Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Final Leg

My last few months in village were a whirlwind and as I take a few minutes out of my current Italian vacation to reflect on it and finally write this last blog post I want to start by expressing my gratitude for all of you who have followed and supported me on this amazing adventure.

I didn't get a chance to blog about the Bathroom Restoration Project  and wanted to update you all and give a special thanks to all who contributed to it.   The goal was to help restore the poorly constructed bathrooms located at the school while incorporating lessons about sanitation and health. Fellow Volunteer Cara Steger partnered with me on this project as we created health groups at both of our elementary schools. We started back in November and tried to meet regularly with the students to talk about different illnessess, diseases, and preventative methods. As I have mentioned before, behavoir change is the most difficult but essential task in creating change in at risk and poor communities. This was one of my favorite programs as I got to spend a lot of time dancing with the kids and making new friends. Here are some photos, thanks again for everyone who donated to the cause.
Guest Geoff talking about Deforestation 

The CM1 class with their bars of soap

CM2 class in front of the new bathrooms

Boys can clean too!

My last month in village was difficult as it was hard to say goodbye and prepare myself to leave. The hardest part was saying goodbye to the children, particulary those who i lived with and the older grandma and grandpa's who I am certain I will never see again. I made an attempt to appreciate all the things I really enjoy about the community and culture and as I did so I was brought to tears many times. One of my favorite things about leaving is to part in peace. I went around to every house hold and thanked them, asked for forgivness and gave mine.  It was good to know that even though I had wronged others or been wronged it was forgotten and let go.  I received blessings and love for my travel and was given the left hand. This is a huge deal as it's the hand you never shake with because it's the hand you use while in the toilet. When giving your left hand upon leaving it is a great sign of respect.   The last person I said goodbye to was my host mother and sister (best friend). It was an emotional goodbye and I spent the next 8km on my bike sobbing as I left Koulinto for the last time.

There are so many things I would like to share and it's been a little difficult to process everything I feel. I invested so much of myself in this life and to all of a sudden be gone feels almost like it was all a dream.  I learned some very powerful lessons and I am sure more will unveil themselves with time.

This is the last blog I will post on this page, but I do want to let you know that I have started a new webiste/ blog site. I am very excited about it and  hope you will take some time to check it out.  I will be posting regularly about topics regarding yoga, wellness, philosophy, travel, world cusine, and of course photos.   Check it out:   The Enigmatic Path
Thank you again for supporting me on this journey. I have enjoyed your responses and look forward to connecting with some of you very soon.

Peace Only

Jenae <3

On the road leaving village

Last sunset

Wednesday, April 18, 2012



Malaria is the 2nd leading cause of death in Africa behind HIV/AIDS.  In fact, 89% of malaria deaths are found in 35 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa, including Senegal.  I have seen first hand the damage done by malaria and it's more than frustrating to know that this disease could be easily prevented.  The disease is carried by a parasite in a particular type of mosquito.  When the mosquito feeds on a human it transfers the parasite into the blood where it later travels to the liver where it reproduces itself and infects the red blood cells.

Once a person is infected they will have a  high fever and body aches. Sometimes vomiting and diarrhea will occur. If not treated right away, the disease can be fatal.  According to the CDC, 15%-20% of patients, even with treatment end up dying.

As a volunteer or health worker in this area there are a few things that we do to educate people. 1. Sleep under a net, 2. Use Neem cream to protect yourself, 3. Get treated right away. 

 Behavior change has been the foundation of my work here and it's the most challenging thing a person could take on.  Living in a village where superstitious and the belief that Allah has power over life and death limits people in their ability to take responsibility for their actions. Many times when I have encountered a sick child and asked the parents what was going on, their response is "oh, it's Malaria"  If the child or person dies it's "oh, it's the will of Allah . This attitude stems from ignorance and a lack of understanding of the disease.  Many of the deaths that occur are a result of taking too long to get treated. Many times I have seen families wait 3, 4 or even 5 days before taking their children to get medicine.  My personal goal has been, and I think many volunteers will agree, to empower people with knowledge. It IS the most important part of our work. Repetition is KEY!  It is the only way behavior change will ever happen and though it's a slow process it does take place.

