Green Bamako

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Michael Leventhal, Chief Nerdy Development Officer

July 23, 2015

The first thing I noticed about Bamako is that it is green. As the plane descended to the airport I saw expanses of green trees and fields. After the desert region of Dakar, it was incomprehensible. I hadn’t thought about the geography and didn’t realize that I would be descending south, out of the Sahel, and into a verdant zone.

As the plane was going on to Nairobi, the first person I met in Bamako was a border agent checking to make sure de-planing passengers were ticketed to Bamako. I couldn’t find my boarding card. As I was searching he said, “C’est bien Bamako?” (You’re sure it’s Bamako?) and to my response “C’est bien Bamako” he smiled broadly and waved me on with a “Bienvenue à Bamako”. My flight had arrived early, my baggage was already on the carousel when I got there, and after passing through customs in 30 seconds and I was shortly reunited with Pusso and with my daughter, Sarah. Bamako could not have started better.

The second thing I noticed about Bamako was motorcycles. There are motorcycles everywhere and they seem to be going in every direction at once and have the uncanny property of coming out of nowhere right at you every time you try to cross the road.

The iNERDE team is all staying together in the home of iNERDE founder, Pusso. I met Aïseta Baradji, iNERDE Director of Curriculum Development based in Spain, England, and France, all at the same time, it seems, in the flesh for the first time after talking together for a year in iNERDE virtual meetings. Momo, who is based in Bamako, joined us at Pusso’s house and, with my daughter, Sarah, we had the entire in-country team in place.

Pusso’s house was all of I saw of Bamako for the rest of the evening and all the next day, Saturday. We spent most of the weekend going over the planning for the camps in Mali and in Senegal and in last minute preparations. That would be a theme often to repeat itself, our days of work in the Colonie de Vacances are usually followed by evenings of work in Pusso’s house. It also happened to rain most of Saturday, the house shaking often from loud, reverberating explosions of thunder. It became quickly clear to me why Bamako is so green. By Sunday morning the rain had stopped and it was already hot in the morning, with a blazing sun. Sarah wanted to do something touristic in Bamako, for the first time since she began her stay here, so we decided to take a taxi to the National Museum. Our plan raised some consternation in our hosts; many streets here are poorly marked or not marked at all, the city is quite spread out, and is generally just challenging to get around. Taxis don’t have meters and the price of every ride has to be negotiated. That’s difficult when one has no idea of how far one is going and what the right price would be. Price negotiations also involve some amount of haggling, you need to know how the game is played. We claimed to be unfazed by the challenges … I actually was a little “fazed” but tried not show it. My daughter has been in Bamako three weeks already and appeared to be ready if not eager for the adventure … though perhaps she was merely putting on a good front, as I was. Nonetheless, with either real or feigned courage we were off for the center of the city.

As in Dakar, there are taxis everywhere and it never takes more than 30 seconds to flag one down. I had observed Momo negotiating the price with taxi drivers many times and I tried to imitate his style. I leaned on door on the passenger side, started the conversation with usual “Ca va?” (How’s it going?”) and proposed the price I was told to pay for the ride into the city center. The driver probably didn’t understand my French, seemed slightly offended, and drove off. Sarah said I made the mistake of proposing a price instead of letting the driver propose the price first and than negotiating him down. I assured her that my method was the authentic African way. As we were debating strategy another taxi stopped. Sarah asked him how it would much it would be to go to the National Museum, he proposed a price that was high, Sarah proposed the correct price, and it was “Ca va” (in this context, “ok”) and we were on our way, Sarah, anything but modestly, basked in her triumph.

Bamako is a river city, lying along the Niger. We are staying in the outlying district of Faladié and it is several miles from there until one crosses the Niger, catching the first glimpses of the city center just before the river. Once across the bridge one enters a central district with the Grande Marché (Great Market), and, a bit further along, the Rue de la Liberté (Street of Liberty) with its government ministries, the National Museum, the major park of the city, and the zoo. Still adjusting to the green lushness of Bamako, I was stunned by the beauty of park and the well-tended grounds of the National Museum. Past the park one sees a dramatic backdrop of cliffs rising steeply over the city, also brillantly green.

The National Musuem is small, but charming, with an interesting collection, and artfully arranged to high professional standards (exhibit descriptions, though, are only in French). The exhibition on textiles, a craft for which Mali has been esteemed for centuries throughout Africa, was fascinating. A guide, observing us studying one exhibit illustrating a technique for creating patterns, asked us if we had grasped the organization of the exhibit and its underlying concept. I claimed that I had but he somehow accurately sensed that I hadn’t at all and proceeded to explain it to me anyway. It showed how bolts of fabric were bunched and knotted, died, and then unknotted and unbunched to produce cloth with ring-shaped patterns where the dye had not colored the fabric (similar principle to tie-die). He proceeded to take us around the entire textile exhibit, proving to have an encyclopedic knowledge of traditional Malian textile craft as well as Malian history and culture.

As we left the museum we were invited to sign the guest register and to make a donation for providing services to children with AIDS, which we happily did. We thanked the musuem staff, exchanging cordial goodbyes. All in all, it was a remarkable experience.

Sarah wanted to venture into the Grande Marché. Given my previous experience in Dakar, I knew that going to the market is a bit of ordeal but Sarah assured me that it would be just quick look. Being the day after the end of Ramadan celebrations, customers were thin and we soon attracted a small troupe of merchants following us down the road offering various wares while proclaiming, ceaselessly, the superiority of their goods. Sarah did buy two attractive calabashes (gourds hollowed out to form bowls with carved motifs on the exterior) at the correct price. She asked the merchant the price, he proposed a price three times the going rate, Sarah replied by stating that her aunt had told her the price was only 2000 (African) francs. The merchant, recognizing that Sarah was not wet behind the ears in her knowledge of Mali, ceded at 2 calabashes for 4000. Our short excursion to the market had drained us and, still tailed by our merchant troupe, we hailed down a taxi. Sarah negotiated the correct price, we jumped in, and as we prepared to go, one of the merchants, in desperation, halved his price for an African child’s outfit. Sarah agreed, exchanged outfit for money through the window as I asked the driver the French equivalent to “Hit it, James”. We drove off with the merchants still shouting their offers at our departing taxi.

