by Heather Fennerty
My husband, John, and I had the good fortune of visiting Adja Penda Ba in Nioro, Senegal for two days on January 22 and 23th. We were following in the footsteps of our son, Reid, who had traveled to Nioro two years earlier to initiate links between Adja Penda Ba and two other schools: his high school, George Mason in Falls Church, and the International School of Dakar. John and I received a very warm welcome from Khady and the administrative staff; we were immediately given a tour of the school. The administrative staff ( Mr. Fall, the school director, Mr. Ndao, the director of elementary, and Mame Diarra, the accountant) were very friendly, engaging and accommodating; they smiled and laughed with ease – I can only describe this trait as “Senegalese happy”- as Khady is. They were clearly proud of the school and happy to be part of it.
We arrived at the school late in the afternoon on Friday, as the five-hour drive to Nioro from Dakar was longer than we anticipated; we were surprised to find full classes of secondary students sitting at their desks attending to instruction from their teachers. Classes of Spanish, English and Math were in progress. We were welcomed into each classroom, met the teachers, and had the opportunity to ask questions, observe and take pictures. We were impressed with the warmth of the teachers and the students. Some classes are taught in the later afternoon and early evenings to accommodate teachers who instruct at other schools. As we continued our tour of the school, we were introduced to the elementary teachers who were working in a large circle cutting vegetables and other foods in preparation for a community school lunch to welcome us the following day. We were touched by the effort and time given to welcome us. As we walked on, we observed an after school music class for elementary students. The children were being taught by Mr. Naser, the music teacher, on how to use the recorder. Fewer than half the children had recorders in hand, but they all sat attentively listening and observing as the teacher walked around the room instructing students how to place their fingers correctly. I was struck by how well behaved and respectful the children were during the lesson. As a teacher, I know too well the importance of children understanding the value of learning and the value of respectfulness. The students that we encountered at Adja Penda Ba were respectful to their teachers and grateful to be students.
We were invited in to the computer room; although the room is small – about ten computers – it has great potential- for both teachers and students to access educational resources. The internet connection is currently intermittent, but a technician was working while we were there to improve the lines by installing plastic protective covers (water resistant) for the electrical lines and the router. Nioro is separated from Dakar by a 4 to 5 hour car journey (depending on traffic); the last 20 miles into Nioro is on dirt roads. The village is remote; connection to a larger academic community can only further inspire both teachers and students.
We walked on to see the school library which contained donated French and English books. The books were in racks along the wall of the room. The room also serves as a community room for special events. A donated key board piano and a few plastic desks were lined against the wall for reading. The collection of musical instruments is slowly growing. The hope is to add guitars and other instruments to the collection and more musical instruction. The last room we visited was the preschool room. The children were not there, but the room was open and spacious; racks lined the walls stocked with used toys, books, and games. It was great to see that the youngest children in the village have access to a colorful room, with learning materials and teachers.
The following day we were invited to a community lunch prepared by the teachers and attended by the administrative staff, many teachers, and a handful of parents and children. The event was held in the library; round tables were decorated with colorful, festive tablecloths. Communal platters of rice and lamb were beautifully placed on each
table. After lunch, there were speeches (from the director, a parent spoke, teachers, and others from the community). All the speakers expressed their gratitude for the support the school receives and for Khady’s leadership. We had the opportunity to talk at more length with the teachers and were very impressed with their training and commitment. Both English teachers spoke impeccable English; one teacher, Mr. Seck, recently returned from a six- month International Leadership Educational Program sponsored by the State Department; he spent time in Washington and at Arizona State University learning best practices for teaching English. We spoke with the Spanish teacher, Mr Diop, who spoke flawless Spanish despite not having the opportunity to live in a Spanish speaking country. The teachers we met were personable, talented and committed.
In sum, we received a warm welcome with open arms from everyone at Adja Penda Ba; we were treated like honored guests: we saw, we talked, we listened, we ate and for a few moments we danced – together we celebrated being a part of an international community supporting one another in giving children from a rural village in Senegal the gift of education.
It was an experience we will always cherish.