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Why I Went to Senegal: IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC)

Many people have asked me questions about my trip to Senegal – why I went, what I did there, etc.  Here are my answers to those frequently-asked questions!

I work for IBM, which sponsors a program called the Corporate Service Corps (CSC). It’s a corporate responsibility initiative, in which IBM sends teams of its employees on 4-week assignments to perform pro bono (no-charge) consulting engagements.  Every spring, IBM invites its employees to submit applications to be part of such a team.  Those chosen take a 4-week hiatus from their “real” jobs to do one of these assignments.   Upon completion of the assignment, we return to our normal jobs.

Q:  How many people are chosen to participate in CSC?

A:  Each year, about 5,000 people apply, and about 1,500 are selected.  Each year IBM deploys a total of about 100 teams, each consisting of 12-15 people.  I applied in May 2016, and received my acceptance notice in July 2016.  However, I did not actually get assigned to a team until October 2017. So there can be a lag between acceptance and deployment.

Q: How does IBM decide whom to accept?

A:  There are several criteria.  Our managers need to write a recommendation saying they support our candidacy and are willing to let us be away from our jobs for 4 weeks. We need to show a history of favorable performance evaluations. We need to have been employed by IBM at least 2 years.  The application process requires us to respond to several essay questions.  Our volunteerism in our local communities is also considered.  IBM welcomes applications from all over the world, but all participants must be fluent enough with English to use it in performing the assignment.

Q: Did your husband go with you?

A:  No, this is not a vacation.  It is a business trip.  We are expected to leave our families at home, to avoid being distracted by their presence.

Of course, if we use vacation time at the end of our engagement to do some touring, the families could come for that.  But during the 4-week assignment, IBM expects us to stay focused on completing our assigned projects.

Q:  How many people did IBM send to Senegal?

A:  I was part of a team of 14 IBM employees, from 7 different countries.  Our group included people from Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Japan, China, India, and the U.S.  We were the 4th team to be assigned to an engagement in Senegal; others had been there in previous years.

Q: Where is Senegal?

A: Senegal lies at the westernmost tip of Africa. See the map at the top of this page. I went to its capital city of Dakar.

Q:  What did you do there?

A:  We were divided into 4 smaller sub-teams.  Two of those consisted of three people each, and the other two consisted of 4 people each.   Each of us was assigned our own project. In addition, we were encouraged to assist each other with advice/input as needed.  Our groups’ assignments included:

  1. A non-governmental organization called African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) that was looking for technology solutions to use in training midwives.
  2. A non-governmental organization called Plan International which was seeking assistance in using technology to help youth groups throughout the country share ideas, best practices, and schedules with one another.
  3. Centre de Suivi Ecologique (CSE), which was needing assistance with collecting environmental data from many diverse sources and gathering it all into a format that could be used for analysis.
  4. A team that worked with a Senegal government agency to help with a project to build a technology park.  This is the team I was assigned to.

Q: How did you know what to do when you got there?

A:  For each country where CSC is doing a project, IBM works with a non-governmental organization to identify appropriate clients for our team to work with, and to coordinate all the logistics.  The one that our team worked with in Senegal was PYXERA Global.  I found the PYXERA team to be very professional, a real pleasure to work with.

Each of our four sub-groups was given a draft statement of work a week or so before we left our home countries.  Then, once we arrived in Senegal, we worked with our local sponsoring organizations to interview stakeholders, refine our understanding of the needs, and revise the document to create a final version that both parties agreed on.  We then spent the balance of our engagements doing the work.  We often worked evenings and weekends.  With only 4 weeks to complete a project, it was important to stay focused.

Q: Where Can I Learn More About IBM’s Corporate Service Corps?

A:  Here are some interesting links with more information:

Mosque of Divinity in Dakar, Senegal

The Mosque of Divinity is a beautiful structure located in Dakar, Senegal.  Its members personally built it, entirely on a volunteer work. No money was paid to anybody involved in constructing it.  All work was done by hand, without the help of cranes or other construction equipment.  The project took 5 1/2 years to complete, from Spring of 1992 to October of 1997.

We visited it because Tidiane Gueye, our local contact for our stay in Senegal, was a member of the mosque and wanted to share this part of his life with us.  It was a landmark near our hotel, which we drove past every day, and it was great to learn something of the history, as well as feel the personal connection to it.

The day I visited this mosque, October 7, the congregation was gearing up to celebrate the 20th anniversary of completing construction. The women had set up a fire with a cooking kettle to cook the meal they intended to serve for the celebration.

Behind the Mosque of Divinity is a beach that lies on the Atlantic Ocean.  There are fishing boats parked along this beach, that people take out on the water to fish.

Fishing boats
Fishing boats along the beach behind the Mosque of Divinity.

This beach is also a place where young people enjoy playing football (soccer).

Playing soccer on the beach.

I felt so inspired, visiting the Mosque of Divinity, because it clearly was a place created from the love that the members of the community feel for not only their faith, but also their relationship with each other.

Why I Was in Senegal

In case you’re wondering why I was in Senegal for a month, I was there as part of the IBM Corporate Service Corps.   You can read more about that here: http://roaming-jewel.com/2017/10/17/ibmcsc/

The Day I Didn’t See Lisbon

On my way home from Morocco, the airline itinerary required me to spend an overnight layover in Lisbon, Portugal.  At first, I was frustrated at having to pay for a hotel and have the journey home take so much longer. But then I started thinking about it, and started to view it as a fun opportunity to explore a city I had never been to before.

