“It’s been about 2 years and 10 months since my plane arrived in Dakar, Senegal. I had never visited Africa, and no matter how much I read online, I had no idea what to expect. This country opened my heart and my eyes, and it taught me more about myself and the world than anything else could accommodate. Spring 2013 with CIEE turned into a semester I would never forget.
My name is Stefanie Smith, and I am a New Business Development volunteer in Senegal. Yes, I came back for more of this country. I primarily work with the Chamber of Commerce at the business creation office. My main project concerns the sexiest topic of all: trash. My town (with a population of over 40,000) does not have a trash collection service, so you can imagine the amount of it on the streets. We have developed a sustainable waste management system using local resources; and though it’s a long term vision, we are hoping that our trash collection system, along with our environmental education initiative, will make our city cleaner. My other primary projects include teaching entrepreneurship to youth and financial literacy to illiterate farmers. My secondary projects are teaching English and Math to children, as well as girls’ camps, empowering them to become the next leaders of the future.
I was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. I majored in International Business and French and minored in German. Languages and cultures have always interested me, so I studied abroad for 2 out of my 4 years at university. I was a product of a Mexican mother and an American father, so in my mind, I was destined to travel the world. I grew up trying to perfect as many languages as possible, starting with English. French was initially useful in Senegal (it’s the official language), but to truly integrate myself, I had to learn Wolof, the local language.
During my CIEE experience we had a week of rural visits. I chose to spend the week with a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV). Growing up in Mexico, I did not know of the Peace Corps until my semester abroad, but after that week, I knew it was my next step. This PCV let me into her life for a week and I saw not only the positive effect she had on her community, but more importantly, the positive effect her community had on her. She had formed strong relationships during her service and breached cultural barriers through communication, love and a deeper understanding of the language. I wanted that experience, I wanted to learn more about a country and its people the way she had.
I arrived to Senegal 8 months ago, and as my service continues, I learn something new everyday. I learn about myself, the language, my host family, my students… I see the hardships that Senegalese face, and though they are not always the same as the hardships witnessed during my semester in Dakar, I understand that we all face difficulties. I see happiness too, all over Senegal. I see births, weddings, smiles, learning and laughter which always rise above the hardships. But most importantly I see that we are all just living in this world together, and it is our responsibility to try to understand the lives of others in order to respect each other and show compassion. Countries all over the the world have more in common than one may at first believe. Thus, our job is to listen.”