The thing that I learn every day here, whether from the Colonie de Vacances students, our teaching staff, taxi drivers, musuem guides, or simple merchants, is that I have a great deal to learn. Africa, and iNERDE, have opened new horizons and profoundly … deepened … my understanding of social relations and culture. I feel as though I could write for a hundred years and not fully describe what I have learned in a single weekend. Bamako is an African city, challenged and challenging, complex, beautiful, green as in the green that symbolizes the awakening of spring.

Teaching Ramadan

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Michael Leventhal, Chief Nerdy Development Officer

July 21, 2015

I came to Senegal in the last week of Ramadan, the month of fasting in the Muslim religion. The country of Senegal is a secular state with guaranteed freedom of religion but a large majority of its population is Muslim. I would also say, based on my observations, that it is a very religious country where the vast majority actively practice their faith. Though I am not Muslim, Pusso and Momo, the two iNERDE colleagues I was with in Senegal, are. I decided to keep the fast to be more in sync with my iNERDE teammates as well as our local teachers of the Muslim faith, and most of the entire country.

As a practitioner of yoga I fast relatively often for its many physical, mental, and spiritual benefits and I didn’t believe that the Ramadan fast, where one can eat after sunset each day, would be difficult at all. Ah no. First, it is a complete fast – liquids included. It is hot in Senegal, air conditioning is rare, and, as we were working, one sweats … a lot … all throughout the day. I decided right away that I would drink water throughout the day, as a foreigner unaccustomed to the environment, I felt that it would be unreasonable to risk dehydration. Oh, and I have something of a chemical dependence on my morning coffee and juice, without those I get headaches during the day. So I rationalized that I needed to continue that regime, for, like my malaria pills, medical reasons.

During Ramadan in Senegal food is readily available during the day in restaurants, shops, bakeries, from street stalls, and so on. The non-Muslim part of the population does not keep Ramadan and Muslims are not obliged to keep Ramadan if they choose not to. This is an additional element that makes Ramadan more challenging in Senegal, there is food everywhere. There is a boulangerie (bread bakery) next to SABS and the aroma of baking bread wafted into our classroom throughout the day! Of course, nothing smells better than baking bread, and 10 times more so when you are fasting, so I found this to be a particularly exquisite torture. Of course, I was drinking water throughout the day while my colleagues were holding a complete fast, so I was quadrupling their torments as they had to watch me guzzling water.

Fasting ends at sunset. We would usually go to the house of a member of Momo’s extended family in Senegal for the evening meal. One breaks the fast by eating a few dates, it seems that eating not one but at least two is the tradition. I was surprised to learn that this is followed by the first of two meals, a breakfast … break – fast … food that one would normally eat in the morning. Tea, bread, juice, an omelette, maybe soup. After breakfast, there is a short prayer (I did not pray, it is a Muslim prayer, facing Mecca, with prayer mat and so on, not a general thanks given around the table as occurs in Christian tradition), and a little siesta while one waits for dinner. Dinner is served maybe 1/2 hour later, maybe longer, and will be copious.

I joked that in Ramadan one simply squeezed consumed the equivalent of three meals into the evening, so it wasn’t fasting and much as postponing. My companions were gracious enough not to counter with an allusion to my coffee, orange juice, and water guzzling throughout the day. The fact is that teaching during Ramadan was extremely, extremely difficult. One could easily see the exhaustion in the faces of my colleagues and the iNERDE teachers as the day went on, though everyone made a great effort to stay animated for the kids. Dealing with a classroom of kids is already hard work under ideal circumstances.

When I told someone that I had kept Ramadan but confessed to drinking water during the day she said, “Oh, you kept half of Ramadan”. I felt a little piqued, certainly not eating should count for more than 50%! I claimed I should get 90% “credit”. People here are quite polite, she didn’t dispute my claim, but I knew it was ridiculous when I said it. If you enjoy your morning coffee and juice, with all its sugar and calories, and drink water throughout the day, 50% is already extremely generous. Actually, my story is worse. I admit, all the world may now know, that one day I ate a chocolate during the day and another day I ate an entire chocolate croissant. Secretly, even. I rationalized that I was was sacrificing myself for the kids, to make sure that I would have enough energy to do a good job for them. Which, in its way, was true enough. If I had to eat to do a great job for my students and the Colonie de Vacances, then eating was the right thing to do. But my admiration for my colleagues who taught with the same energy and enthusiasm without secret chocolate bars and croissants is that much more.

It was good, I think, for me to make the effort, whatever my shortcomings. I participated directly in the life of the country, it gave me an understanding that will better inform my work for iNERDE and our efforts to make STEM education effective in an African culture context. I also learned about one source of the strength and determination of people in our two iNERDE countries, Mali and Senegal: the discipline that is practiced and the purpose that is demonstrated in Ramadan. That same strength and determination, channeled toward participation in the STEM economy, is creating and will continue to create economic growth and opportunity.

Jeopardy and Probability

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Michael Leventhal, Chief Nerdy Development Officer

July 21, 2015

We start each week of the Colonie de Vacances with something we call “Teach Back”; a review of the previous week’s lessons. The students actively demonstrate their understanding of the material, reinforcing what they have learned. This week took the form of a game of Jeopardy where teams of students selected questions at augmenting values in iNERDE’s core categories of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and a fifth having to do life goals, social responsibility, and the overall role of STEM in society. The game format was great, fun and motivational … once the students understood it. None of them had ever seen the game of Jeopardy before and it took them some time to get it. There is a surprising amount of cultural information embedded in the structure of the game. The player strategy is also complex, requiring some sense of how to assess the probability of having the right answer against the value of question against one’s position in relation to the other teams. The great thing about the game format is that the students absorb its complex principles bit by bit, simply by seeking to improve the outcome. Each question is like a mini-experiment; one sees the result, whether positive or negative, and adjusts their strategy for the next round, eventually absorbing the principles that lead to an optimum result.

