Posted by: The Glove | February 17, 2012

What Would You Like to Know About Senegal? (Part 3)

Do they have Elementary, Middle and High School?  How is their educational system organized?  If they take different types of classes than we do?  What is the percentage and level of education?

There is elementary, middle and high school. In many ways, it is similar to the United States. Elementary school is six years, although typically students start at a slightly later age than in America. Middle school is four years, followed by three years of high school. Classes are fairly similar to those in the U.S., although teaching styles are very different. Teaching is conducted mostly through lectures and rote memorization, with little emphasis on critical thinking and creativity.


How poor is the country?

The per capita GDP of Senegal is roughly $1900, which makes it the 189th richest country in the world. By American standards, Senegal is certainly poor, especially at the village level. My family, who is fairly well off by the standards of our village, eats white rice with a glob of sauce for lunch (plus any vegetables I buy them). While most adult males, especially heads of households, have their own rooms, women and children may find themselves sharing a room with seven or eight other people. In cities, money is often more available, but space is at a premium, leading to overcrowding as well. I don’t want to confuse poverty with unhappiness however. People in my community are happy and content with their lives, and while they’d appreciate having a little extra money, they feel comfortable with what they have. Granted, any type of drought would wipe out what little savings people have here, as most people are reliant on subsistence agriculture.


What is the unemployment rate?  What is the percentage of people who are working?  Are the jobs similar to the U.S.?

The unemployment rate, at last estimate, was close to 50 percent. Most people at the village level are engaged in subsistence agriculture. Other possible professions include teaching, health workers, mechanics, drivers (for buses) or storeowners. We call the stores “boutiques,” and they are essentially one-stop shopping for most village needs. Essentially though, unemployment is difficult to measure, because employment isn’t the either/or proposition it is in the United States.


What type of work do you do in Senegal?

My work is in the fields of environmental education and preventative health. I work with schools to teach gardening techniques and provide food for malnourished youth, as well as integrating health and environmental lessons into the classroom. I am currently planning a HIV/AIDS and Sexual Health Awareness day to be held March 10 with the students at my secondary school. I have worked on malaria education, girls’ empowerment, and a variety of other projects. I recently organized a Gender and Development Conference for over 100 volunteers from five different Peace Corps programs in West Africa at the Peace Corps Training Center in Thies, Senegal.


Have you ever been to any other French speaking country?

I did an exchange program in France for two and a half weeks when I was a freshman in high school, back in 2001. I have been to France since then traveling on my own, but otherwise, had not been to any other French-speaking countries until arriving in Senegal in 2010.


What types of jobs do the people in Senegal do that might be different than our culture?

Subsistence agriculture is the most common profession in Senegal, and livestock trading is also quite prominent. One of the more unusual jobs is referred to as an “apprenti,” someone who helps with the buses. When I say “help,” what I mean is that they hang off the back of the bus, collect fares, and put all the baggage that people are trying to transport on the roof. There is also much more small-scale entrepreneurship than in the United States, as people sell everything from homemade juice to sandwiches of beans and bread to t-shirts on the street (in small towns, not villages).


What types of pets do they have (domesticated animals)?

Just like in the U.S., people here in Senegal have domesticated both cats and dogs as pets. Unlike the U.S., the dogs and cats essentially roam the village and the surrounding area. Dogs will go out to the fields with farmers, or follow Peace Corps volunteers as they go on runs. Families expect that eventually the dogs will return home. Animals are fed mostly whatever is leftover from meals. Unfortunately, there is also a fair amount of violence toward animals.

In addition to dogs and cats, they have also domesticated horses and donkeys to serve as transportation. They are hooked up to carts (called “charets”) and are used to transport heavy or large goods. Cows, goats, sheep and chickens are kept for meat and milk production.


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