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Rachel Behrend - General Care Projects in Senegal

At host family

I have always romanticized the idea of traveling alone.  When I was getting ready to graduate from my high school in Maryland and all my friends were talking about heading off to university, I could only feel this sense of worry that I would not be able to fully appreciate university life while feeling that there was so much in this vast world that I had never been exposed to, and may never be for years to come since after high school there is college, and after college there is finding a job and keeping it. The responsibilities that would keep me from traveling would only pile up in the years to come.

Talibé centre

My fascination with Senegal began when I met a Projects Abroad representative at a gap year fair. What he showed to me in pictures and described to me captured me right away: being right on the ocean, watching the fisherman pull in the catch at sunrise, the people in bright, beautiful colored clothing. I started to research Senegal further, and became more and more excited by everything I saw and read.  When I read about the Projects Abroad placement helping to take care of talibe street children, I was sure that this was the trip I wanted to take before starting my life as a university student.

During my stay in St. Louis, Senegal, I worked with a man who was a nurse for street children. His name was Touba Diop and he was ultra charismatic, energetic, and eager to have me along beside him in his work, despite the fact that I had just graduated from high school and had zero medical insight to offer. Each day he would take me to a different Daara (a place where the talibé street children live) and would show me how to treat a wide variety of medical conditions common among the talibé. Scabies was rampant, and after Touba had completely educated me in the healing process for scabies, we were able to split the work and cover twice as many children as before. Being able to contribute in this way was incredibly rewarding, and I felt as if I should be paying to go to medical school.

Talibé children studying

Yet here I was taken under the wing of this man who knew the talibé better than anyone, and who was willing to share all his knowledge with me. I began to become more and more familiar with certain talibé children – especially those with recurrent conditions that we had to treat frequently – and also began to become more familiar with certain methods of treatment. We once found a talibé boy that had been hit by a car and had trouble moving his limbs. Touba took him back to his own house where it was cleaner and safer than in the Daara, and helped him to recuperate. I was, at the time, intending on studying physical therapy, so I got to watch as Touba took measures to revitalize movement in this boy’s limbs. By the time I left Senegal, the boy had recovered entirely. This was just one of many cases where I was exposed to things that I would never have had the opportunity to see and learn from elsewhere.

After work, we would sometimes go into town for pastries at a patisserie, or to one of his friend’s houses for mint tea. I met so many welcoming people in Senegal. In their desire to share their lives, work and culture with me, I became so immersed in life there that by the end of it I was sure I was a real fille Senegalaise!

Treating wounds

Returning to the U.S. and entering university, I am a thousand times more focused on my pre-medical plan of study, as what I am learning now resonates strongly beyond the classroom me. My love of the work I did in my placement in Senegal is a constant reminder to me of why my courses will one day prove so valuable. When I imagine what I would be like today had I never gone to Senegal, I see myself studying away having never gained sight of why I am doing it.

Even if I were not doing pre-med, my experience in Senegal broadened my perception tremendously by placing me in an entirely new sphere of life that overturned my preconceptions, invited to participate fully in the culture, and left me thoroughly refreshed and satisfied in returning back home.

Rachel Behrend

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