Building off the momentum from last year’s trip, a group of 12 students and two staff members ventured once again to Gandiaye, Senegal during our March Break.
The group had been preparing for the trip since the beginning of the school year, learning about the culture and living conditions, and planning out the project with the Debrouil’Art team—an organization specialized in service trips to Senegal. Seasoned veterans Mr. Tessier and Mme Tourangeau chaperoned once again while Alfred, as the only returning student from last year’s group, served as the resident pro.
Arriving in Senegal, they found the basketball court BCS had built the previous year was very well loved. “The principal said that there are five different villages that travel to play basketball on that court since it is the only basketball court built around that area. Everyone is enjoying it and playing on it and that’s pretty fun,” Alfred shared. The project even picked up national interest: “We’ve been noticed by organizations like NBA Africa and they want to get more involved,” Mme Tourangeau noted. The group swiftly rolled up their sleeves to repair and restore the court, repainting the lines and patching up the holes. They even built and installed bleachers capable of accommodating 50 people so that spectators no longer have to watch the games from the sand. The group also finalized the work started by Villa Maria High School (in Montreal) on the local elementary school reading room. “We repainted the walls, installed the shelves, and organized the books Villa Maria had donated,” Emma shared.
While the main focus of the trip is service, the students did have time to take in the sites. On their first day, the group visited the island of Gorée, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, located off the coast of Senegal opposite Dakar—once the largest slave-trading centre on the African coast. The visit was an important component of the trip as it provided historical context to the current socio-economic situation in Senegal. They also visited Bandia Reserve to experience an authentic African Safari and the Sahara desert, which was a particular highlight of the trip. “I had always wanted to go to one of the ‘Wonders of the World’ and I got to go to the Sahara desert—it’s the biggest desert in the world. That’s pretty cool,” Alfred remarked. The group was overwhelmed by the natural beauty of Senegal: “Every night after work, when we looked up at the night sky, there were so many stars. I’ve never seen so many stars in my entire life!” Coco exclaimed.
Students stayed with local host families in the village of Gandiaye. “There were five families for 12 of us and we stayed in groups,” said Alfred. “During the day we would all work together, and at night we would all separate and spend time in our houses. You were never really alone.” One of Emma’s favourite parts about the trip was meeting the local people. “I loved interacting with the people. They were always so happy to help us. It was amazing to watch and learn from them.” Andrew agreed: “No matter where you are from in the world, we are all human. I love that. You get to interact no matter where you’ve come from or what you do, you still have this willingness to connect, talk with people, and enjoy their presence.” The 14-strong team also became very close, Andrew shared. “I went with people who weren’t necessarily my friends but I got to bond with them in such a special way. It’s priceless. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.” Mme Tourangeau echoed the sentiment: “You form a bond with the people that are there and the team–they are like my second family now.”
Our students came back with a changed perspective and a more positive outlook on life. “It’s a great experience. Going there and coming back here changes your perspective on things. It makes you more grateful for what you have,” Emma shared. Andrew encourages anyone interested to go on the trip. “You get to explore your horizons and other parts of the world, make an impact, and just become a better person. To everyone who has the adventurous flair or spark—this is the trip for you.” Words of advice? “Bring sunscreen; a lot of sunscreen!” declared Coco.