Friday, January 20, 2012

My Horrible Experience with Senevolu in November 2011

I am posting this as a warning against the volunteer work program Senevolu and its director Magueye Sy, based in Camberene, Dakar, Senegal. I came on the program for a 4 week stay in November 2011 and was finally forced to abandon 2 weeks early at my own expense when I realized that Mr. Sy was exploiting me. Mr. Sy stole over 300 euros from me, refusing to provide services that I had paid for in advance.

Senevolu is advertised as a non-profit organization that offers to house volunteers with a local host family and provide them a work placement with a local NGO. This is an outrageous lie; every penny you pay to Senevolu (which is in reality only one man, Mr. Magueye Sy) goes directly in Mr. Sy's pocket for his own personal benefit. Mr. Sy pretends to service his community by helping local families and NGOs; in fact he reaps the financial benefits himself, at their expense. Only one family still concedes to work with him. This family was regularly stealing money from my bedroom throughout my stay. The work placements are a complete joke; nothing is organized. The mutual bank I was supposed to work at had no idea I was coming until I showed up and then they told me, "You can't help us."

Senevolu also offers "cultural courses" such as Djembe drums and Wolof language lessons, and several excursions to nearby tourist attractions. These excursions are laughably overpriced--a trip to the nearby Lac Rose would cost an individual about 30 euros; Mr. Sy charges 100 euros. Mr. Sy charges 15 euros/hour for "Wolof lessons" which are taught by him, in your house or in his dimly-lit house, without textbook or worksheets or paper. Ha.

Mr. Magueye Sy is a scammer. When you first meet him or exchange emails with him, he will seem like a friendly, helpful person. He will joke with you and get you to trust him (you are dependent on him anyways, as a new arrival in a foreign country). His source of income is cash from his foreign volunteers, and he is very good at obtaining it. He puts ENORMOUS pressure on volunteers to sign up for courses or excursions, or otherwise pay extra money to him once they arrive. I arrived in Dakar at midnight and got in to my host family at 2 a.m. Mr. Sy immediately sat me down for a long talk (until 4 a.m.) to explain the extra services he offers and to try to induce me in my tired and confused state to commit myself immediately to paying for them. I am embarrassed to say, as are almost all the volunteers that I met and talked to, that I ended up paying up front for an excursion and cultural lessons that I knew were overpriced. But I just wanted Magueye to shut up and leave me alone, so I made some concessions. Of course, it only got worse after that. Mr. Sy used my dependence on him to manipulate me for more money, threatening me if I did not give him "loans", and even asked me up front to "help him out, as a friend." When I refused, he canceled all courses that I had paid in advance for and I never saw him again. At this point I packed up and left.

I spoke to about 10 other past volunteers who have had similar experiences and can provide their stories as well. Here is one: http://thisisblog.blog.co.uk/2011/01/10/senegal-10340840/#comments

Magueye Sy is a dishonest scoundrel--do not let him be your first encounter with a Senegalese person! Senegal is a wonderful country with some wonderful, kind, inspiring people. Once I quit Senevolu I had the time of my life and left the country with a very positive impression.

If you are looking for a volunteer program you may be able to find something else, but be very careful and do your research. Contact RECENT volunteers (not ones from 3 years ago!) to verify that their experiences were positive and the money you pay goes to help the community.

If you want to meet locals and be housed by locals I recommend couchsurfing http://www.couchsurfing.org/. Of course you will have to have a minimum of street smarts as well, but in my experience the website worked very well and it is safe. Otherwise Lonely Planet recommends a website where you can pay for a homestay--look in the guide.

I would appreciate comments if this message has helped you avoid a bad experience or if you have had bad experiences with the program.

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-Camille B (USA/France)