Frederic Dormeuil - General Care Projects in Senegal
Get ready for the questions!
Who? Frederic Dormeuil. Where? London, United Kingdom. When? That’s between mother and I, but let’s just say younger than 33 and older than 31! Why? Ah, the question all volunteers will eventually have to answer: “So, why are you here?” Well, I’ve personally always enjoyed ‘giving back’ and where possible, prefer to do something a little different with my free time other than sunning it on some random beach where the beer is warm, the sea filthy and the sand way too hot to walk on in any case.
Selecting Projects Abroad - the right company to be with
Why Projects Abroad? Luck + three hours of surfing the ‘www’ and homing in on what I felt was the right company to be with. Projects Abroad’s clear and easy-to-use website (as well as their fantastic selection of global locations) tempted me to make a call (adore speaking with humans and getting the answers I need there and then). I spoke with ‘Agent X’ (forgot his real name, think it may have been David) in the UK office and we eventually homed in on Senegal for a period of two weeks. Regrettably, I couldn’t do longer, yet preferred the two week concept to zero! I asked David whether he had undertaken a similar mission. His answer was “yes”. I asked for how long, and he informed me that he initially intended to complete the same two weeks, however has now been involved for seven years!
Done! Found the company, great location choice (new territory for me, not too far (5hrs) and no jet lag issues.) So, packed the bags, confirmed tickets with Air France and off we went.
Arriving in Senegal
I’ve travelled quite extensively in my time so my arrival into heat stricken Dakar was as expected, though the creepy crawlies in my underwear on night 1 were a little more of a shock to the system.
A 4-hour taxi ride was the next hurdle and once arrived and settled with my host family (23 members) it was straight to work.
Of all the projects on offer, I chose ‘care for the street children in St. Louis’. I felt care would be the most challenging and very much wanted to push the boundaries of experience - accomplished!
As I only had a limited of time to play with, I negotiated with the Care Centre to allow me to be involved with as much as possible, in this case education + medical. Volunteering is a test of your proactive skills and the best is to throw yourself at everything! Don’t wait to be asked or linger pretending you’re having the experience of a lifetime just watching on the sidelines. You’ve got to get stuck in and hands dirty to fully immerse yourself.
Care is an interesting selection. There’s always the thought process that will eventually spring into conversation – “are you going to the care project in Senegal to try to change the world?” This is certainly not possible in two weeks (Rome wasn’t built in a day either), but I feel that as a volunteer in care your task is really to make the day-to-day that much better for all so that over time things will change.
If you can make a child smile, bring humour to the Centre, make great friends among the volunteers and enjoy the country you’re in and the experience your living, you’ve done it! If your mission is to re-invent the wheel, you’ll find it a tough challenge. You must appreciate your environment and realise that it may not be your background, but this is how it’s done here. What can I bring to the table that will help ‘better’ the system?
In terms of work, it’s very much like a job; on time, effort, and exhausting (especially if you’re giving it 110%!)
Street children don’t have the pleasure of organisation, so when it comes to education, patience is key. Also, though you may be teaching 17 year olds, you’re sure to be teaching the basics, and with the basics, comes a greater test of your patience - though simple for you to comprehend, be aware that what you are teaching may come across as rocket science to the talibes (street children).
As for the medical side, here you’re heavily involved with dealing with day to day injuries of the younger generation. Often, the injuries can seem a little gory and if like me, you don’t have a medical background and needles are your living nightmare, then it may take a while to stomach what you’re dealing with. However, you soon get on with it and admire with awe how these children not only deal with such injuries, yet also how they go about their daily lives with such a positive outlook! You suddenly realise that the car parking ticket you received the other day in your home town isn’t actually such an issue after all!
For those considering the adventure, I would say stop pondering, click on ‘apply’ and go go go...
Bye to Senegal
For those still enjoying the experience, I’ll say what I said to other volunteers over a cool beer before I left them behind - my hat off to you all. It is far from easy to not be selfish, invest in work and dedicate your time to giving rather than taking. Bravo! You’re gaining so much day to day and without even knowing it, giving so much back!
For those who are back home and now settled into the normal routine - don’t you miss it?! Don’t you wander the streets believing all should at one time in their lives do something similar? Well done. Enjoy the home comforts and like me, revel in putting life a little more in perspective when you feel you’re having those tough moments. Tough? Not in comparison to how some live day to day.
Thank you Projects Abroad. Thank you to Joke and all the team out in St Louis, especially at the Centre. Thank you to my local host family who opened their arms and made me feel like one of the family. Thank you fellow volunteers. Finally, thank you St Louis - a heart-rending experience that will stay with me for life.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.