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Our game of Jeopardy led to an impromptu lesson the next day on basic probability. We began simply with flipping a coin to convey the idea of equal probability and the random nature in a single instance of the coin falling on heads or tails. The kids gathering in a circle around me, excitedly yelling their guesses for each coin flip; we must have looked like an impromptu back-alley craps game. We then recorded the result for ten coin flips and verified that while one could have the same side of the coin appear on multiple experiments, after enough experiments the result arrives, as it happened, at exactly 50-50. I added a second coin and we discussed the probability of each combination of coins. Pas evident! (Not obvious) I showed that in enumerating the possible outcomes one could easily see the probability of each: heads-heads, heads-tails, tails-heads, and tails-tails each being one possibility of a total of four, if one didn’t consider heads-tails or tails-heads there are 2 possibilities out of 4 and so on. The main objective was to enable the students to grasp the idea of approximating the probability and being able to select the most probable outcome. To reinforce that we did one final exercise. We took several die and colored different number of sides one color or another. The objective was for the students to make a rough calculation if the probability was more or less for each combination of colors.

Finally, I wanted to make a combination between randomness, probability and our studies in computer science. I gave the example of a video game where the programmer must make decide how to make a character move and act. I explained that the software does the equivalent of a coin flip, or in the case where one wants one thing sometimes but something else more often, it is like using the die with an uneven distribution of colors.

I think these lessons gave the students the beginning of thinking in a mathematically precise way, and how mathematical thinking can be applied in every day life. The lessons were very exciting because they were delivered in the forms of games, with the opportunity for each student to form and express a theory about the possible outcomes and to see if their theory worked. And if we do not succeed in forming excellent future computer scientists (the probability is extremely high), our iNERDE students may become successful gamblers (the probability of that is very, very low).

Week 2 in Dakar

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Farmata, Empowerment Agent in Dakar

July 19, 2015

The second week of the iNERDE camp was a great week. We started the week off by playing jeopardy to test the knowledge acquired during the first week. It went pretty well for a first try. We were joined by Michael Leventhal, the Chief Nerdy Development Officer. He came in on Monday and taught the kids about computer science. He dissembled a computer to show them the different parts and functions that help a computer to run. The kids were really fascinated to be able to see the different parts of the computer. This held their attention and they were eager to learn more. We taught the theory of Newton’s apple with the kids through rocks, paper and by building a parachute. This was a fun and interactive way of teaching the kids about gravity and getting them to understand it better.

The following day was what I like to call CATAPULT day. The kids built their own catapults and tested it out using different angles in order to get a greater projectile. Seeing the amazement on the kids’ faces after seeing the work of a catapult really made my day. I felt empowered to do more to bring them that same amazement. We also progressed on our projects and talked to the kids about the ways to present it. We did a small sketch on the environment in order to bring their attention on the importance of preserving the environment around us and keeping it clean.

As part of the camp experience, we went on a field trip to TFM, a very popular TV station in Dakar. As I was absent for the field trip, I came back and the kids told me everything they had seen. From the expressions on their faces, I could tell that they had a lot of fun and learned a lot. They also told me that they had met Kouthia, a very popular comedian that has a TV show on TFM. Just by hearing the kids tell it, I felt like I had gone on the field trip with them. As an afternoon activity, Michael held an election for the next Senegalese President of SABS. The kids were each asked to write a speech about how they would help their country, why they should be trusted, and what would they change. All I can say is that by the end of the day, I looked at each child differently. They really got to me. If ever they do decide to run, they each got my vote.

Thursday was Election Day. We elected a female president named Mame Diarra Ndiaye and a vice president named Souleymane Sall. I believe that SABS has a great president. She will do a lot of good for her country. With the help of Momo and Michael, we played a game based on the functions of the CPU and the compiler. We had the kids be the processor, Miss Khady was the compiler and Momo was the CPU. He had to follow the instructions of the compiler in order to reach the information he needed. The kids we really into the game and Michael did a wonderful job at teaching the kids more about the computer and its function in a way that they wouldn’t forget. We had a guest speaker by the name of Mr. Badji come in and inspired the kids. He was an ex-pilot for Air Afrique. The kids were really fascinated by him because they kept on asking him a lot of questions. Mr. Badji had a fun way of implementing the importance of being in the STEM field in order to become a pilot. He talked about his many experiences and different incidents he came across while piloting a plane. The kids were really inspired by his visit and had them really think about their futures.
So what else can I say, WEEK TWO was a success. We kept on inspiring and empowering the kids.

Language

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Michael Leventhal, Chief Nerdy Development Officer

July 18, 2015

In Dakar, most people speak Wolof as their mother tongue. Dakar is a big city and there are people here from all over. Some Senegalese speak other languages as their mother tongue and there are Africans from other countries as well as people from countries outside Africa. But Wolof is one lingua franca in Dakar. The other, of course, is French. French is the language of instruction in school and anything written is always in French. I don’t think I ever saw written Wolof. Very few people in Dakar don’t speak French at all, some have a limited command of it, but the vast majority speak French quite fluently. You don’t need to ask permission to speak French in Dakar, the operative assumption is that everyone you speak to will be able to communicate in French. Two Senegalese will probably talk to each other in Wolof but sometimes they speak in French and very often they mix the two languages together in one uninterrupted flow. Everyone who is not a Wolof speaker uses French in Dakar.

At SABS the teachers and administration also speak English. The students speak either French or English in school – not only in class but even to each other. I don’t know if the students are prohibited from using Wolof on school grounds or if it is simply engrained that, at school, one speaks French (or English, in the case of SABS). The concept of bilingualism at SABS is a little like bilingualism generally in Dakar, one uses the language one is most comfortable in, and if the interlocutors are comfortable in both the two languages mix freely. In the Colonie de Vacances French is the language spoken by the majority of students, one or two are reasonably bilingual, and one or two are primarily anglophone.

