By: Cadet Casey McNicholas, Washington State University
On June 7th, 14 U.S. Army ROTC Cadets and cadre from across the United States arrived in M’bour, Senegal on a humanitarian mission at the Vivre Ensemble (“Live Together”) orphanage. The Cadets, who are in Senegal teaching English to the Senegalese military, volunteered to spend their weekend helping the local children. While at the orphanage, the Cadets taught English and played with youth ranging from infants to teenagers. According to Cadet Bryan Pitt from the University of Virginia, who has volunteered at orphanages in the past, the experience was “humbling and helps people realize how lucky they are.”
The 14 Cadets and cadre are in Senegal on a mission through the Army’s Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency (CULP) program. The goal of this program is for Cadets to gain an understanding and respect of the vast majority of cultures around the world.
This team is responsible for teaching English to the Senegalese military in Dakar. They have been working with the Senegalese for a week now and according to Cadet Eric Villeneuve of the University of South Carolina, “working with the soldiers has been an incredible and amazing experience thus far.” So when the opportunity came about to help the local Senegalese children, nobody had a second thought.
According to Cadet Sean Dantonello from Syracuse University, the mission at the orphanage was to, “not only provide humanitarian aid with our donations and English facilitation, but to also gain a cultural perspective unique to Senegal.” The orphanage, which was built in 2002 has around 300 children aging anywhere from newborns to 19 year olds and is staffed with about 280 volunteers. The orphanage takes in children of all ages and backgrounds and tries to get them off of the streets of M’bour where they would live in harsh and unsafe conditions.
When the Cadets arrived, they were given a tour of the facilities by the staff as well as the coordinator for the visit, U.S. Embassy employee Absa Diop. The orphanage was “well run and well-staffed, but underfunded” according to Cadet Michelle Larson of Georgetown University.
Following the tour, the Cadets were greeted with open arms by small children, who loved to be carried and played with. According to Cadet Suzanne Avery of the University of Idaho, “the children enjoyed the outside attention from new people.”
After playing with the children, the Cadets organized some of the orphanage’s volunteers to help teach English. Many of the volunteers knew very little, but that did not stop the Cadets from overcoming the language barrier and communicating with the Senegalese. After the classes, the Cadets and the children played soccer in the orphanage’s rocky dirt parking lot. Cadet William Nelson of Indiana Wesleyan University said that, “It was great to see the positive effects that a simple soccer game had on the well-being of the orphans.”
Before departing, the Cadets unloaded their donation to the orphanage. They donated 551 pounds of rice, 65 toothbrushes, 7 soccer balls, and a collection of other hygiene products. These items were bought by the cadets and cadre at their own expense with help from Village to Village Inc., a non-profit organization, which is run by Cadet Ryan Sullivan of Vanderbilt University.
The orphanage director, Oumar Gueye, described the visit and the donations as “empowering the idea of life” to the children. The orphanage, which has received help in the past from the American embassy, was grateful for the visit and said that they “wish the cadets would come back” in the future.
For some of the Cadets, this is their first time out of the United States and everyone’s first time in Africa. Everyone agreed that visiting the orphanage was an eye opening experience and when asked what they wanted to do next weekend, everyone wanted to go back.