Located in the northwestern part of Africa, Senegal is a country where fascinating native cultures blend together with French influences. Within its boundaries, volunteers can experience diverse climates, landscapes, and cultures. Senegal has a long history of working towards peace on the international stage, since it gained independence in 1960.
However, it struggles mostly with high unemployment and a growing youth population. Most certainly, the country and its people are very welcoming to volunteers who wish to make a difference in a developing country; in fact, Senegal is a constant recipient of international aid. It also has a thriving tourism industry. For those interested in teaching, working in care centers or community centers, or working in clinics and hospitals, while even brushing up on French, Senegal may be the right place for them.
Health Care: Senegal has a high demand for volunteers and interns for helping out in various hospitals and clinics. Clinics and hospitals can be located in city environments, such as Saint Louis or Dakar, or more rural settings, such as Yoff. Volunteers can observe doctors and nurses, go on rounds, and assist in medical fields such as nursing, dentistry, midwifery, traditional medicine, or physiotherapy. Programs will tailor the volunteer project with the volunteer’s experience and interests, with the size and type of hospital or clinic. Volunteers should be prepared for the limited resources at Senegalese hospitals, and that they may treat patients who are in advanced stages of sickness or injury. Programs do ask for medical volunteers to be pre-med students, medical students, or any medical or healthcare-related professional. One program requests their medical volunteers to already have at least one year of experience, as well as intermediate level French.
Youth Support: Also referred to as care projects, these programs welcome volunteers to come and help out in day care centers, kindergartens, orphanages, and community centers. Like the hospitals and clinics, these can be located in the cities or rural areas, and there are usually limited resources. Children who come to these centers are between the ages of 0 to 18, and they are either orphans or come from poorer families. These centers provide a safe place for these children, while providing them with classes, activities, and basic necessities. A volunteer’s responsibilities can include teaching, counseling, assisting with health care, cooking and feeding the children, cleaning, and coming up with fun activities. Some programs ask for the volunteers to have basic French skills or a willingness to learn French.
Teaching English: Senegal has a growing tourism and trade industry, which contributes to an increased need for learning English. To the Senegalese, learning English means a better future for children and for any adult who makes a living in the trade and tourism industry. Mostly volunteers will either teach alone after an orientation, or they will assist local teachers in teaching children aged 4 to 17, and occasionally adults. Volunteers will face schools with limited resources, and may possibly deal with students with learning disabilities. Senegalese schools do not require formal qualifications or a TEFL/TESL certification.
Planning Your Trip
There are several excellent volunteer programs that are based in Senegal that can offer support and resources to their volunteers, such as Love Volunteers, Projects Abroad, and the Peace Corps. Make sure when selecting a program that they have that kind of support in place. Enrolling in the U.S. State Department’s Smart Travelers Program offers support, news, resources, and travel advisories. Expat Dakar is a French-language resource developed to assist expats with apartment searches to finding tourist attractions. Another expat online resource is the Senegal Community page offered by InterNations. It’s free and it has a good reputation. There is also @llo’Expat.com for connecting with expats living in Senegal, and elsewhere in the world. Don’t forget to look for your home country’s embassy or consulate; visit the U.S. Citizen Services for the U.S. Embassy in Dakar. Senegal has a long history of accepting international aid, so rest assured there will be plenty of support and resources on hand to help you.
Requirements and Things to Know before You Go:
Senegal’s official language is French, and most programs require their volunteers to have basic or intermediate skill in the language. Other programs give you the opportunity to brush up on your French with language classes; certainly take them up on that! Most volunteers live with host families during the duration of their project, and the program tries to make sure at least one member of the family can speak some English. Also, keep in mind that living conditions in Senegal will not be what you are used to in your home country; however, they should be clean and safe. Make sure you are clear about visa requirements. For example, U.S. citizens must pre-enroll before leaving the U.S. Visit the U.S. Citizen Services page for the U.S. Embassy in Dakar for more information.
Health and Safety of Volunteers:
Volunteers to Senegal need to obtain several vaccinations before departure. According to MD Travel Health, it’s advisable to see your doctor or a travel health specialist at least 4 to 8 weeks before leaving for Senegal. Vaccinations volunteers need include Hepatitis A and B, yellow fever, and typhoid. Make sure you are updated for tetanus, rabies, and MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) as well. Untreated tap water is not safe to drink, and it’s also not advisable to swim in bodies of fresh water. Mosquitoes are an issue, so make sure you have good insect repellant, and you apply sunscreen if you are working outdoors.
You are also advised to bring medications for malaria and traveler’s diarrhea. Your volunteer program will have further advice and support. Register for the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler program for further support during your time in Senegal. Common sense truly does go a long way as you do your research to travel to Senegal. If you are based in a city, such as Dakar, be on the alert for pick-pocketing. You may also be approached by street children, who are acting as beggars. Some of these children may be the very ones you will care for in a community center. For more information about crime and safety in Senegal, visit the U.S. Department of State OSAC page. Remember that plenty of people volunteer in Senegal every year and have reported wonderful experiences, and if you go prepared, chances are you will too!
Contributed by Whitney Zahar