Becoming Senegalese

A guy is shouting an energizer on the top of his voice: Hey AIESEC! What’s up!? Bumba sa yessa! Sali bumba! Sali AIESEC! And the crowd answers with the same words.

Text: Gweal Nhial Monykuany
Photos: Florence Flick

150 delegates are sitting in a large hall in the town of Mbodjene in Senegal. The energy in the air can almost be touched. Most of them are Senegalese, but there are also people from Togo, Gambia, Benin, Ivory Coast, Italy and France. There are Muslims and Christians in the same room, and everyone is sharing the same energy and enthusiasm.

What am I doing here? A Finnish student of political science from the University of Helsinki. Well, it all started in October 2015, or wait a minute… actually it started in September 2013 when I joined AIESEC.

OCteam
The seminars organisations comittee

I joined the local committee in the University of Helsinki as a team member and was a part of AIESEC in Strasbourg where I went for exchange studies and when I returned to Finland I was elected as a Vice President. After a few months I applied and got elected as the Local Committee President of AIESEC HY.

AIESEC is for students and recent graduates and is present in 126 countries worldwide. The AIESEC vision is Peace and Fulfillment of Humankinds Potential. The founders, who created the vision when the organisation was established in 1948, believed that creating leaders that are aware of the differences between cultures and engage in international interaction would be more responsible for the world. The key to creating these leaders was to develop young people, and how to do it was to send as many as possible on exchange.

A friend of mine, Florence from France in the end of October asked me to join her as a facilitator in the National Training and Motivation Seminar (NTMS). The facilitators’ team (Faci) plan and hold the sessions, and work on the general content of the conference. This conference lasted from the 26th to the 31st of December, so I didn’t have much time to make up my mind but I knew I wouldn’t get this opportunity again!

goree1
Island of Gorée

I arrived in Dakar 2 days before Christmas and lived in the office of AIESEC in Senegal for the pre-meeting with the Facis. My first impression of the city was hectic but beautiful, white houses, fine sand on the roads and horses pulling carts on the streets as well as minibuses painted in exciting colors.

The people also surprised me. As soon as I looked lost there was someone who offered to help me to find my way. After a while I understood that people were willing to help just because it was a part of the culture. Senegal is called the country of Téranga, which means hospitality. Among the best memories from the trip still are the meals that were shared together from one big plate.

I got very close with the members of the Faci-team before the conference. The first get-to-know activity was to introduce each other by singing a song. All of a sudden I was happily standing, singing and rapping about Aziz, a Local Committee President from Dakar.

facisinsenegal
Gweal (on the right) and his new friends in Senegal.

After the opening event, with speakers from various companies in Senegal and abroad we went to Mbodjene to start the conference. After our arrival we planned the opening ceremony, 30 minutes before it was held. Oh well, in Finland we would have been panicking, but during my first days in Senegal I had already got used to, that things work out without planning in advance.

My sessions were about going on exchange and the kind of leadership we want to develop: being a world citizen, solution oriented, self-aware and empowering others. During the conference there was a contest, where delegates could take a creative group picture that represented one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals they stand up for.

Most of the sessions were held in French due to most of the delegates and Facis being more fluent in the language. I held all of my sessions in English, which were translated by another faci. Sometimes I answered questions in my limited French. This really made me get out of my comfort zone, and it surprised me how well I managed.

The delegates were really verbal and energetic compared to Europeans. After a a question was asked there were at least five hands in the air and the question quickly developed into a discussion. Secondly, it amazed me how romantic everyone were. There were poems read, other proclamations of love and gossip, lots of gossip…

The fun part of the conference happened in parties during the nights where I got a chance to develop my dancing skills. The energy level was explosive compared to a Finnish party, despite or perhaps because of the absence of alcohol.

pinklake3
Pink Lake

The conference was the most intense that I have attended. Looking back I see it as a learning experience, something that actually helped me to understand another culture better and remove some stereotypes I had before. It wasn’t my first time in Africa, because I am half South Sudanese and have been to South Sudan and Ethiopia before. This time, however, I went by my own initiative and met hundreds of people of the same age who are as enthusiastic as me to build a better world.

After the conference we went sightseeing in and around Dakar. We saw a pink lake and the island of Gorée where the main slave export port to America was during the transatlantic slave trade. It was wonderful to have a short holiday after the hectic year that had past. Too soon I was standing in the airport waiting hall again, ready to go back home. However, I’ve promised to come back again and become a little bit more Senagelese: meaning a little bit warmer, friendlier and caring towards other people.

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