Interning in Senegal

When choosing a study abroad program location and language were paramount. Hence, when I discovered that there is an internship component of CIEE Dakar I was initially ambivalent. As the program approached I became more and more invested in the opportunity to gain professional experience here in Dakar and was eager to learn of my placement when I arrived.

Ultimately, I was placed at AfrikaJom Center. When I received an email with my placement I immediately dove into google trying to learn more about the place that I would be spending nearly 20 hours a week for the rest of the semester. Information was scare though and all I was able to find was a a simple Facebook page. Armed with this limited information I arrived for my first day and was surprised when I discovered that the address that had been given to me was a house. I knocked on the door and a young housekeeper came tot he door and told me brusquely that I should head upstairs. I ascended two flights of stairs and entered into the “office.”

I quickly realized that AfrikaJom is a very small operation. The office is 3 rooms with most of the work being done around a small table in the main area. There are only 4 full time employees along with 2 interns and due to the fact that meeting often take members of the team out of the office it can often end up being just two of us in the office.

Though the size and location were initially eye brow raising, I began to get more invested in AfrikaJom’s work as I learned more about them. The organization is lead by Aliomé Tine a leading figure in Senegalease human rights and the former director of Amnesty International Senegal. Seeing a gap in human rights organizations in Senegal, he decided to to leave Amnesty to form his own organization. He sought to create a dynamic organization, a think tank of sorts, that could collaborate and use his network to research and work on the various human rights issues in Senegal and the broader African continent. Though AfrikaJom is a small organization, they benefit from a network of human rights consultants and Mr Tinés personal network.

Their first year corresponded with last years presidential election and so the bulk of their work concentrated on the election. Since then they have worked on issues concerning Senegalese prisons and justice system and currently in the process of looking for a partner to complete a project concerning natural resource exploitation.

Internships as we understand them do not really exist in Senegal so this experience has been a steep learning curve for both me and AfrikaJom. I have settled in to my new role though and work in three capacities: I utilize english language sources to bolster policy briefs, provide translation services, and search for new partners for AfrikaJom. My principle value to them is my english language followed by the resources I have access to through Colby.

It is interesting to me the way in which Senegalese business culture, which bears many marks of French colonialism and Senegalese culture interact in the work place. For example, when Mr Tiné is in the office we all speak french. But when he leaves the office the default language becomes Wolof. Further, the entire office eats around the bowel (Refer to my post “Eating around the bowl”). Seeing these interactions and dynamics is often as interesting if not more so then the work that I conduct in the office.

Having just come back from vacation, I am settling back in to the work and regaining my place in the office. The work was relatively stagnant pre break and so I am trying to find a new vein to exploit in my final 5 weeks here. As my time here comes to and end I hope that I will be able to help in some meaningful way and gain further understandings and experience.