Surviving my First Workshop in French

Today I finished four days of training at the Center for Initiation and Perfection in Agriculture in Saint-Louis, Senegal. It was quite a challenge, but the participants were so warm and enthusiastic that it was a very rewarding experience. CIPA is the complete opposite of the Center for Professional Training. While they have an impressive gardening space – each student is responsible for three beds from seeding to harvest to selling the produce—there is only one small classroom, no computers, no internet. CIPA has a cooperative model in which the students sell the produce from their garden and split the proceeds with the school. The students have no scholarship so they need the extra money for living expenses. Those who pass a test do not pay tuition.

The training center is transitioning into a competencies based approach to teaching. While their teaching method is quite practical—what can prepare students for a job in horticulture better than running their own business? —the competencies and evaluation methods were not well defined. I ran a workshop with the professors and a few members of the local horticulture sector to help the center define these parameters. This was a completely new experience for some of the professors. They had a lot of experience in horticulture and in teaching, but it became more and more apparent that the curriculum existed only in the heads of the professors—nothing was written down. Since most of these professors were getting very close to retirement, getting this all down on paper seemed like a good place to start.

We worked for four days learning about competencies, writing competencies, creating evaluation rubrics. We kept our strength up with a mid-morning coffee break with snacks, hibiscus tea and baobab juice. The last day of training we observed one of the professors giving a class on soil preparation. Everyone got caught up in the moment. Once we removed the weeds we couldn’t stop. “Can’t we finish preparing the bed?” “Can’t we transplant the lettuce?” After three days in a dark classroom talking about horticulture it was nice to get our hands dirty.

I felt exhausted but satisfied by the end of the workshop. I had a headache and I could barely speak English, let alone French. It was the first workshop I had taught completely in French (with the help of Adama, the program assistant who helped me out with some words or simply repeated what I said when they didn’t understand my accent). At the end of the workshop I declared to everyone “Nous sommes fini!” They giggled a bit. The woman in the back politely corrected me. “Nous avons fini,” means “we have finished.” Nous sommes fini means "we are finished" (as in dead, as in get me out, I'm done!).

Not dead, we are still fighting!

The impressive school garden at CIPA.

The impressive school garden at CIPA.