Service is perhaps the central part of the Bridge Year program. It brings us some of our greatest struggles and greatest moments of learning, it most challenges our assumptions and previous ways of thinking, and we’ve spent the whole year—and will probably spend the rest of our lives—just trying to figure out what service means.
Sometimes things can be hard, but its these hard moments that turn out to be the most meaningful. I remember one time I thought I asked for a few loaves of bread, and when the vendor walked out with a few bags instead I felt so embarrassed. Whenever I feel the most silly, the most embarrassed, or the most afraid, those are the moments that have taught me the most.
Each of us has used our newfound free time in unique ways—some of us have built on old interests, some of us have explored new Senegalese pursuits, and all of us have found time to connect with the people around us. It’s during our independent time that we reflect, ask questions, and come to realizations about Senegalese culture and ourselves.
I took this photo because I wanted to document that feeling - the astonishment that I, Emma Claire Jones, was now living in a place that had never been anything but an abstract idea to me before. Though I chose this one specific moment to capture the sentiment, these 'Holy Cow I’m in Senegal' moments actually happen with surprising frequency. Anything from traveling to a particularly astounding place to everyday events like spending the day with a friend or riding the bus through Dakar can s
For the past nine months, I was lucky to volunteer at the YMCA-Sénégal for my Bridge Year service placement. My time there was both fun and educational: I learned about topics ranging from teaching to NGO management to Koranic education, and immensely enjoyed getting to know the other staff and students.
My service work has been an incredibly important aspect of my Bridge Year experience. I volunteered for Tostan, a Senegalese-born international NGO focused on community led development. As a volunteer at international headquarters, I was able to both contribute to Tostan’s growth and learn how an NGO operates.
Thus, today at some unspecified time, in some unspecified place, I am getting on an unspecified bus traveling to an unspecified place. The details don’t matter, for on this trip the meaning truly is in the journey, not the destination. Taking my preferred window seat, I am a wanderer, a drifter, an introvert alone with her thoughts at last: I am happy.
At the core of it all is the sense of an intangible – yet omnipresent and omnipotent – human support network, which results in a general feeling of connection to every human being I meet. Walking down the streets of Yoff or Bourgiba, I know that I can depend on any and every person for directions home or language help.
This quintessential Wolof proverb is the first that I learned, and best embodies my time in Senegal, especially the first two words: Ndank ndank.
Let me start with an anecdote.
Day two of our second and final major travel outside of Dakar in March, we set off on a trek from Foundiougne to Djilor in the Sine Saloum region of Senegal.
Since coming to Senegal, the concept of “development” has cropped up thousands of times. I’ve read about it in The End of Poverty, The White Man’s Burden, The Bottom Billion, and Dead Aid. I’ve heard it in speeches given by various Westerners. And I’ve spent hours talking to Babacar, one of my instructors and a first-hand witness of “development”, or more specifically, attempts at it.
For our second group update, we created a video that focuses on our travels. After spending four-and-a-half months based in the advancing metropolis of Dakar, we spent two weeks exploring an entirely different atmosphere in Kedougou, a region in southern Senegal.
For our first group update, the Senegal Seven brainstormed the best way to unite our posts. Reflecting on the enormity of the potential ground to cover, we decided to present a week in our lives. Our thought was not to chronicle in exact detail our movements every day of the week, but to give a peek into some of the activities we do on any particular day and relate our impressions. Here is a week in the life of Senegal Bridge Year!