one of the most prestigous schools in Senegal. The best and brightest girls of the country spend their week studying on the island. Pretty cool taking a boat to school, right?!

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Top of Goreé

Besides seeing the art of really talented artists (ok, it was a bit touristy 😉 ), it was fascinating to walk around the island and get to know more about the history. In quite some aspects, it reminded one of Zanzibar and Stone Town. We had hired a guide who took us around for a good 2-3h and had negotiated a price of 3000FCFA (~5€). He handed over his knowledge in French and Wolof, and some of the kids brought their own notebooks and eagerly wrote down information.

At one point, the children got overly excited with my hair. So I had around 10 kids around me and playing with my hair. It was so different for them, so I just let them be, play, and discover.

As the kids were much better prepared than us and even brought their swimwear, they negotiated with us to allow them to go swim in the sea. And who could really say no?

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Legs and arms in full use.

Their parents had dressed them in the outfit they would usually wear for a festive occasion, even though most of us got dirty all over. However, it showed the worth that the parents were assigning to the occasion.

The kids eyes, the experience of giving and just making people happy has an uncountable worth. It was the lightness and happiness without any worries that was shining all over the kids faces. Just play, live, and be. Don’t worry too much. Give more. Love more. Give more love.

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