I don’t have the ease in French to very quickly switch back and forth and, since French was more or less obligatory, it was easier for me to teach mostly in French. That is not say my French is good, or rather, good enough. While I speak French fluently, I found it is another level I haven’t reached yet to be able to not only talk about computer science but to translate difficult concepts into vivid and fluid language that children can understand. I also found it quite difficult to adapt my ear to the classroom. There is constant noise in a classroom filled with children and it is difficult to catch every word when a child is speaking to you. A native speaker can fill in the gaps, if they hear maybe 50% of what is said they will get the whole thing but if I don’t hear 90% I get completely lost. I noticed this with old French films, the poor quality of the soundtrack makes the whole thing completely incomprehensible to me while I perfectly understand newer films as well as radio and television. Then there is kid-speak. While the students speak French quite well and correctly, they are kids, some mumble, some stutter, some talk while they are chewing on the end of a pen, some talk very fast, some very slow. There are also some vocabulary differences between the Parisian and literary French I learned and French spoken in Senegal, so I am often using terms that are not incorrect but the students (and sometimes the teachers) don’t understand.

So, communication is a challenge, more so than I anticipated. I try to compensate by doing everything as hands-on as possible, so I am showing things as I speak and also by writing on the board and drawing. I also noticed that if the lesson is exciting, if the kids get into it, the communication barrier disappears, suddenly they are understanding me and I am understanding them without any problems. I was very happy, after our first lesson in computer systems, to find that the students could teach back all the components of a computer and explain what each did. Wow, so despite my terrible accent the students had actually got everything!

While the students should not be overburdened with the additional challenge of struggling to understand the teacher, I think it is good to get some experience interacting with foreigners with an imperfect command of French. My work as a computer scientist is very international and dealing with people from all over the world with many different accents is an important skill needed for my job. I have mostly had the advantage of being the native speaker while my contacts have been obliged to do the best they can with English. It is also a great experience for me to be on the other side, the one forced outside his comfort zone.

iNERDE has come to Senegal

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Michael Leventhal, Chief Nerdy Development Officer

July 16, 2015

iNERDE ran its first Colonie de Vacances STEM for thirty students just last year in Bamako, Mali. One year later, we have expanded our program to four schools in Bamako with 120 kids. It was a big step for us to organize and fund a program 4 times larger, but we felt we had a strong base to build on in Mali. We have had the mission from the beginning to expand throughout Africa but I, personally, felt we should wait at least another year before taking on the challenge of operations in multiple countries. Nonetheless, I was at least partially responsible for initiating the program in Senegal, though it came about by pure accident. A typo caused an internal iNERDE email to go to, of all the people with email addresses in the world, someone associated with SABS with an interest in African math education. After a bit of confusion we begin exchanging information about our respective organizations. It appeared the collaboration between SABS and iNERDE was meant to be.

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SABS provides a bilingual, French and English, education to an international community consisting of Senegalese and expatriates from several countries in Africa. Many of the parents and much of the school staff have lived and worked in the United States. The facilities are excellent, even including a computer lab, and the teaching is at a very high level. The students at SABS do come from better economic circumstances than the majority of Senegalese. In Mali, this year, we have a mix of public and private school students which is closer to reflecting the average economic level of that country. We will aim for the same in Senegal as our program size grows but we were quite happy to have the advantage of starting in a very strong school in our first year.

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Another improvement iNERDE has made this year, also in effect at SABS, is that our teaching staff is entirely local. In our first year of operation we were supported by local teachers and aides, but, lacking tested curriculum plans, our head teachers came entirely from the iNERDE team outside of Africa. This year we were ready with comprehensive lesson planners and training videos. We also held a week of in-country training for the local teachers before the start of the camp to go over our curriculum and educational philosophy in depth. Using local teachers furthers our most critical objective of creating a lasting, year-round effect on the programs of our partner schools. We also contribute directly to the local economy and at a lower cost, enabling us to reach more kids with the money we raise. Finally, there is no lack of talented teachers in Africa; we had a very large number of applications from superb candidates and were able to select the best of the best. The SABS teaching team consists of (in the picture, from left to right), Denis Ndour, Khadidiatou Agne, Ousmane Balde, and Farmata Ngaido. Each of them is a highly experienced teacher, fully trilingual in French, English, and Wolof, the principal language of Senegal, completely dedicated to providing the most advanced education possible to the youth of Senegal, and excited and motivated by the opportunity to work with iNERDE. Denis Ndour, who spent 11 years in the United States working in schools and leading youth programs, serves as our liasion to the SABS administration, parents, service providers, and the community, in addition to teaching. All the teachers have been a godsend for iNERDE but Denis, thanks to his particular experience, has been indispensable in translating the vision of iNERDE into a program that works in a Senegalese context.

SABS team

Perhaps the most important thing the iNERDE Senegal teaching team brings to the Colonie de Vacances is their loving relationship with the students. I think I have an important role in the Colonie de Vacances as a computer scientist sharing his passion for his field and as a representative of the world of high-tech. I also have lots of love for our students, but in a short time, and across differences in language and culture, I can’t hope to communicate with the students like their teachers can. Each student very politely shakes my hand and the beginning of the day and says “bonjour” and they look at me a little timidly, with curiosity. When they shake hands with their teachers their eyes light up … and the teacher’s too.

Public Speaking Competition in Dakar

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As part of the public speaking portion of our curriculum, the students of SABS in Dakar held an election campaign, preparing and delivering speeches to convince the people to elect them President of Senegal of SABS.

Here are transcripts of the speeches expressing the candidates’ visions for the future of Senegal.

Candidat: Mame Diarra
Bonjour chers citoyens. Mon nom est Mame Diaria et j’aimerais être présidente de la république du Sénégal du SABS. Pour améliorer le pays je vais diminuer le prix du carburant, des légumes et du pain. Je vais enlever tout le sable qui est dans le pays et je vais augmenter le nombre d’emploi.
Pour qu’il me fasse confiance celui ou celle qui va voler l’argent du people sera immédiatement amener en prison pour 40 ans. Je vais élire des personnes diplômées au sein du gouvernement. Je vais être un président à l’écoute de son pays.
Le Sénégal peut être vous savez comment en se serrent les coudes en aide les plus faibles, en faisant la paix avec les pays voisin en aident son prochain et, surtout, en arrêtent de détourner l’argent du pays.
Donc j’espère que je serai élu. Je compte sur vous.
Merci.

