Raby Gueye on Reinforcing Learning Through Senegalese Culture

Raby Gueye is a 2019 Echoing Green Fellow and the founder and CEO of Teach For Senegal, an organization that mobilizes and equips Senegal’s most promising leaders with the tools, training, and resources to work towards systemic change in education, inside and outside the classroom. In February 2021, Teach For Senegal officially joined the Teach For All global network. Echoing Green asked Raby about her efforts to decolonize education in Senegal, developing the next-generation of conscious leaders, and Echoing Green’s role in her leadership journey.

What was your “moment of obligation” in starting your organization? What circumstances or life experiences led you to start your organization?

At an early age, my parents taught me so much about identity and community. When we lived in Senegal, my father was an activist and a local language teacher. I grew up watching him lead community gatherings and protests. He was always advocating for the rights of Indigenous Africans in Senegal and Mauritania.

On the other hand, my mother has never gone to formal school, but she is the most entrepreneurial person I have ever met. In the early 1990s, when my father was sent to prison by the Mauritanian government after protesting the current president, my mother had to figure out how to support my siblings and me. She grew crops and sold them at local markets; she was a maid, she created jewelry. She had what we now refer to as several “side hustles.”

When my family moved to the U.S. as refugees when I was seven, none of us spoke any English or completed any formal schooling. As a result, we struggled to navigate this new life. However, I learned early on that I would need to learn English to help my parents. I remember being a child and arguing about bills with cable and utility companies. At one point, when my brother became ill, I served as a translator between my parents and the doctors. Due to the language barrier, the doctors never fully explained that my brother had contracted Valley Fever, eventually leading to my brother’s death. It is these experiences and moments that led to the creation of Teach For Senegal.

In February, Teach For Senegal officially joined the Teach For All global network, co-founded by 1991 Fellow Wendy Kopp. How has it been to join and collaborate with this global network?

Joining the Teach For All network was a great achievement for us. I truly believe educational inequity cannot be tackled without collective action. Through our partnership with Teach For All, our fellows, staff, and community partners are able to learn from and work alongside change-makers from all over the world. They can share and gain amazing experiences and expand opportunities for themselves and their communities.

At Echoing Green, we often talk about the power of proximity. What would you like our readers to know about your local community?

Teach For Senegal relies heavily on our relationships and proximity to the community to bring about change. Our communities are our strongest allies. We currently work with marginalized groups in Northern Senegal who are primarily nomadic herders and farmers and have a strong connection to nature and animals. Unfortunately, most of our communities live in extreme poverty and face food insecurity due to climate change. Recent reports from the U.S. show one in three children in northern Senegal are malnourished. Additionally, less than two percent of our communities are fluent in French; however, all school instruction is French. This language barrier has caused a worsening of the issue of communication and dissemination of information.

Despite all this, our communities remain deeply rooted in their traditions and customs. They are problem solvers, thinkers, and innovators. They have shown us what resilience and empathy look like.

How does Teach For Senegal “disrupt the system” and promote the decolonization of education in Senegal?

To decolonize education, we must develop strong, consciously driven leaders. A vital part of our movement is the healing and liberation that our fellows, staff, and community leaders undertake. We have chosen to train and practice conscious leadership and leading through self-awareness. This leadership style helps bring trust, stability, compassion, and transformation to organizations and communities. Our fellows receive mindful leadership training, coaching, and psychosocial support increase their self-awareness and self-management, overcome their trauma, and reduce the frequency in which they may perpetuate cycles of oppression on themselves or the communities they are committed to serving.

Part of our theory of change is also to reinforce learning through culture. We have designed a curriculum that incorporates the local traditions of our communities into the educational experience of students. This includes:

  • Teaching reading, writing, and math in students’ native tongue instead of French
  • Using traditions, fables, and myths to teach important values such as kindness and empathy
  • Oral storytelling by elders in the community
  • Teaching Senegalese/African history from the perspective of African people

How does Teach For Senegal work toward systemic change in education?

Teach For Senegal does not believe there is a single solution to tackling educational inequality in Senegal. Instead, we believe that there needs to be as many people as possible, pioneering solutions inside and outside the classroom to address root causes. Our theory of change is to generate a sustainable movement of conscious leaders who will transform the education system in the short and long term. We attract, recruit, train, and place high potential leaders in public schools in their own communities for an initial two-year fellowship. In the two years, the fellows will transform their classrooms and raise the attainment levels of the children. Our work towards systemic change really begins with our alumni. They will be supported through various training and advising sessions that will encourage them to:

  • Address existing educational disparities as agents of change
  • Advocate for communities with the credibility of having achieved success in those schools
  • Enter careers that will allow them to impact the educational system either in the private or public sector
  • Develop skills to advance into key leadership positions in different fields
  • Mentor current Fellows and continue making an impact on the educational system

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What does the future you’re fighting for look like? In other words, what would the world look like when you consider your work to be “done”?

We know we are done when every child in Senegal is seen, loved, and liberated. Our vision is for our children to be proud Senegalese who will approach life with a strong sense of optimism, passion, empathy, and curiosity. They will be proud of their tribal and Senegalese identity and see this as a means of uniting and healing their communities and people. Our children will be aware of all the existing systems of injustices and still take risks, explore, and understand that the only limits are those they put on themselves.

How has the Echoing Green Fellowship supported your growth as a leader and Teach For Senegal’s organizational goals?

Echoing Green believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself. There were so many times when I wanted to quit or was unsure what to do as a leader, and the Echoing Green staff and Fellows were always there to support me. Echoing Green provides Fellows with so many opportunities to grow personally and professionally.

For example, Echoing Green Brain Trusts have allowed me to be vulnerable and learn from other seasoned entrepreneurs. I have found myself a lot more confident in my work after every Brain Trust. I am also grateful for the Black Women Fellows affinity group. When I moved back to Senegal after becoming an Echoing Green Fellow, I felt very lonely and lost. During the last two years, these ladies have been there for me.

What’s next for Teach For Senegal?

This inaugural year, TFS placed 22 fellows in schools in ten underserved communities in Podor, Senegal.  Our fellows are impacting over 1,000 students directly and 5,000 students indirectly through their work in the community.  Next year, our second cohort will be trained in Montessori education in collaboration with Association Montessori Internationale. The Montessori Training provides an in-depth view of how learning happens. We hope to recruit 145 fellows and reach 14,000 students by 2025.

About this series

Since 1987, Echoing Green has supported bold leaders from all over the world who see possibility in the face of the most existential challenges of our day. In a series of interviews with Echoing Green Fellows, we explore the connections these visionary leaders make between movements, experiences, and geographies to create a future free from racism and its far-reaching consequences where all people can thrive

Learn more about our Fellowship

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