Andrew Dykens, Trip Director
As I begin writing this, we are headed back to Dakar for the last day of our trip. I am feeling great. Personally, many friendships have been rekindled and further strengthened. Of course, I am referring to my colleagues and friends in Saraya, Senegal – wonderful, extraordinary human beings, as well as the Peace Corps Volunteers with whom I communicate regularly but see rarely, and my Chicago-based UIC team who I have grown to appreciate in a whole new light.
We accomplished many of our goals over these two weeks. It continues to amaze me, actually, the amount that we are able to plan and accomplish. Such a brief trip into country for us but with this partnership model leveraging the participation and motivation of local health leadership as well as the extensive trust, community advocacy, cultural and language translation support, and valuable project coordination by the Peace Corps, the work is continuing to prove efficient and promising of long-term sustainability.
These next twelve months will bring quite a bit. We will be advancing a prevalence study of cervical precancers for the region, finalizing our cryotherapy training, revisiting our quality improvement process, and advancing the development of the local health service policy development (including further definition of a program management team, service financing, technical resources management, quality control guidelines, and workforce development). Not too bad for what will turn out to cost somewhere between $35,000 – 40,000 on the ground costs in addition to personnel in-kind donations by the University of Illinois at Chicago. Over 2/3 of the on the ground costs have been individual donations to date. These donations, the large majority of which were small donations (less than $50 each), will be the most significant contributor to the development of a cervical cancer preventive care service that will be available to women throughout the Kedougou Region when all is said and done.
So, I am feeling pretty good. We got our team in and out relatively unscathed. A couple GI issues, but that’s part of the “fun”, right? Our last night in Saraya was definitely memorable. We ALL (everyone – team, PCVs, clinic staff) became traditional West African, Indian, and American Dance Stars. A culturally rich hodge-podge of dance moves that literally made me cry with laughing on a few occasions. There were some pretty good dancers among us, certainly, but seeing and hearing this all at once… pretty hilarious.
We continued a bit of cultural exploration on return to Dakar by attending a live music performance by Souleyman Faye. Extraordinary talent. Beautiful music. Our last day also saw us visiting the local artisanal market with a bit of bargaining devoted to an attempt to bring something back for those who are close to us that could, in some way, represent the experience over the last couple of weeks. That’s a tall order. But choices were made and price agreements were reached, and, hopefully, these souvenirs will facilitate some discussions of life in Senegal.
Later on the 15th we met with Dr. Kasse, a surgical oncologist in Dakar, who is working with the group, Association Prevenir, a Senegalese NGO also doing work in cervical cancer in Senegal. It was a valuable discussion. We then met with administrators at the Peace Corps office in Dakar. The entire UIC team and three main PCVs were present to discuss the progression of the work and set some plans for moving forward. This was an extraordinarily encouraging meeting: An evidence of the win-win-win of this approach. We were all very much appreciative of the teamwork of the other partners. I was so appreciative, in fact, that I treated the team (PCVs and UIC) to an amazing meal at Pointe Almadies, the westernmost point of Africa, while we watched the sun descend and went around the table, piled high with crustaceans and other assorted delectables, for one last Rose and Thorn (our daily ritual of team building). What an extraordinary opportunity. To work with amazing people with amazing perspective toward a common purpose, but miles apart.
Somehow, though, today, as I finish up this post, it seems to me that Saraya, Senegal with its beauty and challenges and Chicago, likewise have inched a bit closer to each other.