I am completing my international pre-practicum at Ecole Primaire Sainte Bernadette in Dakar, Senegal, a large private Catholic school. Senegal is a Muslim country so many children are placed in Quranic schools, or stay home to study the Quran and work with their parents. If parents do decide to send their children to school they have two options: public school or private Catholic school. Over the past year there has been little to no political stability and many teachers have joined the union, demanding better pay or they wont work. As a result, many public schools have not been in session for months and parents are left scrambling to make enough money to put their children in private Catholic school.
Attending a Catholic school in Senegal has been an overwhelming experience. More than 95% of the population at Ecole Primaire Sainte Bernadette is Muslim, and yet I have seen no sign of religious tension at any point during my time at the school. In the morning, after the students have filed in and taken their seats, they recite as a class: “Seigneur, donner nous la force et la courage de bien travailler. Merci, Seigneur pour cette journée qui commence” (Lord, give us the strength and courage to work well. Thank you, Lord for this day that begins). When I asked why everyone has to recite this prayer, even though the majority of the class was Muslim my teacher replied that no matter what religion you practice, you believe in a higher power that gives you strength and courage and lets you live another day. She explained that she had chosen this prayer specifically so that the whole class could participate.
Every Tuesday and Thursday morning my teacher holds mass in her classroom for both 5th grade classrooms. Out of over 100 students, there are only twelve Christian students that attend each week. The Muslim students wait in the other 5th grade classroom until mass is over. Other than the poster of Jesus hanging over the blackboard, religion does not seem to be imposed on the education of the students. Both religions seem to be accepting and understanding of the other, which is a reflection of Senegalese culture in general. For example, Christian neighbors bring their Muslim neighbors dessert during Easter, and Muslim neighbors bring their Christian neighbors part of their dinner during Tabaski. It has been an amazing experience to see how two completely different ways of living can co-exist.