The day I departed Marrakech for Lisbon got off to a rather painful start, with 2 hours of standing in lines at the Marrakech airport.  The line to check in for the flight, the line to go through passport control, and the line to go through security all added up to that. My back was really hurting from all that standing. It was a relief to collapse into my seat once I boarded the plane.

Upon arrival at the Lisbon airport, there was another hour of standing in line, thanks to passport control and the taxi stand.

When I reached my prepaid hotel, the reception agent told me that plumbing issues had flooded several rooms at the hotel, and therefore they were not able to assign me a room. They had re-booked me into another hotel, at no cost to me, and they provided me with transportation to the new hotel.

There were check-in delays at the replacement hotel while the front desk staff tried to tell me to go back to the original one.  Eventually, the manager appeared, acknowledged that they had agreed to host me, and all was solved.  However, in the process, I endured another 30 minutes of standing around hotel check-in desks.

By the time all this was resolved, I was exhausted.  My back was really hurting, and I was tired. It was only 2:00 in the afternoon, but the only thing I wanted to do was sleep.  A voice in my head said I “should” go out and explore Lisbon, because who knows, I might never again have such an opportunity. A different voice in my head responded that sightseeing is supposed to be fun, and in this case I was in too much physical pain to enjoy it.

I knew I had a 23-hour trek home the next day, crossing an ocean and half a continent, with more grueling hours standing in line at airports, so why not take advantage of a nice hotel room to get some much-needed rest? And that’s what I did. I closed the curtains, and crawled into bed. When I woke up 2 hours later feeling better, I knew I’d made the right decision.

I walked across the street to have dinner at a nearby restaurant. I ordered a sea bass entree, which sounded very appealing. I was a bit dismayed when it showed up with the head still on it.  But it smelled delicious, so I tried not to think too much about the head and proceeded to eat the fish, leaving the head behind. It was a simple meal, which is what I needed at the time, and tasty.

Enjoying a fish dinner at the restaurant across the street from my hotel in Lisbon, Portugal. September 13, 2017.

After dinner, I returned to my room, did some reading, and reorganized my packing for the next day’s flight home. I made it to bed early, and slept well. Very well.

So, I have been “in” Lisbon, but all I saw was the inside of the airport, two hotels, a restaurant, and the view out of a car window going between these places.  But… I started my 23-hour trip the next day feeling reasonably well rested and pain-free.  For me, it was worth the tradeoff.

Sometimes, when traveling, self-care is more important than sightseeing.

Not Easy Traveling to Morocco from U.S.!

It’s not easy traveling from the U.S. to Morocco, especially if you live in an area where the closest airport is NOT a major hub!  I was in transit 26 hours, on 4 different airplanes, with long layovers.  I was exhausted when I finally arrived in Marrakech!  I flew from Cedar Rapids Iowa, to Chicago O’Hare, to Washington DC Dulles, to Lisbon Portugal, to Marrakech Morocco.

When I finally arrived in Marrakech, I bought a local sim card at the airport for my spare phone so I could call home affordably.  It cost me 300 Moroccan dirhams (about $36) for 4 hours of international calls and 10 gigabytes of data. I felt that was a really good price!

A driver from my riad (bed & breakfast) picked me up at the airport. The friendly riad  owner wanted to welcome me, and offered me lovely Moroccan mint tea with petite cookies.  That was nice, but… she was French, and spoke very little English.  I do speak French, but I was  very exhausted from traveling so many hours. Therefore, my brain was mush, and I had trouble carrying on the conversation!  Finally, after finishing my tea and cookies, I fled to my room so I could nap.

I had arranged to eat supper at the riad, so after a one-hour nap my alarm sounded and I went downstairs to eat.  The meal was delicious! It was chicken tagine, which is a Moroccan stew made with chicken and vegetables (carrot, zucchini, etc.)

After eating, I again retreated to my room and went to bed.  I slept 13 hours.  I guess I needed it!

Getting Ready to Go to Morocco!

On Saturday, I’ll be boarding the airplane for Morocco for 12 days!  My husband is not going with me. He’s staying home to entertain the cats and protect the house from burglars!

I’ll be flying into Marrakech and staying there a couple of nights, staying at a riad, which is sort of like a bed & breakfast. Then I’ll board a bus for Essaouira, which is where I’ll spend the rest of my visit.  It’s a beautiful, historic seaside city.

I took this photo on September 3, 2015, in Casablanca, Morocco. The musicians are a Gnawa band.

While in Morocco, I’ll be attending the Funoon Dance Camp which will offer classes in the dance styles of Morocco, Nubia, Cairo, Turkey, hula, and more.

Introducing Jewel’s Travel Adventures!

I love to travel! I’ve been to Egypt 12 times, Morocco twice, Turkey 3 times, Senegal once, and also various parts of Europe. People keep telling me I should start a travel blog so they can follow my adventures vicariously, and at last the time has come! I’ll use Twitter to announce when I have new updates posted.

My Twitter link is https://twitter.com/JewelAdventures