When I first came to Senegal, I remember a few volunteers telling me that villagers in my area thought eating green mangos caused malaria.  I have seen the difference in belief since then. Nearly every person I ask, children included, will now tell you it's because of mosquitoes.  It's cool to see that people can learn.  The next step in this battle is to keep encouraging the use of Neem cream (a cream that can be made with local ingredients and is very effective in preventing mosquito bites) and sleeping under a net as well as getting treated right away. 

Senegal has been the leader in efficient ways to combat Malaria. In 2009 and 2010, volunteers carried out universal mosquito net distributions. The success of this program led to the creation of Stompin out Malaria. Peace Corps countries throughout Africa are now joining together to combat malaria. Volunteers meet several times a year, in Senegal, to discuss ways to overcome the challenges of Malaria and share project ideas.  To read more about this program see : Also you can follow them on Facebook at

Because World Malaria Day falls on the 25th of this month, we are trying to raise awareness and get people involved in this movement.  In my last 5 days in village, volunteer Cara Steger and I dedicated our last health club meeting to Malaria. We made neem cream with the students and gave them a starter kit that they can use to replicate it and then sell it. 

The Stompin out Malaria has been recently developed and I must say I am a little jealous I have to go home and can't stay to be a part of it. The overall goal is to eventually eradicate malaria entirely.  It has been great to have been a part of it.  I send nothing but best wishes and luck to future volunteers as they take on this mission because the truth is...EVERY child does deserve a 5th Birthday! 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Senegal's Presidential Election 2012

I sit down to write this blog on the Senegalese Independence day. There is music in the background and I can only assume that people are not only celebrating their freedom, which they received in 1960 from France, but also an historical even that just took place a few days ago. April 2nd marked the inauguration of Senegal’s fourth president. The battle for presidency was like nothing I have ever seen, but I feel grateful to have witnessed it, for it represented much more than just an election.

As eastern neighbor Mali is currently divided between a military coup in the south and the Taureg rebels in the north, our Mauritanian neighbors of the north have been unable to host NGO workers or volunteers due to threats, kidnappings and connections to Al Qaeda. Our unstable neighbors to the south, Guinea and Guinea Bissau have their government in shambles and travel into this country, by Americans, is strongly discouraged. One would say the Gambia is stable, but their current president, not only claims that his ancestors sent him the power to cure HIV/AIDS in a dream, but his self love, corruption, and exploitation has prohibited the country to thrive and meet their economic potential. The stories of West Africa go on and on. It has been a difficult place since independence and development and foreign aid has done little to improve the millions of lives living in poverty.

27 million dollar statue (not my photo)
Senegal’s story is one of hope. Though poverty and exploitation still exists in many rural areas, this past election campaign proved that the Senegalese people believe in change and have the power to see it happen. Since arriving in Senegal, I have heard nothing but negative comments about the past president Abdoulaye Wade. The most popular one relating to a 27 million dollar statue built by the North Koreans in exchange for land in which Wade receives 35% of profits and revenues. Wade explains that the vision of the statue came to him in a dream, therefore he had to build it even though nearly everyone will agree that the money could have been used to…um I don’t know…fix roads, strengthen the school systems, help rural areas get electricity, fix hospitals and health huts?????

There has also been criticism over Wade’s family life, he was raised in France and married a French women.  His son, Karim, who is also a politician and thought about running for president does not even speak Wolof (the national language) It is said that the Wade family is not really Senegalese because they have never had to suffer.  Either way the majority of people were content to see the end of his term. However as time approached when he was supposed to step down, rumors started to leak that he would be running for a third term which is illegal in Senegal’s constitution.

After the Constitutional Council approved him to run for his third and last turn, violent protests erupted all over the country. It is said that he paid off the council members. It was also at this time that they disqualified opponent Youssa Ndour, who at the time had a huge public backing. 

