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Care in Senegal by Amy Montgomery

Amy Montgomery from the UK spent two months on a Care & Community project in Senegal. Here she describes a typical day at her placement.

My day begins at 7.40am - alarm goes and I eat breakfast with the family. Breakfast is baguette and coffee, and we eat on the floor as with every meal. I leave the house at about 8.15am, and am lucky that my school is only a minute's walk away - already it's getting hot.

The streets are busy - children on their way to school, adults on the way to work, taxis beeping and caleches (horse and carts) clattering along the road. I meet some of the children from my class on the way, they grab my hands and we walk together.

Me with children at the talibé centre

Le Centre de Promotion et Reinsertion Sociale is a small kindergarten. There are two classes and around 40 pupils in total. One class is for 3-4 year olds, and the other is for children of 5-6 years of age. On my first day there I decided to just observe, to see what stage the children were at, and what sort of activities I could do with them. I was shocked - the teachers did absolutely nothing with them. I sat and watched the children and they sat and watched me. It made me realise the vital importance of the volunteer's role in such places. There was lots of work stuck on the walls, but as I looked closer I realised it was all produced for the children by volunteers - the teachers don't seem to be interested in providing a great deal of education or stimulation to the children - so that was where my job came in!

Beach near my host family

The main challenge with children that age is that they speak very little, if any, French. I decided that to start with I would just introduce some structure to their day - school starts at 9am, so we spent the first half an hour of the day singing - this is something all of the children love, and it seems to put them all in a happy mood. We did a variety of songs, such as Frere Jacques, and they were also able to learn some songs in English - the songs with actions like 'If You're Happy and You Know It' went down particularly well!

With children at the beach

The next hour I would spend doing slightly more formal work with the children. I prepared worksheets daily, with activities to learn shapes, colours and numbers in French. I would do a short lesson based on the worksheet, getting the children to shout out words and practice. They would then complete their worksheets. I would try and make the sheets so that they could colour them in afterwards - always goes down well!

Break is at 10.30am for an hour - school finishes at 12.30pm, so the final hour would be spent finishing worksheets, then perhaps playing some games outside such as 'Simon Says', 'Follow the Leader', and 'Hokey Kokey'. I found the biggest challenge at school was the teachers - physical punishment prevails even with the smallest children, something which is difficult to deal with.

I hope the children benefited from our work together, I feel I certainly did. They taught me how to think on my feet, how to be very patient, and how, whatever the language barrier, you can make yourself understood if you're inventive!

Amy Montgomery

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