I’m writing this letter to introduce myself. I’m your Bridge Year Senegal Onsite Director and my name is Babacar Mbaye. I would like to start this personal introduction by talking about my grandparents. All four of my grandparents have made radical choices that have greatly impacted my life. They did not want my parents to attend colonial school. This was not about denying my mum and dad access to knowledge. Rather, their objective was to fight against cultural imperialism. My parents were sent to Koranic school, while almost all their friends went to French school. Then a generation later, things changed. I was born to parents that had some mastery of the French language by learning from their peers. My mum taught me my first French reading skills and my dad taught me the Koran. I was sent to school at age six and was encouraged to stay as long as possible. I joke that I ended up never leaving, for I am a teacher by trade, the third generation in a row in my family.
Throughout the years and after many conversations, I came to understand and actually respect my family’s choices. My grandparent’s desire to keep my parents away from French colonial school emerged from their desire to make a bold statement. They wanted to preserve a culture and a form of knowledge that was different from the mainstream, but equally as important. The following generations of youth in my family were also sent to formal school and were taught the Koran. As a member of the Mbayes, I was taught about the humanness of life. I was encouraged to explore and to feel closer to the world. My first life lessons, consequently, were about Islam and being a good human. These fundamental and formative sources of wisdom led me tell a group of past students, almost tearfully, “By virtue of being human, you are beautiful enough to be loved.” I have met many beautiful humans in my life who have enlightened my path and lightened my burden. Differences can be too obvious and, at times, distracting and used as dividing lines. I have been advised to look for the similarities between all of us because they are harder to find, but far more important.
Like previous generations of Mbayes, I have had the opportunity to work with people of many different ethnicities and cultures. I hope my five children(ages 6 to 20) will follow in my family’s footsteps and authentically contribute to our current cultural dialogue. I began working with Dragons years ago in an effort to both learn new things and humbly teach what I know. By being given the opportunity to work with so many student groups, Dragons has opened the world to me. I am one of three staff members who will accompany you during the next nine months. Despite this being my eighth year in the job, I’m extremely excited for this coming year. I hope that each one of you will write soon to introduce yourself.
Enjoy your summers and we look forward to connecting by phone soon!