Just like an old baobab tree, Senegal stands strong and composed on a part of the world map that’s known for social and political unrest. One of the most beautiful and culturally diverse countries in Africa, it is perched on the tip of a peninsula. Although it’s blessed with beautiful beaches, colonial architecture, and lush national parks, Senegal also has a darker side; it is plagued by poverty, illiteracy, gender issues, and unemployment. However, the good news is, Senegal knows how to fight these problems effectively and persistently. Volunteering in Senegal will prove to be an enlightening experience, and one that can easily turn into a motivational story.
As a country stricken with poverty, Senegal has to deal with various issues both in its cities as well as in its rural areas. The nation’s youth are trying to escape its borders, limiting the overall growth. In pursuit of better opportunities, many take up illegal routes of going abroad, sometimes even risking their own life. The agricultural industry is suffering due to changes and uncertainties in the environment. All of these factors combined, in essence, mean that every helping hand is a ray of hope for locals, and that volunteers can choose to work in nearly any capacity and location.
The capital, Dakar, is a buzzing metropolis where tradition and elegance meet the vibrancy of markets and glitterati of an amazing nightlife. Dakar is Senegal's largest city and offers almost everything you could possibly want, from food and crafts to clothing and jewelry. However, its fast-paced growth has had side-effects too. Poverty, unemployment, health epidemics, and improper sanitation are just a few social issues that affect life in Dakar.
West Africa's first French settlement, Saint Louis, has its characteristic colonial architecture, the stereotypical location on an island, patisseries, and the system of quays. Saint Louis has quite easily earned its status of world heritage site. But, the town still needs special care and attention in the areas of healthcare, education, gender rights, and unemployment. For many children, education has been replaced by begging on the streets out of necessity. Volunteers are also needed at orphanages and schools to work with children who need guidance and help.
Volunteers can also choose to volunteer in Yoff, Pikine, La Pouponniere, or other rural areas of Senegal, which are similarly disadvantaged and sometimes even more critically in need. Nevertheless, these places welcome volunteers with beautiful landscapes, pristine beaches, and warm hearted locals.
Volunteer Programs in Senegal
While volunteering in Senegal, volunteers will likely work with people living in poverty, who come from a very different cultural and social background, which will surely be challenging. However, giving up modern comforts and amenities to help those in need is just one characteristic of a true humanitarian, and something volunteers will be proud of themselves for doing.
Education is the key to a bright and successful future for children around the world. But in Senegal, children are sent to Koranic schools where they learn the Quran, instead of being provided with formal education. Many students end up begging on the streets because of a lack of educational and financial resources. Understaffed schools and underqualified teachers are also calling for international volunteer support, so there is a great need for volunteers who are interested in teaching children. Volunteers can teach English, math, science, computer, arts, or a vocational subject that will help children in their personal and academic growth.
Healthcare. As a result of poverty and illiteracy, Senegal faces a number of significant health problems, including AIDS. Volunteers can work at clinics and hospitals, and will be assigned tasks according to their experience, qualifications, and interests. However, healthcare volunteers must remember that medical practices in Senegal are not as advanced as in most developed countries and medical conditions tend to be much more severe. Volunteers can help prevent the spread of disease and long-term health issues by educating locals about basic health care practices, hygiene, nursing, and maternal care, as well as assisting with appointments related to dentistry, physiotherapy, and traditional medicine.
Orphanages in Senegal actively care for children who have lost their parents to incurable health conditions, such as AIDS, and those children who have been found abandoned or begging on the streets. Orphanage administrators and care workers provide orphaned children with proper nutrition, shelter, and medical care. Volunteers who choose to spend their time at orphanages will be able to spend time with the children, caring for them, serving food, and organizing fun activities.
Gender issues. Girls in Senegal do not have the same rights as boys. More often than not, girls are not given the same opportunities to pursue their education as boys. But this only scratches the surface of gender issues in Senegal, as female genital mutilation is still problematic throughout the country. In order for the country to be progressed toward gender equality, they need international support and volunteer assistance to counsel girls and women affected by rights violations.
Sports volunteers can work in conjunction with local coaches to help soccer teams with training, fitness, workouts, planning plays, and developing specific skills, such as ball control, accurate passing, keeping possession, and moving into spaces. Who knows your guidance and efforts may result in a new Abdoulaye Faye, Oumar Pouye, or Abdoulaye Sogue amongst them!
Costs & Affordability
Slowly making its way toward development, Senegal is still struggling with poverty and a poorly developing economy. The cost of living in Senegal is relatively low and most prices are negotiable, making it an affordable destination for international volunteers. Lunch will come in around $11 whereas a litre and a half bottle of coke costs not more than a dollar.
The up-front cost of volunteer programs in Senegal generally includes accommodation, food, transport, and in-country support. However, program costs vary depending on the project and program provider, so be sure to communicate directly with your host organization to find out what will and won’t be covered by program fees and how much you’ll need to pay prior to arrival.
Accommodations & Visas
Many volunteer programs in Senegal offer volunteers the chance to live with a host family, which provides a unique opportunity to gain an intimate perspective of the local culture. While the accommodation may be basic, adapting to the Senegalese way of life will help volunteers emphasize with locals. Shorter-term volunteer programs in Senegal will frequently organize group accommodation, while longer programs may give volunteers the option of renting their own place.
Depending on your home country and how long you plan to volunteer in Senegal, you may need to organize a temporary visa at a Senegalese consulate. Foreign nationals can apply for a short-stay visa valid for up to 90 days or a long-stay visa for durations exceeding three months. Prospective volunteers can refer to GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory for up to date information on securing visas to volunteer in Senegal.
Benefits & Challenges
Broaden Your Horizons. In addition to the fulfilling experience of assisting those in need, volunteering is also a wonderful way to meet new people and develop friendships that will last a lifetime. Volunteering in Senegal will give you an opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture, which will engage your emotions and widen your horizons.
Explore the Culture & Landscape. If you’re in mood to explore the local culture, The Blaise Senghor Cultural Center offers traditional and modern African dance classes. Also, a must-see is the often cited oldest and best museum in West Africa; the Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noir Museum (IFAN), where handmade fabrics, carvings, musical instruments and agricultural tools, traditional masks and dresses help you connect with the traditional art and culture from the region. How did we manage to get this far without mentioning Senegal’s infamous Pink Lake? This site is famous for its warm, salinated water and rosy hues.
Language barriers. Knowing at least conversational French or Wolof is a must for those who decide to volunteer in Senegal. If you don’t enter the country feeling confident in either, we suggest you sign up for a language class at a local school or hire a private tutor.
When you decide to volunteer in Senegal, you are choosing to leave a positive impact on local communities, and a developing economy which is slowly but surely opening up to the outside world. Volunteering in Senegal will be exciting, challenging, and fulfilling; it will highlight your skills and strengths, and it will inevitably lead to self-discovery.