Written by Annie Warner
When I joined the Panhellenic community, expectations of service and philanthropy of course had their place in my heart and mind. However, I never imagined these ideals would extend far beyond Gainesville - especially to Touba Mboufta, Senegal. Upon hearing that Panhellenic would be sponsoring women to go abroad in support of their philanthropy, Circle of Sisterhood, I was beyond eager to apply. Throughout my college career, I have come to highly value women’s education, especially in developing countries. As a result, participating in this trek seemed like a unique opportunity to make a lasting impact in this field. As the planning began,15 women from our council were selected to participate, and I am forever grateful to call myself one of them.
To insure preparedness for our trek, we attended several virtual orientations hosted by our partner NGOs Circle of Sisterhood, Build On, and our UF faculty advisor. Our Build On meetings were organized by our in-country team who directly worked with the community prior to our arrival. Speaking with these experts allowed us to learn about the community we were visiting and how we could best serve them. Throughout the entire process, our first priority was ensuring a positive impact on the community of Touba Mboufta that extended long past our trip.
The cliche goes (or as the Dads say): You give a man a fish, and you feed him for the day. You teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life. We didn’t just provide those we served in Senegal with a school, we provided the knowledge and tools to build this school for themselves. A part of our team included trained artisans who partnered with locals to build bricks, rebar wiring, and dig the foundation for the school. We labored alongside the NGO staff, craftsmen, and community members each day at the worksite. Some of my fondest memories are of digging the school’s foundation along side my host mother, Maty. Even the children of the village helped in any way they could, bringing water to mix cement or singing songs to keep our spirits high in the intense west African heat. Maty’s outwardly visible excitement and dedication for building the school, as well as the rest of the community’s, continues to motivate and inspire me to share Circle of Sisterhood’s values.
The interactions we had with our host community entail some of the most powerful aspects of our trek. Each day, we attended cultural workshops with community members. These activities ranged from an open discussion about women’s issues to sewing lessons. The people of Touba Mboufta shared their whole hearts with us. Many of the women our age, told us of their day to day struggles as well as their long term aspirations. It was incredible how deeply I could relate to women whom I had previously thought I shared such few commonalities with. Through these close interactions, both the Senegalese community and our Panhellenic women were able to mutually exchange cultures and build friendships.
Being welcomed not only into the village, but into someone’s home was one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve ever had. Every moment I got to spend with my host family was cherished. Whether it be practicing my wolof with my host mother, or playing UNO with my host brothers and sisters, we were always laughing. This laughter seemed to remove our language barrier and offered a mutual pathway for communication. Our relationships extended far beyond building a school and by the time we left, I knew I would always have a second family in Touba Mboufta.
Equally as important as our time spent in Senegal, was how we followed up with this experience. The hospitality, kindness, and open heartedness of the people of Touba Mboufta will forever stay with me. I can only begin to thank them for the incredible opportunity to come into their community and for allowing us to take part in developing opportunities for their future generations.