Picture of Protests, not my photo

more protests, not my photo

Before the campaign started, Wade invited all the village chiefs, including my host father, to Dakar to honor their hard work and dedication. He made them promises that if he was re-elected, he would help improve their communities.  (Should I mention that he has done absolutely nothing during the last two terms for any village outside of Dakar)
 February 27th was the first election and he did not get enough votes to win so a second run off election with scheduled against Macky Sall.  The second election happened on March 25th.  I was in village for both elections and it was interesting to observe. 

When going to vote, you enter a classroom where there is a committee supervising.  There are paper cards for each candidate with a photo and their name. You pick up one of each and then go behind a curtain where you put the person you want to win in an envelope and seal it.  After you put it into a sealed box and dispose of the candidates you did not choose. Later when the election ends the supervising team gets together and counts out each vote.  In my friends village, the police surrounded the school with AK 40’s to prevent any protesting as all the men gathered around to hear the votes being counted. (no pictures of AK 40's, its illegal to take photos of the military.
Instructions on how to vote

During the second election there were people paying 1mille (2$) for those voting for Wade. (Paid for by Wade himself…desperation??? I think so, government funds…probably) Instead of disposing of the papers they were supposed to, people would hide them in their clothing and sneak them out to collect money. Despite all the cheating Macky still won. He was inaugurated on April 2nd, in Dakar (I actually got to see him driving down the street waving to his country-men) 56% of registered voters actually voted. (This number is higher than the States)
Election committee and woman putting her vote in the box
Candidates: take one of each and put the one you want in the envelope

The majority of my village voted for Wade, but my host family was Macky all the way. The night he won my family and some of their friend erupted in screaming and dancing. It gave me Goosebumps as it was the coolest things I have ever witnessed (close to Obama’s victory) People who I have never see dance were dancing like madmen.  The last few weeks as I have talked to my Senegalese friends, I can’t help but to catch their contagious energy.  It’s really been a monumental experience!

So who is Macky Sall?

poster my host family put up on their house

 He was born in Senegal, his father is Pulaar and his mother is Sereer.  He is a geological engineer that has lived most of his life working in the political arena. He was the former Prime Minister for Wade himself and served as the minister of petroleum and mining. I hope that he uses the opportunity to be president for the betterment of his country instead of his personal objectives like so many African presidents have fallen victim to before him. It will be an interesting time as the future unfolds and I suggest keeping an eye on this country, for it’s development has unlimited possibilities. I personally am not a big fan of politicians but if you ask the Senegalese they classify him as a real Senegalese.  They are happy, perhaps not so much for Macky himself, but the fact that they, the Senegalese people, had power to make a change. If they believe, maybe there really is hope.

A Series of fun pictures take on the road to Dakar

Sunday, March 4, 2012


As a continuation to the blog I wrote a few weeks ago about Relationships, I wanted to follow up with some projects I have been apart of that target early pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/ AIDS.  Despite the fact that condoms are readily available most men choose not to use them. They won't admit this but after talking to the ladies it appears the usage is limited. Early pregnancy is a huge problem here as well as the spread of STD’s.

Project Diobe:

Diobe is a small town located 18km from my small little village. Every Wednesday people arrive from around Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Mali and the Gambia to trade and sell goods.  Because there are so many people coming and going it is a optimal place for prostitution. USAID reported that this area  is one of the few places, in Senegal, that has a higher prevalence of HIV/AIDS.

The Diobe Market

In Diobe, Packing up a bus (picture by Chealsea Moeller

Having previous success with a local theater group, I organized a day to educate this market community about HIV/AIDS. We invited other NGO’s to join us and had a local testing center come to offer free testing.  We interviewed participants on their knowledge of sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS and the results were quite eye opening. We had an array of responses for ways one can contract AIDS including kissing, sharing food, and giving a massage.  Only a few people were able to explain how the HIV virus is different than other diseases and less than half knew how often they should get tested.  The results of these interviews showed that it is necessary to continue this type of education.  Out of the 34 participants that got tested, only one was positive.

