The morning is still dark as I sit in my Ndiaga Ndiaye on the way to Rufisque. The single light bulb hanging from a failing red wire illuminates me, casting a grand silhouette, maybe four times my size, on the passing scenery.
The past few weeks I have been getting a wealth of opinions on aid projects in Senegal from different people. Always associated with the white foreigner, the missions seems to be like my shadow-bloated, by inefficiencies and lack of follow up. There is plenty of money being thrown into the aid pot. For if you have a cause, there is likely to be someone supporting it, from environmental protection to helping school children to mental illness. The main difference seems to come from what creates the shadow. Is there something concrete behind it, or is it just the wind?
The first popular path is the politicians route where one procures the aid funding (from the government or an aid organization), creates a project that is usually focused around “sensiblisation” (informing part of the population), obtains volunteers, feeds and gives shirts to these volunteers with half of the funding, and finally keeps the last half of the funding to fill up the coffers. Corruption is rampant in almost all developing countries and on the rise in Senegal specifically. However, there are some projects where only the government can sufficiently address the problem. As private organizations who give to the campaigns though, NGOs have the opportunity to see exactly where their money is going and what it is doing. For their caused can be worthy, but if the money and effort do nothing but further a fraudulent system, what is the point?
The next path is a half support system, represented perfectly in my apprenticeship site of the Village des Tortues. It was created with the help of SOPTCOM, the European Union, the Senegalese government, and other donators. Currently my host father acts as the representative of SOPTCOM for the Village, working there around twice a week. The major issue within the Village itself is the structure that now exists. It was started, and can now subsist and function by itself, but there is no real room for improvement. Every now and then the government will give money if there is not enough to feed the turtles, or SOPTCOM will donate something or other to help update the Village, like a computer. Both resources give the Village a bigger safety net up to a certain point, allowing it to beg at both ends when there is some dire need, but never really let it progressively function independently. Just like this confused system, the actual impact of the Village des Tortues is buried underneath possibilities and dead ends.
Then there is the rare path of possible success, where there is a solid impact behind that wispy shadow of promotion. Hilary and I recently started working at L’Ecole la Sagesse, a private school helped along by a Canadian group that emphasizes teaching methods other than repetition. While their upper levels have not reached their potential yet, the lower schools have an unheard of near perfect success rate. Besides test scores, you can see the impact by just talking to a child and hearing something in return that is less of a parakeet, and more of an honest answer. Yet we still must wait and see what will happen in the future with the students, if they in fact will grow up to look outside of the “normal Senegalese box,” which is literally full of the same material it was when their grandparents were in school.
These routes of aid offer much hope, for in any case they show that people still care- that we have not settled into a normalcy alongside travesties. Though these Senegalese exhibits of aid do present a dire need, that being for the organizations and people to take a complete stake in the ownership and the impact of what they do. For the most part, there is no lack of ideas, just a lack in seeing that some things need the new dreams.