Four high school students gave up their Thanksgiving holiday to focus on literacy and service learning in Africa. Eleventh-grader Teal Green and sophomore Deonte Howard of West Mecklenburg, eleventh-grader Anjelica Pendergrass of West Charlotte and eleventh-grader Alan Lee of Butler high schools were selected to participate in the YMCA of Greater Charlotte 2012 Global Service-Learning Project. The students were in Dakar, Senegal, Nov. 17-25, and visited several YMCA sites, including a primary school to apply literacy strategies they learned in the Y Readers program.
During the spring, the students had committed to volunteer with Y Readers, a literacy program for students in Pre-K through second grade who read below grade level. The high school students volunteered for six weeks giving at least 43 hours of tutoring. They were then selected to join the Y for Education program in Dakar helping children in Africa learn to read and write.
“My interest was in interacting with the children in Dakar,” said Anjelica. “I wanted to make a difference in their lives.”
“The focus was on literacy and education. It was an opportunity to compare and contrast life in Charlotte to life in Dakar,” said Candace Cooper Murray, YMCA community development staff member. “The global outreach allowed the students to take what they learned here in Charlotte and apply it to educating the children.”
According to Murray, Dakar schools with a first or second grade classroom will have one teacher to 80 students, she said.
“Private schools would have a better student-teacher ratio, but the average person in Senegal can’t afford it,” said Murray. “In Charlotte, we work with students who struggle with reading and writing but in Dakar these students experienced a world outside their own.”
In addition to volunteering the students also had to commit to fundraising. They pledged to raise $1,000 to help with the program. According to the Y Readers website, $1,300 covers the cost for one child to attend the Y Readers literacy program.
“These students are invested in service learning,” said Murray.
Alan said, “I felt like working with the Y Readers program in Charlotte was practice, but working with the children in Dakar … I don’t think you can be prepared for that.”
While in Dakar, the students had an opportunity to visit Goree Island known as the “Door of No Return” the port for slave trade from Africa to the Americas, visit markets and other cultural experiences.
“My daughter had the chance to meet kids that don’t have the same opportunities as she does,” said Teal’s mother, Willia Worthy. “I am sure this experience has changed her life.”
The students plan to continue their volunteer efforts with the Y Readers in Charlotte.