Hello dear citizens. My name is Mame Diaria and I would like to be President of the Republic of Sénégal of SABS. To improve this country I will decrease the price of gas, vegetables and bread. I will remove all the sand and increase the number of jobs.
To gain the trust of the people of Senegal, I will imprison anyone who misuses public funds for a period of 40 years. Only people who hold degrees will be elected to government. I will be a President who is aware of the needs of her country.
Senegal must help those in need and make peace with adjoining countries by helping their neighbours. Our country must also stop misusing public funds.
I hope I will be elected. I leave it to you.
Thank you.

Candidat Jean Baptiste
Je m’appelle Jean Baptiste. Elisez-moi, car, si je suis le président, je vais créer des écoles et toute seront gratuite. Je vais élargir les routes pour qu’il ne soit plus d’embouteillage. Je vais aussi mettre quelques forêts dans le pays pour amener le tourisme et les animaux.
Je jure que je ferais tout ce que j’ai dit car je tiens toujours mes promesses. Faites-moi confiance parce que j’étais bien éduque et j’étais dans une très bonne école. Je travaillais bien et je faisais toujours de mon mieux et je remercie beaucoup à mon maître M Ndong, M Dabo, M Kamara, M Baldé et mes encadreurs à iNERDE.
Si je suis président je pense que le Sénégal serait un pays riche et développé. Même si vous votez pour un autre je voudrai qu’il fasse mieux que moi.

My name is Jean Baptiste. Elect me, for if I am President I will build schools and they will all be free. I will make the roads larger so that there is no more congestion. I will also plant more trees to increase tourism and bring fauna back to our country.
I swear that I will do all that I have mentioned. I always keep my promises. Have faith in me. I studied in a very good school and am well educated. I worked well and always did my best. I thank my teachers M Ndong, M Dabo, M Kamara, M Baldé and my mentors at iNERDE.
If I am President, I believe that Senegal will become a rich and developed country. Even if you choose to elect a different candidate, I would like him to do better than me.

Candidat Habeebat
If I am the President of Senegal I will help the poor people. I will make the roads better and I will help the people who are sick.
The three reasons people should trust me are because I am the President, because I will help the people, and because I will make the people happy.
I want my people to be the happiest in the whole world.

En tant que President du Sénégal, j’aiderais les gens pauvres. J’améliorerais les routes et j’aiderais les gens qui sont malades.
Vous devriez me faire confiance pour trois raisons : je suis le président, je vais aider le peuple et je vais rendre les citoyens heureux.
Je veux que les gens de mon pays soient les plus heureux du monde entier.

Candidat Jeannesa
Here are the things I will do to make my country better. I will give education to every child in the country. I will give free food to the poor and give clothes to the needy. I will always make my people be happy and proud.
Here are the reasons people should believe in me. I will be a good President. I will always fight for my people. I will make the people be happy in any thing and anywhere they are.
Senegal will be the best country and Dakar will be the happiest city in the whole world because I will do whatever it takes to accomplish this. The people are going to be my family in the future.

Voici ce que je ferai pour améliorer mon pays. Chaque enfant aura une éducation gratuite. Je donnerai de la nourriture aux pauvres et des vêtements aux gens démunis. Je ferai en sorte que mon peuple soit heureux et fier.
Voici les raisons pour lesquelles vous devriez me faire confiance. Je serai un bon président. Le peuple sera toujours heureux peu importe où ils se trouvent et ce qu’ils font.
Le Sénégal sera le meilleur pays et Dakar, la ville la plus heureuse au monde. Je ferai tout ce qu’il faut pour accomplir cela. Le peuple deviendra ma famille.

Candidat Souleymane
Bonjour tout le monde. Je voudrai être Président. Pour améliorer notre pays je donnerais beaucoup d’argent aux pauvres, renforcer la sécurité et améliorer certains choses comme les téléphones, écoles, maisons, voitures, etc. …
Mes trois raisons que le peuple peut me faire confiance, c’est que je travaille dans une école qui s’appelle SABS. SABS est une école qui forme les leaders de demain. Je suis gentille. Mon père m’a encouragé pour que je devienne Président, il est hors de question que j’abandonne.
Ma vision c’est que le Sénégal sera un pays riche. Il ne manquera ni argent ni sécurité. Il n’existera plus la pauvreté.
Je vous souhaite bonne chance.
MERCI!

Hello everybody. I would like to be President. To make my country better I will give a lot of money to the poor, reinforce security and innovate certain things like telephones, schools, houses, cars, etc. …
The people should trust me for three reasons. I work in a school called SABS. It is a school that molds the leaders of tomorrow. Also, I am kind. My father encouraged me to become President so it is out of the question that I give up.
My vision is for Senegal to become a rich country. One that is not missing any money or security. I want to eradicate poverty.
I wish you the best of luck.
Thank you!

Candidat Janviera
Voici sont trois choses que je ferai pour l’amélioration du pays. Je rendrai le pays plus développé, cultivé, et je diminuerai le prix des impôts.
Voici sont trois raisons pour que vous me fassiez confiance. Je tiendrai ma parole. J’aiderai les pauvres et les hôpitaux. Je ferai mon devoir à la lettre gentiment.
Ma vision de ce que mon pays peut devenir dans l’avenir est la suivante. Le Sénégal pourra devenir le pays le plus civilisé, développé, et riche du monde.

Here are three things I would do to make my country better. I would decrease taxes, develop the country further and improve the culture.
Here are three reasons why you should trust me. I keep my word. I will help the poor and hospitals. I will do my duty with kindness and integrity.
My vision for Senegal is that it becomes the most civilised, developed and rich country in the world.

Candidat Mohamed
Je m’appelle Mustafa Mohamed. Je voudrais être Président du Sénégal du SABS.
Quand je serais Président du Sénégal je construirais des mosquées pour les musulmans et je ferai la même chose pour les chrétiens en construisant des églises. Je vais aussi construire des hôpitaux. Je vais construire des gratte-ciels.
Le peuple me fera confiance parce que en construisant des mosquées pour les musulmans et des églises pour les chrétiens, cela améliore leurs religions. En outre, en construisant des hôpitaux on améliore notre chance de vivre parce que on peut pas s’échapper du maladie mortel quand on pars pas à l’hôpital. Quand on construit aussi des gratte-ciels ça rend le pays magnifique.
Je pense que le pays deviendra dans l’avenir l’un des meilleurs pays du monde.