With the local doctor and health educator (RtoL)

Sam &Ally passing out condoms and encouraging people to get tested

Testing Crew

Theater Group sketch about AIDS

Project Family Planning:
Myself and five other volunteers organized a series of trainings that aimed to educate men about the benefits of family planning. Many women do not have a choice when it comes to the number of children birthed. They rely on their husbands for money to buy birth control and more often than not they do not provide funding. I can not tell you how many times I have been  approached by women to pay for their contraceptive (it cost a dollar for a three month depo shot). It is this reason why we thought targeting men might be a better way to inspire change. The trainings were all very successful and brought up interesting and controversial issues.
Like the current birth control protest in the United States many religious people feel that it is against God’s will to use family planning methods.  This issue was brought up on several occasions and one of the local health agents working with us did an excellent job at responding to this type of question.  Their argument was simply that "God tells you to take care of and provide for your family.  If your children or wives are dying due to malnutrition, or you can’t afford to send all your children to school, or give them proper clothing then you are not doing your job as a husband." The other argument was natural spermicides.  Why does God provide natural medicines if he does not want you to use them.  i  Both of these arguments really opened up the room for discussion and though there are always the stubborn men that always disagree, there were many who found insight in what was said.  In fact, after our trainings, one of the hospitals saw a rise in Birth control purchases.

Condom Demo 101

Activity about providing for your children. We broke up everyone into "families" some with 20 people and some with 2. Then we gave them the same amount of bread and told them to feed everyone. It was a hit! 

Female Condom

Family Planning Group! 

Project Early Pregnancy:

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t bring up this issue to someone. It breaks my heart to see 13 and 14 year-old girls pregnant.  In nearly every case they have to drop out of school to take care of this child who has no acknowledged father. Because they have brought both shame and burden to their family they usually become the main woman worker of the house.  Every woman that I know who has had a teenage pregnancy is unhappy and tells me how difficult her life is.  It is frustrating that her child will be limited because of her status.
I have had a series of events that have targeted both young girls and boys to talk about the risks of sex.  We have a big event coming up at the local high school that will talk about delaying sex and over-coming peer pressure.   This past week we had a seminar for 20 elementary school girls to talk about empowerment and career opportunities. We challenged them to think about what it means to be an African woman, what characteristics are important and what things can prohibit them from achieving their goals. We talked a lot about early pregnancy and how it can ruin your dreams and life.  Hopefully these girls will think twice when they face these types of situations.

Group Shot, Girls Seminar 

Making Empowerment Bracelet 

  From just the number of young mothers in my village, I know these children are having sex. To look the other way and not share knowledge of protection is, in my opinion, the bigger sin.  After having these types of conversations, many people do see the importance of sex education with younger children.  My hope is that as people become more open minded future generations will have more opportunity to implement these concepts into their lives.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Woman Weeps

This is a follow up to my last blog post. It is a poem I wrote a while ago when I was frustrated with the way a good friend of mine is treated. enjoy

The woman weeps
her calloused hands
wipe away the tears

No one sees her
for she cries alone
with her laundry pile near

Her harsh words
have damaged spirits
for her children fear her

They understand one thing
and seek to escape
her unfolding wrath of hate

Her brutal hands of stone
leave un-healing marks of pain
to stop it would be too late

For the anger grows more each day
it rises from the ashes of blame
and she does not seek to understand

the inequality of her gender
of her life and of her dreams
slowly dissipate into space

No one knows her story
and there is no point in sharing
for true feelings mean nothing here

So her anger continues to defy
her miserable life of lies

and the woman weeps
for all things felt
but left unsaid

and the woman weeps
for her tormented soul
and secretly wishes
she were dead!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Relationships, Broken Hearts, Men, Women & Love

I have not had regular access to the internet and have been unable to post.  However,  I have been writing a lot and have three new entries to share. I will be putting them up in the next couple of weeks.  Enjoy

No matter where you live or what culture you were raised in, the majority of human beings deal with relationships, heartbreaks and love.  Being here and having the opportunity to live in a local community and date a host national has given me a different perspective on relationships, standards, gender roles, and love.  It has also brought to awareness a particular sense of gratitude for my own upbringing and freedom.  I want to apologize for writing so much about the oppression of women. I never planned to revolve my blog around this subject, but lately the stories I feel most inspired to share are just that. 

