Rowan initiating Skype call with Ottawa classmates
International e-mail Connections for the Talibé Children
Rowan Hughes is a grade ten student at Ashbury College in Ottawa, Canada. She recently returned from her second trip to Maison de la Gare as a volunteer, travelling with her mother Sonia LeRoy and her grandfather Rod LeRoy. Rowan has been instrumental in establishing e-mail connections for dozens of talibé children with her fellow students in Ottawa. This is her story:
"Last year when I volunteered in Senegal for the first time, my goal initially had been to deliver books and to help organize Maison de la Gare's new library. However, I recalled that when I was younger I had been pen-pals with some kids in Korea and it was a lot of fun. So, I had the idea to try to set up similar e-mail communications between my French class at Ashbury and the talibé boys I had not yet met in Senegal. I proposed the idea to my French teacher, and he thought it was great. So when it was finally time to go to Senegal in November 2012, I was very excited to get started.
When I arrived for the first time in Senegal, I was shocked by the way the talibé boys lived. I had heard many stories about them over the years from my mother who volunteered many times before. Nevertheless, it was crazy to see these children my age and younger begging on the streets, many in bare feet, most in rags.
When I first introduced the talibés to the idea of e-mail pen-pals, they knew absolutely nothing about the technology or how to send e-mails, but they wanted to have friends in Canada. It was a difficult process to try and teach them how to e-mail. After I set up e-mail addresses, we began by writing out the letters to my classmates on paper. Then, the kids typed the messages out letter by letter as I would slowly show them where each letter was on the keyboard. I think it took about twenty minutes to type a short sentence. Eventually they hit the "send" button on the computer. That was the start of e-mail communications between completely different worlds.
E-mails were just the beginning. We also started communicating via Skype and Facebook video calls with my classmates back home. I have seen how this whole experience of on-line communication has really impacted both sides. My friends at school in Ottawa have expanded their international understanding. And, apart from learning useful skills, I think that the "e-mail talibés" at Maison de la Gare now feel less alone. There are other people out there that are friends and think about them.
During my second volunteer trip I was busy setting up more e-mail addresses for more talibés. I hope to convince more kids at my school to join in, since so many more talibés now want to join in the e-mail communications with Canadian students. One day I walked into the library at Maison de la Gare and saw about ten children crowded around three computers; they were on Facebook and sending e-mails! On their own!
As the talibés get more comfortable with e-mail communications and Skype connections, their ties to friends in the outside world grow stronger, and so does their self confidence and desire to keep learning. It is clear that technology offers them opportunities, and so do friendships with kids like themselves in other parts of the world. I look forward to my next volunteering visit to Senegal to help my friends move toward their dreams."
With Kalidou, organizing books in MDG library
Registering talibe children with gmail accounts
1st step - writing the message, with Mamadou Diao
Helping Moussa type his first e-mail message
Talibe children writing and typing their messages
Thrilled with connection with new Canadian friends