My name is Mustafa Mohamed. I would like to be the President of Senegal.
When I become President, I will build mosques for Muslims and do the same for Christians by building churches. I will also build hospitals and sky scrapers.
The people will trust me because I am facilitating the practice of their religion by building churches and mosques. By building hospitals, I am ensuring that people stay healthy and am improving their life expectancy. By building sky scrapers, I am making the country beautiful.
I believe that Senegal will become one of the best countries in the world.

Candidat Janviera
Bonjour à tous !
Chers citoyens je veux etre la future presidente du Sénégal car moi à vos côtés nous serons un pays avec une culture tres enrichissante, nous ferons rêver les touristes. Il y aura beaucoup de technologie et d’électronique. Nous fabriquerons nous même tout ce que nous avions d’importer avec les autres pays, nous en serons fiers !
Avec moi, je vous assure que les taxes et la cherté de la vie diminueront, ce sera le tout nouveau Sénégal, celui qu’on a jamais vu.
Soyez heureux si vous m’élisez, nous aurons le plus pacifique et paisible pays du monde, il fera rêver tous les habitants des autres pays. Il sera rempli de gratte-ciel, de magasin pour toute catégorie et d’un hôpital central.
Nous n’aurons plus besoin de prendre des produits chez les pays voisins, nous en aurons déjà beaucoup plus.
Il y aura aussi énormément de magasins APPLE, d’appareils électroniques et beaucoup de technologie et média, des skates volants avec turbo pour les fanatiques de skate et des écoles conçues spécialement pour les mathématiques et la science. Aussi, il n’y aura plus de chômage.
Plusieurs monuments de beaucoup de mètre de haut les uns plus géniaux que les autres.
Avec une atmosphère calme, chaque pauvre aura au moins 1 million pour pouvoir s’occuper d’eux-mêmes.
IL y’aura des parcs fait de bonbons et des fontaines géantes de fraise.
Je vous demande de voter pour moi parce que ceux qui voleront l’argent de la république seront condamnés.

Greetings to all!
Dear citizens, I would like to be the future President of Senegal. With me by your side, we will become a country with a rich culture. Tourists will dream of coming here. There will be a lot of technological and electronic advancement. We will build ourselves what we had to import from other countries in the past, and we will be proud of it!
With me I assure you that taxes and the cost of living will decrease. We will witness new Senegal, one that has never been seen before.
If you elect me, be happy for our country will become the most peaceful nation in the world. Other people will dream of living in Senegal.
We won’t need to import products from other countries because we will have plenty for ourselves.
There will be many Apple stores, electronic gadgets and media and technology. There will be turbo hoverboards for skateboarding lovers and schools geared specifically towards science and mathematics. There will be no more unemployment.
Every poor person will have at least 1 million dollars to take care of themselves.
There will entire parks made out of candy and giant strawberry fountains.
If you vote for me I will ensure that those who steal money from the republic will be justly punished.

Candidat Mor Dior
Je veux être président pour :
Lutter contre le racisme, aider les talibés et dire à tout le peuple sénégalais de ne pas abattre les arbres car ils nous donnent des fruits.
Etre honnête envers les autres. Ne pas torturer les prisonniers. Soutenir et être prêt à défendre les personnes maltraitées.
Le Sénégal sera dans le futur un pays qui aidera d’autres pays à arrêter la guerre, un pays qui aidera les pays pauvres à devenir des pays riches et aidera les habitants de notre pays à être traités comme tout le monde, pauvre ou riche.

I want to be President to fight racism, help the ‘talibés’? and to tell the people of Senegal not to cut down trees because they produce fruit.
Be honest towards others. Not torture prisoners. Offer support and defend mistreated people.
Senegal will become a country that will maintain peace and that will help impoverished countries enrich themselves. I want the inhabitants of Senegal to be treated equally regardless of their social status and income.

Candidat Ibrahima Dembel
Je voudrais être président parce que :
– plusieurs présidents ont été élus mais aucun d’entre eux n’a pu mettre en place des règles pour rendre ce pays propre.
-je vais donner du travail à ceux qui sont au chômage pour arrêter le banditisme
-pour rendre le pays plus agréable à voir et élever le niveau du tourisme, mettre des décorations et immeubles.
Le peuple peut me faire confiance parce que je suis un homme de parole.
Je trouve que le Sénégal est un bon pays avec un avenir bien tracé, il peut réussir avec beaucoup plus de discipline et de sérieux.
Voilà la clé pour être un pays qui se démarque dans toute l’histoire de l’Afrique.
Votez pour moi.

I would like to be President because I would implement rules to ensure the cleanliness of our country unlike other elected leaders.
I would give work to the unemployed to lower the crime rate.
I would put decorations on the buildings to make the country more pleasant and increase tourism.
The people of Senegal can trust me because I am a man of my word.
I believe that Senegal is a good country with a future. We can succeed with more discipline and focus.
This is the key to becoming a country that stands out in the history of Africa.
Vote for me.

CANDIDAT
Je voudrais que vous votiez pour moi en tant que président de Sénégal à SABS parce que je voudrais améliorer la vie des sénégalais.
Que les personnes pauvres puissent s’inscrire dans les camps superbes.
Je voudrais que tous ceux qui n’ont pas à manger puisse manger à leur faim.
Je voudrais améliorer les parcs.

I would like for you to vote for me to be President of Senegal so that I can improve the life of the Senegalese people.
I would like them to be able to take part in awesome camps.
I would like those who do not have anything to eat to be able to eat to their heart’s content.
I would like to improve the parks.

iNERDE’s First Week in Dakar, Day by Day

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Farmata, Empowerment Agent in Dakar

July 14, 2015

Day 1

Failure, that is what the first day of iNERDE camp in Dakar was. Our expectations were high but the outcome was a disaster. We only had six students and we didn’t make any impression on them. We had to let them go home earlier than expected because we couldn’t do much with the few students that we had. The whole day was nothing but a downward spiral.

