Martha: “Persevere in life! All things come to he who knows how to wait. “
Well, now it’s my turn to write a testimony, wow how time flies, I still remember reading testimonies from former volunteers… I wanted to wait to write this testimony and then I told myself that I want to write this testimony with my heart and not with my head.
A year ago, I decided to take a year off from my studies in order to get involved in a cause that was close to my heart. I always wanted to be a “feminist” but in the end, nothing in my career path proved it. It was time to become the person I pretended to be. And the Civic Service allowed me to realize my ambitions thanks to the plurality of its missions and its compensation, which for me was a considerable advantage, especially from where I came from. Moreover, there was also a willingness to look abroad. I have always grown up in assimilation and discovery thanks to my Congolese origins, so it was essential for me to also seize this opportunity.
However, civic services abroad are the most popular and there are not many places. I started applying for missions in late November and only started my mission in March. I was turned down for about three months.
How did I find my mission?
This is the first mission I applied for in November. The title and purpose of the mission had touched me so much. The theme was women’s rights and focused on female genital mutilation, including excision in Senegal. I remember, I had sent the mission’s post card to my best friend, she answered “THIS IS THE MISSION FOR MARTHA”. That same evening I had watched the film “The Desert Flower” on the same theme. And after I needed to know more about the subject, I spent the whole night watching videos on excision, including one where a young woman was being interviewed by Thierry Ardisson in 2005. The woman’s name was Khady, she was both bruised but at the same time hard, encompassing a gentleness and modesty that had moved me a lot. I wondered if she was still alive and if she continued to fight for this cause.
Unfortunately I didn’t get in. I was devastated because it was the only mission that made sense to me. I was so disgusted, I sent an email to find out why I was turned down. I didn’t get an answer.
I continued to apply for other missions without much conviction. Later, at the end of January, the mission came back on the Civic Service website, I applied again. But I was turned down again. After this refusal, I had decided to stop applying for civic service… Maybe it wasn’t for me.
Nevertheless, I sent an e-mail to the association AIME to find out if it was possible to go on a short mission with their association but without the civic service. Marie-Katie answered very kindly to come to the premises of AIME to introduce myself and explain my motivations. On the day of the interview, I was in front of a young person who understood my difficulties. I did not have a conventional interview. It was more of a discussion. I didn’t need any argument or persuasion to show my motivations. In that interview, she just asked me who I was. And that’s why I liked the AIME association, because I was not asked to pretend to be another person. Just myself. Even if the meeting did not turn out as I wanted, it was rewarding to go through this interview.
Thunderclap, I get an e-mail from Marie-Katie, who writes me, “Due to a waiver, we’re interested in your profile…” Finally we make a short phone call so I have to explain my motives again. She tells me, I’m going to support your file with the mission coordinator, you just have to manage your interview with him. The same evening, around 7:30 pm, I receive a video call from Bertrand. You know how I like Bertrand, but at first he scared me because he fits the archetype of the rather strict white man. He asks me questions, I stammer, but I don’t let him. And at the end of the call, I tell him not to have hope as I had before. When will I know the answer? He answers me now. You’re in! And then my whole body, my mind is surprised. And by the time I came to my senses, I already had to take a ticket as quickly as possible to Senegal.
My mission in Senegal:
I lived in Senegal for six months, 187 days. My departure was very hasty. I didn’t have the time to learn more about the host association La Palabre. When I arrived there, I asked who the president of the association was. I was told Khady Koïta (the same woman I had seen a few months earlier on the video). And then I made the connection, and I told myself that everything comes to those who know how to wait. From that moment on, I devoted myself to this mission. I won’t tell you in detail all the aspects of this stay. But all along, I felt gratitude.
