Thursday, December 22, 2011

La Pouponniere - How they found me

Having now explained how to find La Pouponniere (click here for the first part of the story) - here is more of  the story and of how they found me!

A few weeks ago I was finally thinking to myself - it's time I got cracking on some volunteer projects. We have a handle on how things work here (or don't) now and have made the right strides to adapt and adopt. While I thought we had some leads that Manning had pursued prior to our coming here - they seemed to have somewhat vaporized - leaving me with an open question on what to do.  For a brief moment I thought I had a chance to help at "Save the Children".  I assessed an opportunity to provide basic technical training (use of word, excel and e-mail) for some Senegalese employees there through a contact we met. This person  wanted to help improve conditions - but sadly upon providing my professional assessment  it was clear that the computer they had access to was totally inadequate to be effective and offer any success for the training. Until there would be some commitment to fix the things I recommended - that lead died.  While the OLPC project for Manning was taking root -  it wasn't one that we could both assist in - since it required me being here for the boys on the days he has to take his trips to M'boro. And truthfully I really wanted to have something to focus on in Dakar.

Then  Manning receives a phone call on his cell phone - out of the blue from a woman asking for me. Not just any woman but a "nun", "a sister" who has committed her life's work to serve God and to help others with what I thought she said was an orphanage but also a school for young woman. It was the school for young woman they were looking for someone to come on Friday's and teach English to the girls. I tried valiantly to talk with her both in French and English over the phone but it was nearly impossible for me to understand - I think it is because of my hearing loss problem coupled with tinnitus and that it *IS* hard to hear on a cellphone. So, at this point  I've got 3 strikes against me but I'm not giving up to find out who this person is and what she is requesting. And yes I'm recognizing now it's hearing aid time when I get back to the states - Happy 50th Birthday present to myself  I guess.

What I discerned most importantly at the end of our conversation on the phone is that we would meet to discuss the details face to face. I asked her how she obtained my name and number and while she mentioned the Dakar Woman's Group I'm a member of - I could not pin down from her who may have passed my name along - nor could I seem to get that out of asking the group members as well. I was feeling a little more comfortable that she did mention DWG but still a bit uneasy until I got a better handle from some of my DWG members who confirmed for me that it was a "real place with real needs"  -They have a website ( Click here to go to their website)  and the person I was likely meeting was "Sister Charito" - So now I finally  have a name and a place with a website - we're moving in the right direction.

As it turned out - I ended up sharing this story with a recently new found friend in DWG who arrived with her family the same time we did.  Carine - who is French -  but whose English is top notch - really wanted to come with me that day to help if I needed it with the conversation.
She was so excited to be involved - she was gracious enough to pick me up in my neighborhood in Plateau (out of the way from where she lives) for us to go there together.  That is the day I paid no attention to how we got there. 

We arrive and make our introductions with  "Sister Charito" - she's a petite woman (slightly smaller than me) who speaks French, English and Tagalog as she is originally from the Philippines - and has been with La Poupenierre for the last 6 years. 

She sat down and explained the role of Le Foyer (the school) and La Pouponniere (the orphanage) to us.  The orphanage houses from 90-100 babies on two floors between the ages of  weeks to 1 year. One floor is the 0-6 months and the other 6 months to 1 year. The babies come here because their mothers have died in childbirth. And they are babies from all over Senegal. While they still do have families the families are not in a position to care for the baby in providing it the proper nutrition that it needs the first year. So the child is temporarily placed at La Poupenierre in hopes it will get the best developmental start before he or she returns to the family. The family could either consist of the father or even other aunts, uncles or cousins to whom they can be returned. The program is setup as well for the families to come for their special and one visit a week on Sundays and it is mandatory a family member come. There have been other situations where some babies are entrusted to the facility because they have actually been abandoned - and in those cases the babies are cared for and all attempts for adoption are made.

Le Foyer is a dormitory style building with classrooms that allows up to 50 young girls, 18-25 years of age to live during the week and get trained for 2 years - to learn child care, household chores, cooking, sewing, French (some arrive with only their native African language) and English. They make up the bulk of support for the care of the babies.

For our focus - what Carine and I  learned is that there were to be 6 young woman - attending Le Foyer for an extended 3rd year - and the Sister wanted them to increase their command of English to help broaden their chances to obtain a job perhaps with an ex-pat Anglophone speaking family or even in a hotel or restaurant that may cater to Anglophone speaking guests.  It was to be 3 hours every Friday  - which presented three challenges - only meeting once a week, meeting for 3 hours (I myself was not even going for more than 90 minutes with my own French class 3x a week - it is draining) and finally the coordination of the twins and Manning's schedule to make this work.  At this point Carine steps up to assisting me to start on Fridays and see how well we could collaboratively teach the English (she could step in and handle any French translations and also see if I could manage the French and English on my own). Our overall goal was to meet the girls on the next up coming Friday and make an assessment of where they stood with their command of English. And for us to report back to the Sister if it was doable and reasonable - can we go for 90 minutes or is it possible to go for more. Oh - the final challenge - we confirmed - there was no curriculum, no books, no lesson plans, nothing - we are on our own to make it up.  YOWZAH - certainly not a showstopper but an initial head scratch to start.   For my part, I was very clear that I was not 'a professeur' every time she would mention the person as 'a teacher or professor' of English. I think in the end she did get that it was awkward to be given that 'title' when in fact I have had no training nor any certificate or degree to suggest I was anything more than an American in Senegal who can speak English. Apparently despite her usage of terms - what I had to offer was good enough for her (degree or not)

During our conversation the Sister than mentions to Carine that she is also looking for a French teacher to come fill a slot for one hour a week for another group of 14 girls. From what I recall Carine and I realize - let's make it work for Sister Charito - Carine will take on the French for the girls, help me to start but ease out of the English class on Fridays. Problem solved! At this point Sister Charito makes a quick glance up to the ceiling and says something like or close to this - I'm paraphrasing because she said it so quickly -  "J'ai prié Dieu et mes besoins sont répondus". It took me a moment to comprehend what she said and what just happened - and in that split second I was totally choked up in realizing with our simple gesture "she was thanking God as her prayers were answered"

And here I was pondering up to this point about how she got my name  - I'm not sure why I was wondering - it's obvious it did not matter - she has a direct link!


  1. Oh Hilary! This is precious! You are going to get your own taste of teaching. I will be thinking and praying for you and your 6 female students on all Fridays from now on. Go Girl! Love you!

    1. JAMM - now I an reply on the blog. It's amazing how it dropped in my lap but then again - perhaps not so. I have so much to update on this. It's been very rewarding.