A Home for our Family
How building schools can impact a child’s life in Senegal
By MAP Senegal Team
March 12, 2020
I can feel the sand as my feet leave the pavement, and I know that I’ve managed to cross the road safely again. The breeze is a welcome feeling, even if it’s a bit dusty. The rainy season is finally over, and it’s time to get back to school.
For a young boy who can’t see, the rainy season is still disorienting, even if it’s the tenth one I’ve lived through. I’m always glad when October rolls around and I can start to go to school again. Even if it’s hard to understand everything that’s going on there, I feel like my fellow classmates can understand me. Many of them, too, can’t see.
Today is the first day of school, and Mr. Deh, the principal, calls us all to meet in the main room. About two hundred of us crowd into the small room, which we learned was the living room of the family that lived here before, when this was a house. In a way, there is still a family living here, though only during the day, and it is a much larger family. The house is crowded and cramped, with only one toilet for all of us. Some students and teachers come in the afternoons when it is time for me to leave, since we are not using the rooms then. I don’t know them so well.
If our school was truly a family, Mr. Deh would be its wisest patriarch. He started this school ten years ago and called it the Demain Ensemble School, which means “Tomorrow Together”. He was not born like us, but he became like us when he was in the middle of his life. A young, caring man, always walks with him, keeping the way clear and helping him be more comfortable. I don’t know the man’s name, but I can feel the compassion he exudes.
Mr. Deh quiets us down, and tells us something amazing. In a few months, we will be leaving this house for a brand-new building that has been promised to us. He tells us that far away, people in France and the United States have learned about what has been done here. They know he has dedicated his life to help children like us be welcomed and appreciated in Senegal, and they want to help more children be touched by his work. One day, he says, there will be a real school for us—not just this small house—and there will be four hundred more of us there to learn. Mr. Deh tells us that his dream will become a reality.
A few weeks later, as I cross the road once again, I stop halfway, my feet still on the pavement. I hear something new. Far in the distance, the sound of hammering and digging. It is faint, but I imagine a big noisy machine has been brought in, perhaps from the big city. I realize what it means: they are building the school, and it is close by. Hope fills my heart, and I cannot wait to run my hands down the walls of the six classrooms Mr. Deh has told us will be built.
My thoughts are interrupted by the sound of a car horn, and I realize I’m still standing in the street, daydreaming. I scurry off the pavement and into school.
A few months later, Mr. Deh tells us that the school is nearly ready for us. Next week, there will be a grand ceremony. Many ministers and officials from the government will come to see the building and to meet Mr. Deh and our teachers. As Mr. Deh speaks, I am sitting next to my friends Bouba and Mariama, and we squeeze each other’s hands in excitement.
At the end of the day, Bouba and Mariama and I run off together in the direction I believe the hammering and digging noises came from, unwilling to wait until next week to experience our new school. It’s the end of the day, and I can’t hear the noises any more. The noisy machines must have been turned off, or sent back to the city since the work is almost done. We feel our way through the sandy alleyways of the neighborhood, carefully remembering our tracks so we can make it back home and staying close to Bouba as he is the only sighted one of the three of us.
Suddenly, I feel concrete below my feet. The breeze stops, and there is no more dust and sand blowing in my face. The air is calmer, and I know I am in between two large buildings. As I feel around, I stumble into Bouba. His excitement is palpable. He tells us he’s never seen a more beautiful place. Mariama, who has gone exploring on her own, finds the six toilets that we will be able to use. Imagine that, being able to go to the bathroom and right back to class!
The construction workers have left up some of their signs and plans as the job is not yet finished. Bouba guides us around to find the special classrooms built just for us, fully accessible and equipped to serve those of us who can’t see or hear. We feel the tiles of the floor—so smooth!—as our voices echo in the room, telling us just how large it is and how many more friends we will make here in just a few weeks.
In my mind, I picture Mr. Deh standing in the front of the room, welcoming everyone to this serene, clean, and perfect place. I imagine my parents coming to visit this new place, and I can already feel their happiness, knowing that because of Mr. Deh, and because of this school, they will no longer worry for me. And for myself, I feel more confident than ever that I am more than my handicap. I can be anything I want—a banker, an engineer, an artist, a businessman, or maybe the next Mr. Deh.
When it’s time to go, I no longer remember the way home. I know I’ve already arrived.