Dance is all about connecting. Sure, it’s also about movement and artistic interpretation, but, fundamentally, it involves communicating. During our trip to Senegal, dancing was often on the program. We were mesmerized by a performance of one of M’bour’s professional troupes. Another put our students through the
paces, on the beach no less! Our team of eager students
demonstrated their agility, but most of all they showed
their openness and curiosity about learning new moves
– Senegal style! They watched intently as the Senegalese
women led. They looked at each other for reassurance;
their timid façade faded, and slowly the Americans
caught on with grace and skill.
Travel allows for this wonderful opportunity to come
into contact with other peoples and to learn from them.
Some might prefer the safety of watching foreign lands
through their bus window, but, really, nothing quite
equals the chance to interact. The International High
School trip to Senegal provides an opportunity to build
stronger bonds across cultures, and our experience was
indeed all about connecting with the country and its
At the core of the trip was Ecole Natangué. Nearly every day was spent meeting students, learning their names,
playing with them and helping them, in turn, to learn.
We got to know many of the teachers and developed an
appreciation for their stories, the challenges that they face
and the great successes they have enjoyed. For example,
Marie, the director of the school, was raised in a village,
had gone to Dakar to study and risen through the ranks
of l’Education Nationale Senegalaise on the strength of
her earnest hard work and talent. Her husband, Soulaye,
helps a collective of women in the community to grow
vegetables and fruits. We enjoyed his fine sense of humor
and his generous interest in teaching us about agricultural techniques. Gave all of us Senegalese names. I also
enjoyed meeting Mr. Sene from a nearby high school. He
teaches English, and I marveled at the fluency of his third-language capabilities. Turns out that he has never left
Senegal – not even to visit neighboring Gambia – and yet
he has refined his English with the modest means available to him. He told me that he’s worked hard on perfect-ing his accent by watching American movies!
But Ecole Natangué’s mission also extends to serving
the students’ community. Elena, the dynamic founder of
the school, has developed a whole series of adjunct businesses and services geared to training and offering low-cost help for a gamut of daily needs. There is a hair salon,
a restaurant and a tailor, among others. And a health
clinic is to open soon. Many of the residents of the community are recent immigrants from rural areas and, torn
from their family bonds, have found themselves precariously in need of assistance. Health care is a critical need.
Students were keen on asking questions: were reproductive counseling and birth control to be offered at the new
clinic? In a predominantly Muslim and Catholic country,
that’s a good question. The answer, of course, was yes.
The burden of unwanted pregnancies weighs too heavily
on the women of the community, offered Elena.
Each of the students came prepared to study a facet of
Senegalese society and they were amply dedicated in getting their answers. Upon a visit to a madrassa in M’Bour,
48 | La Lettre April 2013