Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Senegalese-American Bilingual School in Dakar (Lizzy)

Networking for EMEAC didn’t feel like work in Dakar Senegal – in this incredibly hospitable country just walking down the street, going to the clinic, or ordering a “shwarma poulet” meant I was bound to meet some outgoing folks, and bound to share laughs either in broken English or broken French. Thank goodness I didn’t have to get into a tizzy over elevator speeches or business card formalities, because participating in the World Social Forum at the University of Cheik Anta Diop meant I was constantly meeting (and colliding into, and stomping on the feet of) some of the 100,000 people from Senegal, from all over Africa, and from all around the world who were converging (and colliding, and careening) at the forum. There was no excuse and no room for shyness. So I ended up meeting a lot of people! We all did.

Charity was abducted/adopted by the Rural African Women’s group for an entire day and we didn’t know what happened to her until she came back to us dazed, speaking in Wolof, her arms full of sparkly gifts and baguettes. Will’s radio interview was cancelled because the power went out, and instead ended up free styling with the Black Eyed Peas of Dakar at the radio station. Everyone was attracted to Oya, and Joan knew half the people in Yoff. We all made a lot of friends with the Senegalese students at Chiek Anta Diop, and I have a feeling I’ll be in contact with them for a while. But it was Siwatu’s magnetic energy that connected us to Amath of the Senegalese-American Bilingual School (SABS) which was probably the most exciting Detroit 2 Dakar connection of the week for me. He was a fabulous guy (see the photo of us linking arms like true comrades) and invited us over to the school site to learn more.

An American woman from Baltimore, Stephanie Nails-Kane, founded SABS about 10 years ago.  It has a primary school, middle school, and high school that serves about 700 students. It was very exciting for us because 1) We could communicate with them in English and 2) They emphasized an environmental science curriculum in the schools.

We met with Stephanie, Amath, and their environmental science curriculum coordinator in her office. We didn’t get to take a tour of the school itself, but learned a lot about what they had going on. They owned a plot of land a few hours away from Dakar along the ocean, where students learned marine biology, pollution, and tended a mangrove forest. All students were taken for overnight trips to the environmental station. We talked about the importance of exposing and immersing city kids to nature, and compared the lack of green spaces in Detroit and Dakar. I wished so badly that we could’ve stayed another couple days to visit the environmental spot by the ocean. And I hope that soon EMEAC can have its own environmental center in Detroit so that our kids can have a similar experience.

At the school itself they were experimenting with hydroponics, recycling, and were in the midst of starting a composting program. They were starting composting programs in the families of the students, which I found interesting. It seemed like they were able to spearhead a lot of environmental programs at the school, since the administration was backing it up, and since they were a private school that had ultimate autonomy over its curriculum. 

Like Detroit, Dakar does not have a municipal recycling program. Recently the local government decided to move the landfills farther away from the city into the rural areas, so trash removal was more costly and less frequent. As a result, the city was attempting to recycle more in order to save money. (Hear that GDRRA? Recycling can SAVE MONEY) The school had a green team of mostly eighth grade students who recycled in the school. We met them in the office, and they explained their paper recycling program to us in perfect English. They were such beautiful kids and were all wearing yellow polo shirts as their uniform. I so badly want them to meet the recycling group we have at Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, who are not only doing the same great environmental work, but are also forced to wear yellow polo shirts as their uniform. (I bet both groups of students feel the same way about those shirts)

Another Detroit Dakar parallel we discovered at the school was their architecture program. A recent architecture graduate from Howard University was teaching architecture at the school, and was incidentally designing an outdoor space near their school with the students – JUST LIKE WE’RE DOING in Detroit. They were trying to build up the community around the school by re-designing the neighborhood park with students and community members. It was designed in the same style as traditional Senegalese gathering spaces, with lots of spaces for sitting and talking. (We didn't get to see it bc it was farther away but that's how it was described) So it wasn’t just amazing to learn that this young University graduate was doing this kind of project in Dakar, but we found out he was actually from Detroit, went Aisha Shule, and knew Siwatu from growing up! Small world, it is indeed. His name is Jonathan Nichols, and we hope he’ll come back to Detroit and work with our youth when his fellowship in Dakar is over.

We will be coordinating a Skype relationship between SABS and the EMEAC partner schools in the coming months so that the students can meet each other. It’s exciting to see a parallel program across the Atlantic, in a city that is facing so many similar environmental injustice issues as we are facing in Detroit. It was great to see that we’re not alone or isolated in our struggles! I’ll keep everyone posted about our continuing relationship with this school.


  1. Thanks for writting and sharing photos of your experience in Dakar. It's hard to imagine a place so far and seemingly so different. And even more interesting to hear how actually similar we all are in our quests to create better quality lives for our communities and globally. The parallel between the yellow collared shirts the kids have to wear is most funny...yeah how awful as an eight grade student! How cool it would be if Detroit and Dakar youth could meet and discuss the world together(and an obvious change in warobe haha).

  2. Thank you for your account of your visit to SABS. you've just given me a piece of home back. Yeah those uniforms were God awful, but interestingly it did unite us in our misery of donning mustard yellow attires. I guess that was the goal there.