When I boarded the plane that would be transporting our mission team to Dakar, Senegal, I knew that I was temporarily kissing the comforts of America goodbye. Little did I understand what it meant to be journeying miles away from any fragment of familiar culture. The entire eight hours of the flight were spent in an unprofitable effort to sleep, instead of anticipating the life changing experiences that I was about to encounter. When we arrived at the airport, the welcoming committee fell far short of the acclaimed friendly and peaceful personality of the Senegalese people. Although all of our bags arrived, baggage claim became a chaotic challenge, aggravated by the language barrier and an onslaught of aggressive men anxious to be of service, for a price. However, others soon buffered that rough experience. I was beginning to see what the people of Senegal were about; I had to experience the people firsthand to see how lovable these people really were. Unfortunately, the first couple days of my travel were overshadowed by culture shock; my desire to learn about the Senegalese people and serve them with love and compassion was camouflaged.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
As the trip progressed and the days became concentrated with service projects, I began to embrace the new culture and adventure that the capital city, Dakar, provided. I was granted the opportunity to work with the Talibe boys, their existence being a fixture that plagues the country of Senegal. These boys range in age from four to around sixteen and are given by families to teachers of the Koran, in exchange for shelter and supposed religious education. Every day these boys are sent around the city to beg, in order to “learn humility,” and are at best neglected, at worst, beaten and abused. The language barrier did not prevent me from adoring these boys. They loved soccer and inventing fun out of whatever scrap of resource they discovered, but their actions could not cover the underlying needs that they had. Some had medical issues that our clinic was able to address and treat, however, others had serious ailments that threatened their lives, lives that were ripe with concentrated potential.
I was able to overcome the cultural blinders that had been diluting my experience. I wanted to donate all that I had to these boys. I wanted to give them the life that they deserved, and the love and support that they craved. Throughout the nine-day journey, I was constantly reminded of the medical clinic where I served the Talibe boys early on in the trip. I was reminded of their need and of my desire to help. I wasn't in a position to change that religious system, but I knew that small acts of kindness meant so much to each of these boys. My excursions in the city of Dakar were laced with many other adventures that enriched my understanding of the Senegalese culture and my love for the people.
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