Twenty-one year-old Samantha Hutcheson travelled 10 hours along a red dusty potholed road through remote Senegal to the Mampatim project to meet her sponsored child, Samba. She was not expecting to experience some of the community’s traditional customs…
By Samantha Hutcheson
I woke early feeling excited and nervous for my visit to the village where I would meet Samba for the very first time. I had travelled 10 hours from Dakar to the Mampatim project and was about to get back in the vehicle again with the World Vision staff and translator David. The thought of finally being united with the little boy - whom I had been sponsoring and exchanging letters with for the past three years - was very overwhelming.
As we travelled down a bumpy red dusty road, a little girl was running, chasing after two baby goats. We stopped the vehicle and David caught the goats, returning them to the little girl before we continued our drive.
We finally came to a stop in the village. An enormous gathering of people (including some from neighbouring villages) surrounded the car waving frantically, displaying the most welcoming smiles. As I walked towards the people clapping their hands to the beat of the Jambadong drums, I noticed a masked dancer gesturing for me to follow him. As I began, Samba came running up to me with the most joyous smile.
I was introduced to Samba’s mother, father, the chief and president of the village. Samba said he felt like a king as today was very special, not only to him but the rest of his village. This brought a tear to my eye. At that moment I knew that I had achieved something special; making a boy’s dream of meeting his sponsor a reality.
The chief welcomed me into the village and Samba’s father, Mr Sabaly, thanked me for my continued support. The village was grateful for my visit; they had never had a white person in their town before. Samba then got up and began to dance. I joined him and shortly, the entire crowd was dancing.
The chief asked me to speak about the work that World Vision is doing, I spoke about healthcare insurance and the importance of prenatal check-ups for expectant mothers. He wanted to know why a 21-year-old Australian girl would be interested in their village. When the villagers’ heard my story, some came up to shake my hand, hug me and to express their sincere appreciation and gratefulness for my support and compassion.
I was lead to the chief’s house where I sat with Samba and his family. I met the rest of his siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. He was so excited to show me all the gifts, letters and photos that I had sent him over the years. He told me that his favourite photos were hanging on his wall; I told him I had his photos on my wall too. I learned that Samba’s room was a small mud hut with a clay floor, timber door and a grass thatched roof, inside was a single bed, a small desk and his belongings.
I gave Samba the soccer ball and he gave me a handbag (made from a coconut and beads), a necklace and earrings, all of which he had made himself. The chief then gave us both traditional clothing and Samba’s eldest sister assisted me with the head piece. Our clothing was matching, this was to symbolise the mutual love and friendship between Samba and me. I joined Samba and his family for lunch and was served a local dish “Kodde e Laalo” (ground maize and sauce made up with leaves from the baobab tree).
I experienced a few fundamental community ceremonies. One being a traditional wedding. It was then time to leave. The entire village waved goodbye, it was very emotional for not only Samba and me but for the rest of the community.
Children ran along the side of the vehicle as we headed towards Samba’s school. I was shown through the classrooms and told of future plans to build more and how the teachers are being educated further.
We headed to the medical clinic, supported by World Vision. The doctor was eager to show what vaccinations they have access to. It was great to see many people take pride in their work.
David asked me if it was what I had been hoping for. I told him it was more than what I expected. It was absolutely the best day of my life; no words could explain the feeling. It was definitely something I had to experience to understand, not only meeting my sponsored child, but the extent of World Vision’s work. It is one thing to read about, but it’s another to see it with your own eyes.