The Taste of Community Service



Mor Gueye, Doctoral student in Education

Community service is one of the things I enjoy doing, besides working at my academic life. I want to briefly talk about what I have been doing in relation to community service since I joined the Center for African Studies. In addition, I offer a personal reflection on why community service matters and what I have learned from it.

In the fall semester of 2012, a former student in my Wolof class, Mabinty Tarawallie, approached me to discuss her interest in introducing African languages into Champaign elementary schools. Following her request, we started a Wolof club at Booker T. Washington in Champaign’s Unit 4 District. The Wolof club started with ten students of mixed grades from four different ethnicities. In the first year, Mabinty and I taught collaboratively with one of my former students, Neetu Hariharan, who had just come back from Senegal where she visited for her Study Abroad experience. Neetu graduated the next year and Mabinty and I continued the journey. We mainly taught introductory Wolof focusing on simple expressions about common daily necessities, Wolof songs, and various details about the Senegalese culture. We also talked about aspects of culture more specific to Africa in general, including food and clothing. In 2013, students in the Wolof club performed at a school event where they sang Li ma weesu by Youssou Ndour.

Overall, it has been a great opportunity for me to experience and learn more about the instructional context of elementary education in the United States and how it mainly differs from the college setting that I am more familiar with. I will always be grateful to my co-teacher, Mabinty, who has significantly helped me in my understanding of the culture and intricacies of primary school.

Beside the Wolof club, I have been a mentor with the Champaign-Urbana One-to-One mentoring program since the fall of 2012. On orientation day in the College of Education in August 2012, I met with Barbara Linder who was the program coordinator at Urbana Middle School. We had a discussion about my interest and the requirements for future participants. I finally started that semester and my mentee, who was in 7th grade, is now finishing his first year at Urbana High School. In the One-to-One program, the idea is to work with one child of the same gender until they graduate from high school; therefore, mentors are usually advised to work with students who will graduate the same year or earlier. The program is mainly student-centered, and the mentor works with the child to help him manage balancing academic progress and leisure time. With my mentee, we often discuss the significance of education and thinking towards the future with opportunities that are available to him. We also play basketball and he has been teaching me a lot about the game for almost three years now. He is a track runner and a basketball player for his school and he wants to study math in college. If the Wolof club has introduced me into the world of elementary school, the One-to-One mentoring program has been an interesting opportunity to learn about the context of middle and high school. And as a student in Education, it has been very fruitful and I am enjoying it.

Apart from mentoring and participating in the language club, I am very fond of making presentations in elementary schools and guest-speaking in different classes on campus. Two of the elementary schools I have been in are Leal (in Urbana) and Westview (in Champaign). I have been in Leal twice and once in Westview. In Leal, I talked about Senegal to a second grade class. It was in the spring of 2014 and the students were learning about building global awareness about difference. In Westview, I talked to students from bi-lingual and multilingual households who are in a club called the Language Ambassadors. I discussed the experience and benefits of being bi-lingual/multilingual and we had an interesting exchange concerning the necessity of valuing and recognizing home culture and native languages in a school context dominated by English. I was in Westview on March 9th after Mrs. Emily Kerlin, an ESL teacher, approached the African Student Organization in an email sent on January 13, 2015. The Language Ambassadors are students of different grades and mostly from immigrant families from China, Vietnam, Nigeria, Congo, Guatemala, Mexico, and South Korea.

On campus I have been to three classes as a guest speaker. I spoke to a teacher training class on Social Studies taught by Professor Marilyn Parsons. Our exchange with the student teachers was about certain aspects of diversity specific to language and culture that teachers need to be aware of when dealing with students of a different background. My presentation was on the Senegalese primary school system.

In another class on International Marketing (taught by Dr. Minkyung Koo), our discussion was on what marketers would need to understand in a Senegalese context if they were to advertise a given product. The title of my presentation was “Culture, Communication, and the Rest of the Bubble,” and it took place on March 10, 2015.

My most recent invitation was to a class on race dialogue co-taught by Dr. Onyenekwu and Dinah Armstead. The session was April 14, 2015. I spoke mainly about being an international student from Senegal, a Muslim, and of African descent. I received a lot of questions from the students and we had a very fruitful discussion about the experience of being an immigrant, the meaning of difference and diversity, and the necessity to have the dialogue on race in a more constructive way. Overall, it was a great opportunity to learn from students’ reflections about difference and address the difficult questions about that topic as well.

When I think of all of these different occasions, I realize that every chance to participate in community service presents an opportunity to improve oneself. By trying to give, one takes. And when one takes, one gets improved. I think I gained greatly from the time I spent working with children at elementary schools and the students at Urbana Middle and High schools. I believe that community service is important particularly in mentoring. There are many children in schools who need additional inspiration beyond the wonderful things that their schools offer and the wonderful contributions of their parents and families. Bringing just a little smile to a kid’s face is priceless. To conclude, I will kindly ask anybody who took the time to read this reflection to value community service and to help bring more smiles to these young faces. Thank you. :)