Senegal SVEThe following publication is our volunteer Alberto Biondo’s own account; he has been in Senegal for three months within the project SVE- European Volunteer Service.

“Living in a super-crowded city as Palermo, with its gaggles and vivacious intercultural daily routine, and being carried here in the silent and quiet Casamance, southern Senegal, within its lush and green tropical vegetation typical of the rain season, the ancient Islamic traditions and the popular animist believes.

No, we are not talking about some novel or adventure movie’s plot, but actually about an adventure: me, Alberto, a twenty-seven years old Italian, SVE volunteer here in Sédhiou, a growing small city in this extraordinary country. And I am not the only European here: the Hungarian Zita and the French Sophie are my partners in this third edition of “Voices from around the World” a basic and simple title who gets straight to the heart of our SVE: our European voices with Africa’s voices, in an experience that is certainly leaving a mark inside each one of us, and slowly even inside people around us.

Our voluntary work here in Sèdhiou concern different areas of interest: from education to health care, to sports and game. Each volunteer is assigned different activities depending on his or her personal background and desire to do and apprehend: it is vital to put oneself in discussion and keep a high will to learn.

My personal activities include English courses for children and youngsters, Clown Therapy within the structures of the local hospital and a game activity for disabled children with Sophie. Furthermore I’m working on an information pack of awareness campaign against the HIV. In my daily assignments there is also the organization of events: for November I am trying to find possible contacts for an awareness campaign meeting against the HIV and for blood donation, “hot” topics in this local contest.

Other volunteers develop as useful as interesting activities: Sophie for example is the coach of the local Handball team and responsible for many activities with disabled children. These activities include, besides giving a helping hand to the production of manufactured products at Handicap International, a project – for the first time here in Sédhiou – for an educational workshop which aims to teach how to read and write to those disabled who did not receive a proper education.

Zita takes care about English lessons and IT support for the staff of the ONG reception centre, besides future English courses in a school nearby Sédhiou. Furthermore, she is arranging some collaboration meetings with the Centre de Recherche et d’Essais dedicated to educational games and activities for personal development and comprehension of one’s own skills and potential. The same Zita presents three times a week a show on the local radio station Gabou FM, broadcasting European music and culture within the many families who listen to radio every day.

Besides personal activities there is also room for some team work: all together we are going to organize one of the biggest events of the year here in Sédhiou, the Gran Cross, a city race for a healthy lifestyle, which counts on the involvement of the social actors of the city and the whole community.

In my personal experience during these three months I could list dozens of episodes: making a child smile during clown therapy or simply noticing your personal method is working properly while teaching a foreign language, is something that gives you much energy and motivation. There are so many, almost countless bashful smiles which get straight into you with this “totally new” that surrounds you, a reinvigorating process which spurs you to persist and improve yourself. If feedback is negative, never give up. In this case you learn from your mistakes, work hard and figure out a solution. Moments of depression are usual, especially during the first month, but it is part of the game. It is all about getting in the local logic, understanding the needs and translating ideas, freeing them from those European characteristics which usually cover them up – and in many cases make them difficult to be used – and presenting them in their essential simplicity and universality. It takes time, it is true, but as we have learned here in Senegal time is always by your side.

Moreover, living the SVE does not mean only to live an (extra)ordinary voluntary experience, but it also leads to a more including one. Actually during these 90 days or more our life has been completely melted in the Senegal lifestyle: each of us is hosted in families who welcomed us with great affection and included us in their daily routine. This fact gave us the chance to live Senegal from its own warm-hearted and homely people point of view, the real hearth and strength of this surprising country. Living in the families made us understand the reason of certain rites, ceremonies, traditions and local customs and the way they are performed, but most of all makes us feel part of this new world every day more and more.

It has been three months now, but it seems like a year. And three months more as intense as the previous one are still waiting for us. Just a few days ago I used to answer to my friends who asked me to define this experience. The answer came, but with the power of an overflowing river: it is the beauty of a world I was not used to; it is the wonder of finding out new things every day, of learning new opinions, points of view, feelings. It is the joy to discover and be discovered, to give and take, to enrich inside. It is the uneasiness of looking inside yourself, asking questions and being afraid of the answers. It is the will to understand who you really are and try to be a better person. It is a continuous learning and learning, a constant growing-up process, even if you are already 27 years old. It is a remedy for your soul which regenerates you, it is the medicine I needed and it is the right place at the right moment.”

Alberto Biondo