Tuesday, 07 February 2023 18:09

Building bridges and playing jigsaw puzzles.

Written by  Fundacion
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I arrived to the student’s residence of Por una Sonrisa en África in Mbour in January 2019. I had been looking for a while for a charity to support and a friend recommended them. I sent an email to Mario and he replied with a warm welcome into his lifetime project. I sent my cv and support letter and I was accepted to volunteer at the primary care centre in Mbour Sérère, close to the student’s residence. During that first January and the following one, I spent my mornings helping at the primary care centre. My afternoons were at the student’s residence of Por una Sonrisa en África, with the students, helping them with their English homework, but mainly playing UNO and hangman with them in English, of course!


One day, I took a puzzle from the shelf and started to make it on one of the tables of the study room. I would sit amongst the students making a puzzle, while they were doing their homework or preparing classes for the following day. Soon I realized that starting and finishing a jigsaw puzzle was to them an exceptional achievement. Even the brightest students thought that making a jigsaw puzzle was an extraordinary and genius phenomenon. They would not know how to start the puzzle, relate shapes and colours, pay attention to detail or have patience. However, they would continue to write and solve long mathematical equations on the blackboard. Por una Sonrisa en África has given these children of the Senegalese savanna the incredible opportunity of schooling with education always being their priority to reach primary, secondary and higher studies. Amongst their graduates they have doctors, nurses and teachers. But developing as a human being not only involves academical work, learning to skilfully play is a vital part of growing. Those skills will be the necessary tools to become an adult able to perform the daily chores of our future jobs and lives.


This January 2023 I returned to Mbour after three years of the covid pandemic and lots of work. It has only been 10 days of chats about health, brainstorming and mainly shared moments. I arrived with a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle in my rucksack. I am leaving with it finished on one of the tables of the study room. We finished it in seven days. And I say ‘we’, because the younger students helped with patience and attention to detail. Clearly, something has changed from that first puzzle in 2019.


Often my friends ask me about what is it that I exactly do in Senegal. I often reply that I come to build bridges. Thank you to Por una Sonrisa en África for offering me the opportunity of building bridges towards a fairer world. An African proverb says that the footprints of those walking together never get erased. Today I am going back to London with the warmth of the Senegalese teranga under my skin.


Dr María Gómez Rodriguez,

General Practitioner

Senegal, January 2023


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