The words relationship, boyfriend, and girlfriend have a very different connotation here than they do in America.  Most will agree that in America when you are in a relationship it means that you are dating one person unless agreed upon otherwise. Communication is essential and trust is even a bigger. Cheating is looked down upon by society and is a likely cause to end a relationship.   Here it is very much the opposite. Cheating is a common practice and though people do not necessarily like it, they accept it.  I have spent a lot of time talking about this subject to both men and women (teenagers and adults).   The chance that your Senegalese boyfriend (muslim or catholic) is having or has had sex with another person while dating you in pretty darn high.  

Some of my male volunteer friends have had some interesting conversations with Senegalese men.  One friend told me that his tailor asked him why the volunteers (male) do not want to  “play” with the women here.  His quote “the women of village “A” want to play. You just tell me whom you want and I will help you.:  When explained to this person that he was in a relationship and was not interested, the man did not understand.  He explained how he was also in a relationship. This type of thinking is not uncommon.

In trying to understand why this is so accepted I talked with a good friend of mine.  She was born and raised in Sierra Leone, yet had the opportunity to live in America for much of her adult life. She explained that African men love their girlfriends and want to marry them however they commonly sleep with other people. It doesn’t mean they don’t love their girlfriends but before marriage they don’t see the necessity to remain loyal to one woman even if they have not had sex with her.  It is something she told me that she has learned to accept.  She also talked about the lack of effort made by a man once he has your commitment (sexual or not) And romantic gestures such as giving flowers or love letters are very unlikely.  Love here is reflected in action rather than emotions.  If you are a man and you love a woman and want to marry her you work hard to have money so you are able to support her and your future family.  Women show their love by working hard, being obedient, and domestic.    

 So you would think once people get married the sleeping around would stop.  Unfortunately, it does not.  In a polygamous society, such here, men use the excuse that they are looking for another wife as a means to justify their sleeping around. For Catholics this excuse is not accepted thus men who choose to have affairs do so much more discreetly. Either way the consequences for these types of actions mostly affect the women.

I have seen girlfriends and wives act out against this and the results have been discouraging.  My host sister went crazy when she found out her husband was talking to another women and tried to hit him. The result was that he beat her. My friend found out her husband was taking a second wife and spoke out to him only to be hit. A girlfriend found out her boyfriend was sleeping with other women, called him out but stayed with him anyways.
 In America a woman has the right to leave her husband if he is unfaithful to her.  Unfortunately women do not have the resources to pack up leave. They are dependent on their spouse for financial support.  Also women who do choose to leave and return to their father’s house are often times looked down upon.  Being a woman in this culture means putting up with whatever your husband does and if you don’t like it then you must find a way to deal with it. 

I can’t help but to admire a woman who has an unfaithful husband and is stuck in the situation.  She has really no choice but to carry on, take care of her children, and find a way to cope.  Emotions are not expressed here! Besides children, the only time you will see someone cry is at a funeral when they are mourning for the deceased.  They are taught from a very young age that repressing how you feel is the way you live.  The result is that women have very little self-esteem, refuse to stand up and talk, and do not complain.  I know from my conversations that there is not a lack of feeling. The women here do feel and they do get hurt and upset when someone wrongs them. They choose to ignore it, let it go and move on.  You may think this is healthy, but in my observations I have seem many women who turn all this hurt into anger.  They let it out on their children.  A good friend of mine is a perfect example of this.

She was the youngest daughter of 7 girls. Her father died when she was 13 and was then married off to someone twice her age. She is an extremely intelligent person and loved to study. This change ruined her life and after being married to this older man and having a child, he died. She was 19 when she moved back with her mother who had recently re-married.  Now with a child and no financial support and her mother’s new husband was quick to marry her again.  She had three more children and is treated poorly by her new mother and law. She does all the laundry, cooks all the meals, milks the cows, pounds the rice and every other task women do here. The difference is that no one helps, her husband gives her no money and spends most of his time taking his motorcycle to watch soccer games or to parties.  She never complains but after several conversations with her, my heart is full of sadness for her and her situation. I recently wrote a poem thanks to her inspiration. 

I will post the poem in my next post...stay tuned!