Senegal is a mix of the new and the old. While the capital city, Dakar, has many modern conveniences, it is also plagued by poverty and contamination. The country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capital is right in the middle of African nations; at $945 per person, it ranks 27th out of 53. But that is something that two mentors and 20 public high school students wish to change for the better. By building interest in Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) programs and educating tomorrow’s workforce with modern technology tools, they hope to build a culture of high technology that can help improve the economy of their country.
Team Senebot is the dream of two mentors, Mamadou Gakou, an aviation engineer who has worked both in Senegal and in dubai and Ibrahima Thioub, an IT specialist who has always lived and worked in Senegal. On the team are 16 boys and 4 girls who come from a local public technical school here in Dakar. Team Senebot receives support and mentorship from Micah Hall and his Vex Robotics team at the International School of Dakar (ISD). Micah is a technology teacher at the school and founder of Vex team 99660, Mberou Weigne (“Iron Wrestler” in Wolof). He has previously been involved with FIRST FRC Robotics, co-founding Team 4091 in the Dominican Republic. The current ISD Senior Vex team includes 6 boys and 1 girl with an additional 15 students on the Junior Vex team.
Team Senebot is a recent creation. The students and mentors had their first full meeting on January 28, 2017. They meet every Saturday from 9am til 3pm at the International School of Dakar Makerspace and use that time to work with the Vex Robotics materials. The construction and programming will be quite different from the First Global competition. This challenge gives the students the opportunity to learn the skillset and mindset of engineering and programming that will carry through with the later builds. The Senior Vex team from ISD helps with mentoring the Senebot students through the process. Team Senebot has currently divided into two teams with each being tasked to design and build a robot for this year’s Vex competition, “Starstruck”. They both will be competing in a local Vex competition with the two teams from ISD on March 18.
Our non-robot goal right now is fund-raising. The Senebot students and mentors have put together an informational letter that they are delivering to local businesses. Additionally, several teachers and parents of students at ISD have volunteered in feeding the students working at the school on Saturdays. The idea of “teranga” and sharing is an important part of Senegalese culture. The public school students and ISD students share this meal together, usually in the traditional way around one big platter, as a way of bonding and team-building. So far, we have few donations of money, but are hopeful that this will get better as we go forward. But we do have “teranga”, and that is worth even more.