Day 2

Not to feel discouraged, we had a much better outcome on the second day of the camp. We doubled the number of students and we got them excited. We introduced them to Math, Science, and Technology, the subjects of STEM. We had them unleash their imaginations by starting a story and asking all of them to continue it using their imagination. By the end of the day, all the kids were familiar with each other and eager to come back the next day. We left with smiles on our faces. We had a better day.

Day 3

We talked more about STEM and introduced the students to the engineering process. We got them to think about a problem and solutions to solve it. This got their minds running and enabled them to better understand the engineering process. Based on that activity, we introduced S.C.A.M.P.E.R. which got their creative thinking going. The students were put into two groups. Each group was given an image of an item. Based on S.C.A.M.P.E.R, the students were asked to use their imagination to innovate the item and make it better and more sophisticated. We chose a winner based of the presentation of the item and being able to convince us to buy their item. We ended the day surer of ourselves and at a better place.

Day 4

The next day, we showed the students the different parts found in a toy car through the process of reverse engineering. We asked them to use their imagination in order to draw what they thought was found in a car that helps it run. After that, the students opened up the different electronic toys they had in front of them. They found out for themselves what was inside without us having to tell them. They came up with many suggestions to make the toys better and more efficient. We also introduced them to an important function in technology using computers. They were introduced to Microsoft Word and its many functions. We also introduced the projects that the students had to complete. They got really excited about the projects that they wanted to build everything thing on that day.

Day 5

I believe that the last day of the week was a great day for the students. We got familiar with impromptu speaking. They got familiar with the projects they are to do and showed progress. We introduced a little Biology by talking about the human body. They were introduced to five different kinds of cells found in the body. After that we introduced them to DNA by doing an experiment on DNA extraction. We used an onion to help show the students how we can extract DNA from anything with a living cell. This experiment got them very excited and involved. By the end of the day, everything that they had learned was acted on and we could tell that we came along way from the first day of camp.

To summarize the whole week, we started real slow but by the end of the week we were flying. We achieved our goal of hitting the ground running and getting the students excited.

Senegal Works

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Michael Leventhal, Chief Nerdy Development Officer

July 12, 2015

I have spent my first 24 hours in Dakar, surviving my “baptême par feu”, as Momo described our trip to market and excursion to a distant town, Tivaouane, north-east of Dakar.

The one surprise arriving at the airport was that the first thing I saw as the door to the Arrivals Hall opened was a detachment of Senegalese military. They were there to check our temperatures with a laser thermometer, a continuing precaution against Ebola. Passing through customs was simple, except that I didn’t know my address in Dakar. It seems that my heavily accented French dissuaded the customs officer from further inquiry, as I began to explain in some detail the mission of iNERDE. I didn’t even get to how that related to my not knowing where I was staying in Senegal before he stamped my passport and waved me on.

The two Mohameds were there to meet me, Mohamed Kanté (aka Pusso), Chief Nerd and Mohamed Sankaré (Momo), Vice-President of iNERDE Mali. They had been waiting for three hours. Momo, who studied in Senegal and speaks Wolof, haggled over price for a bit with a taxi driver and in a minute we were driving into Dakar.

The first things I noticed were: good roads with smooth pavement, attractive buildings of white or cream color masonry, construction sites, and lots of people along the roads, there being often no sidewalks. We passed the Monument of the African Renaissance, a 160 feet bronze statue overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, depicting a man, woman and child surging forward. It is dramatically posed on top of a hill with a broad staircase of some hundreds of steps leading the base of the monument. While the statue has been criticized on various fronts, as such highly visible public art always is, I found it impressive and at least something of the bold statement it was intended to be of Africa’s determination and ambition for the future.

It seems it has become a iNERDE tradition to think about food before anything else, inspired, probably, by Pusso’s insatiable appetite. I finally got to eat the famous West African yassa, I first heard of and wrote about this dish a year ago when I translated the lunch menu from our first Colonie de Vacances. Poisson Yassa, fish with Yassa, consists of bed of Senegalese rice, with some chopped vegetables, and a grilled whole fish with a bowl of yassa sauce on the side. Yassa’s primary component is fried onions and oil. The preparation was spicy, though not intensely so. I wasn’t disappointed, it was very tasty, worthy of its culinary fame.

IMG_1645

In the morning we strolled to the Senegalese American Bilingual School where I will begin teaching on Monday. It is located in a middle class neighborhood, calm, with lots of trees and gardens. Afterward, we took a taxi to go to the market in Sandaga, passing through working class neighborhoods, with chaotic traffic zigzagging in every direction, and the streets lined with open air stalls where merchants offered every kind of product and service. We also passed, along broad avenues, modern office buildings, government offices, the splendid Great Mosque compound, and many, many construction sites with hordes of workers laboring in the hot sun. The taxi, a dilapidated rattle-trap held together with bailing wire, with a door that wouldn’t latch shut, broke down. We pushed the car several times so the driver could try jump starting it, but to no avail.

IMG_1641

Momo and Pusso shopped with intensity, it seems that the prices in Senegal are better and there are many products here not found in Mali. One could imagine the market like a beehive, with an immense number of people swarming around the stalls where each merchant offers their products, every imaginable product. One is also offered jewelry, watches, wallets and such by ambulant hawkers and importuned by touts that want to take you to particular shops. I expected to be particularly targeted as a foreigner but actually no more than Momo and Pusso and the hawkers and touts were reasonably polite and accepted a, “Non, merci” after only two or three repetitions. There was one, though, a little more persistent, his French was very artful and his descriptions of the products in the shop he touted for particularly florid. I perhaps encouraged his persistence since I enjoyed listening to him. We ended up going to his shop, with Pusso protesting along the way. The shopkeeper was, of course, very charming, having the attention to complement me exorbitantly on the excellence of my horribly accented French, and I ended up buying African clothes at 3 times the price Pusso believed to be reasonable.

