On the Spot Paradigm Shift

by Mary Fahey Fields (United States of America)

The last thing I expected USA


As part of the Teachers for Global Classrooms program, I spent the first two weeks of April 2016 in Senegal, West Africa with 15 other TGC fellows. After four days in Dakar, six of us traveled to Saint-Louis to meet with our host teachers. There were many moments of epiphany, but there is one in particular that I continue to reflect upon because it caused such a paradigm shift in me on the spot. On our first evening in the French Colonial capital, we were met by our tour guide Brahim for a horse-drawn carriage ride through the old town. Articulate and well-educated, Brahim talked about the deteriorating condition of the buildings and why the Senegalese had their hands tied in terms of rehabbing them or tearing them down. The historical restrictions prevent the latter and make the former too expensive, and so property is being bought and rehabbed by wealthy foreigners, many of whom are French. It's because it is a UNESCO World Heritage site, something in which I had always placed enormous value. After all, this UN program preserves the past for all people of all times. But when I shared this sentiment with Brahim, he asked me, "Whose history are we preserving here?" It brought me up short. I had not considered this perspective before. From Brahim's point of view, as a native of a country whose people had been subjugated for centuries by the French, preserving that part of their heritage is repulsive. It is perpetuating an inequity as old as the city itself. Major paradigm shift for me. This teacher learned a life lesson that day.