Posted by Jim Garrett
On March 4, Pagosa Springs resident and Rotary Member Dave Smith embarked for the fourth consecutive year on a muti-week mission to the sub-Saharan, west African nation, Senegal, where he and another Rotarian from Canyon City, Colorado will help spread the gospel of science education.
Dave, formerly a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Nebraska, and at heart a dedicated teacher, is an example of Pagosa Springs’ remarkable cadre of skilled retirees, who may have dropped work-a-day cares, but have chosen to continue instead to employ their expertise in labors of love.  Dave explains that several years back, he decided to find an outlet for his love of science and teaching in a country where he could do the most good, by proposing a Rotary program to aid education in a poor, Islamic country.
Senegal, a poor, arid, but stable country with a mostly Sunni population of 25 million on the Atlantic Ocean Coast of West Africa, emerged as the candidate, in major part because the national government was already on board with the importance of science education.   The Senegalese government, having realized that experience shows a direct relationship between science education in local schools and an emerging nation’s economic development, had adopted a national policy that by 2025, 75 percent of its high school students were to be enrolled in science courses.
Dave’s project was to be designed to improve science instruction techniques in Senegalese high schools, so it was a good match with the need and thus attracted support from the International Rotary Foundation, which provides grants to help sponsor volunteer projects the world over.
With support of the Foundation, the Senegalese Project has an annual budget of $60,000, based on the combined contributions of the sponsoring Rotary Clubs in Pagosa Spirngs, Canyon City, and Aspen, which are multiplied by matching funds from the Rotary Foundation at a 3 to 1 ratio.
All funds devoted to Rotary Foundation supported projects are provided by donations by Rotary members, which are distinct from the local fund raising activities of Rotary Clubs. 
For instance, in Pagosa Springs, all funds raised by the local club from the annual Barn Dance and Kentucky Derby Party and other activities, are used solely for local purposes, such as college scholarships and other support provided for schools of the Archuleta School District.
On this year’s Senegal trip, Dave will initially be accompanied by local Rotarian Kim Moore, plus two Rotarians from Canyon City.  Dave and all other Rotarians pay for their own travel expenses.
The group of four will visit two urban and two rural high schools in northern Senegal, where they will attend English classes over a period of two weeks.
Dave explains that the Senegalese indigenous language is Wolof, although the official language in French.  Students at the high school level have already learned French, and many start taking English when they reach high school.  So the visitors will be able to converse with class members during their visits, he says, and help the students develop increased comfort with the language. 
In addition, Rotarians will be carrying with them a large cache of used books, generally at the junior high reading level, collected by local Rotarians Lassie Olin, Ronnie Doctor and Marianne DeVooght.  The books will distributed by the visitors to the Senegalese classes to help start an English reading library expected to be useful for years to come.
For the following two weeks, Dave and one of the Rotarians from Canyon City, a biologist, will turn to the essence of the Senegalese project, by providing a series of classes for Senegalese science teachers.  Dave will provide instruction to both chemistry and physics teachers. The need for the project, Dave says, is not due to deficient expertise of the teachers.  Rather, he says, Senegalese teachers are academically well trained and very knowledgeable in their fields.
Instead, the problem is practical, like trying to explain how to build a bridge without ever showing the student an example, or trying to teach surgery from a book.  The instruction provided has to do with methods of giving hands-on demonstrations of concepts, and running practical experiments that can give students personal involvement in the lessons.  So for repeated series of three day classes, Dave and his colleague will provide demonstrations of these instructional techniques, supported by illustrative manuals, to different groups of Senegalese high school science teachers.  In addition, they will provide text books for classroom use, and access to supplies needed by the teachers to conduct the demonstrations and experiments independently once they get back to their own classrooms and students.
Dave acknowledges that it is difficult to pinpoint tangible measurements indicating the success of the project over the three years it has already operated.  But, he says, for one thing science enrolment in high school classes has increased, which of course is the ultimate Senegalese objective.  But Dave cites as well some compelling anecdotal evidence that the project may be succeeding.  One aspect of the trip each year, he says, is that he and his fellow scientist from Canyon City go to a few elementary schools, to give demonstrations of the impact of science on day to day life, to help build interest.
But, he says, the catch is, he and his colleague don’t speak Wolof, and the elementary school kids don’t speak French.  So to provide the demonstrations, they engage Senegalese high school students for the work.  60 high school students have helped with the elementary school demonstrations, he says, and “They are absolutely super.”  So, it seems, something is working, and perhaps a little bit of Pagosa is helping improve life in Senegal.