Senegal

Rebecca Verlaque

Where did you serve?
I am currently serving as a Preventative Health Educator for the Peace Corps in the village of Khogue, Senegal. It’s a village of about 850 people in the dry, sandy desert region of Senegal. People mostly work as subsistence farmers, so it’s quite poor, but we are lucky to have a school that goes up through 7th grade, as well as a small health facility. The primary language spoken here is Wolof, though many speak some French as well. I’ve been living in my town for about four months now, and am partnered with the 2 health care facility workers in Khogue.
 

Were there any moments of culture shock that really stood out?
I wouldn’t say that I’ve experienced many moments of culture shock- Senegalese culture is open and welcoming. But, it might be fitting to say that I’m coming to to terms with the reality of others’ lives. For example, I now live in a hut with no electricity or running water. Temperatures are often over 100 degrees, sandstorms and camels roll through my village on occasion, and the way I do just about everything these days is different- the way I travel (horse cart or over crowded pickup), the way I shower (bucket baths only!), and what I eat (lots of rice!). But the kind of work I do, as different as it is, is very fulfilling- I’ve been able to help vaccinate children against polio, educate people about the causes, dangers and prevention of such health issues as malaria and diarrhea, have implemented Peace Corps Senegal’s girls scholarship program in my village, and spend most of every day integrating myself into my village.

 
What organization did you serve with? Does it have a UCLA connection?
The organization I serve with is the US Peace Corps. Back in the early days of the Peace Corps, UCLA had a contract from the federal government to train outgoing PCVs through their extension. Today, UCLA has produced nearly 2000 volunteers, and ranks as one of the top ten big universities nationwide in providing volunteers (tied with UC Berkeley). While at UCLA I had the opportunity to participate in a day of service hosted by the UCLA Volunteer Center and the Peace Corps to celebrate the Peace Corps 50th anniversary, and I met Aaron Williams, then-director of the Peace Corps while fulfilling duties as a UCLA Volunteer Center Fellow at the 2011 commencement ceremonies.

 
Why did you choose this organization and location?
I chose to apply to the Peace Corps because I’ve wanted to work in international development since high school, for the opportunity to learn a new language and become part of a new community, because I wanted on the ground development experience to go along with my brand-new BA, and because I believe in the Peace Corps’ goals of sustainable, capacity building development and the promotion of cross-cultural understanding! Location-wise, I was assigned to Senegal after indicating that Sub- Saharan Africa was one of my preferred regional choices.

 

What lessons have you learned from your volunteer experience?
I’m only six months into my 26 months of service, so I’ve got many lessons to learn still, but I can say that I have learned the following so far: the importance of flexibility, endurance and patience goes way beyond your yoga class; most of the time challenges and changes aren’t as difficult as you think they’ll be- and even if they are, you’ll find good people along the way to help and guide you. And, finally, always carry a secret stash of toilet paper.

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The More You Know

Area Served Khogue, Senegal
Total number of countries the US Peace Corp serves in 139
Service Organization US Peace Corps
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