Today I would like to tell you the story of our project born in Africa, Senegal in autumn 2012.
We are an intercultural school called Atlantic International School, a project set up in the senegalese village of Ngor, close to Dakar, the capital.
The school presents a particular project, very innovative for Africa. It is a school open to people from all over the world, from all religions and age that want to live an experience in a local family, attending the language course of our school (learning either French or wolof at their choice) and living the local lifestyle together as student and family guest.
The school was born as I said in autumn 2012 from the idea of giving an economic base to the familys participating in the promotion of interculture through the sharing of their daily life in the touristic village of Ngor. Creating in this way a brand new cultural touristic potential. The main feature of the village was that even if it was a touristic place since the seventies, the market was almost completely ruled by foreigner companies and touristic chains. The village was in fact well known especially for the classical form of tourism created by two big touristic resorts: the Meridien President and the King Fahd. A classical tourism that in its shape, does not create a real interculture and understanding between locals and visitors and especially does not create access to everyone for the benefit of the economic touristic source.
From this starting point was born the idea to develop a project which could give access to every member and family of the village to the benefit of tourism and the visit of new cultures, point of views and ideas. All this through a new touristic approach where the word “tourist” becomes obsolete. The right definition of the person who looks for a deeper approach to the local culture is “traveller”. This is a person who respects the place, the local culture, trying to get a deeper insight on the place, food, local lifestyle, people, language, religion. Because a place is not only a landscape, but much more.
The idea that this new kind of tourism can bring is a global development for the local community and the visitor. Not only in an economical way, but in a social and intercultural change. In the concept of a tourism that could be knowledge of people and culture ruled by the village itself.
In the optic of a cultural interchange is implicit the idea that Senegal and the local traditional lifestyle has a lot to offer in terms of cultural richness. First of all the bilinguism from which the school starts its offer. In the village as in all Dakar area French and Wolof are commonly spoken. The first as official language of the institutions and the second as local most widespread language.
Another feature not yet used was the enormous ethno-anthropologic richness of Dakar area. Ngor is in fact one of the three Lebou villages (together with Ouakam and Yoff) , one of many ethnicity that inhabit Senegal. The village still lives following a traditional lifestyle and its main resource is fishing. The Lebou are 7% of the country.
The main ethnicity is Wolof (27%). They are concentrated especially in Dakar-Tambacounda area. Secondly there are the Sérères (17%), the country èlite. Other important ethnicity are the Diola and the Toucouleur.
Another resource to explore is the rich senegalese spirituality: a religious syncretism between Islam and ancient traditional rites. To dominate among the religions is the Muslim one, practiced by 88% of the population divided in a big variety of brotherhood. The remaining 12% is formed by Catholics. The religious difference coexist in the country in a pacific way. Who visits Senegal can note especially a widespread particular religious group called Baye Fall. A sort of local Islamic hippies, usually dressed in a colorful way, dressed up with wooden handmade jewels produced and sold by them. Their lifestyIe is widespread in Senegal and brings a strict form of spiritual discipline codified by the founder Cheick Ibrahima Fall.
Another important feature of Senegalese society is religion and the deep influences between official religion and ancient traditions. A very important figure in everyday culture is the marabout figure. He is a religious authority who has wide functions in the community: religious guide, manager of social and economic power and spiritual healer with shamanic powers.
If Senegal was only a touristic target until the seventies this is due to his nice weather all along the year, but also to his indisputable landscapes and natural resources. Among the “ritual” places to see during a stay in Senegal with us it is important to visit the traditional Dakar market, Ngor and Gorée islands, the Pink lake, and Hann national park.
Gorée island, Unesco patrimony since 1978, was the main transit harbour for millions of slaves towards the US. Today it is a pleasurable place to enjoy music and local artists.
In Hann national park is possible to see a rich fauna unkown to Europeans. The pink lake is unique for its color so atypical and incredible. The traditional markets are interesting for the wide range of traditional objects available to low costs to enter deeply in local visions and tastes. The traditional Senegalese trade is also an important aspect of this culture which creates a big difference with European uses of sell we are used to.
The students of our project will also see the classical touristic attractions such as the monument of African renaissance, well visible from our village with its statue which is the highest in the world. In front of the village is localet a well known touristic attraction: Ngor island. Easily reachable with a short and cheap trip with the local “pirogue”. To enjoy some hours of relax and fun in its nice touristic beaches.
Among the visits proposed by our project there will be the knowledge of some associations that operate to help the difficult even though peaceful local daily life. One among others is the important project to help and cure the little “talibè”, the Senegalese children of the street.