What started as a summer teaching job for Andrew Stephenson evolved into plans to build a kindergarten for underprivileged children in Saint-Louis, Senegal.
Stephenson, a senior studying civil engineering at Washington State University, says he fell in love with the area and its people after he taught English there in 2011 through a British volunteering organization called Projects Abroad.
“I’ve never seen people so excited to learn,” Stephenson says.
The kindergarten project, Foundations for Senegal, began when Stephenson reached out to Fina Senghor, a native of Senegal and a Projects Abroad deputy director, in 2016 to see how he could help Saint-Louis.
Senghor founded the Association for the Protection of Early Childhood (ASPE) and originally opened a kindergarten in 2011 that offered free education for children of poverty-stricken families, but a lack of funding forced the facility to close after only two years.
Because of high birth rates in Senegal, many families cannot afford to take care of all their children, often leaving them to fend for themselves, Senghor says. This can lead to accidents and abuse due to lack of supervision.
“There’s lots of bad things happening to kids, and that’s why we opened that kindergarten,” Senghor says.
Since the original kindergarten was closed, Senghor hoped she could find a way to reopen it. She recommended Stephenson build a kindergarten on a 300-square-meter property purchased by ASPE.
Stephenson embraced the project, developing a sustainable design with the help of four other engineering seniors. He flew to Saint-Louis during WSU’s spring break in March to test soil samples from the property so he could better design the building’s foundation.
“I got to interact with the people who are going to use the school, and it felt so much more real,” Stephenson says.
Stephenson has already turned down job offers because of his responsibilities to the project.
“Most jobs want a three- to four-year commitment,” he says. “If I took them, I could make the money I need to finish the project, but I wouldn’t be able to go and do it.”
Stephenson says he hopes to begin building the kindergarten in the spring of 2018 if they get funding.