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Sponsored Kids – A Tragic History Meets a Hopeful Future

Happy Sponsored Kids Friday!

In light of the recent events, and this team’s incredible love for Senegal, I wanted to educate myself and anyone who reads this on a little bit of Senegal’s history. Senegal has been inhabited for a LONG time (as in Paleolithic and Neolithic axes and arrows have been found near modern-day Dakar!).  Signs of community structures can be found from as early as 3rd century BCE!

In early times, Senegal was a part of ancient Ghana. However, in 1444, the Portuguese arrived on Cape Verde and went on to claim Gorée Island.  Gorée Island went on to become a slave trading port, and many of the slaves that were taken from Western Africa and transported to America were either of Senegalese descent or passed through that terrible port.
Then, around the 17th century, Senegal became a French colony. But really, from the time the Portuguese arrived in the 1400’s until the official French rule in the late 17th century, Portugal, Spain, Britain, and France all fought over this valuable land and vulnerable people.  Senegal was rich in exports and had excellent ports – and that was enough to warrant a long-fought battle over its ownership, though it had been owned by African people long before Europeans arrived.

It’s important to understand this – many people we call “African American” today very likely have ancestry in Senegal. Yes, many of the people we are praying for right now, many fellow Americans who are hurting, many of your family members, maybe yourself, & many of your friends share ancestry with our beloved sponsored kids in Senegal.

I know it’s hard to look at the ugly parts of our history, but we look at history to learn from it – to not repeat the mistakes of the past – to be better in the future. The worst parts of our shared history with Senegal all center around racism. That’s big, because that means racism is the thing we have to work the hardest to eliminate from our hearts, our minds, our cultures, and our countries. We cannot repeat even the smallest semblance of the past that negatively shaped the lives of so many of our own citizens and the families of the sponsored kids we care about so much.

The best parts of our shared history are the people and the culture.  Remember how I told you about the New Year’s celebration in Saint Louis, Senegal?  It feels like a sibling to Mardi Gras in New Orleans!  If you’ve gotten a letter from a kiddo, you’ve probably heard them talk about rice/millet and fish being their favorite meal to eat.  Many of the dishes we enjoy in the States have their origin in African cuisine. Their favorite dish may be where we got the inspiration for shrimp and grits!  Then, think back to one of our first lessons on Senegalese culture – hospitality is a central part of what it means to be Senegalese.  Ever heard of Southern hospitality?  Perhaps that’s not a coincidence. There’s no denying the pain behind this shared history, but I like to think there is some joy in recognizing the ways such a beautiful culture can be seen in our own.

Having things in common with other countries and other people connects us in powerful ways that can be very beautiful and redemptive. Our historical connection to Senegal is certainly not one that feels comfortable to accept. It is a connection that caused a lot of sorrow for a lot of people. But you and I have a chance to make a new connection with Senegal.  Our new connection is happening through our relationships with these amazing little kids World Vision has introduced us to. We can’t rewrite history, but we can write a future we’re proud of.

On that note, let’s meet a new kid – Abdou Aziz.  Abdou is 17 this year and lives in Tattaguine, Senegal.  He has 3 brothers, 1 sister, and 2 hard-working parents.  Abdou loves to read – all the more reason for Abenity to write to him!  We are committed to working on forging new, positive relationships with the kids Abenity invests in every month.  We want to write a new future that we are proud of, that connects America and Senegal in a positive way.  We acknowledge the past and have hope for the future. Let’s show people that no matter where they are from or what they look like, they matter to you and I and they matter to God.