First of all, the country, Senegal, country of the Teranga (welcome in Wolof), I would like to tell you that this is not true and that all countries boast about it. But it is true! In Senegal, more precisely in Thies, the families of the neighbourhood welcomed me as one of their own. My skin colour this time was an asset to better interfere in the life of the locals, for all that it is with love that they welcomed me. I even noticed that in Senegal, you can’t go out without talking to someone. Sometimes I wasn’t in the mood, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, but you don’t have a choice. Social cohesion comes first. It’s true that sometimes disputes can break out, but people always try to maintain understanding so that peace reigns. Moreover, the different faiths cohabit in the country with the greatest respect, even more so than in France. Your faith does not harm you in society. On the contrary, the lack of faith may seem strange but it will never go as far as the rejection of your person.
However, there are always bad sides, most of the time when we see a bad side to a country, it is because we have to get out of our comfort zone. Indeed, the prices are not indicated, the price depends on your head and how you are dressed. So we have to debate every time.From now on, I’m a skilled negotiator haha.
Secondly, my work at La Palabre was professionally and personally rewarding. From both points of view, I didn’t know that I was capable of enduring and accomplishing all these work tasks. Unfortunately, I had committed myself to a mission in the first theme was excision. This was not the case when I arrived. All the aspects that were related to excision were almost non-existent, if not finished. Only the “school of duty” component was still in operation. With my colleague, we had to fight to revive these components, if not at least on the themes of gender-based violence. Even in 2019, for an emerging country, traditions and obvious machismo still prevail over society. Unfortunately, it is still and always women who suffer from it. So with the means at our disposal, we have been able to implement certain ideas in favour of women. We have made the youngest children aware of children’s rights and women’s rights by highlighting all the conventions and charters that exist to protect them. We organized a social demonstration against violence against women. It was a first for the city of Thiès to host such a demonstration. Finally, we were lucky enough to create a permanent office, as we did not have a functional shelter. This office makes it possible to receive victims and give them legal, psychological and medical assistance. This office is still being set up, but we have already had to receive victims.
When you are immersed in the adventure at La Palabre, you don’t realize how much work has been done. But with hindsight, I can see that we gave everything we could with the means we had. And I’m not ashamed to feel pride.
At the same time we worked with the children of the school of duty with the help of the animators. Duty school took up half of our time. So we were able to create strong bonds with the children who were eager to learn. Working with children is not an easy thing and I learned how to deal with a young audience. My classes sometimes couldn’t have been very interesting. But there was always a small group of students who were motivated and that gave me the strength to improve the next day.
Finally why I still feel gratitude because I was well surrounded. I think that AIME makes sure to choose the volunteers who will form a pair. My colleague, Youri, an atypical profile, coming from totally different backgrounds, was a driving force for me. With our differences, we were able to complement each other and overcome all these challenges together. If we were able to meet each other, it was thanks to Bertrand’s seasoned eye, who believed in us and never let us down. In spite of the distance, he was attentive to our requests and the projects in progress. The La Palabre association also with its members such as the secretary general Madame Aw or the coordinator Ibrahima Mboup who are dedicated to the advancement of the women’s cause through the association. And last but not least, I am grateful for my young age to have been able to help women in their daily lives. I met brilliant women, strong women, intelligent women, they were trying to be themselves beyond the pressure that we want to impose on them.
What a brutal and difficult return. My first days I didn’t want to talk about this experience. I was afraid to use the past to talk about this experience. Because being in Senegal, I was like being in a bubble, very hot, very surrounding. And now I’m back in a heavy atmosphere. And to burst this bubble, I was afraid that this atmosphere would absorb what I’ve been through. I stayed a week, brooding and moaning.
But I realized that this experience has changed me so much, that I have to accept it. It wasn’t a bubble, it was just a new version of me. It shaped me and changed me. And I want to share what I experienced and share this new version of myself. I’m so full of ideas that I’m feeling a little confused. I don’t see life in the same way anymore, I don’t see my own life in the same way. All I know is that this civic service was a springboard that will serve me tremendously in the future. As I approach my 22nd birthday, I can’t wait to find out what life has in store for me.
The final word: Persevere in life! Everything comes to those who know how to wait.
Kisses and Love.