Sene-Gambian Scholars Club off to great start, preparing for West African exchange

Kathy Wilkes, a paraprofessional and one of the advisors of the Sene-Gambian Scholars Exchange Club has been active with the group for 10 years.

She and two retired ARHS teachers, special education teacher Momodou Sarr and English teacher Bruce Penniman, have worked together to lead the club and the related exchange trips.

Students in the club eventually travel to Senegal and The Gambia.

The first exchange was in 2013, and Ms. Wilkes went on that trip.

Two years ago, students from Senegal came to ARHS and they will return in the spring. This club also works to help their sister school; they donated three laptops to The Gambia.

The club name used to be called African Scholars. The name was changed to pay more attention to the two countries instead of the whole continent of Africa. “It’s a huge continent and we just go to one small area in West Africa,” said Ms. Wilkes.

The people in the club study about Africa, but focus more on Senegal and The Gambia.

They study the languages in those two countries.

And when the club goes to West Africa,  they visit museums, slave houses, the Door of No Return on Goree Island off Senegal and Lac Rose (Pink Lake), north of the Cap Vert peninsula of Senegal.They also go to live animal preserves.

In The Gambia, they don’t live in hotels but stay in traditional villages. When they visit Senegal, they live in more of a city like Amherst.

The club has thought about doing more work to benefit West Africans, said Ms. Wilkes, but they have mostly raised money through fundraisers to fund both the Amherst and the West African exchange programs.

There are 10 to 12 students in the club; the last time they traveled to Senegal and The Gambia was in the winter of 2016.

The cost per person to go on the trip is about 3,500 dollars.

“Students have the opportunity to pay for part of their trip” and to fundraise the rest, said Ms. Wilkes.

The club meets after school on Wednesdays every other week from 2:30 to 3:15 p.m. in English teacher Kristen Iverson’s room, 179.

The club is open to new members. Their goal is to help “build awareness and break down stereotypes of Africa,” said Ms. Wilkes.