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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Field Visit to Notto, Thies

We had a field trip today to the Notto community in the Thies district where Plan Senegal is going to be implementing the project. I took Clare so she would get to see some of Senegal outside of Dakar.

Photo: Community notables with Papesidy (center) explaining the project.

We stopped at the Thies Program Unit (PU) Office first. (Click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liX3VniQ11c for a video of the PU Office.)

Papesidy is the manager of the Theis PU. Within the Plan structure, most countries have a Country Office (CO) and then a few PUs which are district offices closer out to where the communities that we’re working with are. Each PU has staff (100% local people) that manage programs, sponsorship, grants, finance, etc., and that report into the CO. There are ‘community animators’ who have close relationships with the communities where we’re working on projects and who spend most of their time out in the communities helping facilitate the projects, supporting them to plan what they want to do and manage their projects, etc. They also spend quite a lot of their time managing communications between sponsors in the 17 Plan offices in the ‘north’ and the sponsored children in the communities in the 'south'.

The meeting in Notto (the community in the Thies district that will participate in the YETAM project) was really long. When we got out of the car, we were surrounded by kids just staring at us for awhile and then we moved over underneath a tree and sat on some mats. The head imam from the village along with a few other ‘notables’ as they called them sat in chairs and addressed everyone in Wolof (one of the main local languages in Senegal) to start the meeting. We had translation in French and I realized I’m understanding pretty well actually! They gave thanks to God and prayed, saying that the prayers would be to the Muslim, Christian or Jewish Gods and we all pray to the same one God. Then we were welcomed to the community, and the children and youth were encouraged to put their total trust into the people from Plan who would come work with them on the project. We were told that we should to think of the community as our family – that we had mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles in the community and that they also had the same in us. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JkquUlusuk for some scenes from the meeting.

There was a really really long discussion then about the project. The community had been seeing it as an internet training project but after several exchanges and lots of interventions, it became clearer what the project is about. That through different arts and media the youth would learn how to better express themselves and the community would have the opportunity to take its place, to occupy its own space on the internet, and that it would be they themselves who would portray their community there, not people from the outside. There were lots of questions related to how they could access and use the internet if they didn’t attend school or read/write in French and if their community didn’t have an internet connection. But then the wife of the imam said that she hadn’t gone to school and she could do lots of things with her cellphone, so it was the same thing. After the community meeting everyone came up to us to say bye and Clare had lots of boys asking what her name is, how old she is, etc. She turned pretty pink. Photos: Community youth commenting on the project.

Photo: Papesidy filming a testimonial for the Nokia report.

On the way home we drove the back way through a whole bunch of urban communities right near the beach to avoid traffic. At one point we just plowed through this big sand field with all these guys playing soccer, making our own road as we went along. There was so much going on – people selling mangos, baobab fruits, fish, kids, goats, cars, busses, men and women sitting outside their houses chatting all along small winding streets next to big expanses of sandy beach leading to the shore. Along the beach the entire way was pure movement of people -- playing soccer, doing sit ups, running in groups of 2-3 or in larger groups the size of a soccer team. (I’ve never been in a country where so many people jog – at all hours of the day in all types of gear and non-gear – from running shoes to flip flops to even small groups of women with headscarves). I kept thinking of Laye’s term “social living” and thinking this is really it. If I ever moved to Senegal I’d want to live in an area like this where people ‘live socially’ rather than the more exclusive neighborhoods where people tend to stay indoors more and the only people you really see outside are the men sitting in chairs in near the front door keeping an eye on things.

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