We then took a taxi to Tivaouane, a drive of about two hours, partially on the excellent expressway out of Dakar but mostly on local highways running through many small towns, “l’Afrique profonde”. Just outside of Dakar one saw cranes everywhere, with offices and apartment buildings sprouting like mushrooms. Once on local roads one saw merchant stands lining the road in every town, heavy trucks alongside horse-drawn carts, a desert landscape sparsely populated with bushes and small trees, and the occasional baobab tree. Each town seemed to have its speciality, one the town of mangoes, another butchers, another pottery. And the modern offices of mobile phone companies, banks, a steel factory (“high-quality steel for building the future”) and many other types of factories, a town, just before Tivaouane, about to spring into existence, with the shell of an elaborate, new mosque under construction in the center, surrounded by thousands of home building sites already equipped with water and electricity hook-ups. The one thing one sees everywhere are smartphones, one sees a woman selling mangoes by the side of road swiping her finger across the touchscreen of her phone. I had better cell phone reception everywhere in our journey than I have in my home near San Jose.

In Tivaouane we met Pusso’s cousin, Cheickh. Cheickh had a stroke in the last year, leaving his left arm paralyzed. He looks at least 10 years younger than his 64 years, and is working with great determination to regain movement in arm through physical rehabilitation. We watched French-language videos on physical therapy on the internet; he wanted to show us the kinds of exercises he was doing. He is working with a physical therapist but cannot afford of the cost of regular treatments so he uses the internet to inform and motivate his own program of re-education.

It was late in the evening when we returned to Dakar. Everyone was still working, everywhere, along the roads back to Dakar, and in the city where merchants still manned their stalls. If I were to chose one single impression from my first day in Senegal, it would be that everyone is working here and working hard. Life is obviously difficult for some, working hard is a necessity to survive. It is a nation of entrepreneurs, many are self-employed and are adept at figuring out something to do to earn a living. I can understand better how it is that so many immigrants come to United States and are very successful as entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship is deeply embedded in the culture of a country like Senegal. The Senegalese are also obviously very keen users of technology and well-informed about the world around them. I had thought that I might be something of an object of interest in Tivaouane, but, actually, no more than to the touts in Sangara. People in Tivaouane know much more about the world I come from than I know about theirs.

In the town of butchers, there was one stall with the name “Boucherie Moderne”, Modern Butcher Shop. The emblem of butchers there seems to be the carcass of the hind quarters of a sheep hanging from a crossbeam over the stall. I had the thought of taking of a photo of the Boucherie Moderne, with its dusty stall by the side of the road, and with its carcass hanging in the open air, for amusement. I didn’t. What do I know, the owner of the Boucherie Moderne may well be more forward-thinking and modern than I am. One doesn’t mock the work and the sincere efforts of another. The Senegalese work, I don’t think I could work as hard and in as challenging conditions as many people do here. One sees here a people, like the African Renaissance Monument depicts, whether in good or not so good aesthetic taste, surging forward toward the future. In ten years this will be a completely different country. I look forward to seeing it.

Machine Learning on the way to Dakar

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Michael Leventhal, Chief Nerdy Development Officer

July 11, 2015

PARIS, FRANCE – I’m on my way to Dakar for the final week of iNERDE’s first STEM summer camp in Sénégal, held in cooperation with the Senegalese-American Bilingual School, SABS. I’ll be teaching the computer systems and computer science curriculum developed by iNERDE and helping to make our expansion to Senegal a success.

I’m travelling to Dakar by way of the northern franco-flemish city of Lille, France. I spent the last few days in Lille at the International Conference on Machine Learning, ICML, a gathering of the world’s top researchers in the science and mathematics behind artificial intelligence. Machine Learning is a revolution in the making, enabling computational devices to understand what they see, hear, and sense and to make decisions that can improve on human performance levels on the same tasks. One of the most dramatic examples of the use of this technology is self-driving cars; even I, as a computer scientist active in the field, did not realize how far along this technology is until a friend who works at Tesla took me for a ride down one of the busiest highways in Silicon Valley – without a driver.

I work for a company, Xilinx, that makes a kind of chip, an FPGA, that is used for machine learning. An FPGA is different from a CPU in being a flexible, reconfigurable, connected mesh of parallel computing elements – a bit like our brains, a flexible, reconfigurable, connected mesh of neurons. Parallel computing is the frontier of computer architecture, enabling us to create machines that are not only faster and more efficient than conventional CPUs at the stuff that computers do today, but also to create new uses of computers that can, like humans beings, deal with fuzzy information, make pretty good decisions based on what can be known, and can learn over time to make better decisions in the future. The old way of designing CPUs, the Von Neumann architecture, is about 75 years old. As exciting as the things we can do with machine learning are, for me, as a computer scientist, the most exciting thing is the fact that we are making an evolutionary leap in our understanding of how to build computers. Sometimes people worry that computers are getting too smart but it is actually human beings that are getting smarter, and have taught themselves to build exponentially on what we have learned. I felt in awe listening to artificial intelligence researchers at ICML sharing their profound knowledge and witnessing their passion for discovery.

I feel that my work for iNERDE is very related to my work on parallel computing. Both are ultimately about reaching the next level of human creativity. iNERDE is a passion for discovery of new educational paradigms. Like the Von Neumann architecture in computing, our modern educational systems have accomplished extraordinary things – but there is another level for us to aspire to. iNERDE, by choosing to begin its work in Africa, is also aiming at the next level in social evolution. We don’t accept the status quo of rich and poor nations. We think that every human being must have the right to the opportunity to develop her or his capacities, to create, and to contribute.

In the check-in queue at airport in Paris I felt myself already in Africa. It was chaos, of course, with everyone jostling to get into the line. It wasn’t aggressive, people were easy and friendly. I heard many languages all around, African languages I can’t recognize, parents speaking to their children in African-accented French and their kids responding in perfect Parisian French, and even Africans speaking unaccented American English. Many men and women were beautifully dressed in traditional African clothes.

At the security screening the agent looked at my ticket and said, “You’re going to Dakar! You’re going to love it, but it is really hot there! Where are you from? Oh, America! Los Angeles? I love America, I want to go to New York City and California and everywhere. Hey, cool mec! Welcome to Dakar!”