The Piarist father considers that cooperation organizations should monitor closely the projects implemented on the ground to ensure “they are in place for more than just 3 or 4 years”.
Josep Artigas is a Catalan Piarist father who moved to Senegal 42 years ago to establish an agricultural training centre. Now, at the age of 73, he continues his work to provide education to children and adolescents in the country.
When you visit Catalonia, do you notice that things progress much quicker than in Senegal?
In the past, when I came to spend some months in Caldes, I’d borrow my brother in law’s car and go somewhere for a short break; nowadays I no longer feel up to it; everything’s changing so fast: the rhythm of life in the city, people’s character...
What has changed in the character of people?
In Europe, everyone is in a rush. In Senegal people are more relaxed and welcoming. They have more time for others; they’re not running around all day. This doesn’t mean it’s better or worse, but in Senegal it’s more relaxed and there’s a greater sense of fraternity.
Have you considered moving back to Catalonia?
I’ve lived here for over 40 years. Piarists don’t engage in cooperation projects temporarily, we do it permanently. Initially, there were just a small group of Catalans in Senegal, and now there’s over one hundred Piarist fathers, most of them African. By this I mean I’m not there alone, there are many more doing this work.
How has education evolved in Senegal in recent years?
Institutions like Unicef do a tremendous job in countries like Senegal to help build schools. In some cities, virtually all children go to school, whereas where I live, schooling only reaches 50% of children.
You live in inner Casamance, in one of the poorest areas of the country. What should be done to promote schooling for children?
Teachers are not well prepared and are quite unorganized. They’re men with little vocation, who arrive in Casamance from Dakar and don’t speak the local language, and find it hard to adapt. Also, parents don’t take an interest in their children’s schooling. Of the 50% who make it through primary education, only 30% continue with secondary studies, and of these only half obtain their baccalaureate certificate.
Are girls still left out of the schooling system?
It’s quite striking to see the gender inequalities in schooling. In Senegal, schooling for girls isn’t considered necessary. A girl may start primary education, but then her parents will marry her off at the age of 14 and then she has to drop out of school. It takes a very strong character to fight against this tradition.
Also, it must also be financially difficult for families.
It’s tough to enter a house and see that all are studying except the girls, who sit around doing nothing. We often have discussions with their fathers, because you see how girls can’t progress in life because of their parent’s attitude. They won’t spend a penny on their daughters’ education. We, the Piarists, are always looking for grants so the girls can study.
What project are you working on right now?
In the framework of education for all, we will start building a community centre in Mampatim, in the region of Kolda. This is the first step before building a vocational training school. The centre will have spaces for discussions, literacy courses, sports, dance…if we want to keep youths in the village, we must create the spaces they look for and find in the cities.
Would you say volunteering plays a key role in the area?
I live in one of the parts of Senegal with the largest number of cooperation institutions in the country, but nothing works. They come here for concrete projects, they bring their tools and machinery for agriculture and shortly after, they live. So, after three or four years, everything vanishes. There is no continuity for the projects and, when there is, it’s done by email, not actually on the ground.
Also, these institutions should engage local people to lead the projects, as well as youths. Sometimes, for political reasons, organizations place the responsibility for their projects in the hands of the elders, who can’t even write.